Robert Kagan calls our attention to one of the sillier lines in Kerrys acceptance speech: "As president, I will bring back this nations time-honored tradition: The United States of America never goes to war because we want to; we only go to war because we have to. That is the standard of our nation."
Americas "time-honored tradition"? Hardly. As Kagan writes, "The United States has sent forces into combat dozens of times over the past century and a half, and only twice, in World War II and in Afghanistan, has it arguably done so because it had to. It certainly did not have to go to war against Spain in 1898 (or Mexico in 1846.) It did not have to send the Marines to Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Nicaragua in the first three decades of the 20th century, nor fight a lengthy war against insurgents in the Philippines. The necessity of Woodrow Wilsons intervention in World War I remains a hot topic for debate among historians."
And then, of course, theres Vietnam. James Lileks finds it bizarre that the senator should say, "I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as President." After all, doesnt it suggest that the Vietnam War was fought for the defense of the United States? What must his old comrades from Vietnam Veterans Against the War think about his apparent conversion to conservative orthodoxy?
Niall Ferguson explains why Kerry is dreaming if he thinks that a European-American alliance (the way Kerry understands it) is something that is possible, or something that U.S. foreign policy can be built upon.
David Brooks is harsh on Kerry and the whole convention:
"What an incoherent disaster. When you actually read for content, you see that the speech skirts almost every tough issue and comes out on both sides of every major concern. The Iraq section is shamefully evasive. He cant even bring himself to use the word democratic or to contemplate any future for Iraq, democratic or otherwise. He cant bring himself to say whether the war was a mistake or to lay out even the most meager plan for moving forward. For every gesture in the direction of greater defense spending, there are opposing hints about reducing our commitments and bringing the troops home.
He proves in the speech that he can pronounce the word alliances, and alliances are important, but alliances for what? You cant base an entire foreign policy on process."
"Voters need more than an index of a Kerry administration retaliatory threshold to judge him as a potential Commander in Chief. Kerry should clarify how he plans to win, if not the present war, then at least a future one, if it comes according to his standard. The cast of characters, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are unlikely to change. The electorate should be granted a glimpse into his roadmap to victory and whether he believes in the concept itself as distinct from mere retaliation. Any brawler with fists can retaliate but it requires a Commanders in Chief with a strategy to lead nations to victory. Even Bill Clinton was prepared to retaliate against Osama Bin Laden for the USS Cole attack by firing hundreds of cruise missiles at his training camps. But George Bush tried to defeat him and for this stood condemned. It is this precise striving for victory, not any single act of retaliation that has made George Bush so illegitimate in the liberal mind. For liberals retaliation is soley used to ’send a message’; it always an invitation to negotiation, like the ones Johnson sent Ho Chi Minh without reply; it is never part of the solution itself. In this curious mental universe, force is immoral unless it is also pointless. John Kerry’s self-chosen identification with the Vietnam War is a strangely ambiguous image, which escapes being tragic only for so long as you allow only questions for which there can be no answers."
Christopher Hitchens is angry at what he calls Kerrys cheap shot, that the Republicans are squandering "our" money on a bunch of foreigners. Kerry, according to Hitchens, quite needlessly proposed a contradiction between "opening firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them in the United States of America."
You saw on the news last night that Kerry went to Wendys (probably his frist trip ever) to buy the Edwards their anniversary lunch. What you didnt see on the news is that when he approached four Marines to make nice, the Marines wouldnt have it. One of them, off to Iraq in a few weeks, said: "I speak for all of us. We think that we are doing the right thing in Iraq." Another: "Im 100 percent against [him]."
Horace Cooper highlights what the mainstream press ignores in the hope that we won’t remember: that John Kerry and John Edwards are leftists. Recall, the "l-word" (liberal) was all but taboo at the Democratic convention. More importantly, Cooper charts the ill-fated candidacies of other leftists, and argues that in todays political climate, true leftists don’t win at the national level. Worth quoting at length:
The National Journal rated Kerry as the most liberal senator of 2003 and his running mate John Edwards was No. 4. Keep in mind that this Senate includes arch-liberals Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton.
Consider: Nearly nine in 10 people in the United States support requiring welfare recipients to work in order to maintain eligibility. Kerry has voted consistently to oppose this measure.
Three quarters of Americans say that religious organizations should be allowed to participate in taxpayer anti-poverty programs. Kerry disagrees.
Even though a staggering 85 percent of voters say that a criminal should be punished for killing both a pregnant woman and her unborn child, Kerry refuses to budge from the NARAL-Pro Choice America view. And while 91 percent of Americans see no problem with keeping the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, Kerry sides with the ACLU in opposition.
And even on seemingly well settled issues, this ticket is out of step with the political mainstream. Take capital punishment. If there is a capital punishment reform afoot in the United States it is more likely to expand its application to states like Massachusetts and New York rather than to restrict it.
After a lifetime career of opposing the death penalty, Kerry can only muster belated support for the death penalty for terrorists like Osama bin Laden.
Being saddled with this record is more than even a battle-tested war hero can overcome. With a lifetime Americans for Democratic Action rating of 92, his record is more liberal than either Mondale, Dukakis or McGovern. And while many Americans may disagree with specific Bush administration policies, the differences in many instances can be transcended. This just isn’t so with the Democrat ticket of 2004.
President Bush spoke in Springfield, MO, today. His first stop after the Demos convention. Good speech, I thought. The second half of the speech is on the post-9/11 world.
The BBC is announcing: "Nato countries have agreed to start training Iraqi security forces next month, side-stepping a dispute between France and the US.
Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said a small advance team would head to Iraq as soon as possible."
