Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The horror of the Iraqi prisoner abuse

This story about some U.S. soldiers abusing and/or torturing Iraqi prisoners is simply awful. While it should go without saying that such immoral behavior is an anomaly, yet it is a horror and should be acknowledged as such, as the President has already done. The people, the stupid, heartless, vile people--from the privates to the generals--responsible for this must be brought to justice. In my anger I am am even willing to consider bringing them up on charges of aiding the enemy, for surely these actions and photos--splashed across all TV screens and newspapers in Iraq, and the world--will make our good work in the region all the more difficult. How could it not? The justice to come should be harsh and swift and public.

Here is Spencer Ackerman’s take on the matter, Ralph Peters calls it an American disaster. Phil Carter thinks it’s criminal, disgusting, makes his stomach turn, and is truly reprehensible stuff. He wants to throw the book at the whole chain of command that allowed this happen. Sgt. Stryker is enraged. The Arab world is outraged.

This great generation

Julie Ann Ponzi tells the story of Brian Wood, a quiet and thoughtful patriot. "When Brian was a sophomore in high school, he announced to his mother his decision to follow in the footsteps of his father, three uncles and a grandfather and join the military upon completing high school. Because of his deep interest in reading and, especially, in reading history he also maintained the goal of eventually becoming a high school history teacher. But his quiet skepticism kept him from pursuing that goal right away. You see, he was leery of enrolling in just any college program. His instincts—quite correctly—made him suspicious of most college history professors. Besides, he had another way to defend his country in mind." Read on.

Yeats reading

You can hear W.B. Yeats reading "The Lake Isle of Innisfree." And you can read it here. (Thanks to John Derbyshire at The Corner). If you have a soft weekend you might want to read "Sailing to Byzantium", or "When You are Old", both favorites.

U.N. as failure

The Canadian PM said some very interesting things about the UN: "With yesterday’s landmark speech, Paul Martin tacitly acknowledged what Canada’s foreign policy establishment has refused to accept for decades: that the United Nations is a failure, for which there is no solution.

The Prime Minister’s proposed alternative is a new international body, the G-20 summit of world leaders, representative of North and South, developed and developing, rich and poor: a working group unfettered by the UN’s bureaucracy and its anachronistic Security Council." How about that!

Bill Bennett’s radio show

In case you’re interested in listening to Bill Bennett’s new radio program, "Bill Bennett’s Morning in America", there are two options. The first is XM Satellite Radio. They are on from 6:00 am to 9:00 am on channel 168.

The second is on-line. If you go to here and click on the "Listen Online" button on the top of the page, you can hear his most recent show.

If you want to hear Bennett’s very good talk at the Ashbrook Center last Friday, click here. The whole thing, including his response to questions, is about an hour long.

Who are we?

James Ceasar reviews Sam Huntington’s Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s Identity and thinks that Huntington’s two ways (creed and culture) are both deficient. Rich Lowry also considers Huntington, and goes a bit farther off the mark by deemphasizing "creed": "Huntington sees an America gripped in a ’crisis of national identity.’ What is that identity? It is partly based on what Huntington calls The Creed, our belief in liberty, democracy, individual rights, etc. But The Creed has a particular source: America’s Anglo-Protestant culture, which includes "the English language; Christianity; religious commitment; English concepts of the rule of law, the responsibility of rulers, and the rights of individuals; and dissenting Protestant values of individualism, the work ethic, and the belief that humans have the ability and the duty to try to create heaven on earth, a ’city on the hill.’"

Well, I don’t think a mini-treatise has to be written on this, it is enough to say that Ceasar is closer to a true understanding of the matter than is Lowry. See this and this.

I prefer to talk in terms of principle and not ancestry, of the electric cord and the moral sentiment, as explained by Lincoln: "We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that ’We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’ and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are.

That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world. [Applause.]" See full text of his speech

McDermott’s under God hesitation

Phil Munoz has a brief take on Congressman Jim McDermott’s inability to say "under God" in the pledge. (Thanks to Powerline)


Bernard Lewis speaks

Bernard Lewis, the great scholar of Islam and the Middle East, is interviewed in The Atlantic  

U.N. matters

The UN bans the sale of WMD’s to terrorists. Great move. I feel very safe now. Note that Kofi Annan has an opinion on what we are doing in Fallujah: "Violent military action by an occupying power against inhabitants of an occupied country will only make matters worse. It’s definitely time, time now for those who prefer restraint and dialogue to make their voices heard." Thank you Mr. Secretary General, that is helpful; keep talking. Just maybe, Annan should consider this piece by Claudia Rosett on the Oil-for-Food program from Commentary, and then talk about that.

