a dog's life

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Promises To Keep

More than thirty years after the fact, the Vietnam War still haunts the American psyche. Increasingly we hear the word "quagmire" in relation to the conflict in Iraq, as well as the opposing voices of those who reference "bugging out" or "cutting and running" or even "the last helicopter to leave."

The overwhelming victory of our forces during the first Gulf War was supposed to have put the ghost of Vietnam finally to rest. America, by most accounts, had finally purged herself of that demon. Our military was strong, our national self-assurance and will were reinvigorated and refocused.

But even then we held back at the final moment, not wanting to get dragged into a conflict we could not easily exit. In fact it was mainly Colin Powell's insistence on having and adhering to an "exit strategy" that prevented the final push to Baghdad.

Instead, we pulled back at the critical moment and asked the Kurds and Shiites to rise up against Saddam--the implicit message being we would support them. But rather than support them we stood by and watched as Saddam regrouped his forces and then went on the offensive, slaughtering those who had taken up the fight in our place.

We blinked not once, but twice in this instance. And then turned away. Rather than showing strength we revealed our timidity once again, a record that extends back to Somalia and the ignominious pull-out after the Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon. Worse yet, it recalled the broken promise to S. Vietnam, and reinforced the idea in the minds of those who would do us harm that the United States is a paper tiger--scary to look at, perhaps, but easily cowed and fundamentally harmless. Or to paraphrase using a slightly different metaphor: America is a weak horse.

A rout of the Taliban in Afghanistan and a similar early result in Iraq the second time around seemed to once again dispell the idea that an enemy could trifle with us with impunity, a notion reinforced by the eagerness with which Qhadaffi and Assad sought to cooperate with rather than continue to oppose us. Unfortunately, our prolonged and difficult stay in Iraq has resurrected the ghost of Vietnam. We are once again seen as timid, irresolute, unsure. And the more it appears we may again "cut and run" the more emboldened our enemies become.

The fact is, there can be no cutting and running this time. In Vietnam we were lucky to be fighting an enemy that had no intention of following us home. That is most obviously not the case this time. Al Qaeda has already announced its intention to blow up the White House in the wake of an election it sees, rightly or wrongly, as a mandate for American defeat.

One of the more delusional suggestions currently making the rounds posits that our leaving Iraq will actually constitute a victory, inasmuch as the Shiites and Sunnis will consume each other and do the work of blunting Iranian and al Qaeda influence with no need of any further involvement on our part. Aside from the moral problem of once again leaving behind those who believed we meant to stand and fight with them, there is the the question of whether such a strategy--if that is what one calls it--would work. What seems more likely is that Iranian influence will prevail and come to dominate the country. Sunni and al Qaeda opposition depends largely on assistance from Syria. There is no reason to believe that Assad would risk alienating the Iranian mullahs in such an environment. Some Iraqi Sunni resistance may persist for awhile, but absent Syrian support, both Sunni and al Qaeda instransigence should largely come to an end. It is even possible that Hezbollah and the al Qaeda component in Iraq will realize they have more to gain by cooperating than by opposing one another. Assad and Ahmadinejad have already made that determination, why shouldn't their proxies?

The better course would be to break up this alliance. We are in a position to do it and can with a modicum of determination and will. If Mr. James Baker is serious about setting a realist agenda for our policy in the Middle East he should volunteer for a mission to Damascus in order to convey the message that we expect Assad to deliver the heads of Hezbollah leaders Nasrallah and Mugniyah (wanted for bombing both our embassy and the Marine barracks in Lebanon) and al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu al-Masri. Tell Assad he has two weeks to comply.

Whether he does comply or not, we will have set in motion an irreversible course of turning Syrian influence away from Iran towards us. Whether it is accomplished under Assad's leadership or the next to ascend to his position should matter not one whit to us. For our purposes all that matters is sending the proper signal--that we are not going to retreat but instead charge full ahead, meaning we intend to keep all of our promises and win.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I am a little world made cunningly

Muslim rage is once again on display, this time over critical remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI concerning the subject of forced conversion by violence. [TigerHawk has a roundup and excellent commentary, here.] The reaction is reminiscent of the so-called Cartoon Intifada, and just as childish. And predictably, there are those who should know better--the New York Times, among them--who are demanding the pope apologize for having the effrontery to offer an opinion.

