February 23, 2006

Some good sense on the Ports

The choking fog of nonsense and islamophobic/xenophobic shouting is giving way, at last, to some good sense. There are people willing to take a look at the situation before taking Chuck Shumer's word on it.

Over at Politburo Diktat, J.D. (nice initials!) is conspicuously free of panic. From there we can link to Deans' World where Dean himself (again, a great name) has soe background on the UAE.

Everyone seems to think that the administration was exceedingly foolish to not realize that this was a dangerous position politically, but I am going to disagree. First of all, the reason not to be "prepared for a storm" is that there is nothing really there. How can one be prepared for a mass hallucination? This is a normal run-of-business deal, that actually takes place elsewhere. One group of foreign nationals we like sells a firm to another group of foreign nationals we like. No one in Washington "awarded" anything to anyone.

I suspect that a shift from some English owners to some Arab owners didn't raise warning flags with the people involved because they know both parties well. We do a lot of business with the UAE today, and now we'll do a bit more. I strongly suspect that Congress has been fully briefed but either did not attend the briefing (very common practice on Capitol Hill) or didn't pay much attention. Now they are shocked to find that foreigners are doing business in this country.

What will they do when they discover that the ships unloading in those ports are foreign owned and staffed, and that there are foreign airlines operating in U.S. airports. Those folks from Lufthansa are acquiring vital information about the operations of our air facilities, and Germany has ties to terrorism (or at least some Germans did, which in this new way of thinking amounts to the same thing.)

Welcome to globalisation, folks. I'm afraid it is too late to fight it, we have to make our peace with it and learn how to live in a shrinking world.

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Posted by Jay on February 23, 2006 at 01:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (48) | TrackBack

February 21, 2006

In the face of hysteria, let's deal with the truth

The Muslim world, or at least a highly visible part of it, has erupted into a raging hysteria over what they claim is rampant anti-Islamic feelings in the Western nations. Most commenters in the West, myself included, believe that this is a manufactured offense, and a manufactured rage. Both the charge and the reaction are based on deliberate misinformation, which has fueled the well-fed paranoia of the region. The antidote to this madness is truth.

In the West we hold to a concept of symmetry and balance that the Muslim world does not share. We try, in our better moments, to treat them with the same fair hand we would hope they would show us. As I mentioned, the Muslim leadership has been clear that they don't hold with this thinking, so we would be naive in expecting them to recognize that they themselves are guilty of what they accuse of the Danish cartoonists. No, this idea of fairness and balance is our morality, not theirs. Nevertheless, it matters. No matter how the Imams and Mullahs feel about the rest of the world, we have made our own position clear. Now, will we live up to it?

We claim that the charges against our society are unfair and untrue. Are they? If we have any hope of ever winning the battle against the psuedo-religious bigotry that fuels terrorism, we will need to eradicate any similar feelings amongst ourselves. When Americans react angrily to the sale of a British company to an Arab owned company, on what facts do they base their anger? Let's be honest; there is only one fact in circulation, the old owners were British, the new owners are Arabs. Apparently, that's all America needs to hear.

Let's deal with the truth, folks. This is why a handful of Imams can raise a riot so easily. We have a habit of providing our enemies with just the ammunition they need. We have long preached a practice we cannot bring ourselves to follow. If we are going to defeat radical Islam, and prove its paranoia wrong, we have to locate and support the moderate Muslims. We have to take real steps to be good friends to people who are willing to be our friends, and demonstrate the that we mean what we say.

Truth is, I don't figure we're much safer under a British-owned company. Having "friends in the region" is a vital part of any victory in this new form of warfare, and friends with money and power are the best sort. But practical considerations aside, there is no reason to object to this deal except for the owners race or religion. That "looks bad", to say the least.

