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A week before the battle of Bull Run Sullivan Ballou, a Major in the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers, wrote home to his wife in Smithfield. The letter, made famous on Ken Burn’s landmark documentary Civil War, should really be read while listening to the haunting Ashokan Farewell that accompanied the reading on the show. Such timeless love and heartfelt patriotism makes this letter so American in form and meaning that it should not only move you to tears but make you proud of your heritage.

Such men as this fought to save the union. And they fight to save us today.

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more . . .

I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt . . .

Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness . . .

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights . . . always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again . . .

Sullivan Ballou was killed a week later at the first Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861.

By: Rick Moran at 7:16 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

CATEGORY: Politics

This article in the New York Times got my blood boiling and my heart pumping today.

There is a new book out that answers a riddle the elites have been asking for 7 years now. Why did the American people elect George Bush President?

Answer? They’re as dumb as posts and irrational to boot:

Now Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University, has attracted notice for raising a pointed question: Do voters have any idea what they are doing? In his provocative new book, “The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies,” Caplan argues that “voters are worse than ignorant; they are, in a word, irrational — and vote accordingly.” Caplan’s complaint is not that special-interest groups might subvert the will of the people, or that government might ignore the will of the people. He objects to the will of the people itself.

In defending democracy, theorists of public choice sometimes invoke what they call “the miracle of aggregation.” It might seem obvious that few voters fully understand the intricacies of, say, single-payer universal health care. (I certainly don’t.) But imagine, Caplan writes, that just 1 percent of voters are fully informed and the other 99 percent are so ignorant that they vote at random. In a campaign between two candidates, one of whom has an excellent health care plan and the other a horrible plan, the candidates evenly split the ignorant voters’ ballots. Since all the well-informed voters opt for the candidate with the good health care plan, she wins. Thus, even in a democracy composed almost exclusively of the ignorant, we achieve first-rate health care.

The hitch, as Caplan points out, is that this miracle of aggregation works only if the errors are random. When that’s the case, the thousands of ill-informed votes in favor of the bad health plan are canceled out by thousands of equally ignorant votes in favor of the good plan. But Caplan argues that in the real world, voters make systematic mistakes about economic policy — and probably other policy issues too.

Caplan’s idiotic notions regarding the irrationality and ignorance of voters is so far off the mark as to why people vote the way they do it is beyond belief. The elites ensconced in ivory towers in academia don’t have a clue about people like you and me. We may as well be from another planet as far as their understanding as to what motivates us to vote for one candidate or another. Trying to qualify our reasons is an exercise in brainless futility.

Voting is the ultimate exercise of personal freedom. To social scientists trying to examine the reasons for why people make the political choices they do, it becomes necessary to ignore the competing interests and yearnings of the voter and settle on seeing this tug of war between altruism and selfishness as “irrationality.”

People want to vote for the “right” candidate. They are as earnest in their “ignorance” in choosing the best person for the job as any lickspittle professor with advanced degrees up the wazoo. But they are moved in mysterious ways – likability of the candidate, thematic presentations of a candidate’s program, and always fear of the consequences of voting for the other guy.

And so far, the American electorate has done pretty well. In the nuclear age, when the choice of President could literally have meant life and death, the people have chosen like, well…college professors with advanced degrees out of the wazoo. A Truman as opposed to an isolationist Dewey. An Eisenhower twice as opposed to a cerebral and statist Stevenson. A Kennedy as opposed to a Nixon. (Picture Nixon during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Would a young Nixon have backed down so expertly?) Perhaps the Johnson-Goldwater race was more about a martyred President so chalk that one up to irrationality. But Nixon – putting aside his dark proclivities – in ‘68 was the answer to lawlessness in the streets and the Viet Nam quagmire while Humphrey promised more of the same – disaster.

Carter/Ford was a toss up – the people lost. Carter/Reagan was a no brainer. Ditto Reagan/Mondale. Ditto Dukakis/Bush. I would even say that Clinton circa 1992 was a better choice than a fatally damaged Bush who broke his promise not to raise taxes. And were the American people really going to elect Bob Dole President?

This brings us to 2000 and the idea that the American people made a mistake:

Of all the people who deserve some blame for the debacle in Iraq, don’t forget the American public. Today, about two-thirds of Americans oppose the war. But back in March 2003, when United States troops stormed into Iraq, nearly three out of four Americans supported the invasion. Doves say that the public was suckered into war by a deceitful White House, and hawks say that the press has since led the public to lose its nerve — but the two sides implicitly agree that the public has been dangerously unsure, or easily propagandized, or ignorant.

In 2003, Bush had the credibility to lay out a case for war that the public found logical and thus supported. It is not the voter’s fault that Bush and his Administration mucked it up. And if you’re trying to blame the voters for electing Bush in the first place, one might want to ask what the alternative was.

Al Gore was part of an Administration that virtually enabled al-Qaeda to attack America whenever it chose. It is difficult to know what Gore would have done after 9/11 but I think it more than possible that he would have lobbed a few cruise missiles at Afghanistan trying to take out Bin Laden and gone the United Nations route.; sanctions, resolutions, and words of solidarity couched in the usual apologetic tones of “So sorry we can’t do anymore.” Regime change would have been off the table. And Bin Laden would not only have been free and on the loose, but hugely emboldened and the biggest hero in the Arab world since Saladin.

No Iraq War but instead of hiding in a cave somewhere, Bin Laden would still be operating openly. To be fair, it’s pretty clear that if a Gore Administration listened to people like Richard Clark, a serious effort would have gotten underway to attack the terrorist group financially and via law enforcement by rolling up their cells. But smashing their infrastructure and destroying their safe haven in Afghanistan would probably not have occurred.

Would we have been better off? No one knows which makes this whole idea of voter irrationality an elitist fantasy. People like Caplan prefer to see their carefully thought out political choices as superior to the emotional, inspired, and intrinsically personal choice made by the rest of us.

There may be another reason Caplan sees the rest of us as idiots. Ann Althouse:

I’m picking up a bit of the old: if only people thought clearly, they’d agree with me. I’m never surprised when a professor discovers that democracy is defective because Americans aren’t more left-wing. But unlike Althaus, Caplan thinks voters are incompetent because they aren’t libertarian enough.