Aside from the obvious irony that the Muslim reaction here only reinforces Pope Benedict's suggestion that violence is seen by some as an effective coercive tool, one can add the NYTimes cluelessness about the nature of the very business they are in. So let me give them some of their own medicine and ask: How dare they offer an opinion? (And why aren't Catholics rioting and burning down editorial offices the world over in response to such criticism?)

These are obvious points, and I don't mean to dwell on them, important as they are. Rather, I am more interested in exploring what it is about Islam that seems to accept and even condone this kind of behaviour. I am talking here about the willingness of so-called moderates to allow their religion to be displayed in the worst possible light. Surely the rather too-easy surrender to blind rage and violence must embarrass a good number of the adherents of this orthodoxy which advertises itself as The Religion of Peace?

I ask, Where are the voices of dissent among the true believers? Or is the question better asked, Why is it that dissent is so often punished with ostracism and death? And what, exactly, do the bullying imams who orchestrate these jihads of protest and revenge ever submit to but reflexive anger and hate?

I submit--dhimmitude at the NYTimes notwithstanding--that the non-muslim world, and even a good portion of the muslim world itself, is rapidly tiring of the "engraged muslim" bit. At some point ire rises to meet ire, and what then?

We are all--believer and unbeliever--made cunningly

Of elements, and an angelic sprite;
But black sin hath betrayed to endless night
My world's both parts, and O, both parts must die.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I Agree With The Lebanese PM... I Think

According to a story in the Milan-based newspaper Corriere della Sera, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora says Hezbollah has created a "state within a state" in Lebanon and must be disarmed:

"Hezbollah has become a state within a state. We know it well," Saniora was quoted as saying, for the first time leveling such an accusation against guerrillas that effectively control southern Lebanon.

"It's not a mystery that Hezbollah answers to the political agendas of Tehran and Damascus," Saniora was quoted as saying. "The entire world must help us disarm Hezbollah."

He went on to say that first there must be a cease-fire.

Now, it seems, someone in the PM's office has reconsidered and said the PM was misquoted. What he really meant to say--surprise, surprise--is that Israel is the real problem after all:

"The international community must help us in (getting) an Israeli withdrawal from Chebaa Farms so we can solve the problem of Hezbollah's arms."

(I just did a Google search for Chebaa Farms, so the reader will excuse my ignorance on this point, but it would seem to me that the problem--contra to Saniora's contention--must still be seen to be unrementing Hezbollah aggression following Israel's previous withdrawal. A quick review of my search result indicates that the UN had previously stated that Israel had completely withdrawn from Lebanon--the Chebaa Farms are not considered part of Lebanese territory. So the present conflict tracks back to the failure in the interim to "solve the problem of Hezbollah's arms." Lebanon has not fulfilled the requirements and responsibilities of sovereignty entrusted to it by the provisions of UN Resolution 1559.)

Despite the later attempt to modify his words, Saniora did seem to forthrightly address the problem of foreign influence on Lebanese affairs:

"The important thing now is to restore full Lebanese sovereignty in the south, dismantling any armed militia parallel to the national army," he was quoted as saying. "The Syrians are inside our home, and we are still too weak to defend ourselves. The terrible memories of the civil war are still too alive, and no one is ready to take up arms."

He also said that Israel is not helping the situation by continuing the current campaign:

"They are bombing civilians and creating sympathies for Hezbollah where otherwise there wouldn't be any," Corriere quoted him as saying.