Mark Rice-Oxley of the Christian Science Monitor discusses the European reaction to John Kerry. The senator, of course, has made as a centerpiece of his foreign policy his promise to enlist Americas allies in the struggle for democracy in Iraq. But in this as in so much else, he has been short on specifics. As Robert Kagan has pointed out in Of Paradise and Power, Europe and the United States have been steadily growing apart since the end of the Cold War, and Europeans today are increasingly likely to view American "hyperpower" as more dangerous than terrorism. Indeed, opinion polls show that a sizable minority think that the United States has only itself to blame for the 9/11 attacks. While Kerrys personal style is likely to win more applause from European diplomats than Bushs "lone cowboy" image, the senator has given us no clue as to how he might bridge the growing divide.
In at least one sense, Rice-Oxley suggests, a Kerry victory might be the last thing Europeans should want. As Viennas Die Presse put it, a Kerry presidency would mean that Europe could no longer "turn up its nose at the coarse Texan George Bush and duck its responsibilities in international crises." My prediction is that, whichever candidate wins in November, Europeans will keep ducking--as they did in their very own backyard, the Balkans, in the 1990s.
Listening to excerpts of Sharptons Wednesday night speech at the Democratic Convention, I was struck once again by the Democratic Partys historical amnesia. In order to explain why blacks prefer the Democratic Party 9-1, Sharpton listed all the martyrs who died to secure black voting rights, as if these martyrs died fighting Republicans.
But he ignores that the people who were denying blacks the right to vote were Democrats, who had ruled the South ever since the end of Reconstruction. It was Democrats who created the Jim Crow system that kept blacks down from the end of Reconstruction until the 1950s. The civil-rights movement was a struggle against the southern Democratic Party, not the GOP.
He also forgot to mention that on the Civil Rights Act, which paved the way for the Voting Rights Act, it was Democrat senators who held up passage of the bill until Republicans provided President Johnson with enough additional votes to overcome Democratic resistance.
In fact, as Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom note in their book "America in Black and White," a higher percentage of Republican senators supported the bill than among Democrats. 27 of 33 Republican senators voted for the bill, while just 44 of 67 Democrats supported it.
The GOP is the party of black oppression?
Kerry was nervous. He seemed hurried, this made him seem less boring. He wrongly shut down the enthusiasm of the crowd many times, indeed, almost always. When he finally found his rythm, it was too late. He might not have hurt himself, but I don’t think he helped himself much either. Almost every word in the speech had a deja vu quality to it (some of the words came from Bush, some from Dean, etc.) It seemed as if a committee had written the speech. Isn’t odd when others make a better case for Kerry than he can for himself? This is not a great candidate. It was not the best speech at the convention.
The Liberal (also anti-free trade) speech verged on a laundry-list mode, yet lacked specificity. The war that the Islamic terrorists are waging was just another point on the list, somewhere near global warming. The same with Iraq. He said nothing about Afghanistan (never mind Iran or North Korea). He did not tell us what he would do in Iraq (or even would have done). He said nothing about democracy abroad, no left-over-idealism of human rights. He said nothing about his career in the Senate. It is true that he intended to give the impression that he is strong and courageous and is able to replace the current commander-in-chief. Did he? Maybe.
His major point is that Bush can’t be trusted, Bush has lied. This is going the Michael Moore, Joe Wilson, et al, route. They are discredited, and the American people will not believe it. They shouldn’t. He will not get anywhere arguing that he will re-establish trust and credibility to the White House. Wrong election. The same with the emphasis on optimism and hope. Kerry missed a great opportunity in this speech: He had the chance to be clear and forthright, especially regarding Iraq and the war. He didn’t take it. He cannot become president by straddling huge issues, the same issues President Bush has full knowledge of, and some control over, the same issues that will continue to dominate the campaign.
Here are some takes on his speech: Chris Suellentrop (Slate); Jonah Goldberg (USA Today); John Podhoretz (NY Post); Lawrence F. Kaplan (TNR); William F. Buckley, Jr. (NRO); Thomas Oliphant (Boston Globe).
Lucas Morel is first out of the box on Kerry’s big speech. Very good. I have a big (and boring) meeting this morning, so it may be hours before I can get to this. I do note that Jonah Goldberg said this about the speech, "It sounds like it was written by a committee. The funny irony is that Kerry is a committee of one." Not bad. Here is the text of Kerrys speech.
In case you haven’t seen it, here is the Republican National Committee’s "Flipper" video on John Kerry’s position(s) on Iraq. I guess they are going to use it in an ad, perhaps adding more to it after tonight’s speech. I think it’s just over ten minutes. Well done. Worth seeing.
The web site for Swift Boat Veterans for Truth objects to the Kerry campaigns use of a photo of Kerry and 19 other swift boat officers in campaign advertisments. In fact, only two of the officers support Kerrys candidacy. By dragging your cursor over the picture, this page demonstrates what the picture would look like if only those who actually intend to endorse Kerry were used in the ads.
David Broder does a workmanlike recounting of the tensions within the Democratic Party between the Liberals and whats left of the Democratic Leadership Council (the moderates). While the piece is worth reading, what he hides is really more important than what he reveals: Kerry is not really a moderate and never has been; he is pretending and everyone is going along with the sham just because--they think--that is their only chance at defeating Bush. He is right to say that if Kerry wins, the rift will become clear. But it is also true that when Kerry loses the rift will also be there, and the battle for control of the party will be brutal; the Liberals hold the power.