Voters are moved by so many different stimuli that it is silly to think that because they don’t agree with you that there is something wrong with them. I believe it shows the professor’s ignorance of not only politics, but human behavior as well to expect voters to make choices based on his “learned” criteria. People choose a candidate for many reasons – some good, some bad. But given the track record of the American voter over 219 years, they get it right a helluva more than they get it wrong.

By: Rick Moran at 1:34 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (16)


In case you haven’t noticed recently, we are at war.

You are forgiven if it slipped your mind. The Bush Administration, now that it has its funding for the troops through September, will probably go back to its curiously quiescent attitude about informing the American people of the stakes and warning of the consequences of failure in Iraq. It is one of the great mysteries of this conflict, this on again, off again, start and stop effort by the President to remind us of the fact that 150,000 of our fellow citizens are engaged in a vital conflict that as I write this, is deciding much about our future.

The blockheads at the White House have never gotten it. They’ve never understood that their long, unbroken silences on the war have allowed their political opponents to define every aspect of it – why we invaded, what’s at stake, even what is really going on in Iraq. (It would have helped when bothering to inform us of what was going on there that they had actually been realistic and honest about what was transpiring rather than childishly optimistic and myopic.) And by allowing the Democrats to accuse them of all sorts of perfidy in the lead up to the conflict without constant, detailed, and passionate rebuttals, the President and his people have shattered any hope that the American public would stand by the Administration when the going got tough. The people have bought into the “Bush lied, people died” meme – or some variation – almost universally which has helped sap the will of the electorate to stay with the President on the war.

Of course, other matters also helped sap the will of the people. Blunders on the battle field that turned much of the population against us, misreading the situation on the ground, not changing strategies fast enough to reflect the true nature of the enemy we are fighting all contributed to the people’s sense that the folks running the war are either incompetent or had no workable plan for victory. The tremendous support given the President by the American people in the first few months after the invasion has been pissed away thanks to a political leadership that has not only failed to anticipate what the enemy in Iraq was going to do but also failed to realize the political threat here at home. They underestimated the desire and ability of the left to undermine the war effort by promulgating conspiracy theories, ascribing false motives to their actions, and even twisting the facts to paint a false picture to the American people of the war. The left is very good at storytelling. And the narrative they have so lovingly developed on the war has taken hold with the public thanks to the inexplicable and deplorable refusal of the Administration to defend itself in any useful way.

But as it becomes more and more apparent that our adventure in Iraq will sputter to an unsatisfying and potentially dangerous conclusion, my thoughts turn to those who have given so much in a cause that while good and noble, was mismanaged by their political and military leaders. The abilities, the courage, and the dedication of our military people in Iraq has been horribly misused. And I can’t escape the feeling that many of them will hold resentments when this is all over – resentment towards people like me who stopped being a cheerleader and became a critic (the reasons aren’t important) or perhaps even resentment at a government that gave them a job to do and then lost its way as well as losing the support of the people.

But they are not alone. They are brothers with those who for 230 years have bled out on battlefields all over the world. We like to think of ourselves as a peaceful people but I’m afraid history has a different take on the United States. We have fought wars for independence, for self defense, and to make the words in the Declaration and Constitution mean something. But we have also fought wars of belligerence, for conquest, for empire, and even for spite. And since the end of World War II, we have been at war almost constantly. And that’s not even including the “dirty wars” fought by our intelligence agencies in corners of the world where it seemed a good idea at the time to fight for dominance or for a change in government, or even for commercial interests.

But why we have fought doesn’t really matter. History’s judgement in these matters is, after all, seen through the prism of time with little thought to what kind of nation we have become as a result of those wars. We were a different nation 150, 100, even 50 years ago. We have grown up. We have responsibilities no nation has ever had – not Rome, nor Spain, or England or France when those nations dominated the planet. When a Tsunami devastates the South Pacific, no one thinks of calling in the French or Germans or even the Russians for assistance. They call upon the United States not only because we have the capability but because they know we can’t say no. There is no other nation in the history of human civilization who has had this kind of responsibility.

And that responsibility extends into the military sphere as well. Despite the public criticism, there is an almost universal recognition among the nations of the world that deposing the dictator Saddam was a good thing, a noble cause. What has happened in Iraq since then has been an occasion for much posturing and anti-American domestic politicking by many nations who should know better. They don’t speak German in France because American boys bled and died driving Hitler’s army from that sacred soil. And Soviet troops aren’t occupying Mittel Europa anymore because generations of American boys stood watch in places like Alaska, Germany, Greece, and Great Britain.

Yes, the world forgets. And they hate being reminded of it. It is a debt they will never be able to repay, especially to those sentinels of freedom who faced down the Russians for 45 long years. Or the 100,000 men who sacrificed their lives in Korea and Viet Nam to make Asia the economic dynamo it is today, at peace for the first time in 100 years. Or the Rangers who scaled the cliffs at Point du Hoc on D-Day. Or the Dough boys who rolled up the Kaiser’s armies after the French and British exhausted themselves almost to the point of defeat.

But as we approach another Memorial Day, I am struck by the connection between today’s American soldier and those of 100, even 200 years ago and all the years in between. Whether fighting for land, for empire, or to defend ourselves from an external enemy, the courage and skill with which the American fighting man has fought has been the envy of the world. European military observers from the 19th century marveled at it. And the 20th centuries dictators came to fear it. A combination of discipline and individual initiative that has been the hallmark of the American fighting man for 230 years is unprecedented. Other nations have tried to copy it and failed. It has proven to be an unbeatable combination on the battlefield.

But for all their skill. For all their sacrifices, the American soldier ultimately is only as successful as those who set policy and strategy and point him towards the enemy. In every war America has fought – from the Revolution to Iraq – the ineffable qualities in the American fighting man have been wasted by poor leadership. The Revolution had, among other disasters, General Charles Lee, an incompetent fop of a general. And there was the Congress who insisted Washington attempt to keep New York out of British hands – a disaster that almost ended the war before it started.

The Civil War had a veritable cornucopia of bad generals, stupid mistakes by Lincoln, and a Congress who stuck its nose constantly into the army’s business. The list goes on through World Wars I and II, Korea, Viet Nam and beyond. The fact is, our fighting men have been constantly ill served by those who ask them to die. I suppose war is fraught with this kind of peril. But it doesn’t make it any easier for the men who must suffer the consequences of others mistakes.