More Travel, and More Radio

Tomorrow I am heading east on a six hour trek across Northern Iraq, so I will be unavailable most of the day. I have been asked to do the Lars Larson show this evening at 8:00 Eastern Time. I am going to see if I can push that a little later to allow me some sleep, but will try to do it. I will also be doing the J. D. Balart show on Liberty Broadcasting tomorrow at noon, and you should be able to listen live on the internet by going here. Finally, I will be on Ron Insana’s show on Saturday from 12:05- 12:25 pm.

Bush’s approval rating

Pew poll shows that Bush’s approval rating rose in April. "President Bush’s approval ratings have improved over the month of April even as Americans continue to express strong concerns about Iraq and the way the president is handling that situation. The latest nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center finds 48% approving and 43% disapproving of Bush’s overall job performance. This is slightly better than the 43% rating he received in early April, conducted in the days immediately following the murder and mutilation of American contractors in Falluja."


The Belmont Club continues to have some thoughtful observations on the military situation is Fallujah. Note this useful map of the city, and his commentary on it.

Brinkley as PR flack for Kerry

Alex Beam, writing in the Boston Globe, considers the historian Douglas Brinkley’s role in the Kerry-for-president machine: he thinks Brinkley is a PR flack for Kerry, and is no longer a historian.

New Iraqi flag

This is a pretty clear, and short, explanation of the meaning of the proposed new Iraqi flag.

U.N. oil-for food-scandal

The more information we have about the corruption at the UN, the worse it all looks. This Washington Times article is worth reading. The vast majority of the United Nations’ oil-for-food contracts in Iraq have mysteriously vanished, crippling investigators trying to uncover fraud in the program, a government report charged yesterday. Dick Morris claims that all this explains French and Russian opposition to overthrowing Saddam. Claudia Rosett argues that some of the money got into al Qaeda’s hands. I will be interested in finding out the depth of the corruption; this might destroy whatever moral authority the U.N. has (very little, in my opinion) in even liberal circles.

Bing Crosby at 100

Thomas Sowell remembers Bing Crosby, the singer and the man. May 2nd is the 100th anniversary of his birth. Powerline adds a few more thoughts, with some good links.

FOB Speicher

Today I have moved to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Speicher (pronounced "spiker"), which is about 15 minutes from Tikrit. The base houses the 216 Engineers, which includes a fair number of Ohio natives (I bumped into a Medina resident in the first 5 minutes, and began swapping stories about Chippewa Lake). I will likely be here for a few days before shipping off to Tuz, a small city just to the South of Kirkuk. Also, NRO should be publishing my piece on Media Incivility and Bias in Iraq later today, so look for it there.

Welcome to Task Force Danger

In preparation for my embed, I checked out of my hotel. This was a strange (although thankfully expected) experience because the hotels in Baghdad only take cash, thereby necessitating that I pay for all seven weeks in greenbacks. Then it was off to the Green Zone to catch my Blackhawk. For those of you who have never flown by Blackhawk, I highly recommend it. I had flown in one when I was embedded with the medevac unit for a day, but they fly doors closed. These fly doors open, with belt-fed 50 caliber guns on each side of the bird. For safety, the birds fly low—about 50 – 60 feet—rising in altitude only to clear the high tension power lines, and then dropping fast (thrill ride fast) as soon as they passed them. The birds tended to make banking turns when over palm groves (which are areas from which Ali Babas love to launch attacks), presumably to give the gunners a clearer look through the palms. Of course, tipping the birds also gives reporters like me, sitting as I was in an opened-door window seat, an equally fine view. When we cleared the cities and were over a salt flat where there were clearly no people, the gunners each let off some rounds to test their weapons. The shots literally out the blue were somewhat startling, and were followed by the cascade of shell casings following the slip-stream of the aircraft.

After leaving Baghdad, there was a surprising amount of green. Much of the flight was over small farms, and many of these farms had some modest amount of livestock—sheep, goats, chicken, and cows. One thing that I found surprising was that the majority of the people I saw working the fields were women—some of whom were assisted by children of varying ages. I do not know if this was an odd cross-section, or if this is common.