So...the radical rabble-rouser's in the Muslim world have said that Western societies are:

1) Decadent
2) Irreligious
3) Anti-Islam

I'd have a hard time arguing with points one and two. The press, in Denmark and elsewhere, likes to insult my religious beliefs too, and I am sickened by much of what my own culture celebrates. I get angry about it just as they do, and I'd stop reading the Danish press if I had ever started reading the Danish press. For what it's worth, I don't read much of the U.S. press anymore these days either. The third point, however, is the critical one. If it is true, or believed to be true, the gulf between us will become too deep to bridge, and our only hope for peace is in the bridging of this gap.

Our "case" has always been based on an appeal to the truth. We ask to be judged not on rumors or aspersions, what someone claims about our motives, but on the truth of our actions. Our enemies have claimed that we will never offer fairness to Muslims, that we will never treat them as equal partners. This would be an opportune moment to prove them wrong.

UPDATE: Squiggler has some background on the business and the claim that "Bush is giving control of the Port to the Arabs" which is bunk. This is a relatively simple business deal, not a Bush giveaway. The UAE is buying this company from Some Brit's with good money, I assume, they have every right to own a company. Given our good relations with the UAE why should this deal elicit hysteria. Instapundit has more details, although Glenn seems to be doubtful about the contract himself.

There are some good bloggers out there doing themselves a real disservice today. They are saying things that do not stand to their credit, but I have read these authors for months and know them to be better than this. If the company hiring stevedores in some ports was sold to some Chinese investors (not at all an unrealistic possibility) would we be demanding congressional investigations? How about if the new owners were Greek, or Indian? Singaporean? French? Why can't we do business with an Arab company? Is it because it is here in the US that the business services are provided? US firms have been all over the Arab world providing business services for generations. Now that the Arabs are in a position to do business here in the U.S., we're going to slam the door?

I'm not dense, I know this is about 9/11. But this reaction comes from the same unfortunate human weakness that gives rise to the cartoon riots and indeed to much of the terrorism. The U.S. was not attacked on 9/11 by the whole of the Muslim world or by all of the Arab world. This is the sort of broad-stroke identity politics that our enemies use against us. There are people in the world who note that the crusaders were white Christians and feel anger at America, because many Americans are also white Christians. This is dangerously flawed thinking, as I expect most Americans would agree. How then can we hold that because a relatively small group of disaffected Arab men attacked us, the United Arab Emirates cannot be trusted? This terror war is effecting us in a very bad way. We are becoming the people our enemies make us out to be.

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Posted by Jay on February 21, 2006 at 04:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 20, 2005

Saving Murtha from himself

As I mentioned yesterday, the quick vote in the house on a resolution to withdraw all US troops from Iraq helped to clarify what Rep.Murtha was intending to say. His position very much needed to be clarified. Over the weekend both Murtha and other leaders of his party have been saying that the vote was a cynical stunt, and that what was voted on was clearly not what Murtha had advocated.

That's nonsense. In the hours after Murtha's speech all talk concerned how this military veteran had called for immediate withdrawal. Here's the first paragraph of the NYTimes report on Murtha's Thursday speech. (via Kausfiles)

The partisan furor over the Iraq war ratcheted up sharply on Capitol Hill on Thursday, as an influential House Democrat on military matters called for the immediate withdrawal of American troops and Republicans escalated their attacks against the Bush administration's critics.

What the House did Friday evening was to take this popular interpretation of Murtha's remarks and put it to a vote. In the course of the hasty debate (the best kind, btw) Murtha himself had a chance to clarify that this was not at all what he had intended. Given the depth of feeling and the serious nature of the battle we are fighting, a chance to clarify may have been a great gift to Mr. Murtha.

Had this vote not occurred the Democratic leadership and their media supporters would have been pumping the "immediate withdrawal" angle all week. In response, the Republicans and the military supporters would have responded by attacking Murtha to discredit his judgment. The Representative may well have gained favor with the anti-military crowd in San Francisco, but he would have lost friends and reputation with many others. I cannot say who would have come out of the firestorm over the Thanksgiving recess a winner, Republicans of Democrats, but I can predict with great confidence that Mr. Murtha would be the loser.