On Memorial Day, none of this matters. We don’t think much on why they died or even how they died. All we know and care about is that they died for us. We, the people, asked them to go in harm’s way and they responded courageously, giving that “last full measure of devotion” as Lincoln called it at Gettysburg. Sometimes we may have been wrong. Sometimes the conflict couldn’t be avoided. And sometimes, we were right. Circumstances, blurred by time and softened by memories of loved ones lost, are of secondary consideration. When the political leadership, freely elected by the people, decides to take the United States to war we are duty bound to support our fighting men – even if we disagree with the decision to fight. For in the end, it is their sacrifices that define us as a people.

By: Rick Moran at 3:05 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (17)

Rhymes With Right linked with Watcher's Council Results...
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Andrew Sullivan went and saw Obama yesterday and reports that this “agent of change” may be the liberal’s answer to Ronald Reagan:

I’m still absorbing the many impressions I got. But one thing stays in my head. This guy is a liberal. Make no mistake about that. He may, in fact, be the most effective liberal advocate I’ve heard in my lifetime. As a conservative, I think he could be absolutely lethal to what’s left of the tradition of individualism, self-reliance, and small government that I find myself quixotically attached to. And as a simple observer, I really don’t see what’s stopping him from becoming the next president. The overwhelming first impression that you get – from the exhausted but vibrant stump speech, the diverse nature of the crowd, the swell of the various applause lines – is that this is the candidate for real change. He has what Reagan had in 1980 and Clinton had in 1992: the wind at his back. Sometimes, elections really do come down to a simple choice: change or more of the same?

Look at the polls and forget ideology for a moment. What do Americans really want right now? Change. Who best offers them a chance to turn the page cleanly on an era most want to forget? It isn’t Clinton, God help us. Edwards is so 2004. McCain is a throwback. Romney makes plastic look real. Rudy does offer something new for Republicans – the abortion-friendly, cross-dressing Jack Bauer. But no one captures the sheer, pent-up desire for a new start more effectively than Obama.

Sully may be on to something here. Last Saturday, in one of my more depressing posts, I said that “It smelled like 1979” all over again and that all the political stars seemed to be positioning themselves for an historic re-alignment. This isn’t news to people who follow politics, of course. But in the course of explaining why I thought the prognosticators may be right about the possibility of overturning the established order, I said this:

Of course, the big difference is that the Democrats don’t have a Ronald Reagan to take advantage of the situation. Nobody will ever confuse Hilliary’s shrill denunciations with the twinkle in the Gipper’s eye when he zinged an opponent. Nor will anyone fail to see the difference between the inspirational yet empty platitudes of Obama with Reagan’s soaring rhetoric that touched something so American in people’s souls.

Sullivan thinks that Obama may be the most effective liberal advocate in his lifetime. I’m not sure how old Andrew is but those of us of a certain age clearly remember Hubert Humphrey, who could orate rings around the Senator from Illinois. And Ted Kennedy can still wow a Democratic audience with more liberal red meat than Obama tosses to his audiences.

Having said that, I see where Sully is going with this. In fact, he comes very close to what is surely going to be the biggest issue for Republicans going into the general election; how far and how fast can you run away from George Bush?

I fear he could do to conservatism what Reagan did to liberalism. And just as liberals deserved a shellacking in 1980, so do “conservatives” today. In the Bush era, they have shown their own contempt for their own tradition. Who can blame Obama for exploiting the big government arguments Bush has already conceded?

And just as Carter branded liberalism in a bad way for a generation, so Bush and his acolytes have poisoned the brand of conservatism for the foreseeable future. When you take a few steps back and look closely, you realize that Bush has managed both to betray conservatism and stigmatize it all at once. That’s some achievement.

The Democrats of 1980 were stuck with Carter, an incumbent running for re-election. Not so Republicans in 2008 with Bush. Unfortunately, there is precious little a Republican nominee can do to separate himself from this tar baby. He’s going to be a presence in the campaign – the Democrats will see to that little detail. And the party is going to have to give him one of the prime time slots during convention week. (Not doing so would make more news than anything Bush will say.) But other than that, Bush will be forced into the background as Republicans will desperately try and talk about the future, trying to ignore the last 8 years of just plain bad government – bad ideas, bad management, and bad execution.

But is Obama in the best position to take advantage of this desire for change? I have seen his basic stump speech 3 times and after each presentation, I am left with the impression that there really isn’t much there. “Liberal pablum” understates what Obama substitutes for any serious fleshing out of ideas or themes. It is feel good rhetoric taken to its extreme and logical conclusion; everybody wins if you vote for me.

Forget the silly gaffes of recent weeks – although Andrew points out something that I also have noticed and is extremely troubling. That is, the “fatigue factor.” A younger man such as Obama cannot be on a schedule this far out from the primaries where he is being asked to campaign 20 hours a day. His “fatigue” must be attributed to the atrocious mismanagement of his time by his staff. And when he uses fatigue as an excuse to explain his misstatement of the number of deaths that occurred in the tornadoes in Kansas, something is definitely amiss and needs to be rectified quickly.

As far as other similarities with Reagan, there is no denying the soaring notes of optimism present in his speeches. Sully noticed too:

At a couple of points in his speech, he used the phrase: “This is not who we are.” I was struck by the power of those words. He was reasserting that America is much more than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Gitmo and Abu Ghraib and Katrina and fear and obstinacy and isolation. And so he makes an argument for change in the language of restoration. The temperamental conservatives in America hear a form of patriotism; and the ideological liberals hear a note of radicalism. It’s a powerful, unifying theme. He’d be smart to deepen and broaden it.

This is no “blame America first” liberal. Conservatives should note that this line of attack will fall flat as Obama clearly sees America as a force for good in the world. But Andrew points up the most dramatic difference between Obama and Reagan; “restoration” vs. redemption.

The Reagan campaign of 1980 had elements of both a political campaign and crusade. It was a quasi-religious movement with its overarching theme being redeeming America from 50 years of liberalism. The idea that America had sinned and needed to recant its apostasy was a powerful force in bringing Reagan the political re-alignment he sought.

Can Obama capture some of that magic? Right track/wrong track poll numbers over the last few years have been historically high as far as America being on “the wrong track” under Bush. But those numbers were high in 2004 also and Kerry failed to break through. There must be something else afoot among the electorate that would act as a catalyst to propel someone as liberal as Obama all the way to the White House. A loss of faith in America itself would fill the bill, but I don’t see that anywhere at the moment. People have simply lost faith in Bush and the Republicans – a not inconsequential development but something the Republicans could rectify relatively quickly. A Guiliani or Romney candidacy would alter the face of the party at least temporarily and give hope to some of the more moderate elements in the GOP.