From John McCaslins Inside the Beltway:
"It is unfortunate that you instinctively assume the investigation into the Berger matter has anything to do with Sandy Berger the Democrat. The fact is, I dont care if its Sandy Berger or Warren Burger or Veggie Burger who walked off with code word documents. Its the walking off — the consequences of it, the fact that it could happen — that concerns the committee."
— Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, responding to a letter from Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat and the committees ranking member, who suspects that politics is behind an investigation of former Clinton National Security Adviser Samuel R. Bergers apparent theft of sensitive documents from the National Archives.
OK, I admit I missed the traditional Democratic harangues against the Grand Old Party on Monday. But for the balance of the week, it appears the convention is going with an "out with the old, in with the new" approach to attracting those crucial swing voters. (Too bad so few are actually watching.) Anyway, to the topic at hand: is it just me or has the convention strategy of not directly attacking Bush backfired on them?
They have avoided doing precisely what any political party out of office should be doing: namely, explain why voters should change their rulers rather than stay the course, and this means criticize the performance of the incumbent administration (what political scientists call a "retrospective election").
In addition, and heres the kicker, instead of direct criticisms they have actually made the rhetoric of the president and the Republican Party their own. For exhibit A, see my Ashbrook Center op-ed on Barack Obama. Exhibit B, as Peter Schramm has noted in an earlier blog, was Edwardss speech last night regarding the war on terrorism: to wit, "We will destroy our enemies, Edwards says (almost quoting Bush)." Exhibit C, even Teresa Heinz-Kerry, that paragon of
opinionated independent thinking, found herself quoting a whole paragraph from Abraham Lincoln. Here is how she closed her speech:
We can and we should join together to make the most of this great gift we have been given, this gift of freedom, this gift of America. In his first inaugural, speaking to a nation on the eve of war, Abraham Lincoln said, "We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
Today, the better angels of our nature are just waiting to be summoned. We only require a leader who is willing to call on them, a leader willing to draw again on the mystic chords of our national memory and remind us of all that we, as a people, everyday leaders, can do; of all that we as a nation stand for and of all the immense possibility that still lies ahead.
Of course, she went on to say that her husband is the leader who "will give us back our faith in America." Her problem, and that of the Dems (if this strategy is maintained through November), is that the more the Democrats base their appeal upon traditional Republican principles and convictions about Americas greatness, the less the American people will see a need for a change at the top.
Lucas Morel makes clear what some of us have only alluded to: Barak Obama is a serious person and his Lincolnian speech to the Democratic convention on the appeal of American exceptionalism gives Morel hope.
Gary Hart--remember him, the monkey business senator?--has a few ideas on grand strategy. "To preserve our republic, we must advance a new, alternative grand strategy that addresses this revolutionary century, one compatible with our powers and with the great principles upon which our nation was founded." He tries to explain what this might be and skirts around the truth; he is close to it but misses. The principles are not clear to him, he confuses Wilsonian utopianism and empire, and overlooks some massive geopolitical facts. (See my post below.) But no matter for now, such issues will be talked about for a good while, with more clarity than Hart does; just file it for now.
Bryan Preston explains the Proliferation Security Initiative, which, he argues has great promise strategically and which proves that Bush is no unilaterist, that other countries are willing to band together with us against terrorists and weapons proliferation.
"Called the Proliferation Security Initiative, this results-oriented alliance is now just over a year old. The work of the much maligned Under Secretary of State for Arms Proliferation and International Security John Bolton, PSI is already a great success in bringing nations that disagreed bitterly over the Iraq war together under one flag to deal with larger weapons proliferation issues, especially those relating to the Korean Peninsula.
The PSI is a bit of a strange bird, neither pure military alliance nor economic consortium nor intelligence agency, though it bears some of the features of all three. There is no guarantee among PSI members to come to the defense of any other member attacked by another party, for instance, such as exists in the NATO charter. It has no operating budget or swank headquarters building, and no jet-setting General Secretary or Supreme Commander. But most of the world’s great navies -- America’s, the UK’s, Japan’s, Australia’s, and Russia’s all play key roles. Many of the world’s best intelligence assets, from spy satellites to human intelligence sources to financial investigators, are devoted to working with the PSI at some level."
There is more, The Caspian Guard is to Iran what the PSI is to North Korea: "The Caspian Guard is ostensibly a three-way alliance between the United States, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan for the integration of several interlocking program elements, namely airspace and maritime surveillance and control systems, reaction and response forces, and border control." Take a look at some maps (there are five different ones) to see how this cage in the making works. Interesting.
I saw most of John Edward’s speech last night, fell asleep, and this morning I saw the rest of it. It was essentially his two America’s stump speech, with the hard-line addition on terror and Iraq. Maybe I’m jaded, maybe I’ve seen Edwards too often (same speech, same tone), but I find him becoming a caricature of himself. When I give a speech in which I find myself repeating passages and formulations from other speeches, becoming self-conscious about it and become kind of formulaic. The audience senses this, and it is not to the speaker’s advantage. (I don’t think I did that this morning when I spoke to a Huron County GOP; nice folks, by the way). Edwards is now such a self-conscious speaker, and it shows. He is acting and knows he is acting, and so does everyone else. He’s becoming boring; there should always be an element of suprise in a speech; he no longer surprises. He should get a new speech.
But Edwards revealed the theme that Kerry has decided on, and I expect more of this sort of rhetoric during the campaign and from Kerry tonight: Very hard line on the war on terror and Iraq. We will destroy our enemies, Edwards says (almost quoting Bush). Some are beginning to say that Kerry will try the "missile gap" approach Kennedy used against Nixon in 1960: Kennedy called Nixon soft on the Soviets. It proved not to be true, but was useful in the campaign for Kennedy. I find it difficult to believe that Kerry will be able to run to the right of Bush on the war issue (Kerrys record is to his disadvantage), as I find it hard to believe that the majority of the Liberals within the Demo party will continue to put up with it. It will sound hollow to the voters. The Bush campaign should pounce on it immediately.
