Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Iran, Politics — Rick Moran @ 4:18 pm

Ezra Klein, one of my favorite lefty bloggers, is challenging liberal hawks to be more specific on whether or not they support military action against Iran. He thinks that their previous support for Iraq has made them gun shy and they are therefore carrying on an intellectually dishonest game of refusing to dialogue with liberal doves over any possible causus belli regarding Iranian nukes.

Today’s liberal hawks are engaged in a slightly subtler game. The Iraq war is an acknowledged catastrophe. The same group-think and bandwagon effects that once pushed them so irresistibly towards embracing the invasion is now similarly forceful in pulling them to abandon it. The question, for many, is how to finesse that flip without losing one’s reputation for unparalleled foreign policy seriousness. The answer is Iran.

The new approach is not to refight the battle over the Iraq war, but to argue that those who got it right, or who got it wrong but eventually came to the right answer, are now in danger of overlearning the lessons of the war — and missing the danger posed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. An elegant entry into this burgeoning genre comes from Ken Baer in the latest issue of Democracy. “[A] president’s past mistakes,” writes Baer, “can so preoccupy political leaders that they lose sight of the dangers ahead or the principles they hold dear.” In the conclusion of his piece, he warns that progressives must “not use anger at one war as an excuse to blink when confronting a future threat head on.”

The liberal hawks’ exculpatory proof for their support of the Iraq war is based on what Sam Rosenfeld and Matthew Yglesias termed “The Incompetence Dodge”: a focus on the war’s mismanagement and poor administration rather than on the question of whether it could have ever succeeded in the first place. The dodge enables opposition to the war’s continuation without a conceptual reevaluation of the war’s worth, which means there’s no conceptual reevaluation of preventative wars in the Middle East more generally. Now, in order to avoid turning the Iran question into just such a first-order conversation but instead use it for another round of more-serious-than-thou point-scoring, many liberal hawks are relying on a different tactic altogether: sheer vagueness.

First of all, any rational discussion of the case for going to war in Iraq must include the initial balance sheet of pluses and minuses. This, after all, is what serious people base serious decisions upon; evaluating the cost/benefit ratio of any potential actions in order to reach a reasonable conclusion about the chances for success or failure.

Put aside the knee jerk dove position that no war (save fighting off invasion of the United States) is worth fighting and indeed, is an immoral exercise in enforcing the will of the stronger over that of the weaker. May as well also closet the knee jerk neo-con argument that war is a necessary adjunct to the pursuit of American interests and that where there is any chance - Cheney’s “One Percent policy - that a nation state is a threat to the United States, that threat must be neutralized.

Both arguments are relatively simple minded and don’t really describe hawks and doves anyway. The question I am asking is prior to the invasion, was there a legitimate, defensible argument for going to war and overthrowing Saddam Hussein?

The answer is obviously yes. Doves might counter that they warned us of this dire consequence or that but the fact is, that’s Monday morning quarterbacking. The weight given to those specific probabilities prior to the invasion could have legitimately been much less for a hawk than it was for a dove. After all, there were many predictions about the war made by doves that turned out to be laughably - even incompetently - wrong. There were not 10,000 dead Americans coming home in body bags as a result of the predicted street fighting in the “Battle for Baghdad.” There were not thousands of dead Americans because Saddam used his chemical weapons. There were not millions of Iraqi refugees as a result of the fighting (what has transpired since is an entirely different matter with 750,000 internally displaced people, driven from their homes for sectarian reasons).

And there were as many as 5 different times that doves asserted as fact that Iraq was in a civil war beginning as soon as a month after Saddam’s statue fell in Baghdad. Even today, while the bloodletting on both sides of the sectarian divide is grim, Sunnis and Shias are serving in the army together as well as sitting side by side in a freely elected parliament - another dire prediction of failure by doves that never came true. There is certainly a civil war between some Sunnis and some Shias. But others are fighting to control that violence and begin the process of national reconciliation (would that they would get some help from the Iraqi government).

But does Klein have a point when he talks about “the incompetence dodge?” Is laying the blame for the current situation in Iraq on Bush or on any one of a variety of critiques that point up the perceived incompetence of the Administration or the Pentagon a legitimate reason to change one’s position and come out against the war? Again, we return to the continually evolving cost/benefit analysis for an answer. And there is now a legitimate, logical case that can be made that because of many mistakes and blunders made in the last 4 years by Bush and the military, the downside of staying in Iraq with our current force structure and mission has tipped the scales in favor of some kind of redeployment. Klein thinks that this kind of thinking doesn’t lead to “conceptualizing” the error of the hawk’s ways. I beg to differ. By constantly evaluating and re-evaluating the case for war, such analysis deepens understanding of both the original factors that animated the hawk’s initial position as well as fleshing out any change in thinking caused by changing circumstances in Iraq. The rigid kind of thinking espoused by Klein leaves no room for such flexibility.

But Klein isn’t necessarily arguing the illegitimacy of this change of heart among liberal hawks. Rather he connects “the incompetence dodge” with the lefty hawk’s vagueness on the issue of going to war with Iran as another sign of dishonesty:

The remarkable thing about the growing liberal hawk literature on Iran is its evasiveness — the unwillingness to speak in concrete terms of both the threat and proposed remedies. The liberal hawks realize they were too eager in counseling war last time, and their explicit statements in support of invasion have caused them no end of trouble since. This time, they will advocate no such thing. But nor will they eschew it. They will simply criticize those who do take a position.

Iran raises several complicated questions, but also a simple one: Do you think military force is called for in preventing Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons? Some, like me, say no. Some also, like me, do not believe the evidence supports the contention that Iran is a fully totalitarian society under the rule of a crazed and suicidal Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, and in fact think that such portrayals should be resisted and identified as part of a larger, pro-war narrative. This is how I ended up in Baer’s article as a convenient straw liberal who “excuse[s] the Iran regime, all the better to deny the very existence of a threat.”

Is Klein mistaking caution for “evasiveness?” In something of a surprise to me, Senator Obama has come out and said that the military option against Iran is not off the table. Clearly, some liberals - even those who could be called doves on the War in Iraq - can see that Iran is threatening enough that totally abandoning the military option would not be wise. And as far as I know, there are few serious advocates for military action against Iran who has made the case that Iran is “a fully totalitarian society under the rule of a crazed and suicidal Mahmoud Ahmadenijad…”

Ahmadinejad is a mystic - and a cipher. He is also, for lack of a better word, a fanatic who is using proxies throughout the Middle East to sow discord and kill innocents. And Iran’s Supreme Leader’s only check is the Assembly of Experts who can overrule him only if they can agree that his decrees run counter to the Koran. The fact that candidates for that body are chosen by The Guardian Council - half of whose membership is appointed by the Supreme Leader - means that you don’t get to run for the Experts Assembly unless you are pretty much in the Leader’s pocket.

While not a “totalitarian” government in the traditional sense, the power in the Iranian state is concentrated in very few hands. And the power of the Supreme Leader is enormous. Rival factions vie for his support and blessing, jockeying for position by trying to be more Catholic than the Pope, so to speak. And while Ahmadinejad has displeased Supreme Leader Khamenei with his over the top rhetoric at times, his anti-corruption campaign and now his cultural revolution has the Leader’s 100% backing.