Andrew is no doubt in thrall of Obama’s delivery and magnetism. I was too when I first heard him. But rather than grow on you, the more you listen to what the Senator has to say, the more you realize how little there is to recommend him as far as concrete ideas and even definitive themes attached to his candidacy. Not quite an empty suit but certainly a lot more style than substance.

It is still an uphill battle for Obama to capture the Democratic nomination. Comparisons to Reagan notwithstanding, it appears that even with “the wind at his back,” as Sully says, he will have to sharpen his message and flesh out his programs and themes if he is to overtake Hillary Clinton and have a shot at the White House.

By: Rick Moran at 7:47 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (12)

Maggie's Farm linked with Saturday Morning Links...

A twofer today as I neglected to post for the last couple of weeks.

Results W/E 5/11


1st Place: Does America Elect Defeatists? by Big Lizards

2nd Place: “The Greatest Scientific Scandal of Our Time” by Cheat Seeking Missiles

3rd Place (Tie): Zawahiri Posts an Important New Video—and Reveals al-Qaeda’s Jihad Strategy by Joshuapundit; and

3rd Place: The Quietest Hero by Soccer Dad

Non Council

1st Place: “Better a Thousand Israeli Invasions…” by Michael J. Totten

2nd Place: Two Words by Cup of Love

Results W/E 5/18


1st Place: Cheney’s Chess Moves in the Middle East by Joshuapundit

2nd Place (Tie): Positive Thinking Vs. The Greenies by Cheat Seeking Missiles; and

2nd Place: Gone Across Peterson by The Glittering Eye

Non Council

1st Place: Don’t Bury Your Heads in the Sand. by Iraq the Model

2nd Place: A Communism for the 21st Century by Gates of Vienna

3rd Place: The New Anti-Blasphemy Rules, Again by The Volokh Conspiracy

If you’d like to participate in the weekly Watchers Vote, go here and follow instructions.

By: Rick Moran at 7:07 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1) Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with Bush Declassifies Bin Laden Intelligence...
CATEGORY: Blogging

What makes a great movie villain?

Obviously, he must be evil. And relentless in persecuting the hero. And it doesn’t hurt if they are without conscience or any redeeming qualities at all, although that last is not necessary as we shall see.

I think the last thing that makes a great movie villain is that the part must be either well written or played by a great actor. There are plenty of villains who had the potential for greatness but never quite made the grade due to an inferior script or bad performance. Henry Fonda in Once Upon A Time In The West comes to mind. Hard to get over the image of Fonda as Mr. Everyman which made his portrayal of the child killer Frank difficult to accept.

The following are not necessarily the greatest movie villains of all time – just my favorites. I’ve left out villains like the Wicked Witch of the West and the evil queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs not because they’re not evil but because they’re not really believable, are they? At any rate, let me know what you think of my choices.

10. Roger “Verbal” Kint – The Usual Suspects

For sheer surprise, I had to include “Kaiser Soza” in my top ten list. The incongruity of Kevin Spacey’s mild mannered Kint placed against the terrorist Soza (and the way the film revealed the surprise) was extremely well done.

9. Mr. Zorg – The Fifth Element

Has there been a campier villain than Zorg? Gary Oldham’s over the top performance was outstanding. And as a foil for Bruce Willis, he was perfect.

8. The Shark – Jaws

I’m still afraid to go in the water. I first saw the film at the old Chicago Theater – wide screen and the place was packed at midday. Every time John William’s “shark” music started, a noticeable murmur would run through the crowd. People were terrified of that mechanical beast. And I still can’t watch it without getting chills sometimes.

7. Frank Booth – Blue Velvet

Dennis Hopper could easily be on this list three or four times. But his portrayal of the maniac Booth whose sexual proclivities and homicidal nature combine to make him by far the weirdest villain in movie history, was a tour de force performance. (His turn as Howard Payne in Speed was also memorable).

6. Khan – Star Trek II

Only because I’m a sucker for any villain that quotes Melville and Shakespeare.

5. Booth – In The Line Of Fire

John Malkovich as the disturbed presidential assassin in one of Eastwood’s best roles and directing efforts. So much in control. So sure of himself. And in the end, so dead.

4. Casper Gutman – The Maltese Falcon

Probably not on too many people’s top ten lists but this is my blog and I’ll do what I like. Actually, Sydney Greenstreet had some redeeming qualities. He was charming and jolly. He was also someone you could trust only as far as you could throw his 300 pound body. I love the plot of Falcon plus the novel by Dashiell Hammett was faithfully brought to the screen by John Huston.

3. Masala – Ben Hur

Stephen Boyd is not the best actor in the world. But the way the role was written contrasted perfectly with Heston’s Judah. Unforgettable.

2. Hannibal Lector – The Silence of the Lambs

I didn’t care for Anthony Hopkins in any of the sequels, (although the remake of Manhunter with Edward Norton was pretty good). But his absolutely stone cold portrayal of the impossibly dangerous serial killer in Lambs was bone chilling.

1. Darth Vader – Star Wars

Could there be anyone else at #1? Darth is number one in so many ways – literary, mythological, cinematic, biblical – he rivals Satan in our culture as an icon of evil. He has no equal.

Note: Some honorable mentions:

1. Norman Bates – Psycho
2. The Alien – Alien films (except the execrable Alien vs. Predator).
3. Gollum – Lord of the Rings
4. Mr. Smith – The Matrix films
5. Freddie Krueger – Nightmare on Elm Street films

That ought to keep you guys busy for a while.

By: Rick Moran at 12:47 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (21)

CATEGORY: Ethics, Government

“The rhetoric has changed but not the behavior, and the behavior has gotten worse in the sense that while they are pretending to reform things, they are still groveling in the trough.”
(Winslow T. Wheeler, CDI)

I swear that most Congresscritters missed their calling. Serving in Congress is swell I’m sure. But if this were a different world, we might see many of those ladies and gents in nightclubs plying their craft as magicians.

It’s the old sleight of hand trick. Replace one bunch of greedy, grasping, politicians from one party with a sneaky, conniving, yet equally greedy and grasping set from another party. Hard to tell the difference in the end. The result is the same; unaccountability and a lack of discipline in spending our tax dollars.

This is because despite running on a platform that included solemn promises to halve the number of earmarks included in appropriations bills, as well as reforming the way they were ordered to insure transparency and accountability, the Democrats were apparently struck a severe blow to the head, having suffered a massive memory loss as a result and are carrying on pretty much as before.

That “as before” refers to the way that Republicans purloined tens of billions of dollars from the Federal government via the earmark gravy train – something the Democrats had a gay old time bashing them over the head with in the lead up to the election last November. And rightly so. The practice of slipping a Congressman’s pet project anonymously as an addition to appropriations bills at the last moment – behind closed doors in conference or even after the bill was passed – with little or no chance for debate (not to mention little scrutiny about who exactly was going to benefit) was an out of control outrage, an affront to the principles of good government, and a significant contributing factor to the deficit.

So, of course, the Democrats just had to give it a try:

When the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives passed one of its first spending bills, funding the Energy Department for the rest of 2007, it proudly boasted that the legislation contained no money earmarked for lawmakers’ pet projects and stressed that any prior congressional requests for such spending “shall have no legal effect.”

Within days, however, lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) began directly contacting the Energy Department. They sought to secure money for their favorite causes outside of the congressional appropriations process—a practice that lobbyists and appropriations insiders call “phonemarking.”...

Upon taking control of Congress after November’s midterm elections, Democrats vowed to try to halve the number of earmarks, and to require lawmakers to disclose their requests and to certify that the money they are requesting will not benefit them.

But the new majority is already skirting its own reforms.

It isn’t just the spectacle of rank hypocrisy that the Democrats are making of themselves. It is the supreme arrogance of power that sneeringly tells the rest of us to mind our own business and leave the lawmakers alone when they are planning to rob us blind:

Perhaps the biggest retreat from that pledge came this week, when House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) told fellow lawmakers that he intends to keep requests for earmarks out of pending spending bills, at least for now. Obey said the committee will deal with them at the end of the appropriations process in the closed-door meetings between House and Senate negotiators known as conference committees.

Democrats had complained bitterly in recent years that Republicans routinely slipped multimillion-dollar pet projects into spending bills at the end of the legislative process, preventing any chance for serious public scrutiny. Now Democrats are poised to do the same.

“I don’t give a damn if people criticize me or not,” Obey said.

Obey may have the safest seat in Christendom. He also may be one of the more arrogant SOB’s on the Hill. The combination of the two give the Congressman the confidence to give the rest of us the finger just for trying to hold he and his Democratic friends accountable for how they spend our money.

The Examiner shows how Obey’s “reforms” will work in practice:

The same day, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., disclosed that earmarks will be inserted into bills only after they’ve been approved by the House and sent to conference committees with the Senate. Under this newly rigged process, there won’t be any of those pesky amendments against things like the Bridge to Nowhere. In fact, House members will only be voting on conference committee reports, not on the thousands of earmarks that will be inserted into the bills covered by those reports. In other words, after some tentative moves in the right direction earlier this year, Democrats are now putting the corrupt system disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff called the congressional “favor factory” back behind closed doors.

Obey sounds like he’s a little overworked and under appreciated here:

“I have to sign off on that stuff,” Obey said. “And I’m going to make damn sure that we’ve done everything we can do to make sure that they’re legitimate projects, so that you don’t get embarrassed by some idiot who is putting in money for a project that happens to benefit himself and his wife.”

Those words would carry a helluva lot more weight if you held you own party leader accountable:

Another key Democratic reform requires House members seeking earmarks to certify that neither they nor their spouses have any financial interest in the project.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did just that when she requested $25 million for a project to improve the waterfront in her home district of San Francisco. Her request did not note that her family owns interests in four buildings near the proposed Pier 35 project.

Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Pelosi, said that any suggestion of a conflict of interest is “ridiculous.” He said that Pelosi was passing along a spending request from the Port of San Francisco and that she would not benefit from it.

Nice try, Brendan. Did you forget the fact that the four buildings will almost certainly increase in value as a result of the improvements? Maybe we should ask how difficult it would be for the Speaker of the House to buttonhole some Port of San Francsico flunkie and get him to make the request in the first place? Of course, that kind of thing never happens, now does it?

The point is not to get rid of earmarks entirely. There are legitimate projects that for one reason or another, the Executive Branch refuses to fund. By having the power to override the objections of federal departments on spending matters, the Congress exercises a form of oversight that is both legal and, in rare cases, necessary.

But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that 13,000 earmarks are a scandal. And the way they are approved is an invitation to corruption. Just ask Duke Cunningham. The California Congressman is spending 8 years in prison for using earmarks to personally enrich himself and his cronies. I wonder how long it will be before we start seeing the same kind of abuses by the Democrats that we got sick to death of under Republicans?

By: Rick Moran at 10:58 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

The Oxford Medievalist linked with High Comedy on Capitol Hill...

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its latest report on the Iranian nuclear program yesterday with somewhat of a mixed verdict. The bad news is that the Iranians are making steady if unspectacular progress in mastering the centrifuge technology necessary to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels. The good news is they still haven’t a clue on how to connect large numbers of centrifuges in order to produce enriched uranium on an industrial scale.

First, the MSM take on the IAEA report:

Iran has again defied U.N. demands to suspend its nuclear enrichment programs, according to a report issued yesterday by the International Atomic Energy Agency, leading Bush administration officials to demand increased pressure on Tehran.

The IAEA report said that Iran has significantly accelerated its enrichment capability and has not provided a range of verification information to the agency. The IAEA’s “level of knowledge of certain aspects of Iran’s nuclear-related activities has deteriorated,” the four-page document said. The report described the last 60 days of activity since an assessment in March led to the adoption of a U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran. That resolution stepped up the sanctions initially authorized in December.

“The pressure so far has not produced the results that we all have been hoping for,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “The time has come,” he said, to “ratchet up the pressure to bring about a change in Iranian calculation.”...

Yesterday’s IAEA report said that during a surprise visit on May 13, nuclear inspectors found eight operating enrichment cascades—each with 164 centrifuges, for a total of 1,312—being fed uranium hexafluoride at the underground facility near the town of Natanz. Five additional cascades were in various stages of completion. The number was more than four times the total number of centrifuges operating at the time of the last IAEA report, in February.

Although the total was far from the 3,000 centrifuges that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted would be operating by May, some nuclear experts said that point could be reached by early summer. The glass “is a little more than half full,” said David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.

How has Iran “significantly accelerated” it’s program? This is directly from the report (HT: Arms Control Wonks):

Since the Director General’s last report, Iran has fed approximately 260 kg of UF6 into the cascades at FEP. Iran has declared that it has reached enrichment levels up to 4.8% U-235 at FEP, which the Agency is in the process of verifying. On 13 May 2007, eight 164-machine cascades were operating simultaneously and were being fed with UF6; two other similar cascades had been vacuum tested and three more were under construction.
(Emphasis mine)

The Iranians achieved the ability to connect 164 of the centrifuges in order to create a cascade that enriched uranium hex to around 5% last year. The fact that they have been unable to go beyond that and create much larger cascades is significant, although it is worrisome that they have so many of these “mini-cascades” operating at once. The experts that I’ve read also believe that Iran has just begun to introduce UF 6 or Uranium Hexafluoride directly into the centrifuges rather than injecting “feedstock” into the machines to prevent them from breaking.

Short version of report: Iran is making steady progress toward industrial production of enriched uranium but still faces significant obstacles to achieving that goal. And those obstacles are perhaps the most daunting in the entire enrichment process – connecting hundreds and hundreds of centrifuges into one, gigantic machine which will operate for long periods of time in order to enrich the uranium to the magic 85% level for bomb making.

Even if they can connect all 1300+ centrifuges, it would take a year of perfect operation for the cascade to produce enough U-235 for one bomb. Thankfully, this level of technical expertise is still beyond them. But it should worry us that they appear to be making steady progress toward that goal.

It is also worrying that the Iranians appear to be making progress elsewhere in their nuclear program. Construction of the IR-40 reactor and the operation of the Heavy Water Production Plant are continuing. This will speed the production of plutonium once the Iranians start enriching Uranium hex to industrial levels.

This still gives us time for sanctions and diplomacy to work. How much time? Certainly less time than our brilliant intelligence people thought only two summers ago when they confidently predicted Iran wouldn’t have the bomb for perhaps a decade. The Iranians are moving farther and faster than anyone in our intelligence community thought possible which makes one wonder why they even bother in the first place. Bush might be better off throwing darts at a board marked “countdown to Armageddon” with a series of numbers representing the length of time in years before Iran gets the bomb.

It would seem that might be a more accurate way to predict when the mullahs will be able to threaten their neighbors with nukes than relying on legions of intelligence bureaucrats who seem more concerned about not sticking their necks out instead of delivering intelligent, accurate analysis.

Too hard on our intel people? You bet! We spend upwards of $70 billion on hardware, software, and the care and feeding of thousands of analysts and this was the best we can do? (Andy: I know I don’t know what I’m talking about but something is still wrong with that picture.)

Leaving aside our failed intelligence on the Iranian nuke program, the question is where do we go from here? While there is still time for sanctions to work, the question of how severe we can make them and still bring along China and Russia at the UN remains unknown:

At a news conference last week with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush said that the United States would push for a third Security Council resolution if the IAEA report was negative. The measure is expected to require additional restrictions on Iran, including mandatory travel bans on specific government officials, expanded prohibitions against dealing with Iranian companies and banks, and new sanctions against companies associated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Arms imports from Iran are currently banned; a ban on weapons exports to the country is also being considered.

U.S. officials said yesterday that the administration will delay pressing for new Security Council action until after the talks scheduled for next Thursday between European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator. On behalf of the United States, France, Britain and Germany, Solana has been instructed to consider even a month-long suspension as Iranian progress, but Iran has refused and officials expressed little optimism the meeting would lead to a breakthrough.

Poor Larijani. The guy has tried to resign at least 5 times in the last few months, protesting Ahmadinejad’s wild rhetoric as well as his choice for Foreign Minister, Manuchehr Mottaki. But Supreme Leader Khamenei has rejected his resignation each time, if only because he seems to be the one Iranian negotiator who has any credibility with the western powers.

Meanwhile, Mohamed ElBaradei has recently proven once again that the IAEA is a nuclear enabling organization rather than an enforcement agency:

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei infuriated the administration and its European partners last week by telling reporters that the demands for suspension have been “superseded by events” in Iran. He said they should accept a certain level of uranium enrichment in exchange for more inspections and Iranian agreement not to expand the program.

“We vehemently disagree . . . with the contention that somehow the international community should allow Iran to get away with violating all of its obligations,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in criticizing the IAEA chief. The official said that U.S., French and British officials will meet with ElBaradei at IAEA headquarters in Vienna tomorrow to express their displeasure.

Although I hesitate to use the analogy of a woman being raped told to lie back and enjoy it, in this case the shoe fits. ElBaradei has been undercutting a strong policy toward Iran for years even though his own agency has shown that the mullahs are not being forthcoming about their program and are obstructing the IAEA from doing its job:

One of the most striking things about the report is its emphasis on what the IAEA doesn’t know about Iran’s program because of Tehran’s lack of transparency. Not only has Iran refused to cooperate (for the most part) with the IAEA’s requests for information about Iran’s nuclear program(s), but Iran still won’t implement the additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement.

The UN Security Council, BTW, has required Tehran to cooperate with the investigation and ratify its additional protocol.

Anyway, this lack of cooperation is clearly impairing the IAEA’s investigation. According to the report:

because the Agency has not been receiving for over a year information that Iran used to provide, including under the Additional Protocol, the Agency’s level of knowledge of certain aspects of Iran’s nuclear related activities has deteriorated.

That information includes

information relevant to the assembly of centrifuges, the manufacture of centrifuge components or associated equipment and research and development of centrifuges or enrichment techniques.

This does not bode well for future inspections. The Iranians can continue to obstruct the IAEA from doing its job as long as the price they pay for doing so is cheap. Much broader and tougher sanctions are called for. Whether they will be forthcoming is anyone’s guess.

By: Rick Moran at 7:14 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)


When the history of these times is written 100 years from now – that is, if the west is vouchsafed such a luxury as surviving that long – historians will view the role of the free press in the western world with a combination of confusion and awe. Confusion because they will look in vain for evidence that many in the media were actually working for the enemies of freedom, so often it seemed they played directly into their hands or seemed to do their bidding. And a feeling of awe that those professing to be so intelligent could act with such towering idiocy and irresponsibility:

The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert “black” operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell the Blotter on

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say President Bush has signed a “nonlethal presidential finding” that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran’s currency and international financial transactions.

Of course, the press is not disloyal – at least not according to their lights. But I can’t think of anything that ABC could have published that helps Iran more. Especially since it now appears that, as I have predicted many times (and despite what the hysterical left has been saying for two years about an “imminent” attack on Iran) the Administration has apparently abandoned the military option in favor of turning up the heat on the Iranian regime politically and financially.

Or, at least that was the plan. Enter ABC News and their feelings of entitlement to undermine US policy and all of a sudden, the military option may be back on the table. This begs the question of who or what faction in our intelligence agencies leaked this time? Pro-war advocates? Anti-intervention advocates? Some stray partisans who hate Bush? Some stray partisans doing the President’s bidding? Perhaps those involved in a turf war of some kind in our intelligence agencies?

Take your pick. One is as good as the other. It wouldn’t be the first time for any of those factions in the last 6 years to leak classified information. It’s just that this time, the leaking has arguably made the world a more dangerous place.

If there is one foreign policy issue that enjoys bi-partisan agreement in Washington it is that Iran must be prevented from developing nuclear weapons. Disagreements abound about how to prevent them from doing so. But liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, and everyone in between recognizes the threat posed to world peace by the fanatics in Iran and that it would be an unmitigated disaster for our interests in the region if they were successful in building a bomb.

I think that this CIA covert plan would have enjoyed broad support among the leadership of both parties on the Hill. It is reasonable in that it attacks Iran economically not to hurt the population but to hit the mullahs where it counts; in their secret bank accounts they are using to fund their weapons program:

Riedel says economic pressure on Iran may be the most effective tool available to the CIA, particularly in going after secret accounts used to fund the nuclear program.

“The kind of dealings that the Iranian Revolution Guards are going to do, in terms of purchasing nuclear and missile components, are likely to be extremely secret, and you’re going to have to work very, very hard to find them, and that’s exactly the kind of thing the CIA’s nonproliferation center and others would be expert at trying to look into,” Riedel said.

Are there risks that go with such a policy? Of course there are. There are risks with any policy we pursue against Iran including doing nothing. Or trying to strengthen regional actors like Saudi Arabia to counterbalance Iranian influence. Or bombing the holy hell out of them. If it is a risk free policy you seek, you won’t find it.

Vali Nasr of the Council on Foreign Relations explains the downside to the CIA’s leaked plan:

Still, some fear that even a nonlethal covert CIA program carries great risks.

“I think everybody in the region knows that there is a proxy war already afoot with the United States supporting anti-Iranian elements in the region as well as opposition groups within Iran,” said Vali Nasr, adjunct senior fellow for Mideast studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“And this covert action is now being escalated by the new U.S. directive, and that can very quickly lead to Iranian retaliation and a cycle of escalation can follow,” Nasr said.

Nasr posits the absolute worst case scenario including the “cycle of escalation” canard that is usually trotted out by opponents to any strong action taken by the US against a putative enemy. The advantage the professor has in this case is that we’ll never know because most of the plan is for all intents and purposes is dead. If we thought it was hard to ferret out the secret funding mechanisms for the Iranian bomb program before, how impossible do you think it’s going to be now that the Iranians are aware of what we intend to do?

ABC’s excuse will be that if they didn’t publish, someone else would have done so. Of this I have no doubt, although what that says about the press in general in this country is not flattering. The fault lies with the leakers in this case. And the fact that the Administration has done so little over the last 6 years to investigate and punish those who reveal some of the most important secrets in government only encourages further transgressions. When unelected bureaucrats take it upon themselves to destroy policies they disagree with either for political purposes or, as may be possible in this case, in order for another policy option to move to the top of the pile, trust between those elected to make policy and those charged with giving our leaders accurate information and intelligent options to implement that policy breaks down.

Anyone can see the dysfunction in our intelligence agencies, the pettiness, the partisanship, the casual disregard for the rule of law. Is there any plan or program that would never be leaked under these conditions?

Not unless the perpetrators are identified and either drummed out of the service or arrested, prosecuted, and jailed for violating their oaths of secrecy and the law.

By: Rick Moran at 6:20 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (19)

Macsmind - Conservative Commentary and Common Sense linked with Blogswarm to have Brian Ross fired from ABC...
CATEGORY: Middle East

This article originally appears in The American Thinker

The worried eyes of the western world are turned toward Lebanon as the under trained and under equipped Lebanese army does battle with the Palestinian terrorist group known as Fatah al-Islam in and around the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp just outside of the northern port city of Tripoli.

So far, the terrorists are staying true to form. They have taken refuge among the civilian population in the densely crowded camp and are using innocents as human shields. The Lebanese army, under orders to destroy the terrorists, tries to spare civilians the worst of the fighting but apparently, to no avail as many of the refugees streaming out of the camps this evening report dozens of corpses lying in the street and in buildings.

The death toll as reported by Lebanese media is 66 which includes 30 Lebanese soldiers, 18 Fatah al-Islam gunmen, 17 Palestinian refugees and one Lebanese civilian. That number is clearly too low as the United Nations reports gunmen opening fire on convoys bearing relief supplies into the camp killing several more civilians who approached the trucks to get much needed water and food. And as a tenuous, undeclared cease fire seems to be holding over the last 24 hours, thousands of Palestinians have taken advantage in the lull to flee the camp, relating stories about the fierce firefights in the streets and saying that the stench of death is everywhere.

Much has been made in the western media of Fatah al-Islam’s ties to al-Qaeda. There is ample evidence that, in fact, the leader of the group, Shakir al-Abssi, has been inspired by Osama Bin Laden, adheres to al-Qaeda’s ideology of establishing a world wide Caliphate, fought with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, and shares al-Qaeda’s goal of kicking the United States out of the Middle East.

But many Lebanese see the hand of Syria in al-Abbsi’s machinations. They point to the fact that around the time that al-Abssi was sentenced to death along with al-Zarqawi in Jordan for assassinating the United States diplomat Laurence Foley, he was freed from a Syrian jail where he had spent three years for plotting terrorist attacks there. Released last fall, he made his way immediately to the northern Lebanese refugee camp Nahr el-Bared where he began to recruit not only Palestinians but also Arab fighters and jihadists from as far away as Chechnya.

The New York Times caught up with the 51 year old al-Abssi in March of this year and found him well organized and fanatical in his desire to hurt the United States. At that time, Syria denied sending Abssi to Lebanon to create chaos calling the charges “baseless.”

But the facts are that Syria has a long history of supporting Palestinian radicals in Lebanon and using them as surrogates to create havoc. Dr. Walid Phares:

The Fatah al Islam is the latest marriage of convenience between a group of committed Jihadists, rotating in the al Qaeda’s constellation but gravitating around Damascus influence. The group accepts Bashar’s support and the Syrian regime tolerates the organization’s “Sunni” outlook: Both have a common enemy, even though they may come at each other’s throats in the future. The men of Bin Laden anywhere in the world, including in Lebanon, have the same standing order: Bringing down the moderate Arab and Muslim Governments (even in multiethnic societies) and replace them with Emirates. The men of Bashar Assad and Mahmoud Ahmedinijad have converging goals, bring down the democratically elected Government in Lebanon and replace it with a Hizbollah-Syrian dominated regime, as was the case before 2005. Thus each “axis” has one objective in Lebanon: crush the Seniora Government. They will take all their time to fight each other after.

Indeed, Phares paints a grim future for Lebanon unless the Lebanese army can annihilate Fatah-al-Islam:

Today’s clashes between the al Qaeda linked terror network and the Lebanese Army are a prelude to terror preparations aimed at crumbling the Cedars Revolution, both Government and civil society this summer. It is a move by the Assad regime to weaken the cabinet and the army in preparation for a greater offensive later on by Hizbollah on another front. In short the Damascus-Tehran strategic planners have unleashed this “local” al Qaeda group in Tripoli to drag the Lebanese cabinet in side battles, deflecting its attention from the two main events, highly threatening to Assad: One is the forthcoming UN formed Tribunal in the assassination case of Rafiq Hariri. The second is the pending deployment of UN units on the Lebanese-Syrian borders. Both developments can isolate the Syrian regime. Thus, the Fatah al Islam attacks can be perceived as part of a preemptive strategy by the Tehran-Damascus axis. But the results, if the Lebanese Army fails to contain the terrorists, could be very serious to the Seniora Government and the UN. Worse, if the first piece of a Sunni Triangle is put in place in Lebanon, this could affect the geopolitics of the War on Terror globally: The rise of Salafi Jihadism along the coasts of Lebanon, from Tripoli to Sidon, passing by Beirut. This Emirate-to-be, could become the closer strategic enclave of Bin Laden to the US Sixth Fleet, Europe’s cities and Israel.

The violence has temporarily healed the breach in Lebanese politics as all sides in the current stand off between the Hezb’allah led opposition and the coalition of democrats elected in June, 2005 following the forced departure of the Syrian army are united in urging strong action by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government to destroy the threat posed by Fatah al-Islam. But the longer the battles go on, the more dicey the situation for the government. That’s because one faction in Lebanon is absolutely livid with the government for attacking the terrorists in Nahr el-Bared; the 200,000 Palestinian refugees spread out in 11 camps along the border.

Violent demonstrations against the actions taken by the Lebanese army were reported in several camps today as word got out that many civilians were killed in the attacks. In an effort to ease tensions in the volatile camps, Prime Minister Siniora met with several Palestinian leaders and agreed with him on working out what was described as a “mechanism” to contain the situation in the besieged camp. Details of the agreement were not forthcoming but “Palestinian sources told Naharnet they focus mainly on pacifying the camp’s civilian population, estimated at nearly 30,000.”

The big problem is that it is illegal for the Lebanese to police the camp itself. Only with the agreement of several Arab states, signatories to the Cairo Agreement brokered by Egyptian President Nasser would the Lebanese be allowed to police their own territory. This holdover from before the ruinous civil war has made the refugee camps a haven for violent groups where their jihadist ideology finds fertile ground among young, disaffected Palestinian youths.

If Dr. Phares analysis is correct (this editorial in The Daily Star confirms the rise of militant terrorist groups in Lebanon) it becomes of paramount importance for the Lebanese army to succeed in wiping out the threat posed by Fatah al-Islam. To that end, the United States is reportedly sending military supplies to the Lebanese army and has promised much more through the Paris Roundtable on aid to Lebanon. France has also offered aid as have other Arab nations who see the threat of radical Islam taking hold in Lebanon as threat to their regimes as well.

But the question of Syrian involvement in this episode (and several huge bombs that have gone off in and around Beirut over the last 72 hours) cannot be answered definitively. The reach of Syrian intelligence into all facets of Lebanese society is still so vast that it becomes easy for the government to blame Damascus for just about anything. But the confluence of timing and events would seem to point the finger at Syria as benefiting the most from chaos that would ensue in Lebanon if the terrorists were successful in creating a new “Sunni triangle” in the north.

President Assad is desperate to avoid the consequences that would flow from the sitting of the International Tribunal. Just today, the United Nations discussed the option of seating the Tribunal under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter since the Lebanese government and Parliament are prevented by Hezb’allah and their allies from taking up the matter themselves. Hezb’allah ally Speaker Nabih Berri has refused all pleas from the Parliamentary majority to call the legislature into session to consider the enabling legislation for the Tribunal. And the Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, who is widely seen as doing Assad’s bidding in Lebanon, also refused to use his powers to call Parliament into session. Thus, the Prime Minister has called upon the United Nations to seat the Tribunal itself.

This is not an optimum solution for Lebanon. And there is opposition in the Security Council from Russia, Syria’s major benefactor. But it seems likely that Russia would not press the issue to the point of vetoing such a plan which means that sometime in the next 2 or three months, there will indeed be a prosecution of the murderers of Rafiq Hariri as well as a close look at nearly 15 years of Syrian meddling in Lebanon.

The evidence so far points a finger directly at President Assad and his top henchmen, including his brother who ran Syrian intelligence in Lebanon as well as his brother in law. The Tribunal will also reveal the involvement of several prominent Lebanese military and security officials.

This much is known. What has not been revealed is the evidence that links this vast conspiracy to the numerous other bombings and assassinations – including last November’s killing of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel – that have silenced so many Syrian critics and opponents in Lebanon. It is expected that the evidence will be overwhelming that President Assad has carried out a campaign of terror directed against his political foes in Lebanon. And it is this prospect that has Assad doing everything in his power – including backing Hezb’allah in their effort to unseat the ruling majority government – to prevent the Tribunal from doing its work.

A convenient convergence of interests between Fatah al-Islam and Syria? Or outright collusion? The answer to that question may hold the key to the future of a free and independent Lebanon.

By: Rick Moran at 4:19 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (3) Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with Lebanese army battles militants ...