Didnt get to watch Edwards last night, but heres the transcript of his speech. Sounds like hes sticking with "two Americas." Also sounds like those two Americas are divided 98-2. After promising to pay for more of your health care and child daycare, we are told: "So now you ask how are we going to pay for this? Well, heres how were going to pay for it. Let me be very clear, for 98 percent of Americans, you will keep your tax cut — thats 98 percent. But well roll back the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, close corporate loopholes, and cut government contractors and wasteful spending." David Frum asks "Does this speech make any sense at all? They’re going to raise taxes on almost nobody – and pay for almost everything." And check out Michael Knox Berans analysis of Edwards invocation of Disraelis "Two Nations" and why its dangerous.
I have had a busy day, so I haven’t had a chance to say anything on the speeches of Kennedy, Dean, Obama, and Mrs. Heinz-Kerry. This was just as well because I did not trust the immediate opinion I formed last night. On the one hand I thought Obama speech was quite good, was disappointed with Kennedy and Dean, and frankly embarassment when Mrs. Kerry spoke, I found myself wanting to go get a sandwich. Obama, contra Teresa, said some interesting and even rational things. He thinks we are one people, not black or white, etc., and this is a good thing. He seems to appreciate the opportunity that this country represents, and knows we have enemies, and comes down on the side of compassion for those struggling (maybe he thinks too many are struggling, but that’s OK, I can live with that disagreement). He was quite good, and it is easy to see why so many Democrats are looking at him to be a future leader inn the party. Indeed, assuming the clobbering that Kerry’s going to get, we might as well prepare ourselves for a Hillary-Obama ticket. Edwards’ career might be over after November.
I think Teresa Kerry should not have spoken. She was terrible. It’s OK for her to get the reputation that she is a woman who speaks her mind, as long as there is some mind there to speak. But, alas, there isn’t one. This is a rich, self-absorbed, European aristocrat (a "continental African" as she so unartfully put it) who values appearance over substance, who can say hyphenated-Americans in at least six languages, and willing to learn it in another six. She is self-indulgent, haughty, and obtuse. She talked about her uninteresting self, thinking that her formulations were ever-so-deep and full of pith, yet only fully understood in all their depth only by those educated in Switzerland and weaned on the habits thirty of years of unimaginable wealth and all the bad habits that that brings to mere mortals. She finally got around to mentioning her husband, yet she said nothing personal or interesting about him. Such a woman is not in the habit of talking well of her servants. She has now become a massive disadvantage to John Kerry; and this was visible to all, including the heavy-breathing liberal commentators. They were at a loss, but they knew something bad--and revealing--had happened.
This Democratic convention--indeed the whole campaign--will be talked about and studied for years. Pundits and graduate students will talk for years about how Kerry became the nominee by accident, how the only thing that kept his boring self going and in the limelight was the weird anti-Bush hatred of a goodly part of his party (which had been at first whipped up by Howard Dean, and then added to by conspiracy theorist Michael Moore), how the Democrats united for the first time ever and how they admitted that unity was based on nothing but merely trying to oust a sitting president, how they assumed that 46% of the people so hated Bush that they were willing to vote for anybody but him, how their candidate never went up in the polls and how he lost what little momentum he had at the party convention, that (see the ABC News/Washington Post poll) and how after Kerry’s defeat the Democratic Party became the personal playground of a former president’s wife and how she let a newly minted U.S. Senator from Illinois play.
A few thoughts on last nights cable-only event:
1. The Dems are or should be grateful that the networks didnt carry the convention last night. Too call it tepid would be too much compliment. Ive had warm water with more flavor.
2. Its no secret that the speeches are being toned down so as to avoid a negative, anti-Bush convention, everyone knows this. But this strategy has left a void. The crowd, energized Monday night by their beloved boy-wonder, found that same enthusiasm kicked helplessly out of reach by the speeches of Ted Kennedy, Ron Reagan, the governor of Arizona, and Theresa Heinz Kerry. The only thing to get excited about all night was the performance delivered by Barak Obama -- yes, he is a rising star. The strategists, as I understand their thinking, didnt think it wise to spend four days denouncing the president. They want their delegates to hear something positive about their own candidate, and feel good about their own party. They want the American public to hear an affirmative reason to vote Democratic. The problem, as became clear last night, is that while it is dangerous to do nothing but ridicule a sitting president, it is likely just as dangerous to expose the true values and agenda of the Democratic Party. As Dick Armey used to say, "Conservatives are afraid that if we tell people the truth, they wont understand it. Liberals are afraid they will." Thus, we never heard any positive, affirmative spin for the Democratic agenda. No mention of gay marriage, advancing "choice," raising taxes, raising tarrifs, cutting military budgets, curtailing law enforcement, affirmative action, or gun control. The closest we got to any discussion of an issue was Ron Reagan extolling the virtues of stem-cell research in a speech that was ostensibly to be "non-partisan" (though he couldnt pull that off) and delivered by a man that I wager most Americans would call a "moderate" if for no other reason than that he was a Reagan at the Democratic National Convention. Now, the next two days may prove otherwise, but I bet the Dems are smart enough to know that talking out loud about their true agenda for America wouldnt play well. So instead, we get platitudes about John Kerrys heroism in a war that liberals despise.