None of this reveals intent. Just what does the Iranian regime intend to do with nukes if they get them. Israel doesn’t want to find out and will almost certainly attack - even if the prospects for success are slight. The Jewish state simply cannot afford to dismiss the Iranian President’s eliminationist rhetoric directed against Israel. And any Israeli attack will be seen as an attack by America by the Iranians. If that is to be the case, there would be tremendous pressure on Washington to either carry out the attack itself or assist the Israelis in their war effort. “In for a penny, in for a pound” rings true in this case. If the Iranian reaction to an attack by Israel would be the same whether we join in or not, we may as well assist the Israelis or carry out the attack ourselves to give it a better chance to succeed.

Whether Klein believes Iran is building nukes or not or whether he thinks they are a potential threat doesn’t matter in this case. There is no more important American ally in the Middle East than Israel. To abandon her at what she clearly feels is a moment of supreme danger would be a betrayal of monstrous proportions.

However, it should be pointed out that we have time to try other measures short of war. The latest news on the Iranian nuclear program is that simply put, they are stuck. They have been unable to grow their program and make the leap from the experimental enrichment of uranium to the industrial production necessary to construct a bomb. They could still be three years away from being capable of enriching enough uranium to high enough levels to build a nuclear device.

And sanctions are really beginning to bite. Beyond that, the threat of further sanctions has the Iranian economy in a tailspin that is causing great unease among the people. The recent crackdown on dissent as well as the announced return to 1979 revolutionary values is most likely a means to distract the people from what may be a faltering economy and a failure of leadership.

So liberal hawks, rather than being vague or evasive, sound to me as if they are simply exercising good judgement and remaining cautious. But Klein complains that this precludes engaging in argument and dialogue:

It is possible that some self-described progressives agree with them. If so, they should speak up, and we can have an argument. The mantra of “seriousness,” however, is disingenuous. Progressive intellectuals are not diplomats or politicians, actively in search of better positioning or a negotiating posture . Insofar as Iran is a serious foreign policy issue — and it is! — those who pride themselves on their seriousness in such matters should be honest in offering their answers. The “dovish” view is that a military campaign against Iran would be a seriously bad idea. It is a view shared by many generals, most foreign policy experts, and, according to some reports, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Liberal hawks seem to dispute that conclusion, but won’t quite say why. The danger of Iraq, it turns out, is not that too many liberals overlearned its lessons, but that too many liberals didn’t learn them at all — and instead have merely become more circumspect in their saber-rattling.

For those who object to that characterization, and whose public hawkishness is more of an affectation than a real substantive agenda, this is not a time for self-righteous posturing or rhetorical toughness; it is a time for those who do want to prevent war with Iran to, well, oppose war with Iran. That doesn’t mean supporting their nuclear ambitions, or developing a misplaced affection for an ugly regime. But it does mean speaking forthrightly about what a catastrophe a military attack would prove to be. Liberals, after all, do not control the government. George W. Bush is still the Commander in Chief. The best liberals can hope for, then, is to influence the discourse and shift the spectrum of opinion deemed “acceptable.” But they will be unable to do even that if they refuse to speak clearly.

I would say that it is not only a dovish view that military action against Iran would be a bad idea. As Klein points out, there are active duty military people who oppose an Iran strike. Unless West Point has gone soft on us, I hardly think you could make the claim that doves are the only ones resisting the call to battle the Iranians.

But Klein errs when he blames liberal hawks for proceeding more cautiously in their advocacy of military action against Iran than they did - in his mind anyway - with their support to take down Saddam. Is it really a case of sensitivity to the public perception that their “sabre rattling” got us in trouble with Iraq? Or is the case for war against Iran such a close call that it is difficult to formulate a position and stick with it?

I myself have been back and forth, hot and cold on war with Iran. The threat is real but by no means imminent - at least to the United States. But the idea that the only thing worse than attacking Iran would be Iran with nuclear weapons is still something serious people should think about carefully. I’m not sure that statement is true. Nor am I sure it isn’t. And my hesitancy is reflected, I think, by liberal hawks who are having a similarly hard time trying to evaluate the pluses and minuses. There are so many troubling elements to both the Iranian regime and the thought of attacking it that what Klein sees as a kind of disingenuousness on the part of liberal hawks is nothing more than a realization that the consequences of both action and inaction against the Iranian regime could be enormous.



Filed under: Middle East — Rick Moran @ 1:09 pm

Rafiq Hariri - Former Prime Minister and Lebanese nationalist. Assassinated by car bomb, February 14, 2005.

Samir Kassir - Crusading anti-Syrian journalist. Killed by bomb in his car, June 2. 2005.

George Hawi - Former Communist leader and anti-Syrian critic. Killed by a bomb in his car, June 21, 2005.

Ali Ramez Tohme - Anti-Syrian author. Escaped bomb in his car, September 15, 2005.

May Chidiac - Anti-Syrian television anchor. Severely wounded in car bomb explosion, September 25, 2005.

Gebran Tuinei - Anti-Syrian MP and publisher of An Nahar, largest Arab language daily in Lebanon. Killed by car bomb, December 12, 2005.

Pierre Gemayel - Minister of Industry and anti-Syrian MP. Killed by gunmen, November 21, 2006.

Walid Eido - Anti-Syrian MP. Killed by car bomb, June 13, 2007.

You’ve got to hand it to Bashar Assad, Syria’s gangster President. Even though he has more blood on his hands than Al Capone, the James Bakers and Nancy Pelosis of the world still want to treat this street thug as if he were head of a sovereign nation and carry on some kind of “dialogue” with the brute. Judging by the above blood soaked list, it would appear that Mr. Assad’s idea of dialogue is somewhat different than ours. At the very least, it makes answering bombs and assassin’s bullets with rational conversation problematic in the extreme.

What appears on the surface to be random acts of violence meant to fulfill some kind of manic bloodlust in the heart of the Syrian dictator actually has a frightening strategic element embedded in the madness. Assad wants nothing less than to murder enough members of the democratic majority government in Lebanon so that the Iranian backed Hezbullah can then seize power. Walid Phares:

After the withdrawal of regular Syrian forces from Lebanon in April 2005, Bashar Assad and his allies in Tehran designed a counter offensive (which we described then and later) aiming at crumbling the Cedars Revolution. One of the main components of this strategy was (and remain) to use all intelligence and security assets of Syria and Iran in Lebanon in order to “reduce” the number of deputies who form the anti-Syrian majority in the Parliament. As simple as that: assassinate as many members as needed to flip the quantitative majority in the Legislative Assembly. And when that is done, the Seniora Government collapses and a Hezbollah-led cabinet forms. In addition, if the Terror war kills about 8 legislators, the remnant of the Parliament can elect a new President of the Republic who will move the country under the tutelage of the Assad regime.