Upon arriving in Tikrit, we went to the largest of Saddam’s palaces. There are over 30 palaces in Tikrit alone—the biggest actually consisting of 7 connected buildings. That edifice is grand, with many chandeliers, literally tons of imported Italian marble, and walls detailed by ornate carving. (Saddam had his initials carved into the border detail of these carvings, assuring that he cannot be completely “defaced.”) In one area of the palace, Saddam placed three Shakespearean-styled balconies. The interpreter informed me that this seemingly odd choice was made because Saddam was a great fan of Shakespeare’s plays—or at least the Arabic translation of the plays.

Upon arrival, the press corp. was briefed by Major General John Batiste. The opening statement gave a general overview of security conditions in the 1st Infantry Division’s area of operations. During questions, the General asserted that the route between Baghdad and Mosul is secure. It is useful to note that secure does not mean IED-free. There are still a significant number of IEDs found on the roads, but the more organized attacks and hijacking that was a serious issue a couple of weeks ago does not appear to be an issue now.

While it does not dominate the news in the way that Fallujah does, the 1st ID conducts almost daily raids in Samarra and Balad. Of course, we are in Tikrit, Saddam’s home town, which has been relatively quiet despite the unrest in other Sunni cities. I asked the General what the secret was for Tikrit—why, when the world expects it to be a hotbed of violence, is it relatively calm for the region. While he suggested that there is the potential for things to go badly in Tikrit (presumably based on the number of Baathists and Saddam loyalists), he pointed to a number of features which have prevented this. In particular, he pointed to engagement, predictive intelligence, and working with the mayor. While he did not say this, the first of these, if not all three, had been deficient in Fallujah preceding the recent unrest. The General also pointed to those good people in Tikrit, who are tired of the insurgent attacks. If he is right, and segments of the population have been able to have a moderating effect on the extreme elements in a stronghold such as Tikrit, than there is some reason for a modicum of hope that other Sunni cities would be able to replicate this success. Fallujah may still be a problem, however, because the insurgents there are believed to include a healthy mix of foreign fighters, who are likely to be less moved by the appeal of locals for armistice.

The ethics of fighting in Fallujah

Jeffrey Tiel has some "ethical reflections" on Fallujah. A sample: "So far American doctrine seems perfectly reasonable. Yet the American military is seemingly unwilling to exercise its power. Once the offer to extract the local population is satisfied, full military power may be used against the defenders. Why, e.g., would ground troops engage in small arms fire with the defenders on the outskirts rather than employ heavy artillery and heavy bombers on the town? A town that engages in widespread rebellion should be threatened with total destruction unless unconditional surrender is accepted. Once that demand is rejected, the town should be obliterated with the aim of entirely consuming the enemy and anyone foolish enough to remain with him. This level of destruction makes it an "ill-bargain" for other potential insurgents to consider rebellion. Notice that following World War II, one did not find German and Japanese insurgencies even though weapons and training were far more readily available. The reason for this is that the threat of complete destruction was not idle, and the people were tired of war. Current American warfighting doctrine in the name of being ethical actually motivates the people to support continued hostility."

Is Kerry blowing it?

More liberals and conservatives are asking whether Kerry is capable of being a serious candidate. I do not think this is an academic issue, the Demo apparatchiks are losing sleep over their inferior candidate.

Sharia courts in Canada

It was bound to happen. According to the Washington Post, Ontario is going to act on a 1991 law permitting religious arbitration of private disputes and allow Muslim sharia courts to decide family matters like inheritance and divorce. There are some limitations: both parties must consent to go in front of these courts, and the courts cannot decide the rights of third parties (e.g., children), impose criminal penalties, or make any ruling contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights.

Despite these restrictions, the Post reports that Muslim leaders in Toronto regard the new courts as a "significant step" toward replacement of Canadian civil law by sharia. This is happening partly because Canada’s official multi-culturalism allows and encourages group-identity thinking, which itself comes out of the unresolved English-French division. But the cause is deeper than that because unlike the old cultural disputes, this one is a matter of principle, not language. For some Muslims in Canada (and the West more generally), religious liberty does not mean freedom of private worship but, as one woman put it, the right of "all Muslims" to be "governed by Islamic law," whether or not it is liberal.

For now, Canada is trying to muddle through by limiting what the sharia courts can do. But soon someone will ask why sharia sanctions cannot be applied in domestic matters like adultery. Unfortunately, it’s not at all clear what Canada will decide because -- as its committment to multi-cuturalism shows -- it doesn’t really believe that politics can be based on self-evident truths that are good for all people, Muslim or not.

With that lack of conviction, who knows what is bound to happen.

A soldier returning home

As an addition to Robert Alt’s "Tillman Generation," you might want to read this about Chance Phelps, another soldier returning home.

