Archive for March, 2003

The War Over Iraq

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

“The Communist leaders say, `Don’t interfere in our internal affairs. Let us strangle our citizens in peace and quiet.’ But I tell you: Interfere more and more. Interfere as much as you can. We beg you to come and interfere.” — Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

The New Republic on the Left and The Weekly Standard on the Right rarely have the same perspective on substantive policy issues. Whether it is Clinton’s impeachment, the 2002 elections, or tax cuts, the two political rags usually slug it out in the ring of ideas. It is, therefore, rare and surprising when a senior editor at The New Republic, Lawrence Kaplan, and the editor of The Weekly Standard, William Kristol, team to present the case for war against Saddam Hussein’s regime in The War Over Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny and America’s Mission. Since both are disciplined by writing regularly for magazines, their prose does not meander lazily around issues. They make their concise and direct case for war to take down Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime in 125 quick pages.

Kaplan and Kristol lay the foundation for their argument by documenting the internal tyranny of Hussein’s regime, Hussein’s history of aggression against his neighbors, and his relentless pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Hussein’s cruelty and immorality is so often conceded in debate, that we sometimes forget just how grisly the regime has been. For completeness, Kaplan and Kristol recount Saddam’s regime’s brutal repression of religious and ethnic minorities, his torture of women and children as a means to punish dissent, and his use of chemical weapons to suppress rebellion among the Kurds. Kaplan and Kristol remind us that Hussein has launched attacks against at least three of its neighbors. Most troubling of all, we are reminded of evidence of Hussein’s inexorable desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, Hussein believes that one of his key mistakes in attacking Kuwait more than a decade ago was that he should have waited until he had acquired nuclear weapons. Such weapons would have shielded the regime from attack.

Kaplan and Kristol’s real contribution is placing the war over Iraq and the war on terror in context. The real issue is more than just Iraq. “It is about what sort of role the United States intends to play in the world in the twenty-first century. And it is about what sort of world Americans intend to inhabit — a world of civilized norms that is congenial to the United States, or a world where dictators feel no constraints about developing weapons of mass destruction at home and no compunction about committing aggression and supporting terrorism abroad.”

On one side of the foreign policy debate are the Conservatives of the elder George Bush’s generation, the Henry Kissingers, the Brent Scrowcrofts, and the Lawrence Eagleburgers, who practice realpoltik, the balancing of international relationships to maintain stability and protect vital interests, even if at times it means overlooking American values and ideals. Such an approach is an outgrowth of 19th century European power politics and grew in importance during the Cold War, where stability, i.e., preventing an escalation to a nuclear exchange, was the primary imperative.

Under this paradigm, the purpose of the Gulf War after Iraq’s attack on Kuwait was to return the Middle East to the previous status quo. This approach also meant that the US failed to support authentic internal rebellions in Iraq lest they succeed and disturb the status quo. Kaplan and Kristol argue that such a short-sighted emphasis on stability has led to what is now a far more instable and dangerous Iraq.

On the other side are the “wishful liberals” who are so instinctively distrustful of American power that they excessively rely on multilateral institutions and when these fail on the hope that the gentle soothing hand of commercialism and globalization will moderate brutal regimes. Such a policy led to the gradual expulsion of international inspectors charged with verifying Saddam’s compliance with the regime’s agreement to disarm. This failure was punctuated with fretful launches of sporadic cruise missile attacks. What the “wishful liberals” do bring positively to foreign policy is a concern about wedding American foreign policy to American values, sometimes irrespective of self-interest.

Kaplan and Kristol articulate a third way now practiced by George W. Bush. Actually, they argue for a return to a “distinctively American internationalism,” a practice akin to the approaches of Presidents Harry Truman and John Kennedy. After World War II, Truman realized that America’s vital interests could not be narrowly defined only in terms of access to natural resources and strategic waterways. Truman recognized that a world that nurtured freedom and democracy was also in America’s long-term interest and that America should do what it could to spread democracy. Kennedy was so convinced of this proposition that he promised that America would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” While the US cannot go willy-nilly intervening against despotic regime, the encouragement of liberty and democracy is no less a vital interest than freedom of the seas.