3. I caught Wolf Blitzers take on Ted Kennedys speech. It went something like: "Gee, that was pretty tame for ol Ted. Not much red meat there, was there? I thought he was supposed to rally the troops and fire things up. Bill Snyder, youre our chief political analyst, you listened to Senator Kennedy closely. What did you think of the speech?" Snyder: "Well, Wolf, I was really interested to see who was in the audience here. Did you see Maria Shriver? Shes here tonight. Of course, you know, shes the wife of the Republican governor of California. And shell be an honored guest at the Republican convention next month. Isnt that amazing? Maria Shrivers here." Thanks guys.
4. Theresa Heinz Kerry did nothing to help. As one FoxNews reporter said following her speech, Mrs. Heinz Kerry was the first first lady (nominee) to have a keynote slot at a national convention...and she might be the last. Another reporter called her speech "bordering on the bizarre." Watching the post-game on FoxNews, I knew the left knew they were in trouble as soon as the analyst from NPR started saying how very little turns on the performance of a first lady. No one votes or doesnt vote because of the first lady. This was really inconsequential for the campaign. The others on the show, Fred Barnes, Morton Kondracke, Bill Kristol and Brit Hume all thought her performance was awful. It did nothing to tell us about the candidate. It told us only about his wife -- and did nothing to make us more comfortable with her. Yet another reason not to carry this on network television.
5. Barak Obama will be a star.
6. Its true that Monday night had a different feel to it. The crowd was excited, enraptured even, by Clinton. Maybe Tuesday night was just a bad hangover; the price you pay in the morning for one too many shots of Slick. If not, if this is all they got, the Dems are in trouble.
As you know from his post below, Robert is back. He landed in Chicago last night and, following specific instructions from his chief, he went to the first watering hole and had a stiff one on me. Now go and view the manners of the town, peruse the traders, gaze upon the buildings. Love your family. Be content, traveller. Welcome home Robert. Job well done.
Over at the Corner, John Derbyshire had this to say about Michael Moores appearance last night on Bill OReillys show:
Just caught the Michael Moore, Bill OReilly exchange. They were both pretty slow-footed, though Id give it to OReilly on points.
The Big Mick would not give a straight answer to Moores question: "Would you sacrifice your child for Fallujah?" All right, its a stupid question as phrased. OReilly should have said that. Then he should have said this: "If a child of mine wished to pursue a career in the U.S. military, I should be proud. If he was then sent off to fight in a hot war, in which the USA had engaged under the proper conventional and constitutional procedures of this republic -- under the command of the President, with the approval of the Congress -- I would make no attempt to stop him. If he died in combat, I should grieve as a loving parent; but I would blame nobody. And if anyone tried to make political capital out of my childs death, I would loathe that person."
The Left has never departed in any significant way from Leninist collectivism. Human beings are not autonomous spiritual beings, possessed of free will. They are mechanical units who need to be directed, governed, shoveled around like so many truckloads of concrete, socially engineered. Or they are "children," to be scolded and directed and constantly supervised.
Evelyn Waugh once interrupted someone who was telling him something about "the man in the street." Said Waugh: "There is no such thing as the man in the street. There are only men, each possessed of an immortal soul, who from time to time feel the need to use streets." I imagine that to Michael Moore, that remark is utterly incomprehensible.
Opening my email this morning, there were press releases about two bombings in Iraq which occurred this morning: a car bombing in Baqubah which killed 20 Iraqis and wounded 15 others, and a IED near the Multi-National Force (MNF) Camp north of Al Hillah, for which there were no reported MNF injuries. It was interesting to read these reports here in the States, because I visited both of these places in the last week.
UPDATE: I just received a press release updating the numbers to 45 Iraqis dead, and 98 wounded.
I arrived back in the States last night. While selected for special customs screening, it was relatively painless. After being sent to the counter between the red pillars (never a good sign), I met with a customs officer. He looked at my paperwork, and noted that my travel took me to the UK, Jordan, and Iraq. "Yeah," I replied, "and I cant figure out why I would be selected for a special customs search." The Customs Officer then offered dryly, "Its a random search." After a few questions, including the standard repitition of questions to see if I would waiver, he let me through with a short stop at the Dept. of Agriculture desk (I have visited a farming area in the last week, and therefore they had to disinfect my shoes).
By contrast, I heard a very bad story about how the soldiers were treated on return at Atlantas airport. Sgt. Mattocks from the 196th traveled back to the United States for leave in June. When he got off the airplane in Atlanta, they had a special line for the soldiers, where they made them all remove their boots, hike up their desert camouflage uniform pants to about their knees, open their belts, and stand in a line of about 300 soldiers waiting to be searched. Aside from subjecting them to even closer scrutiny than they subjected to non-U.S. citizens traveling to the states, the TSA operated this procedure in front of the foreign travelers. This sent a very bad message about how we treat our soldiers.
Johnny and I finished painting the basement last night, and allowed the TV to be turned to the convention. We listened while we painted. We finished about two hours after Clinton spoke. With the exception of Carter’s speech, they got everything they wanted from the first night: unity. Unity for what, of course, is the big question. In the end, all disagreements, from big things--the war--to small--health care--the party will for the convention (and I presume for the campaign) just shut up and vote anti-Bush. This is a heck of thing to hinge a political party on, especially during pressing times. It is too dependent on both events and Bush’s prudence. It is also an attempt to hide Kerry’s weaknesses. It won’t work, Bill Clinton’s excellent speech (never mind the demagoguery), and the focus on 9/11, notwithstanding. Now comes the real work. I wonder if viewership (not large as it was, according to Drudge) will decline to nothing by the time Kerry speaks. I’m betting it will decline, and this portends their problem in the campaign.