As it is, he's going to carry the label, "Cut and Run" for a while. likely the remainder of his career, and that's his own doing, (or the responsibility of the people who put him up to it.) He was handed a slim opportunity to moderate his language and recover some reputation. We'll see if has sense to use it.

Posted by Jay on November 20, 2005 at 09:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 19, 2005

Clearing the fog

I have to admit that I really enjoyed that little dust up in the House last night. I'm no fan of the partisan bickering that is so commonplace at the Capitol, but this was different. Sure, it was essentially R's vs D's, but there was a serious subject and, to my mind, a serious need.

Would I be giving into cynicism if I asserted that Rep. Murtha's statement the day before had been carefully staged to be sufficiently ambiguous to allow Democrats and their media supporters to claim that a decorated veteran has called for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, and then immediately deny that any such thing was said to anyone who reacts angrily. Ambiguity is a popular political tool. I suspect that the leadership had the talking points and the television appearances all lined up for the recess. A week or two to discuss the dramatic erosion of support, safe in the knowledge that the ambiguity was there to protect them.

I have said that I don't like partisan bickering, but there nothing wrong with two-party politics and a good debate. I also don't like the silly spin-games these folks like to play. I love the idea of a nice clear vote.

The Dems have said that the motion put up for a vote last night was not really what Murtha was proposing. Well, that's a valuable clarification, because that was certainly what people were saying at the time Murtha said it. If all we accomplished yesterday was to remove the ambiguity from Murtha's position, I call that a step forward. Now we are all spared a week or more of punditry over a position that is not supported by either party, and our troops can go back to doing their excellent work.

Tossing out ambiguous remarks about something as important as this war is beyond "irresponsible"; I really don't know how to characterize it. Could last night's vote be the start of a "no BS" phase in the House? That seems almost too good to hope for. Perhaps we can get a vote on record about the "we were duped!" accusation.

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Posted by Jay on November 19, 2005 at 06:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 08, 2005

Friedman - a Muslim solution to a Muslim problem.

Every so often Thomas Friedman hits the nail on the head. Today's column is a must read. Out of concern for the fragile sensibilities of the Muslim world, few have been willing to say what many have been thinking. The great bulk of global Islam is notably silent after attacks such as those in London yesterday. Its time to choose side with clarity. Of all people, the world's Muslims are least able to remain silent and neutral on this question.

...either the Muslim world begins to really restrain, inhibit and denounce its own extremists - if it turns out that they are behind the London bombings - or the West is going to do it for them. And the West will do it in a rough, crude way - by simply shutting them out, denying them visas and making every Muslim in its midst guilty until proven innocent

For years now, a distributed group of terrorists have killed and injured Westerners in Muslim countries, Westerners in Western countries, and many, many fellow Muslims in their home countries, all in the name of Islam. Speaking in the last day Tony Blair has said that despite what the bombers claim, this is not a Muslim action. George Bush said as well that this was not a truly Muslin action. Neither of these men are Muslim, so ought we not to direct our questions to the Muslims? It is time to be clear about the religious support for these murders.

There is no good reason to remain quiet; Muslin Londoners ought to be out in the streets at the first opportunity declaring their loyalty to Britain and British society and values, and their antipathy towards this sort of terrorism. That they don't is either a sign that they do support the terrorism, or, more likely, they're frightened of retaliation. So Friedman is correct, it is a civil war, that has spread across the globe.

Posted by Jay on July 8, 2005 at 09:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 07, 2005

Some worthwhile quotes

I very much like Donald Rumsfeld's official statement on the London bombings. Here's a sample:

But if these terrorists thought they could intimidate the people of a great nation, they picked the wrong people and the wrong nation. For generations, tyrants, fascists, and terrorists have sought to carry out their violent designs upon the British people only to founder upon its unrelenting shores.

Before long, I suspect that those responsible for these acts will encounter British steel. Their kind of steel has an uncommon strength. It does not bend or break.