And I would agree. Unfortunately, it would appear that Israel will get no thanks for addressing a problem that should never have been its responsibility to resolve.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Neighborhood Bully

It has not gone without notice that Israel has recently been attacked from areas it had previously occupied but relinquished, leading to the wry observation that Hezbollah--which means Islamic Resistance--seems committed to resisting Israel's good faith attempt at exchanging land for peace.

So now Israel is put in the position of becoming the Neighborhood Bully once again.

One can't help but feel for Lebanese victims of Israeli aggression here. Innocent men, women, and children are no doubt dying; civilian infrastructure--roads, buildings, as well as food supplies and water facilities--are being destroyed. Given the povocation, it would seem that Israel is reacting with disproportionate force, and in the eyes of many this alone constitutes a crime, as if this foray into Lebanon is meant to purposely target innocent civilians. If you see that as Israel's intention, then you probably conclude that Israel is evil. You might also agree with Ahmadinejad when he says that Israel "must be wiped from the map of the world."

True to Ahmadinejad's words, the Iranians are doing their part to destroy the Zionist entity by supplying rockets--and who knows what else--to the noble Islamic Resistance. Resistance after this fashion is acceptable, you see, because Iran is not the bully, Syria is not the bully, Hamas is not the bully, Hezbollah is not the bully. You guessed it. Israel is the bully. One has but to remember that simple fact, and all the countervailing others become inconsequential.

Could it be that launching rockets on Haifa--targeting presumptively innocent Israeli civilians--should also qualify as some kind of a crime? Could be, though Israel's critics will still likely give Israel's other enemies a pass on that score. The only war crimes in this conflict will wear the the six-pointed star.

Inevitably, Israel's critics will also declare: For the sake of the world, the world's powers must insist that Israel submit to the dictates of International Law. They will do this while ignoring the armed resistance of the Islamic Resistance to the mandate of International Law.

That's what Israel gets for being the neighborhood bully.

Friday, July 14, 2006

What Tehran should do now

Whether or not Tehran was behind the Hezbollah incursion and abduction of Israeli soldiers, if the mullahs are smart they will turn the event to their significant advantage.

Instead of stoking the fires of conflict, they should be tamping them down. They should go to the U.N. and announce they want to help broker an immediate cease-fire. They should offer to use their influence with the Syrians and Hezbollah to return the Israeli soldiers uninjured, if only Israel will withdraw and stop killing innocent people.

They should softly speak with the oh-so-calm, sane voice of reason. By so doing they will not only blunt and thwart Israel’s potentially killing thrust against Hezbollah and save Assad further embarrassment and discomfort, they will also show that Iran's leaders can be relied upon to act rationally in crisis. They will gain the world’s trust and so will be allowed their nuclear ambitions.

All they have to do is act like the good and rational people they almost certainly are not.

Friday, February 10, 2006

How can you run when you know?

He was managing editor for a mid-sized regional paper, a slightly-balding man of sixty who even now believed he and his generation had changed the world for the better.

He remembered Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. He remembered Woodward and Bernstein. He believed the press had to be both brave and free to serve as a bulwark against tyranny. (He had once actually written those very words in an editorial.) He used to be so proud and sure of himself, but as he shaved he looked searchingly in the mirror and softly sang: Na, na, na, na, na, na...

Once upon a time he would have sided with his news staff, but it was he who had made the final decision not to publish. Half the staff had quit in protest. And just this morning came news that authorities at UPEI, a university in that vast land to the north once synonymous with freedom and salvation for so many of his generation, had confiscated all copies of a student newspaper that had dared carry the offending cartoons.

Na, na, na, na, na, na...

The words to a song, the anthem of a generation, now came back to mock him:

Gotta get down to it.
Should have been done long ago.
How can you run when you know?

Na, na, na, na, na, na...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Hiroshima Memories

August 6, 2005 marked the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. What follows is a rendition of a conversation I had with my father concerning his memories leading up to and following the event.

