Archive for August, 2002


Sunday, August 25th, 2002

Ann Coulter is fortunate that she is thin, blonde, pretty, professional, and glib. Those qualities make her immune to attacks that Liberals sometimes foist on inconvenient women. Despite the fact that Liberals claim to be thoughtful and compassionate feminists concerned that women be treated seriously, their attacks on troublesome women would make Archie Bunker blush. Paula Jones, President Clinton’s accuser, was portrayed as a “sleazy” woman from the “trailer parks.” [1] While Left-wing columnist Julianne Malveaux speculated that, Linda Tripp, the woman who taped incriminating conversations with Clinton’s girl friend Monica Lewinsky, had been beaten with an “ugly stick.” Coulter is too attractive, too academically pedigreed, and too smart for charges of being low class or ugly to be plausible. No, she gets to be labeled a “shrew.” [2]

Ann Coulter is a skilled polemicist of the first rank. In her recent book, Slander, she documents Liberal “slander” against Conservatives. She is certainly not above calling names being herself adept at creative descriptions. Her primary problem is not with invective, but slander, the deliberate use of false characterizations. This is especially disconcerting when the slander comes not from Left-wing polemicist but from purportedly objective news sources.

Coulter’s style is brash and over-the-top. Although Slander provides plenty of red meat for true believers, her shrillness will turnoff the neutral, and inflame her enemies. Nonetheless, the book is an almost infinite source of delicious nuggets of information for Conservatives. If she had been more academic in her prose she would have been even more persuasive, but she certainly would not have garnered as much attention. Some of her themes deserve special attention.

There are Conservatives on the radio waves and conspicuous commentators, but, as Coulter explains, the news divisions of the major networks are dominated by former Liberal politicos. Tim Russert, of Meet the Press, worked for Governor Mario Cuomo and Senator Patrick Moyihan. Jeff Greenfield wrote speeches for Robert Kennedy, the same role Chris Matthews filled for President Jimmy Carter and former Speaker of the House Tip 0’Neill. Brian Williams worked in the Carter Administration. Rick Inderfurth went from the Carter Administration to ABC News and back through the revolving door to the Clinton Administration without skipping a beat. A senior vice president of NBC News was a Clinton special assistant. And, of course, Clinton’s famous advisor, George Stephanopoulos, now helps to host ABC’s This Week. Other members of the Clinton Administration have found their way to US News and World Report, Nightline, and Time magazine. However, when Susan Molinari, the attractive Republican Congresswoman from New York, became a Saturday morning news anchor for CBS (a job that lasted about a year), the New York Times gravely intoned about the “potentially awkward transition from being one the nation’s best known advocates of Republican ideology to being a CBS News anchor.”

It is not so much that these people necessarily do incompetent or overtly biased jobs. Tim Russert asks notoriously difficult questions of both sides. However, when a certain unquestioned perspective permeates the newsroom, it governs the unspoken assumptions about which stories to cover and how to cover them. Is it any wonder that, when a gun was used to stop a shooting spree, this fact was ignored in the press because of its inconsistency with calls for gun control? Is it any wonder, that the press protected Clinton’s goof on not understanding the function of a Patriot missile? Is it any wonder, that while the press was making snide comments on what they considered Reagan’s lack of mental acuity during the 1984 election, that year magazines published more general articles on senility than in all the other election years in the last quarter-of-a-century combined? Is it any wonder that the press treated Gore as the “smartest kid in the class,” despite the fact that Bush got higher grades than Gore in college? Though neither Gore or Bush could lay claim to being the smartest in their class, after college Bush earned a Harvard MBA, while Gore failed out of divinity school and dropped out of law school.

Coulter also documents that in the 2000 elections, individual states were called for Gore faster than comparable states were called for Bush. For example, “Gore won Maine by 5 percentage points and was declared the winner within 10 minutes of the polls closing.” By contrast, when “Bush won Colorado by 9 points, it took CNN 2 hours and 41 minutes to make the call.” Throughout election night, Gore’s states were called earlier, despite the fact that, on average, Bush won his states by larger percentage margins.