Jonah Goldberg in USA Today writes, in my opinion, an almost perfect column on the Democrats and the start of their convention. You must read the whole thing and when you do so, note a couple of formulations which are entirely fitting; here is one: "The point of this Potemkin unity is to seduce moderates and swing voters into believing that Kerry’s their guy." Also see this good piece on John Kerry by David Brooks, he says Kerry has unified the party "through sheer force of prolixity." Right.
Over at Division of Labour, another blog to which I occasionally contribute, economist E. Frank Stephenson looks into Bill Clintons claim last night that "Republicans favor concentrated wealth." It turns out that income inequality in the 1990s was significantly greater than in the "decade of greed" that was the 1980s. This must be an uncomfortable fact for that horny-handed son of toil, Senator John F. Kerry.
I took time out from book writing to watch Jimmy Carters dreadful speech (did he forget to take all the marbles out of his mouth?), and offer my reaction on National Review Online here.
Daniel Okrent, the public editor of The New York Times writes an article conceding the obvious.
Andrew Busch claims that the really interesting feature of the Democratic convention will be the insight it will provide into the Republican strategy for the Fall. As the Demo themes are developed during the convention, we should pay attention to how the GOP reacts to them; that will give us an insight into what they may be planning for the campaign. The two counterattacks against Kerry (that he is very Liberal, and that he is a flip-flopper) thus far have not worked well; they counteract each other. They should pick one and stick to it, he recommends branding him a Liberal. This has the advantage of both being true, and more useful politically. Yet, Busch warns,
the Republicans must begin giving a positive argument (a narrative, not a snapshot) as to why President Bush deserves another term. That should have two story lines, the economy and Iraq.
Aljazeera reports: "Organisers at the Democratic Party convention in United States have removed Aljazeeras logotype banner from its skybox without assigning reasons." They are not amused, but I am. In place of Aljazeeras logotype will be a banner reading "Strong for America." (Thanks to Instapundit)
Mark Steyn also has a few thoughts about Max Cleland, Sandy Berger, and revisionism in general. Domestic politics is in a rotten state, he argues. "A frivolous uncivil civil war is draining all the energy away from the real war. We warmongers didnt start the nitpicking, but somehow the entire landscape of U.S. politics has tilted so that a nation supposedly at war is spending most of its time looking through the rear window sniping about what was said and done in 2002, 2001, 2000, like the falling calendar leaves in a Hollywood flashback. The Democrats will always win on this playing field because, like some third-rate soap opera, their characters are not required to have any internal consistency."
Joseph Knippenberg makes a very good point in the Marietta Daily Journal (Georgia) about the dilemna and the opportunity the Demos face, and not only during the convention. The bitter partisan accusations that Bush is a liar by folks like Cleland, and the more moderated tone of the Demo platform, may allow the Kerry campaign to have it both ways; at least theyre try it, although probably less during th convention than during the campaign.
His op-ed is entitled, "Max Cleland, meet Michael Moore." He begins: "A few days ago, the Kerry campaign trotted out its national co-chair, former Georgia Senator Max Cleland, to repeat a bunch of canards regarding President George W. Bushs case for going to war with Iraq. The president, Cleland said, flat-out lied to Congress regarding Iraqs possession of weapons of mass destruction, its nuclear weapons program, its attempts to purchase yellowcake uranium in Africa and its ties to al-Qaida. Bushs real motive for going to war was that he concluded that his daddy was a failed president and one of the ways he failed was that he did not take out Saddam Hussein. So, Cleland concluded, Bush 43 had to be Mr. Macho Man.
"Unfortunately, the record painstakingly assembled by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and by its British counterpart doesnt support ex-Sen. Clelands charges. The intelligence community may have overstated the evidence it had for Saddams WMD, but the Bush Administration did not misrepresent the consensus, not only of the U.S. experts but of their colleagues abroad. As Prime Minister Tony Blair said in response to the British Butler report, the issue of good faith should now be at an end." Read it all.
Yesterday, I flew out of Baghdad International Airport to Amman, Jordan--thereby leaving Iraq for the first time in five months. There are two flights per day out of Baghdad to Amman on Royal Jordanian airlines, and the security is tight. Unless you have a DOD badge, you must get dropped off at a remove parking lot, where a shuttle bus picks you up to take you a significant distance to the main terminal. I must note that the terminal itself offered a freedom that we no longer enjoy in the United States: the freedom to smoke. Indeed, not just the freedom to smoke, but the freedom to smoke cigars. So, as I sat during the long wait for my planes departure, I enjoyed a fine cigar.
Once on the tarmac, one of the baggage handlers came up to me and said "check bag" while pointing at my carry-on. This was not a negotiable point, and so I replied, "Lau, Lau," (Arabic for no, no), explained that I had my camera and computer in the bag, and that checking it was not an option. He nodded his head, and said something like "Your luggage is my luggage." That really didnt change my mind. Finally, after some back and forth, I discovered that he was not asking me to check my bag, but to show me which of the checked baggage sitting by the plane was mine, so that they could assure that all the bags belonged to passengers on the flight before loading them. (I found that I was not the only one who had this misunderstanding with the baggage handler as I watched other passengers make similar protestations while boarding after me.)
When the plane took off, it immediately banked left and went almost straight up, rising in altitude extremely abruptly. For the next 15 minutes, the plane continued in a corkscrew pattern over the airport, ascending in altitude to the ultimate cruising altitude for the flight. I have been told that the pilots do this in order to get the aircraft to an altitude beyond the reach of RPGs and missiles before they leave the more secure perimeter of the airport. After that, it was smooth sailing into Jordan, where I am spending a short time before returning to the States.