Contrast the terrorist's imagination as depicted in the message claiming responsibility...

"Britain is now burning with fear, terror and panic in its northern, southern, eastern, and western quarters."

...with the reality related by a Londoner's email to NRO's The Corner:

We have faced terror before - Nazi terror, Irish Republican terror - and have not been beaten. This will not beat us either.

The overwhelming feeling round our office is "Is this best they can do?" - it looks and sounds much worse on 24hr news channels than in person.

Finally, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak characterized the terrorists well, describing the murderer of Egypt's envoy to Iraq as, "terrorism that trades in Islam but knows no nation and no religion"

Destroying a train or a bus is a long way from destroying a great nation. The people who build free nations and defend free nations are the courageous ones.

Posted by Jay on July 7, 2005 at 03:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

*We* were struck today

On vacation this week we have seen little of the news, a refreshing break. That changed this morning. Like much of the world we've watched the coverage from London and read the reports, with that empty ache in the belly. Ugh.

UK_US_flagSome of the conversation turned to the situation in the US and the fact that we have not seen a similar attack here in the United States since 2001, even though such bombings are terribly hard to stop. The same subject is being discussed on the networks. On reflection I don't think it really appropriate to talk in terms of "them" being hit and not "us". If the American people cannot include Londoners among those we consider, "us", who can we include? Of course the British are sovereign and independent of the US politically, and are responsible for their own security, but the values they hold, and for which they were attacked, are ours as well. Moreover they have sided with the United States repeatedly in battles against those who oppose freedom and democratic principals. It really is one fight, and they are very much a part of the "us."

All of us who call ourselves a freedom-loving people, life affirming, committed to peace and toleration among all peoples and religions, must feel the attack this morning ourselves. London is a vibrant and diverse city that exemplifies commitment to a free democracy, and that commitment brought attack from those who hate all those things. The threat is still out there and it will strike at any of us it can reach, from the innocent civilians of Mosul and Baghdad, to London, and possible to New York, Washington or any American city.

We have a British flag at this house for the weeks that our British friends are visiting. We've pulled it out today and have it flying along side the Stars and Stripes. In the same week when we celebrated our independence from the British in the 18th century we can be just as loudly proclaim our unity with them in the 21st.

Posted by Jay on July 7, 2005 at 08:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 01, 2005

Austin Bay shows how it's done

I mentioned earlier that the debate over mistreatment of prisoners would be "a real test for the blog culture." (apologies to all who saw it for the earlier mangling of that post.) Austin Bay (Tip to Instapundit) has provided a timely demonstration of how tough issues of this sort should be discussed. I like this post not only for the point it makes, which is a good one, nor just for its well reasoned and clearly expressed thinking, but also because it hits on a couple of recurring themes I like to blog about.

The first is the "How to know when to stop listening" meme. There is a lot of opinion published these days, and a reader needs to know how to quickly sift the quality thinking from the time-wasting blather. One thing you should look for is a lack of reasonable perspective. People who cannot recognize the difference between George Bush and Hitler, between Christian participation in American politics and the theocracies of the Middle East, or between the detention center at Guantanamo and the Russian Gulag, are also unable to add useful ideas to the world conversation.

As Austin points out, Amnesty International has demonstrated that it lacks (or has lost) its organizational good sense. Over-the-top analogies can be a useful way to make a point, so long as the writer is clear that the analogy is purposely overstated (I confess to this habit. I like to clarify a point with a startling comparison, but I try to make it clear that the comparison is exaggerated.) Too often, unfortunately, the writer lacks an understanding of the things he or she is comparing or lacks the ability to discern scale. In any case, turn the page, click to another site, or change the channel, don't fill your mind with someone else's confused thinking.

People who advance the Bush = Hitler or Republicans = Nazi ideas demonstrate that they're relying on the Cliff-Notes version of world history. It's a shame really, because a proper understanding of what happened in Germany in those years, and who and what Hilter was, could be useful in today's world. Even more sadly, failure to understand Nazism properly makes it more likely that we will re-experience it. I'm not sure what is worse, not remembering history or remembering it wrong.