Fortunately, in the freer market of the Internet, Conservative political web sites do considerably better than Liberal ones. Moreover, ever since books have been sold over the Internet and not through stores where books can be prominently displayed or hidden based on the outlook of booksellers, Conservatives having been winning on the bestsellers lists. Once such books reach there, they are usually deemed “surprise bestsellers.” It is unclear whether this success is because Conservatives write better books or Conservatives just read more.

This success is surprising given the systematic efforts of the major publishing houses to avoid Conservative books and for major newspaper reviewers to ignore them, at least when they are not panning them. In addition, major publishing houses grant generous advances to Liberal authors and not to Conservative ones. For example, Naomi Wolf (the feminist writer who famously lectured Gore on the necessity of becoming the “alpha male”) has had mediocre publishing success, despite rave reviews in the New York Times. By contrast, the critically ignored Illiberal Education, a critique of political correctness on campuses, by Dinesh D’Souza, sold far better than Wolf’s The Beauty Myth and spent five times longer on the bestseller list. On their next books, Wolf received a $600,000 advance, while D’Souza received $160,000.

One wonders why these publishing houses cannot even act in their own economic self-interest. The brilliant editorial minds at Random House have lost $50 million on advances that did not reap adequate sales. As Coulter concludes, “Conservative books may be snubbed in the elite media, hidden by book stores, and regularly spurned by major publishers, but at least we know who the public wants to read.” Coulter’s book has done well is sales. Mainstream reviews of it have been mostly negative. These reviews whine that Coulter complains that Conservatives are being called names, while she does the same thing. She counters that her descriptions are true. A better response would be to attempt to debunk her or find inaccuracies, but that would be hard work and perhaps not yield fruit.

  1. Evan Thomas, Newsweek.
  2. Richard Cohen, Washington Post.

In Defense of the War on Terrorism

Sunday, August 18th, 2002

In February of this year, 60 scholars published an open letter to our European friends attempting to explain “What We Are Fighting For.” This letter outlines a justification for the American war against the al Qaeda organization and other terrorist groups. The letter begins with an assertion of universal principles. Among these are:

* “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,”
* the “role of government is to protect and help foster the conditions for human flourishing,”
* religious freedom is an “inviolable right” and the “killing in the name of God is fundamentally contrary to faith in God.”

For the letter’s signatories, the war against terrorism and terrorists’ state supporters represents a defense of these principles.

The attacks against innocent civilians in the United States were not an attack on particular policies and actions. With respect to these, give-and-take and negotiation are at least possible. No. War was explicitly declared by al Qaeda years ago because the United States represents a free, prosperous and pluralistic society open to all faiths. This freedom and pluralism is an anathema to an all-too-large, angry portion of the Islamic World who in the words of the letter, “betray fundamental Islamic principles.” We need not speculate on obscure motives for the attacks. Bin Laden was more than happy to characterize the “blessed attacks” as direct against the “head of world infidelity.” The attacks were launched because of who we are, for what we believe, and for our unwillingness to conform to a demented, dehumanizing perversion of Islam.

War is a severe measure with profound consequences and ought not be entered into upon lightly, without due consideration. Like our forefathers who asserted that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires… [that we] should declare the causes which impel” our action, the signatories openly outline the moral justification for a war on terrorism. The letter notes the general acceptance of some version of the “Just War Theory” by persons of many faiths. A just war must be undertaken only as a last resort by a legitimate authority, must be proportional and moderate and directed against combatants, and must be likely to reduce suffering in the long run. It is in this context, that the war is explained and rationalized. There are really only two legitimate points of view. One is a complete pacifism: the argument that killing is never justified, even in mortal self-defense. The alternative is to embrace a Just War Theory.

It is unfair to characterize and tarnish any political or ideological position based on its silliest, least thoughtful, or extreme elements. Such ploys are a typical tactic for polemicists of all kinds. For this reason, it is an embarrassment to consider the responses to this thoughtful open letter, by 100 US “intellectuals” in a corresponding letter.

This American response refuses to address the issues raised in the original letter, but indulges itself in a drunken brawl of anti-Americanism. One has to wonder whether this is really the best that 100 intellectuals from institutions as prestigious as Duke, Georgetown, Columbia, Rutgers, Harvard, and the University of California, Berkeley could muster.

The counter open letter ominously warns of intimidation against those that “fail to provide unquestioning support” for the war on terrorism, but fails to explain how in the face of this intimidation so many fearlessly signed the letter. Were any of the signatories dismissed from their positions or denied federal grants? No, rather than intimidation, on parts of college campuses, anti-Americanism is rewarded with encomiums and self-aggrandizing moral posturing.

These American respondents whine that “self celebration is a notorious feature of United States culture.” The flags festooning private homes and businesses or proudly displayed on lapels infuriate these people. They find it incredible that American yahoos really see themselves, as “prosperous, democratic, generous, welcoming, open to all races and religions, the epitome of universal human values and the last best hope of mankind.” They deny “American exceptionalism.” Their letter’s argument reduces to the assertion that American culture and government are at best flawed, possibly evil, and defense of them cannot be justified.

The signatories of the American response letter argue that since the attacks were “anonymous” and without any “claim of responsibility,” we must assume that the attacks were against American economic and military power not against American values. Given that the original letter quoted Bin Laden rejoicing in “blessed attacks” against “world infidelity,” the assertion that the attack was anonymous with hard to discern motives can only be seen as deliberate and willful ignorance. There was not even a weak attempt to adduce evidence to refute the original letter’s citation of al Qaeda and Bin Laden as the source of the attacks. This response by American intellectuals betrays an utter lack of intellectual honesty and moral seriousness.

To the credit of Europeans, the original letter and the responses have received far more attention there than in the United States. If there is any hope of the US garnering the support of its European friends, it is important to engage in a serious dialogue. Unfortunately, the response by European intellectuals does not address the issues raised in the original letter and at best collapses into the fallacy of moral equivalency. Perhaps it is best that this dialogue has not received much attention in the US, lest Americans begin to believe that the ranting of some European elites represents a European consensus.

The original thesis, in the first American letter, was that the war against terrorism is a just war. Although they are not explicit, the European respondents do not reject this argument and embrace a principled pacifism. The European letter, originally published in Frankfurter Allgermeine, acknowledges “the United States made an outstanding contribution to the liberation of Europe from the yoke of Nazism.” Hence, they unambiguously acknowledge that a just war is, in principle, possible. However, rather than directly addressing the issue as to whether the war against terrorism is just, they descend into historical revisionism. For example, rather than acknowledging the joint and remarkably peaceful victory of the West in the Cold War against a totalitarian power that divided Berlin with a wall, they suggest that “as a leading superpower during the period of East-West confrontation, [the US] was also largely responsible for grave abuses in the world.”

If we are to engage in a meaningful dialogue, European intellectuals ought not be so ethically obtuse as to argue that mass murder by the attackers of September 11, does not justify “mass murder of the Afghan population.” Are these intellectuals really incapable or just unwilling to recognize the evident moral distinction between attacks deliberately intended to inflict as many civilian casualties as possible and incidental and unintended civilian deaths in a war? If they wish to make the charge of “murder” ought not they at least produce some evidence of a deliberate intention to kill innocent civilians?

The canard of 4,000 innocent Afghan civilian deaths is even trotted out. This figure is based on third party reports and has largely been discredited. The Associated Press puts the number of civilian casualties in the hundreds and MSNBC reports “Afghan journalists for the official Bakhtar news agency, whose reports were used as a basis for Taliban claims, now say their dispatches were freely doctored.” Yet the number 4,000 is lent credence by unquestioning repetition because it is rhetorically convenient to suggest that as many civilian as were killed by Americans as by the terrorists. It feeds into to fallacy of moral equivalency.

The European signatories agree that the threat is misguided fundamentalism, but apparently not Islamic fundamentalism. No, they fear the “fundamentalism” of American religiosity and patriotism. “Many of us feel that the growing influence of fundamentalist forces in the United States on the political elite of your country, which clearly extends all the way to the White House, is cause for concern.” Islamic fundamentalists rejoice at the death caused by slamming commercial airliners into buildings, while some European elites fret that Americans have a president that takes his faith seriously. It is clear that most Europeans are not anti-American like the intellectuals who signed the recent letter. Indeed, these intellectuals remain concerned that “the political class in Europe” is engaged in “obsequious submission to the superior and sole superpower…” One would hope that the European intellectuals are as out-of-touch with the average European as their American counterparts are with average Americans. Once again Americans and, we hope, some Europeans will have to fight for the right for intellectuals to freely and ungratefully engage in moral posturing and deliberate distortion. You’re welcome.

The Secret Plan

Sunday, August 11th, 2002

“I am the only President who knew something about agriculture when I got there.” — Bill Clinton, Washington Post, April 26, 1995.

“I’m sure I spent more time in Texas than anybody else who had run for President recently.” — Bill Clinton in Longview, Texas, U.S. Newswire, September 27, 1996.

“John Kennedy had actually not been back to the White House since his father was killed, until I had became president — and first he was on an advisory committee that made a report to me, and he came back to the Oval Office where he saw the desk that he took the famous picture in — you know, coming through the gate, for the first time since he was a little boy.” — Bill Clinton press conference July 21, 1999. [1]

Part of Bill Clinton’s enduring charm was his ability to engage in self-aggrandizing behavior with impunity. For his supporters, it was all part of Clinton’s magnetism and charisma. You did not have to believe what he said in order to admire his sheer brilliant impudence. For his detractors, this ability was frustrating and infuriating.

With respect to the above outlandish claims:

  • George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Jimmy Carter were farmers and probably knew a little “something about agriculture.”
  • It is unlikely that Clinton spent more time in Texas than George Bush (41), Ross Perot or Phil Gramm, all of whom ran for president.
  • President Nixon had the young John Kennedy in the White House in 1971.

It is not clear if Clinton or only Clinton apologists are behind the recent Time magazine article. Nevertheless, we can often recognize “the lion by his paw.” The article revealed the existence of a secret Clinton Administration plan to go after Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Though the plan was not as ambitious as the attack against Bin Laden’s Afghan refuge that began shortly after September 11, 2001, it did purportedly contain many of the same elements: support for the Northern Alliance, going after terrorist assets and charity fronts, and covert military action.

The fact that such a plan existed is almost certainly true. The Pentagon sprouts plans like a untended lawn sprouts weeds. There is probably someone in the Pentagon who, as an academic exercise, is discerning the optimum means for conquering Canada. The fact that a plan existed to attack al-Qaeda is no indication that there was any realistic possibility that the plan would have been implemented.

According to Time, Clinton Administration officials now say, though they were prepared to act against al-Qaeda, they did not want to start a war with only a few weeks left in the Clinton Administration. However, if there was a real plan of high priority and near implementation, discussions should have not only taken place between advisors but, also between the outgoing and incoming presidents. It, therefore, seems improbable that the Time-discovered plan was under serious consideration.

Time readily admits that perhaps even the implementation of such a plan would not have prevented the September 11 attacks. However, it strongly and sinisterly suggests “another possibility:” that the al-Qaeda organization would have been so disrupted that the September 11 attacks would never have happened.

This latter possibility is very small, considering that the planning and the predicates for the attack had been in place well before September 11. Ironically, if the US had launched a pre-emptive strike and had not succeeded in preventing the September 11 attacks , it is likely that Time magazine would now be ominously speculating that the attacks against al-Qaeda initiated the retaliation of September 11. They would be speculating that perhaps the US brought the attacks upon itself.

Clinton is nothing, if not politically astute. An attack on al-Qaeda would have required an enormous investment of political capital. It would have also been extremely difficult to obtain international support or even acquiesce to toppling the Afghani government without the September 11 attacks. The attack on the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon stiffened American resolve. This conspicuous resolve made it far easier to garner unlikely allies like Pakistan. Without the logistical advantage of staging troops out of Pakistan, the Afghan campaign would have been considerably more difficult.

In February 2002, Clinton tried to justify his inaction against al-Qaeda:

“Now, if you look back — in the hindsight of history, everybody’s got 20/20 vision — the real issue is should we have attacked the al-Qaeda network in 1999 or in 2000 in Afghanistan.”

“Here’s the problem. Before September 11 we would have had no support for it — no allied support and no basing rights. So we actually trained to do this. I actually trained people to do this. We trained people.” [Note the wise switch from first person singular to first person plural. — FMM.]

“But in order to do it, we would have had to take them in on attack helicopters 900 miles from the nearest boat — maybe illegally violating the airspace of people if they wouldn’t give us approval. And we would have had to do a refueling stop.” [2]

It is clear that no president, not George Bush nor Bill Clinton, anticipated an attack as large and as horribly successful as the one that happened. If Clinton could have remained in office, it is doubtful that the president that backed down when the Iraqis refused to allow unfettered access to weapons inspectors, launched cruise missiles against tents in the Afghan desert, and that refused to take custody of bin Laden would have launched a potentially unpopular attack.

When the history of the Clinton Administration is written, there may be minor criticism for a lack pre-emptive actions against a murky threat. However, this Time story provides conspicuous evidence of the former Administration’s vanity. This desperate effort to prop up the Clinton legacy provides yet another example of how spectacularly small and self-centered it was. For this we owe Time a debt of gratitude.

  1. For Clinton quotes, see

The Making of the Modern Middle East

Sunday, August 4th, 2002

By the last months of 1966, the Israelis were growing increasingly impatient and frustrated by a series of attacks initiated from the West Bank. Though the area was under the ostensible supervision of Jordan, the attacks were largely instigated and supported by Syria.

On November 10, 1966, three policemen were killed when their vehicle struck a mine. The attack occurred on Israeli land near the West Bank city of Hebron. Michel Oren in Six Days of War describes Jordan’s frantic effort to conciliate and calm the Israelis. “[King ‘Abdalla] Hussein penned a personal condolence letter to [the Israeli Prime Minister Levi] Eskol along with a reaffirmation of his commitment to border security.”

Since there was no direct diplomatic contact with Israel, the King’s letter was rushed off to the US Embassy in Amman, Jordan. From there, the message was cabled to the US Ambassador to Israel in Tel Aviv, Walworth Barbour. The normally efficient and well-respected ambassador tragically decided there was no particular urgency to the cable. He did not convey the letter to Israeli authorities until Monday. Monday was too late. Over the weekend, Israel launched Operation Shredder.

The operation involved 400 soldiers and 10 tanks. Israeli forces plunged into the West Bank town of Rujin al-Mafa’ and destroyed the local police station. In Samu’, the Israeli Defense Forces rounded up the residents and dynamited the homes of those suspected of involvement in attacks.

However, what began as a surgical strike mushroomed out of control. A convoy of 100 Arab Legionnaires stumbled into the area and was decimated by the Israelis. Fifteen Legionnaires died and 54 were wounded. The resulting riots against King Hussein threatened his regime. Rather than punishing the perpetrators of the attacks, the Israelis managed to undermine the most moderate of their Arab adversaries.

With the same insight and illuminating detail and drawing upon recently released archival information, Michael Oren chronicles a detailed and definitive history of the Six Day War. The war is crucial to understanding present day Middle East politics. It is tragic and ironic that the current publicly claimed aspiration of Palestinians (at least for the benefit of the West) is to return to the 1967 borders. If they had been willing to settle for such an arrangement more than thirty years ago, much bloodshed would have been averted and fewer histories written.

Even a third of a century later, Oren’s Six Days of War reminds us of at least three relevant and important lessons now.

Lesson One: It is dangerous to depend on the United Nations (or even friends) for security.

Following Egypt’s defeat in the Suez War of 1956, UN troops occupied the Sinai, separating Israeli from Egyptian troops. Ten years later, both to improve his military position and standing in the Arab world, Nasser demanded that UN peacekeepers vacate the Sinai. U Thant could have postponed and delayed to prevent the UN withdrawal in an effort to stabilize the situation. Instead, U Thant decided that since the Egyptians had invited the United Nations in originally, the UN troops had to leave immediately.