I will be writing a full article on my visit to the mass graves, but I wanted to write a post here to provide something of a preview. My trip began on Friday with a drive down to Al Hillah. I was traveling with a representative of USAID, and therefore had the benefit of an armored SUV and a security detail. The road to Hillah from Baghdad is Rte. 1, a highway which Saddam reportedly built and maintained in order to facilitate his incursion into Kuwait. The road has been closed to non-Coalition traffic, and has numerous checkpoints along the way. As we drew further south, we entered the Multi National area of operations overseen by the Polish forces, and encountered a number of the Poles.
In Hillah on Friday I met with representatives of several human rights organizations operating in the area. Muhannad Al-Dolaimy, the general prosecutor and director of the Human Rights Association, explained how Saddam’s Deputy, Taha Yasin Ramadan, paid 300 Iraqi Dinars for each Shia a local sheik would bring to be tortured and killed. Far from disavowing the actions of the sheik, Saddam appeared on television with him, and thanked him for his efforts in putting down the 1991 Shia uprising. Despite some recent claims that the number of mass graves is less than expected, the groups continue to find mass graves, and have not been able to continue the exhumation process at the previous pace due to a lack of funding.
There are seven confirmed mass grave sites in the Hillah/Babyl area, from which approximately 25,000 bodies have been discovered. On Saturday, I visited the mass grave at Mahaweel, where 3,000 bodies have been unearthed. The bodies have been exhumed, however the groups left the clothes of victims who could not be identified over their graves, so that family members could use these items to help identify some of the unknown victims. The area now is simply a field marked off with concertina wire, containing mound after mound marking graves as far as the eye can see. It is easy to forget that these mounds marked graves, until you see a sweater, or a shoe, or a belt which belonged to the deceased.
From Mahaweel, we went to the headquarters of the Association of Free Prisoners—a group devoted to finding and documenting political prisoners in Iraq who have been freed, are missing, or were killed. The headquarters is in a bad part of town, and so the security detail was edgy about the trip. Accordingly, if there was not a spot to park close to the building, we would not be stopping. Thankfully, there was a spot directly in front. Even so, they requested that we keep the visit as short as possible.
The building itself looked like something of a museum dedicated to Saddam’s victims. The walls were lined with pictures of those who were found in the mass graves, as well as articles, such as watches, combs, coins, and ID cards, that were found at the grave sites. I first met with Karama Tehsin, who held pictures of her son and husband who disappeared from the market where they worked in 1991. She did not know that they were killed until their bodies were discovered at Mahaweel last year. Saddam’s government did not want to risk another uprising, and so his agents would spread misinformation about those who were killed. Karama explained how his Saddam’s agents would tell her that her son and husband were in prison, and would come periodically to tell her that they had been transferred to another location. They would also seek money from Karama, offering to help her find exactly where her family members were—money which she paid. For the 12 years between when they were captured and when their bodies were found, she explained that every time a knock came at the door, she held out hope that it would bring good news as to the whereabouts of her loved ones. But good news did not come, and when the excavation began at Mahaweel, they were able to identify her husband and son based on their ID cards. “Thank God we were able to give them a proper burial,” she explained. When I asked who she blamed for what happened, she said “Saddam” without hesitation, and when I asked what would bring justice for her loved ones, she said, “[t]he same way he killed them, he should be killed.”
I then met with Hassan Alawa Hussein, who knows a thing or two about Mahaweel: he was there when the mass executions took place. He was abducted and first taken to a locations where he was tortured with electrical shocks to his ears, teeth, hands, fingers, and toes. He was then blindfolded and his hands were tied behind his back for a trip by truck with many other prisoners to Mahaweel. There, the prisoners were unloaded in a ditch, where the soldiers began beating them repeatedly with sticks. Then they opened fire on the prisoners. A bullet hit Hassan in the leg, and he fell into a pile with the other bodies. There he lay for three hours, pretending to be dead while the soldiers moved around in the near distance. When he could not hear the soldiers for about 15 minutes, he got up, to discover that there were two others who survived the shootings. They made their way out of the area in the time that the grave was unguarded. This time was provided at great cost: the soldiers had simply gone to refill the truck with prisoners to transport to Mahaweel. Hassan is now a volunteer at the Association of Free Prisoners, where he helps other families to locate their lost loved ones.
The USAID was ultimately very helpful in setting up the meetings and getting me to the grave site, and for this I am grateful. What is disappointing, however, is that it took multiple requests of various individuals in the Coalition Press offices in order to get connected to the people to make this happen. Quite simply, the press office over here has not taken an active enough role in making these sites available. When I talked to members of the administration here, they seemed to think that the fact that Amb. Negroponte and Amb. Bremer visited was substantial coverage. But these events were mere blips on the media radar screen. For all the coverage of Abu Ghraib—for all the details we know about those incidents—there is still much we do not know about the systematic mass executions conducted by Saddam Hussein.
David Frum thinks that the Demo convention will have a tough time stifling its rage and paranoia, even though it can count on getting favorable media coverage. The
Wall Street Journal lists the 35 accredited bloggers to the Demo
convention. First time bloggers have been accredited to a convention. (And, of course, there are 15,000 traditional journalists and reporters also accredited. This means that there are 3 reporters for every delegate?) The only one I read daily is
Oxblog, theyre moderate Demos, Lieberman supporters. Speaking of blogs, the editor of the Sioux Fall Argus Leader, a vehemently pro-Daschle organ, hates bloggers and says they are yahoos. Then, to counter bloggers he doesnt like, he has decided to set up his own blog. John Fund also has a piece on bloggers. In case you are excited about Jimmy Carters appearance at the convention (and if you dont have time to read Steve Haywards The Real Jimmy Carter), you may want to read this interview Hayward did at NRO on Carter. To the point, amusing, Steve asserts that Jimmy has Carterized the Democratic Party.