Moreover, Kaplan and Kristol argue that in the age of weapons of mass destruction, the doctrine of preemption needs to be explicitly expanded to not only include imminent threats, but also longer-term threats that would be far harder to deal with later if allowed to fester. Indeed, President Kennedy articulated such a policy during the Cuban missile crisis. He argued that the US had a right to preemptively halt, if necessary through the use of force, the deployment of nuclear weapons in Cuba, even if there were not any immediate prospect for their use.

Perhaps the clearest case of effective preemption was the Israeli destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor before it went online. At the time, the entire international community, including the United States, condemned the action, but in retrospect, the destruction of the reactor delayed Hussein’s nuclear program. If Hussein had had nuclear weapons at the time of his invasion of Iraq, it is likely that the rest of the world would not have intervened for fear of initiating a nuclear (if limited) exchange. Kuwait would now be a province of a stronger, wealthier, and more dangerous Iraq.

The liberation of Iraq has now begun. Kaplan and Kristol help explain why such a war is justified both as a way to prevent proliferation of weapons-of-mass-destruction capability to a vicious and aggressive regime and as a way to promote the advancement of liberty and democracy. A peaceful and democratic Iraq is good for America and even better for Iraqis.

Tommy Franks’ Press Conference

Sunday, March 23rd, 2003

General Tommy Franks is a large, deliberate, plain-spoken sort of man and it showed as he faced the press on March 22, 2003 at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar. As the General in charge of Coalition troops in the Iraqi theatre, one of his responsibilities is to brief the press. Surrounded by military representatives from coalition partners, the general began the briefing with a short description of the war, describing it as one of “shock, surprise, flexibility.”

Unfortunately, Franks stayed on to answer questions. It was not so much that Franks did a bad job, it was that it was an embarrassment to listen to the press ask rather pedestrian questions, like “What has most surprised you?” A high school student might have asked such a question. If the questions were not simple, they were belligerent. During the first Gulf War, the comedy show Saturday Night Live ran parodies of silly press conferences making fun of reporters’ questions. The press provided ample fodder for a remake of a similar parody.

It was clear that Franks viewed the conference as a duty to be endured. He was supposed to be responsive without revealing tactical information. Moreover, he had to remain calm in the face of deliberately provocative questions from the foreign press, especially the BBC. Franks fielded the confrontational questions with bland directness, not revealing any strong emotion.

The Pentagon is fortunate that I am not responsible for answering such questions because I would have found it far too difficult to disguise my contempt for leading and snarky queries. Of course, it is much easier at a keyboard to conjure up witty responses. It is far more difficult to do it while standing in front of a crowd. In truth, it is likely that I might have frozen under the glare of cameras. Nonetheless, in my imagination I can fantasize about clever responses that Franks would have been far too diplomatic and polite to voice.

One questioner suggested that Iraqi government buildings in Baghdad had probably been evacuated so that any “shock and awe” campaign was obviously directed at non-combatants.

My Imaginary Response:

Government buildings contain documents, communications equipment, and the entire clerical infrastructure that allows the leadership to function. Hence, they are legitimate military targets. To the extent that low-level government employees were home during the nighttime attacks provides more evidence of the Coalition’s efforts to minimize the loss of life.

If you are so confident about the physical placement of Iraqi leadership, then perhaps you would be so kind as to provide the information to us.

Another BBC questioner asked snidely about the “Blitz of Baghdad.”

My Imaginary Response:

Technically speaking any aerial bombardment would constitute a “blitz.” It is certainly convenient for you to refer to the “Blitz of Baghdad” knowing how fond the press is of alliteration. However, it is unwise to allow the allure of literary flourish to tempt you away from an accurate characterization.