I mentioned Two recurring themes in Austins post. The other concerns the common concept of "guilt by association". It's a poor label, really, because the idea I am working is larger than that including any time we, the talking, listening, thinking public, fail to appropriately compartmentalize a bit of information about a person, group or idea. Off, that's a clumsy mouthful! Perhaps a few examples will help. Both T. Jefferson and G. Washington owned slaves. Does this moral failing discredit all their works? Can a moral person continue to admire them. I treasure the Declaration of Independence and The Lawn at the University of Virginia and despise the enslavement of any people. Does that make me a hypocrite?

Some fine writings on spirituality and prayer were written by someone who later confessed (and accepted punishment) for sexual abuse of a minor. Are the ideas in those writings now tainted? The Nazi's enjoyed (or pretended to enjoy) the music of Wagner. Must I reject it on that basis? Some very bad people have claimed to be Christians. Must I hold Christianity responsible for their evil?

You have probably discerned, careful reader that you are, that I endorse an "appropriate compartmentalization" in these cases. Bad people have long been attracted to good causes, if only as an effective cover. Only in the comic books do the bad-guys choose costumes that advertise their evil. In this world bad people are more likely to appear wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. Elsewhere the blue helmets of the UN are a popular disguise. Aesop called it "sheep's clothing", but few would nowadays credit the words of a dead, European male like him. Good things are attractive to everyone, good and bad alike. That an idea is frequently mis-appropriated is a sort of back-handed endorsement.

Of course, even the term "bad guys" is unfair. Again, the comic book world wherein villains are purely evil is not our world. Even those who seem exceptional, like Hitler, on close inspection are rather ordinary people (a much more frightening prospect, really. The world is full of Hitlers, who lack only his access to the instruments of power.) The other edge to that sword are the typical flaws in the "good guys." Some are more obvious that others, and more serious, but all humans have their dark-side. Jesus saved a woman from a stoning with this knowledge.

As Austin reminds us, any human enterprise, no matter how worthy the cause, will also find itself "compromised" in someway at sometime. Properly employed, compartmentalization is analogous to the Christian virtue of forgiveness, and like it, very freeing. The weakness and flaws of a great man, or the moral compromises and stumblings of a great cause, ought to be openly inspected and recognized, and then assigned an appropriate compartment in the total picture of the man or the movement. Those who would hide or turn their eyes from our failings, give the sins undeserved power, just as those who allow the sin to color all aspects of the sinner.

Naturally we should extend this same benefit of the doubt to Amnesty International. The organization has done much good and will do much good in the future. I would like to consider this latest mis-step an unfortunate error and not see this powerful voice lost in a fog of bluster.

We are fighting the GWOT before we fully understand it, learning as we go. Our mistakes can be our best teachers, if we have the courage to accept the lesson. Failure to compartmentalize provokes a defensive failure to recognize. These are serious lessons that we cannot well afford to pass over. Do your part by ignoring those who either cannot or will not discuss these things in their proper perspective. Look to Austin Bay for a good example of blogging at it's best.

Posted by Jay on June 1, 2005 at 10:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 30, 2005

A real test for the Blog Culture

We've several examples of where blogs, working as a "wolf pack" can be very effective. The issues have tended to be ordinary, partisan political struggles. Blogs sort themselves into the usual political camps, with a few of us in the center trying to stay out of the cross-fire. This is a natural role for a citizen punditry. But a much more challenging test is underway right now. The familiar right vs. left camps are strained, and the issue is emotionally charged.