As incredibly barbaric as it seems in the West, the genocide of the legislators in Lebanon at the hands of the Syrian regime and its allies is very “normal” by Baathist (and certainly by Jihadist) political culture. During the 1980s, Saddam Hussein executed a large segment of his own Party’s national assembly to maintain his regime intact. In the same decade, Hafez Assad eliminated systematically his political adversaries both inside Syria and across Syrian occupied Lebanon to secure his control over the two “sister” countries. So for Bashar to order the assassination of his opponents in Lebanon as of the fall of 2004 to perpetuate his domination of the little Baathist “empire” is not a stunning development: it is the standing procedure in Damascus since 1970.

And to “achieve” these goals, the junta in Syria has a plethora of tools and assets left in Lebanon. First, the vast Syrian intelligence networks still deeply rooted in the small country; second, the powerful Iranian-financed Hezbollah with its lethal security apparatus; third, the Syrian-controlled groups within the Palestinian camps from various ideological backgrounds including Baathists, Marxists, or even Islamist such as Fatah al Islam; fourth the pro-Syrian and Hezbollah sympathizers “inside” the Lebanese Army as well as the units and security services still under the control of General Emile Lahoud; fifth, the client militias and organizations remote-controlled by Syrian intelligence such as the Syrian National-Social Party; and sixth, operatives inserted within political groups gravitating around Damascus such as those of Sleiman Frangieh, Michel Aoun and Talal Arslan. In short, the Syro-Iranian axis has a wide array of security and intelligence assets from which it can select the most appropriate perpetrators for each “take down.” The Assad regime has its “own” Sunni operatives to kill Sunnis, Christians to murder Christians and Druze to eliminate Druze and has the full resources of Hezbollah terror to obstruct the Government of Lebanon and ultimately crumble it.

At the moment, due to death, retirement, and assassination, it’s four down and four to go for the Syrian President. Four more Lebanese MP’s unfortunate enough to fall victim to Assad’s terror plans and the Iranians will have a toehold in the Eastern Mediterranian with Hizbullah coming to power by virtue of having a majority of opposition members in Parliament.

The grim reality is that there are 128 members of the Lebanese Parliament. The elections of 2005 gave the democratic forces 72 seats - a clear majority. But thanks to the death of one prominent MP and retirement of another - both replaced by politicians loyal to Hezbullah ally Michel Aoun - and the assassination of Gemayel and now Edio, Assad finds himself within spitting distance of his goal; the reconquest of Lebanon using his proxy Hizbullah to bring Syria’s influence to bear in Lebanese domestic affairs.

Meanwhile, Hizbullah still holds the country hostage by refusing all efforts to end the cabinet crisis now in its 6th grueling month. The most recent overtures to end the standoff between Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbullah, who seeks additional cabinet representation that would give him veto power over major decisions, and the government of Prime Minister Siniora, comes from France. The French have offered their good offices to bring the two sides together in Paris for talks aimed at ending the stalemate.

If Assad’s plan is to work however, it is not in the interest of Hezbullah to agree to anything at this point. Better to let his sponsor in Damascus try to hoist the black flag of Hezbullah over the government building in Beirut through terror, intimidation, and assassination. It’s worked so far so why change it?

And the “civilized” world stands by and allows all of this to happen. How can this be? How can we do “business as usual” with a country so far beyond the pale of human decency? Lebanon may be a small country, an insignificant blob on a map. They have little in the way of natural resources. They have no great army or navy. What Lebanon does have is a people with very strong ideas on freedom and independence. Perhaps the most westernized of all Arab countries, Lebanon’s historic ties to the west as a gateway to doing business in the Middle East goes back more than a century. Her people - both Christian and Muslim - are among the most literate and best educated in the region with a decidedly secular outlook on life.

And most importantly, they have recently thrown off the yoke of dependence and domination by Syria and embraced democracy. But the fragile government, coping with the “state within a state” that is Hezbullah, is beset on all sides by enemies both foreign and domestic. It remains to be seen whether Assad’s terror plan can succeed before the government can solve some of its problems and find a way to resist the tyrant on their border.

The UN sponsored International Tribunal to try the murderers of Rafiq Hariri and the others listed above will not get underway for several months. This is the time of maximum danger for Lebanon’s democrats. Assad will do everything in his power to try and prevent Lebanon from cooperating with the Tribunal thus keeping that body from bringing the Syrian and Lebanese perpetrators to justice, If that happens, Lebanese democracy will be doomed.



Filed under: General — Rick Moran @ 1:03 pm

It’s Fathers Day again. Another timely reminder that you’ve been in the ground 25 years and I’m still here. Not only that, I get to sit and listen to everyone talking about their fathers - what they’re going to be doing with them, what present they got them. Not that I’m resentful, mind you. It’s just sometimes very hard to take when I see the rest of the world getting to enjoy the company of their fathers and here I am stuck with this imaginary conversation. I guess in 53 years if you haven’t learned that life isn’t fair (something you said many times) then you are destined to be unhappy and discontented. So I suppose I’ll have to make do with this little literary phantasm.

Would that it weren’t so.

So anyway…here I am. What do you think? Yeah, put on a few pounds. Come to think of it, I’m starting to look a lot like you when you were this age. I suppose that’s the destiny of all sons. I see fathers and their older sons together today and the resemblance is there for sure. Is it nature’s way of reminding us where we came from? If you could see your seven sons lined up in a row, most of us would remind you of yourself in some way. I hope that would give you some satisfaction.

As for the rest… Well? I’m waiting. Cat got your tongue? Okay, let me start.

I’ll admit I’ve been a bit of a disappointment. Whatever it is you wanted for me in life (outside of the ubiquitous “be happy”) never quite materialized. I had my chances. But things got kind of…complicated along the way. Moreso than the others, the skein of my life has run pretty much against the grain. Wherever success or happiness lurked, I always seemed to find a way to pass them by. A career lost, a bad marriage, and the “Irish sickness” - 25 years can pass pretty quickly when there are large parts you don’t remember.

But things are better now as you can see. Amazing what a good woman can do for you, eh? And you should know. You had the best. We like to deny it but women are right when they say we’re all like little boys. There’s a part of us that wants to be cared for, that needs the nurturing love that only a woman can give. Oh, we make a big deal of resisting it - especially these days when we worry such thoughts are considered “incorrect.” But then you reach a certain age and you just don’t give a damn what others say. You know what you can give her and what she can give you and you base your relationship on the beauty of the symbiotic nature of love; a mystical beholdeness to each other that goes beyond the physical and enters the realm of the poets - a spiritual linking of minds and hearts that is truly the only valuable you own.

You know all of this, of course. I’m not telling you anything you didn’t experience yourself. But you were lucky enough to find it early in your life. I guess better late than never for me.

I wonder what you would think of my new career - if you can call writing a career. You always thought that writing was a calling, almost like the priesthood. It’s as fulfilling as anything I’ve ever done and too much fun to be called work. Sometimes, I get a chuckle imagining you reading some of the stuff I write. As an FDR liberal, I can just see your head shaking at some of my more conservative diatribes. No matter. You would have critiqued my stuff not for the political content but rather the stylistic aspects of a particular piece and cogency of my arguments. I bet you would have kept me on my toes.

But of course, despite your classically liberal politics, I have you to thank for my conservative ideological bent. All those children and I was the only one who ended up on the right side of the fence. And you had me pegged as a righty almost before I myself realized it when you suggested I read Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind shortly after I graduated from college. You knew exactly what would happen, didn’t you? Kirk’s references to Edmund Burke and other classical thinkers sent me off on an intellectual quest to find myself. I discovered that I agreed with the ideas espoused by conservative giants like Hayek, Eliot, Strauss, and Kristol. But you knew that. And you also knew that the love of learning and books that you instilled in all of us would carry me to my own “undiscovered country” of new ideas and different politics.

I bet that gave you a secret thrill, though. The idea that one of your brood would break with your politics validated your ideas on how to raise children; give them the freedom to discover the world on their own, guiding them where necessary but never dictating what they should think. Your library had books from every conceivable ideological point of view. From Karl Marx to Nietzsche, to Bishop Sheen. Each of us arrived at our politics in our own way, taking our own journeys of self exploration. And we were never lacking for encouragement or advice from you.

It’s amazing how much I think of you even though you’ve been gone these many years. I have Sir George Solti conducting the Chicago Symphony in Mahler’s 1st on one of my Rhapsody playlists and every time it comes on, it brings back a flood of memories of attending the Symphony with you and mother - after spending the afternoon in South Bend watching a Notre Dame football game. I can smell the leaves burning, the memory of those fall days are so powerful.

There are other reminders too - much too private and personal to put in this article. But ultimately, it comes down to this; you’ve never left me. If there is one thing I could say to comfort you wherever you are it is that despite the fact you have been gone almost half my life, your presence still fills my mind. The memories are important. But beyond memory, beyond the fading images on crumpled photographs, beyond the bleary, misty visage I see when I close my eyes, there is you. In my heart and soul. Until I draw my last breath on this earth.

And that, my dear daddy, is a comfort to me.



Filed under: Middle East — Rick Moran @ 4:09 pm

There are a couple of things in this interview with a mid-level Fatah al-Islam spokesman that you should keep in mind while digesting what he has to say.

First, there are two parts to his story; those things he has seen and those he has been told. Some of the things he says were related to him do not ring true - not because he is lying but because it sounds like others may be exaggerating or lying to him. Other parts of his story told to him by others does sound reasonable. And what he says he witnessed personally we should probably take him at his word.

The interview appears in Asharq Al-Awsat, a London-based Arabic language publication:

A mid-rank leader of the militant group Fatah al-Islam currently based in Naher al-Bared camp has stated that leading Lebanese public officials will be assassinated if his group is subjected to any attacks by the government. He specified that the top political figures being targeted are Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora and Member of Parliament Walid Junblatt.

The 30 year old Palestinian national who goes by the alias Abu-Musab, told Asharq Al-Awsat in a telephone interview that he personally witnessed the recruitment of approximately 25 Saudis through Jihadist forums, and that these new recruits have been called to join the Jihad in Iraq after receiving the necessary training and military preparation in various locations inside and outside the camp. He added that it is difficult to determine the precise number of the Saudis because of the “compulsory” residence imposed for a number of months on those who wish to fight in Iraq lest they are found out before the completion of the necessary arrangements for that.

Apparently, a lot more was going on at Nahr al-Bared, the Palestinian refugee camp harboring Fatah al-Islam, than we thought:

Abu-Musab, who joined the movement after abandoning Fatah Al-Intifada [Fatah Uprising], revealed that the mobilization of internet users used to be done through the exploitation of religious slogans encouraging people to fight the Jews and the USA and to go for Jihad in Iraq.

These are the same slogans which had won him and his colleagues to Fatah al-Islam movement. This was done through contacts and meetings inside the mosques of the camp. The discourse of the movement shifted from fighting the Jews and the USA and supporting Mujahidin in Iraq to opening a different front by fighting the Lebanese army and [causing] internal confrontations among Muslims. This was the main reason behind the surrender of a group of Fatah al-Islam members in the camp to the Fatah movement, including himself [Abu-Musab] about a year after he joined the movement [Fatah al-Islam].

Abu-Musab also commented on the double standards within the movement, where on one hand it adopts a religious and Jihadi discourse, and on the other, its members do not perform their prayers, drink alcohol and indulge in drugs. This made him wonder about the reality of the objectives of Fatah al-Islam.

The young man seems dedicated but a little disillusioned - a perfect combination to elicit good information on his organization.

According to Abu-Musab, the leadership of Fatah al-Islam went from Al-Absi and his deputy Abu Huraira after they went into hiding to Saudi Shahin Shahin, aka “Abu-Salmah”.

He considered Shahin as the official spokesperson and military commander for the time being. Abu-Musab assumed that Shahin, who hails Morocco, and who is assisted by four (Saudi and Yemeni) veiled aides, is the person in charge of linking the movement [Fatah al-Islam] with the Al-Qaeda organization. He is also the person who ratifies with his own signature Al-Absi’s communiqués before they are handed over to the media to be read out, and he is the first person in charge of fund-raising.

How’s that for an eye opener. Everything I’ve read previously about Fatah al-Islam and any connections they had to al-Qaeda always highlighted the fact that there were no operational ties. Mr. Musab seems to be saying that there is an active effort underway to link the two groups.

And read these next paragraphs closely. Do you see the hand of Syria in helping to bolster this group?

According to talks between Abu-Musab and Al-Absi and reassurances from primary leaders in the movement, the finances and military funding of the movement were already in place prior to Fatah al-Islam decision to declare disobedience against the Lebanese army and the government.

Abu-Musab said that as soon as the confrontation started with the Lebanese army, a big number of fighters who already had their military training began to emerge in the camp. He saw about 350 fighters whom he had never seen before. He also talked about military supplies, which he described as huge, and the provision of tens of millions of dollars to the movement according to what Al-Abasi told him during a meeting he had with him.

Funding for groups like Fatah al-Islam come from a variety of sources. There has even been some disinformation spread by American journalist Seymour Hersh that Fatah al-Islam was actually being funded by the Hariri family with the help and encouragement of the the United States (Anton Efendi destroys Hersh’s argument here). But given all that we know about the group - its origins as well as al-Abssi’s movements immediately following his release from a Syrian prison directly to the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp where he began to recruit followers from all over the Middle East - the hand of Syrian intelligence is all over it. Where did the additional “fighters” come from? And the massive amounts of military equipment?

It is an open question whether Mr. Musab’s contention that Fatah al-Islam will begin targeting the Lebanese leadership is true. It would definitely “cause internal confrontations” with Muslim factions which is why it makes sense. And it sounds like one more escalating step President Assad may be willing to take in order to halt the International Tribunal from doing its job.

We have not heard the last of this group, no matter what happens at Nahr al-Bared.


Filed under: Media, Politics — Rick Moran @ 9:16 am

It’s days like this that make blogging so much fun…

We on the right have had precious little to laugh about lately. The Republican party seems intent on going ahead with the suicidal Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that is guaranteed to comprehensively alienate the base while comprehensively leading to a Democratic sweep at the polls in November of 2008.

We were promised a comprehensive reform of the Republican party. What we didn’t realize is that it would involve shrinking its numbers and losing elections - comprehensively, of course.

And of course, the din from the netnuts over the continued non-scandal at DOJ, the Scooter Libby sentencing, and a variety of other “ethics witch hunts” as Goldstein refers to them, has contributed to the overall feeling of ennui felt by most conservative bloggers. Especially since it is clear the GOP brought much of this upon themselves due to their unmitigated arrogance. Not breaking the law and acting ethically are not mutually exclusive, although making each mini-breach of ethics into a threat to republican government is as silly as it gets.

So here we are, our “black dog” getting the better of us as Winston Churchill liked to say, when all of a sudden, a gift from heaven. Harry Reid tells liberal bloggers that retiring General Peter Pace is “incompetent” and makes similar observations about General Petreaus. This according to Politico - a publication already derided by the netnuts as part of the right wing noise machine. That may be true. I have yet to see any acknowledgement that the dozens of conspiracy theories spouted by the left have any validity on that publication. So obviously, they are right wing Rethuglican theocrats.

But did Harry Reid really say that about our generals?

Not so fast says Greg Sargent of Election Central at TPM Cafe:

The story has already sparked an uproar, and the conservatives have jumped all over it. It was linked on Drudge, and John McCain sent out a press release attacking Reid over it. And White House press secretary Tony Snow use it to hammer Reid as anti-military in today’s White House briefing. Snow brought up the Politico story himself, saying that it was “outrageous” for Reid to be “issuing slanders” toward commanders “in a time of war.”

But we’ve just spoken with three of the prominent liberal bloggers who say they were on the call, and they all say they don’t remember Reid saying anything like this. One flatly denies that he said it.

And just to set this delicious story up a little more, here’s what those “prominent liberal bloggers” told Mr. Sargent about their teleconference with Harry Reid:

We asked Joan McCarter, who blogs at DailyKos under the name McJoan and wrote about being on the call here, if she recalled Reid calling Pace “incompetent.”

“I don’t remember him saying anything like that,” she answered. “I can’t swear he didn’t say it. But I have no memory that he actually did. It’s not in my notes.”

Asked if Reid had disparaged Petraeus at all, McCarter said: “No. He said something about [Petraeus] coming back in September to deliver a report.” But on the question of whether he’d said something disparaging, McCarter said: “Not that I recall, no.”

“I don’t even recall Pace’s name specifically being mentioned,” adds Barbara Morrill, who blogs at Kos under the name BarbinMD and says she was on the call. “If it was, he did not say that he was incompetent.”

Asked if he’d criticized Petraeus, Morrill said: “Not that I recall. I checked my notes,” and there was nothing like this. “He mentioned the report that Petraeus is supposed to be coming out in September. I only recall him saying something along the lines that the Bush administration had run the war poorly. Any criticisms were against the Bush administration.”

Finally, here’s what MyDD’s Jonathan Singer, who wrote about the call here, told us: “I don’t remember him calling Pace incompetent.” He added that while he couldn’t promise that he hadn’t done it, “I just don’t recall those statements.”

There are more “I don’t recalls” above than there were at the Scooter Libby trial. And that guy was trying to remember stuff that he said 4 years ago not a couple of days like these tireless champions of truth and justice.

Case closed. After all, if you can’t trust a liberal blogger to tell you the truth, who can you trust?

And based on those denials, the netnuts went absolutely ballistic on conservative bloggers who dared quote the Politico story as if it were - well, a story. They skewered Politico reporter John Bresnahan, basically accusing him of being a liar.

Except it turns out, the story was true:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid confirmed Thursday that he told liberal bloggers last week that he thinks outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace is “incompetent.”

Reid also disparaged Army Gen. David Petraeus, head of Multinational Forces in Iraq.

The netnuts, forgetting that their original triumphalism about catching conservative bloggers goosing a false story, were quick to respond that even if Harry did say it, the fact is, it’s true isn’t it?

Everyone is now going to be talking about the “context” of Reid’s remarks, which is important. He has supposedly told Pace to his face what he thinks of him. Good for Reid, that’s what any person of character should do. Senator Reid has many supporters in the military. He’s earned them and I’m sure those who support him will continue to do so.

However, it doesn’t make this event any less newsworthy. “Context” doesn’t matter to most people when you hear the quote. Reid said it. It’s confirmed. Cable news and talk radio will now be using it forever against Reid and the Democrats. In addition, when you weigh the Congress, which has a 23% approval rating, against what the American people think of the U.S. military, let’s just say Congress loses. You don’t get anywhere by calling a chairman of the Joint Chiefs “incompetent.” If you’re going to level a charge make it specific and cite the situation in which the soldier failed. Letting bin Laden go at Tora Bora comes to mind. But blanket charges just won’t get the job done.

Even my level headed lefty friend Taylor Marsh fails to mention what Reid said about General Petreaus. Evidently, our Harry has more information about what is going on in Baghdad sitting on his ass in his Washington D.C. office than General Petreaus has by virtue of him actually being in Iraq:

The Senate majority leader took aim yesterday at the top U.S. commander in Iraq, who until now has received little criticism from Capitol Hill over his statements or performance.

Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) charged that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who took command in Iraq four months ago, “isn’t in touch with what’s going on in Baghdad.” He also indicated that he thinks Petraeus has not been sufficiently open in his testimony to Congress. Noting that Petraeus, who is now on his third tour of duty in Iraq, oversaw the training of Iraqi troops during his second stint there, Reid said: “He told us it was going great; as we’ve looked back, it didn’t go so well.”

Reid seemed most provoked by an article in yesterday’s edition of USA Today, which quoted the general as saying that he sees “astonishing signs of normalcy” in the Iraqi capital. “I’m talking about professional soccer leagues with real grass field stadiums, several amusement parks — big ones, markets that are very vibrant,” Petraeus told the newspaper.

Did Reid make similar criticisms of Petreaus to the netnut bloggers?

The Politico story would seem to indicate the affirmative. There is silence on the matter from those who actually were involved in the call in addition to the “non-denial” denials of Reid calling Pace incompetent.

I share some of Reid’s concern about Petreaus glossing over the violence in Iraq but at the same time, the General has a point. Baghdad is a very large city and it is more than probable that big parts of it are returning to “normalcy” as a result of the increased troop presence. So far, that increase hasn’t stopped the terrorists although it has apparently slowed down the death squads. What the surge hasn’t done, of course, is get Prime Minister Maliki to give up his imitation of a bronze statue and move his government toward meeting the political goals he agreed to with President Bush last year in Jordan.

But the real kicker in this story is what Reid told the press after admitting he referred to Pace as incompetent. “”I think we should just drop it,” the leader of the Majority Party in the United States Senate said.

Good advice. I recommend that the following should be “dropped” from discussion on the internet:

“Bush lied people died.”
“No blood for oil.”
The Administration “twisted” pre war intel on Iraq.
Dick Cheney actually runs the government, not Bush.
Diebold helped the Republicans steal the election of 2004.
Gore actually won Florida in 2000.
9/11 was an inside job.
Bush is trying to set himself up as a dictator.
America is now a theocracy - or almost there.
Conservatives are racists.
Glenn Greenwald never used sockpuppets.

I could think of a couple of dozen more, but you get the picture. Why not leave your “Harry Reid Sanctioned Dropped Memes” in the comments? It just may make you feel better today.


I’ll give Bryan at Hot Air the final word:

Sen. Harry Reid is a dishonest shill for the nutroots whose approval rating stands at 19%. He is the incompetent leader of a pathetic Democrat-led Senate, the approval rating of which stands at a whopping 23%. For Reid to disparage either Gen. Peter Pace or Gen. David Petraeus, both of whom have given their entire adult lives in service to their country, is a disgrace.

If Reid had any sense of honor or decency, he’d resign. Which means he’ll be in the Senate until the voters of Nevada finally tire of him, or he retires at a ripe old age.


Filed under: PJ Media — Rick Moran @ 4:47 am

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My latest column is up at PJ Media. It’s about Barry Bonds and the controversy surrounding his assault on Hank Aaron’s career home run record.

One aspect of the controversy I cover is why Major League ballplayers overwhelmingly believe that Bonds is the greatest of all time. One reason they believe that certainly has a lot to do with how difficult it is to hit a baseball:

As it leaves the pitcher’s hand, the batter has about 2/10 of a second to read the pitch and decide whether to swing the bat or not. In those fractions of a second, the player must decide what kind of pitch is being thrown, how fast it is going to be arriving at home plate, and whether or not the ball will cross home plate for a strike. Being off a couple thousandths of a second means the difference between hitting the ball or not. And the pitcher, God bless him, has other tricks up his sleeve as well. He can change speeds from pitch to pitch to keep the hitter off balance. He can change the angle of his arm when he delivers the ball – coming “over the top” or “dropping down” and slinging the ball almost sidearm. This will change the rotation of the seams against the air between the mound and home plate causing the ball to shoot across the plate while diving downward.

The ball can also be made to curve so that when leaving the pitcher’s hand, the sphere appears to be making a bee line straight for the batter’s head only to fall harmlessly, knee high, over the outside corner of the pentagon-shaped home plate. The flight of the ball toward the hitter’s noggin initiates the “fight or flee” reflex deep in the primitive medulla oblongata, causing the batter’s rear end to begin to skedaddle and the knees to buckle in anticipation that trying to flee from the white demon would be useless. Meanwhile, 50 million years of cognitive mammalian evolution is screaming at the rump to stay put and swing the damn bat because the pitcher is making you look like an idiot.

The result? A brain cramp that causes the batter to freeze like a side of beef in a Kansas City meat locker while the ball drops gently over the corner for a called strike. The pitcher tries not to smile too broadly because he knows that the next curve ball he throws may not be so perfect. He may, in fact, make a slight error in the way he delivers the pitch and instead of curving, the ball will hang over the middle of home plate like a ripe plum thigh high, at which point the batter will swing, connect, and send the ball into the next zip code.

Thus be it ever the eternal battle between pitcher and hitter.



Filed under: WATCHER'S COUNCIL — Rick Moran @ 5:59 pm

Here are the last two results for our weekly Watchers Council vote:

W/E 6/1


1. “A Cure for “Anti-Zionism” by Joshuapundit

2. “No Friend Left Behind (Update)” by Done With Mirrors

3. “Mitt the Mormon” by Bookworm Room

Non Council

1. “Sticking To What I Know Best” by Dr. Sanity

2. “From the Mouths of Babes: Climate Analysis That Actually Works” by Kobayashi Maru

3. “Brave Men and Demons” by Michael Yon

W/E 6/8


1. “3 Spies and Six Days” by Soccer Dad

2. “The Six Day War In Real Time” by Bookworm Room

3. “Smelt Stink” by Cheat Seeking Missiles

4. “It’s Not Dead. It’s Resting.” by Right Wing Nut House

Non Council

1. “Four Modest Proposals for Getting Out of Iraq” by Dan Simmons

2. “Six Day War — Israeli Perspective” by History News Network

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


Filed under: History — Rick Moran @ 8:39 am

Not having any children, I really am in the dark as to whether or not classic American patriotic songs are taught to kids in school or whether it is up to parents to expose their children to the music of Sousa, Cohan, Irving Berlin, and others. It would not surprise me in the slightest if schools had stopped the practice long ago. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that schools no longer teach music to classes of primary grade kids at all. Or if they do, I’d bet that American music is the absolute last thing they would be willing to teach.

I reflect on these questions today, June 14, 2007 because it is Flag Day - a day to proudly fly the flag to honor both the symbol of our country and what it stands for. And one way to honor the flag is to enjoy listening to patriotic songs.

I think my mother used to play a record with about 15 different songs on patriotic holidays like the 4th of July and Flag Day. “Songs of Americana” I think was the name of the album (one of my lurking family members, help me out here). It featured Sousa marches like The Washington Post March, The Stars and Stripes Forever, as well as God Bless America by Irving Berlin. There were also Civil War songs like Tenting Tonight , and Battle Cry of Freedom.

And then there was “You’re a Grand Old Flag” by George M. Cohan. Anyone who has seen James Cagney in the film Yankee Doodle Dandy perform this tune knows the raw power and emotion the song can inspire. Cagney, who consciously imitated Cohan’s half singing/half talking song presentation, along with director Michael Curtiz, faithfully recreated the stage version first seen in Cohan’s George Washington, Jr. for the screen.

Indeed, reports were that the performance of the song brought down the house. The song also became the first tune to sell a million copies of sheet music. Clearly, the lyrics in the chorus touch something deep down in all of us:

You’re a grand old flag,
You’re a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You’re the emblem of
The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Ev’ry heart beats true
‘neath the Red, White and Blue,3
Where there’s never a boast or brag.
But should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.

The story behind the song is interesting:

The original lyric for this perennial George M. Cohan favorite came, as Cohan later explained, from an encounter he had with a Civil War veteran who fought at Gettysburg. The two men found themselves next to each other and Cohan noticed the vet held a carefully folded but ragged old flag. The man reportedly then turned to Cohan and said, “She’s a grand old rag.” Cohan thought it was a great line and originally named his tune “You’re a Grand Old Rag.” So many groups and individuals objected to calling the flag a “rag,” however, that he “gave ‘em what they wanted” and switched words, renaming the song “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”

It was in George Washington, Jr. that Cohan worked out a routine with this song that he would repeat in many subsequent shows. He took an American flag, started singing the patriotic song, and marched back and forth across the stage. Music such as Cohan’s “You’re a Grand Old Flag” helped create a shared popular cultural identity as such songs spread beyond the stage, through sheet music and records, to the homes and street corners of America.

You’re a Grand Old Flag and all the other Patriotic ditties are a large part of the American Songbook. They used to be the primary means by which each generation was connected to another in patriotic devotion. For patriotism cannot be taught. It must be instilled by culturalizing children and exposing them to the sentiments and ideas that we all share about the United States; what it should stand for, how fortunate we are to have been born here, and the glorious ideas of liberty and freedom that so many have given their lives to defend.

Yes, she’s a “Grand Old Flag.” A little tattered perhaps. A little careworn as a result of neglecting some of the principles on which our nation was founded; self reliance, tolerance, and that fighting for freedom is a good and sometimes necessary thing. But despite her appearance, she still flies proudly, snapping in the breeze as a reminder to all that choose to see it, that this is still the greatest country ever created filled with the most remarkable people ever born. And despite all of our problems, disagreements, mistakes, and failures, there is still no place on earth I’d rather live.


Filed under: IRAQI RECONCILIATION, Politics, War on Terror — Rick Moran @ 6:58 am

There is a very good reason I don’t write about the war as much as I used to. Well, there are actually a couple of reasons.

First, I don’t have much of anything to say. Those of you who have stuck with me on this site know my ambivalence about the current mission; that I have absolutely no faith in the Iraqi government to validate the sacrifices our troops are making by doing the things vitally necessary to create a viable, multi-sectarian Iraqi state. The last time I looked, this is still the goal of the mission in Iraq and the government of Nouri al-Maliki is doing everything it can to help that mission fail. The Shias are in control and have no desire to share power. Thus, every single political benchmark that the Administration has laid out for the Iraqi government to achieve in order to measure success is not being met.

It remains to be seen whether Bush will make good on his promise to the American people that if the Iraqi government failed to achieve the political goals he and Maliki agreed upon in Jordan last year, he would start withdrawing the troops, leaving the Iraqi Prime Minister hanging, hoisted on his own sectarian petard.

Another reason I don’t write about the war is that the commenters on this site are broken records. They say the same things in support or opposition of our efforts time and time again regardless of what I write about. That is why comments have been disabled on this post. I’m sick of hearing for the gazillionth time that Bush is an idiot or I’m an idiot for not supporting everything our President does. Not one iota of originality seeps into the discussion. Not one.

Perhaps this is what the American people are sick of regarding the war. The same arguments made by the same people over and over again about who’s to blame, who supports to the troops, who’s a traitor, who’s an unthinking Bushbot.

Reminds me of the movie Airplane! where people start getting sick then committing suicide listening to Stryker’s hard luck story about “Macho Grande” over and over again.

I’m an enabler, of course. No matter what the news from Baghdad, my analysis remains basically the same. The surge is working in some places, not so well in others. The entire Iraqi government - the cabinet, the legislature, religious leadership - is failing to budge on oil revenue sharing, constitutional changes that have been promised, National Reconciliation, and the rest. The troops continue to perform well. There are signs of hope, signs of despair, and signs that when we leave, all hell will break loose. Iran and Syria are still meddling despite our efforts at “dialogue.” Al-Qaeda still sets off car bombs in Baghdad whenever they wish in order to maximize new coverage. And our western press continues to assist them in that endeavor.

At least this time, there is news to report. The Shia holy shrine at Samarra was bombed. On second thought, that’s not really news. It’s happened before. The same appeals for calm are coming from the same people. And the same kind of retaliation can be expected in the coming days that occurred in February of 2006.

Then there are the Democrats who, in a brazen attempt to practice a little self-fulfilling prophecy, have declared the surge a failure. This on the eve of what apparently will be a massive offensive by American troops against death squads, insurgents and al-Qaeda:

Across the main war zones, American formations bolstered by the troop increase are reaching full operational readiness for what the commanders have described as a summer offensive against Qaeda-linked insurgents and Shiite death squads. But the commanders have spoken of intelligence reports pointing to plans by Al Qaeda for a “catastrophic” attack similar to the one at Samarra last year, setting off a new round of mass sectarian killings, driving a deeper wedge between Sunnis and Shiites and thwarting American hopes for greater stability.

At least the Democrats have been consistent. They’ve done everything possible to undermine the war effort to this point. Why stop now?

The real news is contained in a 46 page report compiled by the Pentagon every quarter about violence in Iraq and political progress by the Iraqi government. It is not the slanted coverage offered by the media. It is not a report written by left wing loons or Democratic defeatists. It is written by the military itself. And it does not paint a pretty picture:

Iraqi leaders have made “little progress” on the overarching political goals that the stepped-up security operations are intended to help advance, the report said, calling reconciliation between Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni factions “a serious unfulfilled objective.” Indeed, “some analysts see a growing fragmentation of Iraq,” it said, noting that 36 percent of Iraqis believe “the Iraqi people would be better off if the country were divided into three or more separate countries.”

The 46-page report, mandated quarterly by Congress, tempers the early optimism about the new strategy voiced by senior U.S. officials. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, for instance, in March described progress in Iraq as “so far, so good.” Instead, it depicts limited gains and setbacks and states that it is too soon to judge whether the new approach is working.

Sectarian killings and attacks — which were spiraling late last year — dropped sharply from February to April, but civilian casualties rose slightly, to more than 100 a day. Despite the early drop in sectarian killings, data from the Baghdad morgue gathered by The Washington Post in May show them returning to pre-”surge” levels last month.

Suicide attacks more than doubled across Iraq — from 26 in January to 58 in April — said the report, which covers the three months from mid-February to mid-May.

Violence fell in Baghdad and Anbar province, where the bulk of the 28,700 more U.S. troops are located, but escalated elsewhere as insurgents and militias regroup in eastern and northern Iraq. In Anbar, attacks dropped by about a third, compared with the previous three months, as Sunni tribes have organized against entrenched fighters from al-Qaeda in Iraq, the report said.

Overall, however, violence “has increased in most provinces, particularly in the outlying areas of Baghdad province and Diyala and Ninewa provinces,” the report said. In Diyala’s restive capital of Baqubah, U.S. and Iraq forces “have been unable to diminish rising sectarian violence contributing to the volatile security situation,” it said.

Not very cheery news. And then there is this about our brave allies, the Iraqi military:

While most Iraqi units are performing “up to expectations,” it said, some Iraqi leaders “bypass the standard chain of command” to issue orders on sectarian grounds. It cited “significant evidence” of attacks on Sunni Arabs by the predominantly Shiite government security forces, which have contributed to the displacement of an estimated 2 million Iraqis from their homes.

Shiite militias, which have engaged in the widespread killing and sectarian removal of Sunni residents in Baghdad, now enjoy wide support in the capital, the report said. “In Baghdad, a majority of residents report that militias act in the best interests of the Iraqi people,” it said, while only 20 percent of respondents polled nationwide shared that view. Maliki’s promises to disarm militias have not produced a concrete plan, the report said.

Mass-casualty attacks on Shiite targets by Sunni insurgents, including the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, have increased Shiite wariness of reconciliation, the report said. “The Shi’a dominated government is vulnerable to pressure from large numbers of economically disadvantaged, marginalized Shi’a” who offer “street-level support” for Shiite militias.

Peachy. Our own military is basically saying that rooting out the death squads and disarming the militias, will involve going in without the support of the street level population of Baghdad. I leave it to your imagination what kind of problems that little bit of information can cause.

Al-Maliki is still frozen like a department store manikin, unwilling or unable to move forward with reforms. The Sunnis see the endgame approaching and are desperate for the Americans to stay or at least give them modern arms in order to stave off an even bigger tragedy than the one occurring now. The Kurds continue to tweak the Turks with PPK attacks across the border, making Ankara do a slow burn over both the attacks and our inability to stop them. And Shias in the south are rapidly starting to choose sides in what promises to be a fight for dominance between Iranian backed militias and equally fanatic SIIC cadres.

And we’re worried if the surge is “working?”

But this is not news. It’s been going on for at least a year and nothing we have done or are doing currently is slowing down the momentum of this bloody country careening toward disaster. Yes, things are that bad in Iraq. Our own military says it. Maybe it’s time for the President of the United States to start saying it and at the same time, tell us what he intends to do to stave off disaster.

I would say to my one note lefty friends that removing the troops is not - repeat, is not - the complete answer to this problem. Of course, if your only goal is to see the United States humiliated in order to validate your worldview and make political hay out of the ensuing tragedy then I can see why you’d support such a position.

And I would also say to my equally boring righty friends that the surge may not be a failure but it is irrelevant when placed alongside everything else that is wrong in Iraq. The time has passed for any efforts of our military to make the difference between success and failure in Iraq. The Iraqis themselves have seen to that.

I am rapidly approaching the point of supporting efforts to somehow contain the conflagration so that it doesn’t spill over and start a general Middle East war. This obviously would require a substantial redeployment of our troops. I would like to see them placed somewhere they could prevent a humanitarian catastrophe involving the Sunnis but that might not be possible. Any way you splice it - with the political will for carrying on as we have virtually gone on the Hill in both parties as well as out in the hinterlands among the American people - we better be prepared for a bloody aftermath in Iraq. And we also better get used to the idea that there’s not too much we can do to stop it.



Filed under: Decision '08, FRED! — Rick Moran @ 7:19 am

The Republican race for the presidential nomination continues to surprise most inside the beltway observers who still have no idea how exactly to describe “The Fred Phenomena.” Recent polls only highlight the difficulty in analyzing what has now gone from a Thompson boomlet to a full blown prairie fire sweeping across the broad spectrum of Republican voting blocs and scrambling the race at the top

The Times-Bloomberg poll has Rudy in the lead with 27% and Thompson closing fast at 21%. McCain is sinking, down to 12% (amidst rumors that is having trouble raising money) with Mitt Romney treading water at 10%. If conservatives had any notion that McCain was a better choice than the more moderate Guiliani or Romney, the forthcoming entrance of Fred Thompson into the race has probably destroyed what little conservative support the Arizona Senator had left. Clearly, Fred is rising at the expense of McCain - at the moment.

The Rasmussen poll released yesterday is even more shocking. It shows the undeclared, barely started campaign of the former Tennessee Senator locked in a dead heat with Rudy Guiliani who has been running for President since last November. Each candidate receives 24% in the latest survey with McCain, losing half his support since January, at just 11% and tied with Romney.

Some of the internals of that Rasmussen poll are interesting. Thompson’s favorable/unfavorable rating is a stellar 59-14. Contrasted with McCain’s own tumbling approval ratings in his own state (just 47% view him favorably), this spells real trouble for not only McCain but the rest of the field as well.

The real question is will those numbers hold up once Thompson gets it in gear and begins to campaign in earnest. Right now, the Tennessean is something of a cipher. He has promised a different kind of campaign, one that uses the Internet more with less emphasis on personal appearances and other traditional campaign tactics. Judging by how it has worked so far, one could only call his strategy a success.

But not so fast. Limiting his speeches out on the hustings may leave Fred wide open to charges that he is ducking the voters in favor of an electronic campaign where he can carefully script his “appearances” on websites and op-ed pages. By limiting his exposure, he continues to be all things to all Republicans. While he has not done or said anything really controversial yet, once he is forced to come out with specifics on Iraq, the budget, taxes, immigration, and the War on Terror, people are going to start disagreeing with him.

And this is where getting up close and personal with primary voters is vitally necessary. Very few people are going to agree with everything you say and stand for. The test of Thompson’s strength as a candidate will come when we can determine how many people will still vote for him despite their disagreements with him on individual issues. And while there are many ways voters make that determination, it is very important that they see the candidate in the flesh so that they can judge for themselves how trustworthy he is or how he handles adversity.

It’s clear voters won’t find that information out via the internet. But Fred is smart in not rushing out on to the campaign trail just yet. There’s plenty of time for him to flesh out his on-line personae and fill in some of the blanks by writing and occasionally venturing out to address friendly audiences. It has worked so far. Why change it?

Will there be a drop off in support once he begins to campaign in earnest and people get to know him better? I would guess that his negatives will no doubt rise slightly. There isn’t an American politician alive today with negative ratings that are so low. But Fred’s challenge will be to move beyond the 24% support he currently enjoys and start building a majority coalition that can bring him the nomination.

For that, he will have to reach out to Guiliani and Romney supporters and give them a reason to support him beyond the fact that he is a conservative. He must broaden his appeal beyond the south and west and begin to compete in the Midwest and northeast. Romney is still far ahead in Iowa and New Hampshire. Victories in those two early contests will give the former Massachusetts governor some real momentum going into the pivotal contest in South Carolina and the National Primary Day a week later.

In fact, Fred may be eschewing competing in some of those early primaries and caucuses in order to concentrate on the January 29th contest in Florida. He already has begun a fundraising operation in the Sunshine State and there has been speculation that Jeb Bush may give him a hand - perhaps not publicly but urging some of his moneymen and supporters to help Thompson out. Winning Florida would give Fred some momentum going into South Carolina 4 days later (where he hopes to finish off McCain if he’s still in the race) and would set him up beautifully for some serious delegate harvesting on National Primary Day on February 5 where 20 states with half the US population will go to the polls.

With such a front loaded primary schedule, Thompson still has some ground to make up despite his unorthodox campaign. I suspect the money issue will begin to surface in the fall as the candidates get serious about paid media in the early primary states. Viral internet ads will help Thompson, I’m sure. But he will still need to try and compete over the airwaves if he hopes to do well.

If nothing else, Thompson’s “Front Porch” campaign and his subsequent meteoric rise in the polls may change the way candidates run for President in the future.

But only if he wins.


Ken Vogel in Politico has news of a whispering campaign against Thompson by other candidates seeking to undermine his claim to being a conservative lion.

It sounds to me like they’re reaching when trying to tar Fred with the “trial lawyer” moniker as well as digging into his client list when he was a lobbyist. Thompson’s experience in government as a staff lawyer on the Watergate Committee and in the Department of Justice more than outweighs any attempts to portray him as some kind of shady Washington insider.

Where his opponents may have more success is in pointing to Thompson’s support for McCain-Feingold, a position he regrets now but at the time, he was one of the bill’s biggest boosters. I don’t know how much traction that charge will have but it bears watching.

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