As a citizen of the United Kingdom you are certainly aware that the term “Blitz” is burdened with as special meaning for the British. The Nazis attempted to use the Blitz over London to indiscriminately cause civilian casualties as a means to break the will of the British. By contrast, we in the Coalition are attempting to demonstrate that we are allied with the Iraqi people against Saddam Hussein’s despotic and brutal regime. We are, therefore, going to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

Viewed in this context, the phrase “Blitz of Baghdad” is inappropriate. I respectfully suggest that the use of the phrase is more an indication of your editorial policy than a dispassionate assessment of the situation.

Another BBC reporter snidely asserted he could not make out the 700 Iraqis displayed on a large screen in the press room. The Iraqis were supposedly aligned in such a way as to indicate their intention to surrender. The cynical reporter asked Franks whether the reports of tens of thousands of POWs were just propaganda to induce other Iraqis to surrender.

Franks quickly pointed out that he had never claimed that there were that many POWs. According to Franks 1,000 to 2,000 Iraqis were in custody. After giving the correct number, I would not have allowed the questioner to slink away so easily.

My Imaginary Response:

I will be happy to provide you a hard copy of the image so you can count the heads yourself. If you do not come up with 700, please tell us. For the next press conference, we will have to arrange a seat for you closer to the screen so you can make out the details.

It is clear that you are not afraid or intimidated to ask any question that challenges my credibility. We in the Coalition are attempting to introduce to Iraq a world were you and others in the press are never afraid to question authority. Indeed the belligerent tone of your question is a measure of just how successful we have been.

Thank you for asking challenging questions, for questioning authority. That is your important job. Please continue to do so. Do not be afraid to question my credibility, the credibility of your governments, the credibility of foreign governments, or the credibility of popular opinion. Do not be afraid to question the assertions of your fellow members of the press. Finally, do not be afraid to challenge the authority of your own preconceived notions.

If Franks had responded in this way he probably should be fired for needlessly antagonizing the foreign press, but I am sure it would have felt good.

Waving the Flag

Sunday, March 16th, 2003

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks by Muslim extremists on September 11, 2001, there was a concern that Americans might vent their anger upon innocent Muslim-Americans. Save for a modest number of individual cases, Americans have not lashed out against their Muslim neighbors. To their credit, the political leadership of both political parties has publicly denounced such indiscriminate vengeance. Certainly, there are no internment camps like those for Americans of Japanese dissent in World War II. Nonetheless, Comedian Chris Rock suggested that if he were a Muslim after September 11, he would dress up like stuntman Evel Knievel, covered in the stars and strips in a hyper-patriotic display.

Rock’s comment was made in jest, but it contains a kernel of wisdom. The personal display of the American flag has become a political symbol. If one observers those lapel flag pins, little flags attached to car antennas, or any of the other ubiquitous flag displays, it is possible to leap unafraid to the conclusion that the displayer supports the President in his potential use of military force to compel Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq to comply with UN resolutions and disarm. This correlation should not be the case. It should not be possible for one part of the political spectrum or one side of an issue to commandeer this American symbol so easily and implicitly associate one position as the “patriotic” one. The loyal opposition must be perceived as “loyal.”

However, the political Left and the anti-war movement has largely eschewed patriotic symbols. Indeed, some on the Left are beginning to refer to conservatives confident of America’s ability and duty to deal with Iraq as “flag conservatives,” further distancing themselves from this symbol. Are these groups saying they are not proud to be Americans? Is their opposition to the war born out love or hate of America? A cursory examination of the web presence of some anti-war groups like A.N.S.W.E.R, Move On, Win Without War, Vote No War,, United for Peace and Justice, and Not in Our Name shows that only Win Without War has embraced the American flag as a motif. United For Peace has a flag on its home page claiming that patriots are against the war too, but the notion appears there only as an incidental side note.

The display of the flag does not prove patriotism, nor is the lack of a flag a token of anti-Americanism. Nonetheless, if these groups wish to make clear the pro-American roots of their critique, they have an additional positive obligation to seize upon American patriotic symbols like the flag. Their protest placards should be plastered with the stars and stripes. American flag patches ought to be worn on protestors’ shoulders. The dominant colors ought to be red, white, and blue. Small American flags should be in every hand. No one should be able to photograph an anti-war protest without a respectfully displayed flag falling within the frame. Unfortunately, it is probably the case that many in these groups would feel uncomfortable with such displays.