Alt in Tikrit

Do not expect much from Robert today since he is an embed up in Tikrit. He will check in when he can.

Democratic dread

The Village Voice sees the problem with the Kerry candidacy. It is short, so I quote it all, without the paragraphs: "With the air gushing out of John Kerry’s balloon, it may be only a matter of time until political insiders in Washington face the dread reality that the junior senator from Massachusetts doesn’t have what it takes to win and has got to go. As arrogant and out of it as the Democratic political establishment is, even these pols know the party’s got to have someone to run against George Bush. They can’t exactly expect the president to self-destruct into thin air.

With growing issues over his wealth (which makes fellow plutocrat Bush seem a charity case by comparison), the miasma over his medals and ribbons (or ribbons and medals), his uninspiring record in the Senate (yes war, no war), and wishy-washy efforts to mimic Bill Clinton’s triangulation gimmickry (the protractor factor), Kerry sinks day by day. The pros all know that the candidate who starts each morning by having to explain himself is a goner.

What to do? Look for the Dem biggies, whoever they are these days, to sit down with the rich and arrogant presumptive nominee and try to persuade him to take a hike. Then they can return to business as usual—resurrecting John Edwards, who is still hanging around, or staging an open convention in Boston, or both.

If things proceed as they are, the dim-bulb Dem leaders are going to be very sorry they screwed Howard Dean."


The Belmont Club has a thought on last night’s bombing in Fallujah: "An AC-130 struck two sites in Fallujah about 150 meters apart resulting in secondary explosions. It is possible that the USMC, after probing consecutively, has thrown the enemy a curve ball and attacked the mustering sites where the Jihadis were briefing and arming their mobile task groups for the night, the locations deduced from movement patterns gleaned from previous engagements. The other possibility is that the USMC has identified preparations for the final redoubt and struck at their magazines. The creation of a continuous enemy line would require consolidating munitions, especially explosives, into the defensive area to wire it up completely. The distance of 150 meters between attack points is consistent with a defensive area about 300 yards square. The loss of munitions is irreplaceable to the enemy and probably reduces their effectiveness as much as attrition in men.

If the Marines follow up, the enemy may be forced to continue a plan now in shambles right over a cliff. Hence, it is possible the enemy will develop a sudden appetite for a truce to gain time to rebuild their scattered positions. Alternatively the Marines themselves could ease up the tempo, handing the enemy another unexpected change of pace, to haul more civilians out of the area and snipe at the stragglers as they regroup. Either that or launch more and possibly multidirectional probes. The enemy has no good moves left, only the evil choices of continuing a mobile defense with dwindling numbers and weapons or consolidation in a bastion with much a much reduced magazine capacity. Of course, the trapped men are probably hoping for a diversionary attack from their cohorts in the rest of the Sunni triangle, but that is a forlorn expectation. Killing those four Blackwater contractors was an expensive proposition."

Big Boom

I am wrapping up at the internet cafe, and I just heard a large boom--not-too-close, but not-too-far away either. The kid at the desk thought it came from the direction of the Palace, but I think that is rank speculation.

Lars Larson Show

I will be on the Lars Larson Show tonight at 9 PM Eastern Time/6 PM Left Coast Time (and, for those of you who did the math, 5 AM Baghdad time). His show is broadcast on Westwood One, so there’s a good chance that there is a station in your area that carries his show. You can find a station here, or listen live on the internet here. I’ll be broadcasting just before I head out to catch my Blackhawk to Tikrit, so do tune in.

Fallujah and Bud Bagsak

The Belmont Club continues to have some interesting thoughts on the goings-on in Iraq. Note the comparison between Fallujah and the showdown between Blackjack Pershing and the Moros at Bud Bagsak (1913); note the use of the Philippine Scouts. Also note the Belmont Club’s second entry on the Hunter UAV’s.

Jihadi International

Jason Burke, in Foreign Policy, has a few readable and quick thoughts on the state of Al Qaeda, which he says is less an organization than an ideology. He thinks it is better to call these guys "jihadi international", as the Israeli intelligence services calls them, than Al Qaeda. He is rather pessimistic; thinks we are not winning. "Bin Laden’s aim is to radicalize and mobilize. He is closer to achieving his goals than the West is to deterring him."