I asked if there had been rumors of a secret weapon beforehand. The question allowed me to approach the subject without being too obvious, and would encourage, I hoped, reminiscence. Dad seldom spoke of those years, never without prompting. But if one were somewhat oblique, he could be coaxed into talking. I remember listening as a young boy while he and another man discussed at a dinner gathering their time in the Pacific. At one point I wondered aloud if they had been in the same boat. Of course, everyone laughed—and laughed less heartily again when the other man said, Yes they had been in the same boat… just not in the way I imagined.

Sometime during that same dinner—or actually, in the interval before dessert—Dad related a story of getting lost while gathering bananas, ending up behind Japanese lines. Fortunately the men in his unit realized when he didn’t return what must have happened and began piping Glenn Miller into the rain forest so he could make his way back. For forty years those two stories accounted for most of my knowledge of Dad’s time overseas. So I decided this fine August day, as we sat together on the side porch drinking iced tea, to ask about the bomb.

“No, we didn’t have any idea about that,” Dad said. He took a drink of his iced tea and set the sweating glass back down. “It wasn’t like it is now. The news didn’t report every little thing. There was more a sense of patriotism back then. And censorship was strict. Even before we left to go overseas the Army cut out any mention of the west coast in my letters home.”

“Where did you end up?”

“Zamboanga City, Mindanao. The Philippines. I wrote in one letter about Aunt Minnie and Uncle Dan, ending with a verse from Philippians: Do not be anxious over anything, but let everything be done by prayer and supplication and thanksgiving to God. Everyone puzzled over that for a bit, especially as I didn’t have an Uncle Dan. But Sis figured out what it meant and got out a map. Minnie and Dan they reasoned must mean Mindaneo.”

“It’s a wonder you weren’t arrested for being a spy.”

“Ha. Well, I did get called in once for complaining about mistreatment in one of my letters. They gave it back and told me to rewrite it.”

We sat quietly, feeling the heat of early August and the Sunday quiet combining to make a languorous, lazy afternoon. From somewhere high in a tree a cicada began its shrill, rising buzz. I waited for it to stop.

“Did you know you were headed for Japan?”

“Nobody told us, exactly, but it wasn’t top secret.” Dad lifted his glass and looked at it, seemingly reflecting on a place now half a world and half a lifetime away. “We pretty much knew where the last stop would be.”

As a younger, more naive person I had thought that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima unnecessary, believing there were better alternatives. What I didn’t appreciate then was the determination of the Japanese not to give in. The military had already decided the only alternative to unconditional Japanese surrender would be armed invasion of their many-island nation—planned as the OLYMPIC operation— and projected losses for both sides that would have dwarfed what occurred as a result of using the bomb. Imagine Iwo Jima and Okinawa on a much bigger scale. Mom put it succinctly to me once back in my then-radical youth: “If it hadn’t been for the bomb, your father wouldn’t be here today. And neither would you.”

Now I wondered aloud what it must have been like as a 19 year old to face the prospect of what seems now, and must have seemed all the more to my father then, an unavoidable and imminent confrontation with death. To have that threat suddenly removed through an agency of secret and almost unimaginable invention—a deus ex machina, as it were, delivered from the sky—must have been an incredible relief.

“Yeah, we were all pretty happy. But you know, they told us it would be 75 years before anyone would be able to safely go in, because of the radiation. And yet two months later there we all were—thousands of us—walking through the middle of what had once been Hiroshima.”

“They never should have let you...” Mom, who had been listening in the kitchen, came onto the porch and sat down. I knew what she meant. Already Dad has had three bouts with cancer; Mom is pretty sure she knows why.

We sat in silence for a bit, listening to the cicada start up its shrill ruckus again. It seemed there was not a whole lot more to say about the subject—at least not today. As it turned out, the Japanese were amazingly co-operative and friendly during the occupation, which probably wouldn't have been the case if not for the bomb. Dad befriended a young girl, and might have adopted her had the Army permitted. But that is another story, and one I don’t really know. This story ends—in my mind’s eye, at least—one November day when a young soldier stood in the cold before a destroyed tower with a skeletal dome. Sixty years ago.