Discussion of American use of torture and mistreatment of prisoners in the War of Terror has been simmering for some time. A lot of bloggers, myself included, have hesitated to get deep into the conversation, nether blogging on it or reading much of what others write. The issue is too painful; we want to support our troops in combat and we'd like to trust our leaders, but its very hard to cast oneself as a supporter of torture. I simply cannot. The most I can do is hope that the worst accusations are false or at least overstated. It is hard to tell, honestly. (The critics of the US military do their argument a disservice when they toss around exaggerated and unsubstantiated stories too easily. We tend to tune it out, like the infamous pronouncements of "Baghdad Bob", and place our trust in the official announcements from the Pentagon). A few bloggers have done the work of digging through the reports and accusations. They are presenting a well-reasoned case that deserves all of our attention. Sadly this issue is not fading away. There is more at work here than a "few bad apples."

Greg Djerejian, who I've been reading a lot this week to stay on top of the news from Europe, has been on the torture and mistreatment story from the start. He links this week to what he describes as a "judicious post" from the NeoLibertarians at QandO. Glenn Reynolds linked to the same, calling it "both non-hysterical and well-documented." I'm in full agreement. If those two fine bloggers were not enough to get you over there, will my additional urging do the trick?

The many comments range from insightful to insufferable. Skim over them quickly and pick out the gems. There is also a later post at QandO you should see. Among the comment here was one from a friend and fellow Bloginator, Eric Cowperthwaite...

Torture, abuse and murder, whether of prisoners or non-combatants, by members of the military is corrosive and destructive to the morale of the military. It breaks down military discipline. Soldiers become thugs and worse. These soldiers involved in the systematic abuse, torture and murder of prisoners are just as bad as the men of the SS who guarded the concentration camps and formed the Einsatzgruppen and no military organization should tolerate their behavior or presence within their ranks.

Eric is a veteran of 18 years service and Desert Storm, so he knows of what he speaks. I am not a military man, having missed out on a trip to Vietnam by one year, but being old enough to remember the home front battle of that time I sense some parallels. The public made a terrible mistake back then, one that is widely recognized today. The blame for the ugliness and horrors of that conflict fell on the troops. Blame for the overall conduct of the war fell on the political leaders in Washington. The largest problem was between those two, the military leadership. Vietnam veterans like Colin Powell and Norm Schwarzkopf have written about the tragic weakness in the US military hierarchy at that time.

We are a long way from the sorry situation of 35 years ago, but the same error is before us. Somewhere between the East Wing at the White House and the guards at US prisoners facilities, some bad ideas have taken hold. Turning away from the problem out of a sincere but misplaced patriotism or loyalty to the troops will ultimately harm both the war effort and the honor and respect due the troops. Eric puts it well.

I’m proud of my service, proud of the military and proud of what this country stands for. The men, women and units that have behaved in this abominable fashion neither deserve the appellation of soldier nor to continue their military service.

Eric doesn't mention the leadership explicitly, but earlier in the thread, McQ at QandO puts it clearly:

We’ve argued that the occurrences are more than random and speaks to a very apparent lack of leadership or at least emphasis by leadership. That’s not an indictment of all of the leaders, or the administration, or even most of the leaders. It’s an indictment of those leaders charged with the custody of prisoners in various locales. They’ve not done the job. And they’ve either disregarded guidance or ignored it. They’ve also either been ignorant of the activities or implicitly condoned them. That’s unacceptable.

"Unacceptable" I'll add, not because some "lefty" bloggers or European bureaucrats like it, but because it brings undeserved disgrace on the rest of our military and the country and ultimately hurts our overall political effort. Someone made a strategic error, placing the potential for short-term intelligence gain (which is suspect, imho) over the long-term strategic effort and over the fundamental principals for which Americans have always fought. We like to think that blogs are a big deal, and will become even more so, but we need to demonstrate that we can handle a tough issue without dissolving into overly politicized noise. Unquestioning loyalty to a political administration, over the best interests of our war effort and the troops, is what gave us the tragic result in Vietnam. If intelligent and thoughtful bloggers can help steer the national discussion away from political witch hunts, blind defensiveness, towards a sober and focused investigation and response, we'll have demonstrated that the citizen media can matter on the big issues too.

Posted by Jay on May 30, 2005 at 11:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack