Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I had planned to use this space to follow up on my last post, but you'll have to bear with me for a while, because I've found something I need to share with you.

I've just finished reading the book Cobra II, by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor; it's a well-researched, well-written, exciting, and heartbreaking book about the invasion and occupation of Iraq. There's a passage near the end of the book that is worth quoting to you and commenting on. Chief Warrant Officer Dave Williams was one of a group of American POWs being held by the Iraqis in a house in Samarra, and he told the authors of the book that...

"The Iraqis had a hard time understanding something (about their American prisoners). Shoshonna is Panamanian, Edgar is Hispanic, Joe is Philippine, and Patrick is from Kansas. The Iraqis could not conceive how we could all have been in the same army and not fight one another. One Iraqi said to me, 'You no fighting each other? Why?'"

Why, indeed?

In my post of July 25th, I wrote about the observation in the book Revolutionary Characters that the United States is a country founded on the basis of a set of beliefs, rather than on a common ethnicity, religion, or culture. Because of that, we have managed to avoid the kind of sectarian violence that plagues much of the rest of the world, and have created a society which welcomes people of every race, creed, religion, and color with the opportunity to cooperate in building a shared dream of freedom and prosperity. Perfect? Of course not. But how many other countries have an enormous problem with people frantically trying to get in? When last I looked, Saudi Arabia, China, Sudan, and most other countries didn't have much of a problem securing their borders against hordes of people trying to break in.

For all of our problems, we have built a nation that is the envy of the world...and we have done it by working together according to shared ideals expressed by a group of visionary people more than 225 years ago. Much of the rest of the world may shout, "Yankee, go home!", but the next few words are usually, "...and take me with you!"

Be thankful for the country in which you live. I am.

In the next post, I'll continue my discussion about how we as a nation present ourselves to a skeptical world. Until then, have a good day.


Monday, August 28, 2006

One of my close friends, Bakr, is an Egyptian-born doctor, now an American citizen who came to this country as an adult and now serves as a Colonel in the Air Force. I have spent many hours arguing and discussing the situation in the Middle East with him, and if you are looking for a well-educated and erudite presentation of the Arab position on the issues, you can't do better than asking him. It can be frustrating, but he does give you a perspective that you don't often hear from our government and media.

But Bakr is very even-handed, too, and recognizes that the Arabs are often their own worst enemy. He has often shaken his head and moaned that "We (the Arabs) are so stupid!" And while I generally agree with that assessment, I must also admit that we Americans are equally stupid, albeit for different reasons.

As a country, we are staggeringly inept at presenting to the world our values and our position on vital international issues, and almost unbelievably hard-headed about making the changes that are necessary in a new world of instantaneous, 24-hour news reporting and the Internet.

Consider this: insurgents in Iraq often send out video crews to film the murder of American soldiers by roadside bombs or ambushes, and then within days - if not hours - are distributing professionally-made DVDs with music and narration crowing about what they've done. But when the US government (in an admittedly clumsy effort) tried to pay Iraqi media outlets to run stories showing some of the good news efforts in that unhappy country, the howls of outrage from the American media could probably be heard on the moon.

Consider this, too: whenever disaster strikes, anywhere in the world, the first country on the spot with millions of dollars in emergency aid, is the United States. The rest of the world ignores this, focusing instead resolutely on our real and perceived evils. Why is the US government not vigorously presenting our side of the story? Why are we not flooding foreign media outlets with good news stories, and offering government officials for interviews - in the local language - with the foreign media to present the American side of the issues?

There are many reasons, and I'll discuss what they are, and what we ought to do about them, in the next few posts. In the meantime, ask yourself why the Ugly American is so inept at improving his image...and you might agree with some of my comments.

More discussion of this issue tomorrow. For now, have a good day and a good week.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

In a recent article titled, "Lessons So Far," commentator Ralph Peters spelled out a number of lessons that have been learned from (or confirmed by) the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Two of Mr Peters' observations are of particular importance, and I want to discuss them together. They are: "Never underestimate your enemy;" and, "Can we win "Eastern" wars with Western values?"

As regards the first lesson, I believe we have severely underestimated Radical Islam as a threat. The reason lies in our Western values, as Mr Peters implies in his second observation.

I don't believe we can win this "Eastern" war and still hold true to our Western values. The Eastern (radical Islamic, in this case) worldview and fundamental concepts of life, death, and faith are utterly alien to our Western ones. The jihadi who believes with all his heart and brain that killing infidels is God’s will, and that he is headed for paradise if he gets killed in the process, will be a tenacious and suicidally ruthless fighter who will have to be killed to be neutralized. At the risk of trivializing a critically important point, he's like the Terminator: He can't be bargained with. He can't be reasoned with. He doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And he absolutely will not stop, ever, until you and I are either dead or converted to Islam.

To really defeat an enemy like this, we must be able to fight with a degree of ruthless violence alien to our cultural sensibilities. Our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines can learn that (as they learned to kill fanatical Japanese troops in WWII), but I doubt that our political and social leaders and media elites will be able to set aside our Judeo-Christian ethics which regard life as sacred. At least, until it’s too late.

Think about it. More thoughts coming in the next few days.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Well, the shooting has stopped - temporarily, at least - in Lebanon, and both sides are declaring victory. In reality, of course, everyone lost: the Israelis lost the aura of their army's invincibility against Arab foes, Hezbollah lost many of its fighters, and the Lebanese lost much of their country, pounded to ruin because of the fanatical hubris of Hezbollah. Of course, none of the Arabs see it that way (can you spell Pyrrhic Victory?), but they are just proving yet again the depths of their own stupidity.

But not all of them.

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) today posted on its website a translation titled, "Libyan Reformist Writer Dr. Muhammad Al-Huni Criticizes Abuse of the Term 'Resistance' in Arab Political Discourse." It's an amazingly frank and clear-eyed look at what passes for rational thought in the Arab world, and it's worth your time reading. In a series of devastating examples, he illustrates the moral and intellectual depravity of the Arabs as exemplified by their use of the term "resistence" to justify their actions. Here are a few quotes from Dr Al-Huni's article:

"When Shi'ites kill Sunnis and Sunnis kill Shi'ites in Iraq merely for their [sectarian] identity, it is called 'resistance.'"


"When year after year, Hamas and Islamic Jihad extinguish any spark of peace which can end the suffering of the Palestinian people, it is called 'resistance.'"


"When Hizbullah takes an entire people hostage and refuses to obey the elected [authorities], dragging Lebanon into destruction, it is called 'resistance.'"


"Establishing television channels like Al-Jazeera, which misleads the Arab public and causes [the Arabs] to wager repeatedly on the victory of the losing side - is called 'resistance.'"


"When Muslim religious scholars issue fatwas permitting murder, suicide, and slaughtering of brothers and compatriots, and when [these scholars] condemn every rationalist idea as 'stupid'... and show contempt for modernity, it is called 'resistance.'"


"Bombing hotels in Amman and killing the bride and groom, and anyone [else] who tries to celebrate in these sad killing fields, is called 'resistance.'"

You can read the entire article at http://memri.org/bin/latestnews.cgi?ID=SD125306, and I encourage you to do so. Read some of the other articles, too, to get an idea of what hideous racist and quasi-religious drivel our enemies hear - and believe - every day.

One of the few things President Bush has said recently that I agree with was his characterization of our enemy as "Islamic Fascism." "Fascism" may not be the best word, but it sums up what we're up against.

Know your enemy. He doesn't know about you, and doesn't care to...all he's interested in is either forcing you to convert to Islam, or killing you.

Learn all you can, and take a stand against violent and intolerant people who would return to the seventh century...and drag you along.

Have a good day, and appreciate the fact that you live in a country that doesn't force you to worship in a particular way.


Friday, August 11, 2006

I tend to be a pretty optimistic person, but I have officially given up on the Middle East in general, and the Arab/Muslim world in particular.

Consider the murderous lunatic Hassan Nasrullah, who would rather destroy Lebanon and cause the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of innocent people than make a peace that would let Arabs and Israelis alike live in dignity and prosperity. It’s long been clear that the Arabs aren’t really interested in any peace agreement that includes the survival of an independent Israel, and their support of Nasrullah, whether implicit or explicit, is clear proof.

Consider the foolish Muslims in the United States, who came here for the peace, security, and opportunity they could never find at home…and who repay the nation that took them in by supporting Hezbollah – which offers only death, destruction, and hate.

Consider the Imams who, fortified with their 7th-century religious education, preach the most vile racist hatred...and are unchallenged by the civilized world.

I’m no particular fan of the Israelis, but they have built a vibrant and prosperous nation in a tough neighborhood. Compare them to the surrounding Arab Muslim nations, who have driven themselves into poverty and backwardness and blame everyone for it but themselves, and you will find there’s no comparison.

Read Victor Davis Hanson’s damning indictment of the pathetic Arab Muslim world at http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson080706.html, and see if you don’t agree with my solution to the problems of the Middle East: build a 100-foot high wall around the region, fill it up to the top with sand, and start over.

I just can’t be an optimist any more.

More thoughts later.


Friday, August 04, 2006

When you look at the scenes of devastation and bloodshed in newscasts from Iraq and Lebanon, it's sometimes hard to think of the term "the rules of war" as anything but an oxymoron. But it's an important concept that has not been adequately addressed in any of the supercharged news reporting, analysis, commentary, and outright blather covering the ongoing Middle East conflict.

Over many hundreds of years, as civilization advanced, nation-states formed, and armies grew larger and more capable, the international community came to understand that wars needed to be fought under some commonly-accepted rules in order to keep them within some bounds. These rules, eventually codified in law, tradition and such agreements as the much-quoted and much-misunderstood Geneva Conventions, included such concepts as force used only by recognized and uniformed combatants, proportionality, the protection of civilians, the humane treatment of prisoners of war, and the prohibition of inhumane weapons (such as poisoned or exploding bullets). And those rules have worked pretty well over the years. Until now.

A very good opinion article in yesterday's Washington Post by retired Israeli general Moshe Yaalon is worth your reading. While it can be simplistically read as an attempt to justify Israeli strategy and tactics in the war with Hezbollah, it nevertheless makes a profound point: that the rules of war are being systematically ignored by Hezbollah and its allies at the same time they are used as a cudgel to beat the Israelis...and no one is remarking on it. Did you ever wonder why it is that there is little outrage when twisted Islamic clerics sanctimoniously justify the employment of suicide bombers whose bombs are packed with nails, laced with rat poison, and deliberately targeted at civilians, while there are howls of righteous indignation when the Israeli military, although employing massive force, tries to precisely target specific threats? While the loss of innocent life in Lebanon is a horrific tragedy for which the Israelis are, with some justification, blamed, why is there no concurrent condemnation of Hezbollah's blatant use of the Lebanese population as human shields?

Read Mr Yaalon's article in the context of the pieces I recommended to you in yesterday's post, and think critically about what's going on here. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am not an apologist for either side in the Middle East: there are legitimate claims, issues, and concerns on all sides, and resolution is complicated by the utter unwillingness of some on each side to consider any type of compromise. But it's clear that, if we use adherence to the accepted rules of war as a yardstick, it is Hezbollah and its like that deserve the disgust and condemnation of civilized people everywhere.

Unfortunately, it won't happen. Ask yourself why.

Have a good weekend. Think critically. More thoughts coming over the weekend.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A popular pastime among both liberal and conservative commentators in this country is the castigation of the media for its conservative (if you're liberal) or liberal (if you're a conservative) bias. I don't think there's much question that there is a certain amount of bias built into any news reporting, no matter how objective the reporter tries to be...it's human nature to project our interpretations on what we observe (otherwise, there wouldn't be millions of blogs, would there?).

But no matter how frustrated with our media you may be, the reporting bias of much of the media in the rest of the world, and the Arab world in particular, is utterly astounding. I would call your attention to two recent articles in Jane's Islamic Affairs Analyst: The Faultlines in Arab Media Analysis (July 28, 2006) and Understanding Arab Media Analysis (August 2, 2006), and a July 28th article by Victor Davis Hanson (at www.victorhanson.com) titled, The Vocabulary of Untruth.

The Jane's articles do a masterful job of analyzing how what passes for news analysis in the Arab print and video media is driven by four "sanctities": a distrust of social change; unease with cultural (as opposed to material) importations; disparagement of Arab intellectuals; and antipathy to compromise. Taken together, these lead to analysis of events which focuses on self-pity and the assumed malign actions of a vast Western Jewish conspiracy bent on the subjugation of the Arab Muslim world. For some examples of how the Arab world presents and analyzes the news, you can read the translations available at the Middle East Media Research Institute (www.memri.org). It will leave you little doubt as to why the Islamic world, and the Arabs in particular, are their own worst enemy.

The Hanson article presents a devastating critique of how the selection of politically, culturally, and emotionally charged words in news broadcasts slants the coverage to a particular point of view. Hanson's sympathies are obviously with Israel, but his point is still valid - that much of the world's media reporting, especially outside the United States, is heavily biased in favor of the Arab world. Here are two examples of Hanson's analyis of how words are used in reporting the war in Lebanon:

"'Grave concern' is used by Europeans and Arabs who privately concede there is no future for Lebanon unless Hezbollah is destroyed - and it should preferably be done by the 'Zionists' who can then be easily blamed for doing it."


"'Deplore' is usually invoked against Israel by those who themselves have slaughtered noncombatants or allowed them to perish - such as the Russians in Grozny, the Syrians in Hama, or the U.N. in Rwanda and Darfur."

Words matter. As it happens, I have a degree in Linguistics (Penn State, 1973) and a lifelong interest in language and meaning. We need to be critical of how we report and analyze the news, and how we present this analysis...otherwise, we will be no better informed and intelligent than the average mullah or imam whose entire education consists of rote memorization of religious texts more than a thousand years old, unfiltered by any tradition of critical thought.

Listen to the news and read the opinion pages of the newspapers. Listen to the words that are being used, and consider what they may mean in terms of the opinion the reporter or analyst wants you to take away. Then make your own decision on what it all means.

Have a good day. We'll continue this discussion tomorrow.