The UN’s precipitous withdrawal from the Sinai helped to set up the chain of events leading to the Six Day War by emboldening Egypt and frightening Israel. Egyptian troops filled the vacuum left by the United Nations, even occupying Sharm Al-Sheikh overlooking the Straits of Tiran. The straits connect the Gulf of Aquaba and the Red Sea. Egyptian control of this strategic point prevented navigation of Israeli shipping. With Egyptian troops on their border, freedom of navigation to the Red Sea threatened, and bellicose statements pouring from Arab capitals, Israelis reasonably feared for their safety and even survival. This fear impelled the Israelis to launch the preemptive attacks that marked the beginning of the Six Day War.

Israel could not even rely on its allies and friends. The US, still trying to be an honest broker, refused to guarantee Israeli security. Tangled in Vietnam and unable to garner support from other western powers, the US would not manage to use its Navy to challenge freedom of navigation in the Straits of Tiran.

Lesson Two: Intra-Arab political bickering manifests itself in anti-Israel actions.

Syria sporadically attacked Northern Israel from the Golan Heights partially as a way to challenge Egypt’s Nasser as the erstwhile leader of the Arab world. Jordan, fearful of its own Palestinian population and a reluctant combatant was pressured to avoid accommodation with Israel. To a large extent, Egyptian truculence and aggressive actions in the Sinai were an effort to recapture Egyptian leadership in the Arab World. Its prestige had been severely tarnished in an ongoing and frustrating war in Yemen. Unfortunately, prestige in the Arab World accrues to those most successfully belligerent to Israel.

Lesson Three: Arab dictators cannot even be relied upon to act in their own or their own country’s self-interest. The allure of self-delusion is often too powerful.

The Israelis were afraid that a modest strike against their adversaries would only embolden them. After the initial attacks, the primary strategic Israeli fear was that Egypt, Syria, and Jordan would petition the United Nations to pressure Israel into a premature armistice. If the war ended too quickly, their adversaries might still be in a position to threaten Israel. Israel could not even depend upon the United States to block any cease-fire resolution in the United Nations Security Council. Fearful of destabilization in the area, the Johnson Administration in the US wanted a cease-fire as soon as possible.

Despite the experience of the Israel War for Independence and the Sinai War of 1956, Nasser was convinced of Egypt’s military superiority. After all, he had recently been able to garner significant military support from the Soviet Union. Syria’s Salah al-Jadid felt safe in Damascus, behind Syria’s fortified perch in the Golan Heights. In the first days of the war, both Syria and Egypt broadcast victorious reports to their people. The reports on Arab radio boasted of troops on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. The “Arab Streets” were alive in joyous anticipation of final victory and revenge for the past two wars.

From a military standpoint, the best move for Egypt and Syria would have been to call for an immediate cease-fire. But the self-delusion of their leaders combined with the inflamed public made this move politically difficult. Israel desperately wanted to avoid a cease-fire before their military goals were accomplished, while their adversaries desperately wanted to avoid the ignominy of acknowledging their need for cease-fire. For a few brief days, both the Israelis and Arabs resisted outside pressure for a cease-fire. This strange alliance of purpose between Israel and its neighbors was in the best interest of Israel.

Jordan was the least belligerent of the Arab countries. Ironically, despite the loss of the West Bank, the Jordanian military acquitted itself better than its larger and more aggressive Arab neighbors.

Oren’s chronicle of the period presents a balanced and honest history that puts the period into perspective. It documents much of the predicate of the current situation in the Middle East. Without the conquest of the lands, there would have been no “land for peace” possibility. Immediately after the war, Israel offered such a proposition to each of its neighbors. It would take a decade for Egypt under Anwar Sadat to accept such a proposal. The Palestinians in the West Bank have not yet figured out how to accept a land for peace proposition. Syria still provides support for terrorist attacks. They will not likely soon regain the Golan Heights.