John Kerry is losing the support he once had with young voters, between 18-29, an IPSOS poll shows. He once had a double digit lead, now is running even with Bush in this age group. Marist poll shows Bush ahead, while Fox news poll shows them neck and neck. Rasmussen also has Bush in the lead. Tony Quinn thinks it is a mistake to think that California is pre-destined to vote for Kerry. Worth reading. Meanwhile, Jon Keller reflects on how Kerry won the primary race, and he doesn’t think Kerry had much to do with: he was being led. It is clear to me that his presidential candidacy is on the verge of collapse, for what that’s worth. Mickey Kaus implies that the Demos should note that they haven’t nominated Kerry yet. And I am not even talking about the medals/ribbons flap. Bad signs for Kerry, these.

Sweet Irony

Much has been written over at The Corner about the abortion march this past weekend. One quote is simply too good not to pass along. Kathryn Lopez reports that Rep. Maxine Waters told the crowd: “I have to march because my mother could not have an abortion.” With quotes like these, I don’t even need to offer a punchline.

David Brooks on Chernow’s Hamilton

David Brooks writes a splendid review of what he calls the best biography of Alexander Hamilton to date. In "’Alexander Hamilton’: Rich Uncle of His Country",
Brooks gives a synopsis of Hamilton’s life, interspersed with Chernow’s insights and observations. A few excerpts follow.

Brooks comparing Chernow’s bio to other noteworthy ones:

"Other writers, like Forrest McDonald, Liah Greenfeld and Karl-Friedrich Walling, have done better jobs describing Hamilton’s political philosophy, but nobody has captured Hamilton himself as fully and as beautifully as Chernow (who is perhaps best known as the author of ’Titan,’ a biography of John D. Rockefeller). Hamilton, we now see, was a dark thicket: aspiring and optimistic, but also pessimistic about human nature and often depressed. He was a modern striver, but also an archaic man with a deeply self-destructive lust for aristocratic honor. He was devoted to his heroic wife, but he was uncontrollable at times, and easily manipulated by his incomprehensibly stupid mistress, Maria Reynolds."

Chernow on Hamilton’s political economy:

"Hamilton dreamed of a vibrant economy that would allow aspiring meritocrats like himself to rise and realize their full capacities. He sought to smash the aristocratic fiefs enjoyed by Southern landowners like Jefferson and to replace them with a diversified marketplace that would be open to immigrants and the lowborn. Their vigor, he felt, would drive the nation to greatness. ’Every new scene, which is opened to the busy nature of man to rouse and exert itself, is the addition of a new energy to the general stock of effort,’ he wrote."

Chernow on Hamilton’s distinctively American mind and motivations:

"Hamilton, whose life, as Chernow notes, was ’a case study in the profitable use of time,’ absorbed Plutarch, Bacon and the Bible and emerged onto the public stage as a pamphleteer for the American Revolution. ’The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records,’ he wrote in 1775 at 20. ’They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature by the hand of the divinity itself and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.’"

A plea for sanity

Here is a moving piece from the Jerusalem Post (registration required) on Elias Khoury, the father of a young Arab Israeli shot by terrorists while jogging because they "thought he was a Jew." Khoury, a one-time lawyer for the Palestinian Authority, says that the PA had better stop the incitement and start acting like a responsible government (rather than a mafia clan) because they bear responsibility for the terrible conditions of the Palestinians.

The Tillman Generation

Here is my piece in NRO today.

Fallujah taking the "diplomatic track"

WaPo reports that a full scale invasion of Fallujah was set aside in favor of a diplomatic track, which includes joint U.S.-Iraq patrols of Fallujah. Note that the military leaders are already suggesting that these joint patrols may not cut it. It is certain that the Marines will be fired upon. I understand the desire not to enrage the Arab world, and I also understand that the Coaltion took a PR beating in the last round of fighting, but I also do not believe that joint patrols are going solve the problem. What it will do is change the nature of the engagement from offensive to (at least perceptually) defensive. This may permit the Coaltion to make progress without spurring on more attacks and fighters elsewhere, but in the short term it will cost Marines their lives on the ground.

Kerry’s Medals

ABC News reports on the mini-controversy over whether John Kerry threw away his medals. First he said he threw them away on the 1971 television show Viewpoints, and now he says he didn’t, or if he did they were someone elses. I find it most interesting if he threw out someone elses medals and then took credit for the act. It is in keeping with his character: he took credit back then for taking a popular position, but now that he is running for office and it would be unacceptable to have done so, he has reversed course.

More work on articles

Sorry for the quiet weekend, but I was working on articles I am trying to finish before I leave for the embed. I submitted one article to NR this morning, so it is possible you will see it soon. I also received word that the Army should be able to fly me to Tikrit on Wednesday, which saves me the trouble of trying to arrange for some sort of statistically less safe ground transport.