A small incident in La Habra, California illustrates the problem. Residents along Whittier Boulevard had constructed a make shift memorial for the victims of the terrorist attacks on September 11. Since then, local volunteers have maintained the memorial. Flags festooned the memorial to celebrate our unity in sorrow for those who lost their lives, not as a particular political statement. Early this month a group of anti-war Leftists vandalized the memorial, which is located on private property, and replaced the flags with anti-war signs. Tracey Chandler who had helped maintain the memorial reported that the demonstrators “trashed 87 flags [and] 11 memorial tiles made by myself and my children.” The police inexplicably stood by, perhaps misconstruing the First Amendment to protect the destruction of someone’s property. Police finally arrested a young woman later who, according to the Orange County Register, “claimed responsibility for burning some of the flags.”

Now the incident in La Habra was an aberration, but in the light of such incidents the anti-war movement must make greater efforts to distance themselves from such activities or concede the symbolism of the flag to supporters of the war with Iraq. Some on the Left complain that they have been unfairly labeled unpatriotic. Frankly, it is an habitually overused complaint, but the La Habra incident and the general disinclination to proudly display the American flag make it easy to believe the worst about these groups. Anti-war groups should be smart enough to not make themselves so easy to caricature.

Listening to Elie Wiesel

Sunday, March 9th, 2003

Elie Wiesel was born in a small village in Romania on September 30, 1928. He had the traditional upbringing of an Eastern European Jew in pre-World War II Europe. His Jewish faith and his family were at the center of young Wiesel’s life. This life was lost forever in 1944, when 15-year old Wiesel and his family were deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz in Poland. His mother and a sister were gassed to death and his father died of starvation in detention. Wiesel was transferred to the Buchenwald concentration camp where, on April 11, 1945, he was finally liberated by American troops. For years he dealt with the trauma of this experience by maintaining a silence. After studying at the Sorbonne and working as a journalist, Wiesel broke this silence with the haunting book, The Night. Wiesel’s prose is poetic in describing he jolting experience of his brutal detention. Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never. Since then, Wiesel has acted as a moral sentry guarding the memory of those years. He has used his influence on behalf of Jews persecuted in the former Soviet Union and oppressed peoples elsewhere. He has always made clear that the victims of the Holocaust will win an ultimate victory only if we the living never forget the horrors of those years; if we never forget the depravity and evil to which a modern civilized nation can fall; and if we never forget that “…to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all…” For his work, Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. Wiesel is not the typical self-congratulatory moral nag à la Jimmy Carter, rather he is a quiet moral conscience. He is confident that if good people are presented directly with the proper moral choice, they will generally choose to do the right thing. This makes his moral authority that much more compelling. Unfortunately, this quiet moral force did not work in 1985, in what in retrospect remains a clear mistake by Ronald Reagan. In 1985, Ronald Reagan planned to visit Germany to celebrate the fact that since World War II the Germans and the Americans had managed to nurture a friendly and peaceful relationship, becoming steadfast allies. Sometime after the visit was planned, it became apparent that a German cemetery Reagan planned to visit contained not only the remains of typical German soldiers but also the graves of the notorious Waffen SS. A clearly pained Wiesel explained to Reagan “I am convinced … that you were not aware of the presence of SS graves in the Bitburg cemetery. Of course you didn’t know. But now we are all aware. May I … implore you to do something else, to find another way, another site. That place, Mr. President, is not your place.” An equally pained Reagan, was torn between his desire to assuage the feelings of an important ally, while at the same time avoiding the terrible symbolism of an American president paying respect at the graves of SS troops. Reagan unfortunately chose to visit Bitburg cemetery. According to the New York Times, “President Reagan’s regret at having promised such a cemetery tribute was palpable. He walked through it with dignity but little reverence. He gave the cameras no emotional angles. All day long he talked of Hell and Nazi evil, to submerge the event … Not even Mr. Reagan’s eloquent words before the mass graves of Bergen-Belsen could erase the fact that his visit there was an afterthought, to atone for the inadvertent salute to those SS graves.” We are now faced with a new and far more consequential moral choice. Do we allow a vicious Fascist dictator, who has used weapons of mass destruction and been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths to use dilatory tactics and the natural reluctance of democracies for war to avoid disarmament? Recently, Elie Wiesel made the observation that “If there had been a united front and Saddam Hussein didn’t think he could win through public opinion, he would give in and there’d be no war.” Wiesel concluded, “Saddam Hussein is a murderer. He should be indicted for crimes against humanity for what he has done… I am behind the president totally in his fight against terrorism. If Iraq is seen in that context, I think [Bush] can make a case for military intervention.” Wiesel remembers the cost and has personally paid the price of not dealing with aggressive dictators soon enough. It is clear that France, Germany, and many of those protesting the potential for war with Iraq have forgotten such costs and seem to believe that freedom and safety are natural gifts requiring no special protection. It is clear that many who oppose the Bush efforts in Iraq are doing so out of constructive concern and genuinely positive motives. Nonetheless, one would hope that these people would also have sufficient self-awareness to be terribly torn and concerned by the obvious fact that their actions of protest and disunity remain the sole encouragement for an isolated, murderous, and Fascist dictator.