Ah, sweet irony. Theresa Heinz Kerry gives a speech to the Pennsylvania delegation about the need for greater civility in politics. In the speech, she said "We need to turn back some of the creeping, un-Pennsylvanian and sometimes un-American traits that are coming into some of our politics." After the interview, Colin McNickle, the editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, asked her what she meant by un-American. On a video you can see on this page, she repeatedly states that she did not say un-American--something which she most certainly did say (which is also verified in the video). When she finds out who the reporter was, i.e., a conservative, she ran over to him and said that "You said something I didn’t say. Now shove it." What was her press flack’s response? "This was sheer frustration, aimed at a right-wing rag, that has consistently and purposely misrepresented the facts in reporting on Mrs. Kerry and her family." Aside from the ad hominem, they fail to address the fact that she lashed out at the reporter who was correct about her use of the word "un-American."
The Guardian offers a glimpse into Saddams life behind bars. During one radio interview, I was asked whether I thought Saddam might be suffering mistreatment in prison in light of the revelations from the Abu Ghraib scandal. I suggested that if having foie gras which is not up to his previous standards is torture, then he may have a claim.
Ramesh Ponnuru has an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that is worth considering. He argues that--so far--Kerry’s tactical caution has paid off. He has put himself foward as a centrists, a la Bill Clinton, candidate. He has not taken on any faction within the Demo Party, and has not needed to. He can just assume that the looney and loud Left within the party will support him even if he keeps his mouth shut; a reasonable assumption. But that doesn’t mean that the Michael Moore crowd will not continue to alienate voters that Kerry needs. He is not Dean-like in his views on Iraq, and even his boring personality seems to be useful, for now. Ramesh is right in saying that there is a very large assumption here: Kerry assumes that they are starting the campaign "with the loyalty of nearly half the voters," and he thinks he can court the remainder he needs by tactical means (stay quiet on gun control, obfuscate on abortion, etc.), and "not because people were excited about a Kerry presidency." This is all sensible, even though I don’t think the assumption is true. Yet, he doesn’t have the moderate credentials that Bill Clinton so laboriously cultivated before he ran; Kerry has a long record as a Liberal, both before and during his Senate stint. That will be hard to shake off. It isn’t going to be enough to keep talking about the fact that he served in Vietnam; the massive fact of what he did after he returned will be the thing that makes him into a candidate that cannot be trusted with the well-being of the country during this war. But, above all, Kerry has not yet turned anyone who wasn’t already opposed to Bush in his direction so they may hear what he has to say. This is what his people claim he is supposed to start doing at next week’s convention, as long as they can keep the convention from turning into nothing but Bush bashing. And the biographical story will not overwhelm anyone, in the end. This guy is not from Hope. He will have to--above all else--lay out some serious ideas on the war (which includes Iraq) that are different from Bush’s. If Iraq had fallen into a civil war, enough people would have turned in his direction to listen to him articulate a different option; he would have had the chance of persuading them. But this hasn’t happened, and Kerry is now at a large disadvantage relying almost solely on the Demo votes cobbled together by Clinton, and later used by Gore. But Kerry, not being a centrist Democrat, will have to re-earn those Democratic votes. The overly ethusiastic anti-Bush Left has obscured this fact. Besides, he is not running against the governor of Texas. He is running against a fellow who has been president for almost four years, and one who continues to conduct a war, a serious war. That’s the leadership issue that Bush wins hands down in every poll. Besides, Bush is well liked as a person; not a small matter. Here is my prediction for the convention: Kerry will only be partly successful, and will not come out of the convention with a "bounce" of more than five percent. That will prove to be devastating because Bush’s authority will continue to rise through the Fall, and Kerry’s failure will be perfectly clear a week before the election.
Michael Moores movie has been shown in Poland, and the Poles--who know something about propaganda--are not amused. Reviewer Jacek Szczerba called the film a "foul pamphlet". "In criticising Moore, I have to admit that he has certain abilities - Leni Riefenstahl had them too," Mr. Szczerba said in his review. Riefenstahl was Hitlers propagandist. (Thanks to Instapundit)
On page 68 of the 9/11 Commission Report the following statement is made, and then elaborated upon: "Bin Laden also relies heavily on the Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb." Qutb makes clear that there is no middle ground in the fight between Islam and unbelief so all Muslims must take up arms in this fight and any Muslim who rejects his ideas is just another nonbeliever worthy of destruction.
Qutb is a very important thinker. He is the premier Islamic radical, the one who made the hatred of the West into an ideology, and did this through his understanding of Islam, especially in his
In the Shade of the Qur’an, still the most widely read commentary on the Qur’an. Osama bin Laden is deeply influenced by Qutb, and, by the way, Qutb’s brother was bin Laden’s tutor.
Ashbrook Scholars write a Statesmanship Thesis (senior thesis, if you like) before graduating. Normally they start work on it during their Junior year, hand in the last draft a month before graduation, and also defended in public a few weeks before graduation. Each year we choose the best thesis for the Charles E. Parton Award, named after the second director of the Ashbrook Center, one who encouraged students to write a serious thesis before graduation. This year’s recipient of the Parton Award was Luke Loboda. His Statesmanship Thesis is entitled, "The Thought of Sayyid Qutb: Radical Islam’s Philosophical Foundations." Although long, it is worth reading, especially now. Enjoy it. Luke was a history and political science major, his intention is to teach in a good high school.