Supreme Court Refuses to Extend RICO to Protestors

Sunday, March 2nd, 2003

Unfortunately, recent jurisprudence has sometimes stood the rest of the constitution on its head in order to protect absolute access to abortions under virtually any circumstance. These usurpations have even extended to infringements upon the First Amendment. For example, in Hill v. Colorado in 2000, the Supreme Court ruled constitutional a 1993 Colorado law making it illegal for anyone to approach within eight feet of someone in the vicinity of medical facilities “for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person…” It is, therefore, a salutary relief that in Scheidler v. NOW the high court refused to allow the extension of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) to anti-abortion protestors by a decisive 8-1 margin.

RICO was written to prosecute organized crime syndicates that were involved in extortion. In 1989, the National Organization fpr Women (NOW) sued Joseph Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League who was offering seminars on abortion protest strategies. Some of these strategies involved nonviolent civil disobedience techniques that blocked access to abortion clinics. Typically, similar civil disobedience results in arrests by police while protestors sing protest songs. In this case, NOW (and sadly US Solicitor General Ted Olsen) argued that the fact that the clinics were being deprived of business constituted extortion. The lower courts agreed and the triple damages imposed by the RICO law financially devastated Scheidler and his organization. The protests were effectively curtailed.

This broad interpretation of the law endangered protests of other kinds. During the oral arguments before the Court, it was suggested that such an interpretation of RICO could have been used to cripple the 1960s civil rights movement if lunch counter sit-ins closed businesses that refused service to African-Americans. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) a left-of-center animal rights extremist group sided with Scheidler fearing application of RICO to their protests in front of fur stores. Given the recent rise in anti-war protests, some of the Left have been more than a little nervous about the precedent the case could set. Even the American Civil Liberties Union concedes that “use of civil RICO as that remedy … poses its own problems.” No doubt these concerns contributed to the lopsided 8-1 decision.

It is prudent for the Supreme Court to decide each case on the narrowest possible grounds. This allows the court some maneuvering room in the face of new and unexpected cases. The Supreme Court noted that the RICO law was predicated on “extortion” as defined by the 1951 Hobbs Act. In this case, even if abortion clinics were effectively closed, the organization of protests did not constitute extortion since the protestors did not “receive something of value … they could exercise, transfer, or sell.” Scheidler and his group had not engaged in extortion by the defintion established in United States v. Nardello.

The Court left open the boundary between future laws and the First Amendment. For example, if a future Congress made it illegal, with severe penalties, to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience would such a law infringe on the First Amendment? Do we not want a country where nonviolent civil disobedience is dealt with in conventional ways with simple arrests and proportional penalties or do we want a country where such dissent is crushed with harsh and brutal sanctions? At what point do such penalties become so severe as to have chilling effect of legitimate protest? We would all be better off if the government chooses not to test such boundaries.