Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Ribbons or Medals? 

In the latest John Kerry flap, too many (especially those in the media) are getting hung up on pointless "technicalities". Did he throw his ribbons or his medals? Is it possible to "return" a medal when it is part of your military record? Well, guess what, the difference is irrelevant. This is because what went over the fence or what is in his permanent record isn't the real issue.

In 1971 John Kerry did something. He threw his ribbons/medals (let's just call them awards) over a fence. In 1984 he did something else. He proudly displayed the medals in his Senate office. These things, in sentiment, do not match each other. The first question Gibson should have asked was "what did your discarding of the awards mean in 1971?" To my way of thinking, it meant, "I am not proud of what my country asked me to do and I choose to not acknowledge its 'appreciation' of my service." If, in fact, this was the sentiment behind this action, then the second question should have been "why did you display your Vietnam service awards on the wall of your Senate office?" In my eyes, again, the meaning of this, clearly, is "I am proud of the service I did for my country." So, the only logical third question is "which sentiment really reflects John Kerry's true convictions?"

From the information known, one cannot say, as the two demonstrated sentiments are directly contradictory. I may markedly agree with one and disagree with the other, but both are legitimate feelings. They are not, however, compatible with each other. Was the throwing of awards not really an act of moral conscious or was the display done only to mollify the Union bosses? The sentiment of the 1984 act could, of course, represent a legitimate change of heart and thinking, but shouldn't this be clearly acknowledged?

That last, of course, is largely rhetorical, as to infer that any anti-Vietnam war activity might have been foolish or impetuous would be suicide with a great deal of his constituency. For many of his contemporaries, their activities in opposition to the Vietnam War are a high-water mark in their lives. In their actions, they feel they had significance and relevancy. That is the real reason they compare not only Iraq but any military conflict with Vietnam. Their opposition was their raison d'etre, a defining moment. It is the same reason the media tries to remind everyone of their importance and relevancy in '73 by tacking "-gate" onto the end of every potential scandal. These people have excused the violent acts of groups such as the Weathermen on the premise that their goal was noble.

Of course, another possibility is that the real meanings of both of these acts are absolutely identical. The real sentiment displayed just might be "I want the support, admiration and respect of people who agree with either sentiment." Unfortunately, this seems to be both the least noble and most likely case. And it is, again, reflective of the "I want everything without having to give up anything" mentality that I find indicative of Sen. Kerry and many of his political allies. He wants to express his rage and frustration by throwing away his awards without really throwing them away. The same way many wanted to change the regime in Iraq without really doing it ourselves. Nothing is free, and without the real sacrifice that was implied in 1971, what was it worth? As much as I may disagree with the action, I have a great deal more respect for someone who burned their draft card and went to jail for their convictions than for someone who threw away their ribbons but not their medals.

In any event, the greatest disappointment so far in this campaign has been the media's willingness to roll about in the political mud, taking the cheap and easy shot instead of asking questions of substance. "Ribbons or medals?" Who cares. Why can't someone ask plain and simple questions like those above? We are left, instead, to pose the truly relevant questions for both candidates on our private corner of the Internet and discuss it among ourselves rather than having definitive answers from the candidates. So, come November, the decision will largely be based upon our own personal interpretations and guesses of what the answers would have been based upon our impressions of what sort of person each candidate is. Truly sad.

Friday, April 23, 2004


Since Howard Stern decided to present himself as the Founding Fathers' heir apparent trustee and guardian of free speech, Jeff Jarvis has been firmly in his corner, waving the flag and decrying the injustice of it all. Now, I listen to Stern and enjoy his humor, and while I have questions concerning the FCC and their recent actions it is little more than self-promoting hyperbole to sound the death knell of the First Amendment based upon their disapproval of "Sphincterine" discussions. The concerns I have with the FCC in this regard, however, relate to the potential for apparent ex post facto like punishment, a general distaste for global solutions for local problems that has essentially lead to selective application of the rules and expanding the scope of the agency.

A quick look at the latest FCC Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) against Clear Channel that was released April 8, 2004 shows that it is in response to complaints over a broadcast made on April 9 2003. In fact, a quick review of the other recent Clear Channel NALs show that the Mar 2004 finding referenced Mar 2003 broadcasts and the Jan 2004 referenced Dec 2001 (and earlier) broadcasts. A quick review of a few older NALs showed similar delays between incident and NAL release, including a May 2001 NAL that was released 19 months after the last cited incident. Now, I know that these findings and rulings can't be evaluated, decided, written and reviewed overnight, and I'll freely admit that I don't know if the target of a complaint is advised at the time of complaint (let me know if you do), but leveling fines on broadcasts over a year old seems to me unproductive, given the reason for such "punishment" should be to provide feedback to the broadcaster on what is and is not acceptable and to encourage them to "straighten up". Are broadcasters accountable for indecent material identical to that cited in an NAL if the material is broadcast during the yearlong process? Regardning the latest NAL, Chairman Powell said "For the first time, the Commission assesses a fine against more than a single utterance, rather than counting an entire program as one utterance." If Clear Channel had known, at the time of broadcast, that this sort of interpretation may have been applied might they have been more cautious? When the new liability limits are imposed, will they only apply to incidents that happened before they went into effect? This is like getting a speeding ticket, but when you go into court you find the fine has been raised to $10,000 or that your one speeding incident has, instead, been split into ten consecutive speeding incidents to cover the entire period the police had you on radar. It simply isn't right.

One key premise to the precept of allowing FCC limited control over broadcast content is that broadcast airwaves are a public asset and therefore subject to public control, as executed by the government within the limits of the Constitution and other applicable laws. With regards to the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has clearly ruled in the past that obscene language is not explicitly protected speech and has also upheld laws limiting indecent language during certain hours when the likelihood of such language being heard by children is heightened. Without attempting to provide an explicit definition of "obscene" or "indecent", the courts have always deferred to normal public sentiment and standards. However, who can convincingly argue that predominant public standards of decency in San Francisco are the same as in Des Moines? In fact, FCC rules seem to understand this, as all NALs initially begin as local complaints. They are, however, judged on merit at the federal level. After all, if a federal agency is saying Howard is indecent in Florida, why isn't he, from a federal perspective, indecent in Tennessee or New York? Similarly, two broadcasters in adjacent booths can do the exact same material and the federal agency will find one indecent and ignore the other because one is syndicated into more conservative markets and the other is not. This creates a serious impression of selective application of rules where the real issue is the level at which the rules should be applied. If the people, as represented by their elected officials, decide they don't want indecent broadcasts (and it seems, for the most part, they have) then why can't the people apply their community standards in judging what is and is not indecent?

Another thing that lends justification to governmental limitations on what is said over broadcast airwaves is that they, by their nature, are especially pervasive and accessible to the public, especially children. I can accept and to a great degree agree with this, but become greatly troubled when I read reports that indicate any attempt to control content of non-broadcast subscription services. While the actual remarks sound to me to be more along the lines of "we wish you'd do this" than "you'd better do this", there is specific reference to previous attempts by the Congress to empower the FCC with regulatory authority over cable TV content. If the cable guy came into my house and hooked up the line to my box and pumped in HBO free of charge as one of my rights of citizenship, they may have a point. But, regardless of how pervasive cable has become, one still must request and pay for that signal. This is especially true of the more explicit channels. Now, if the government really wanted to help parents safeguard their kids from the evil influences of cable they could mandate that cable providers offer ala carte channel selections. That way, if all you wanted was Nickelodeon, Disney, Discover, History and Animal Planet, that's all you would get and pay for. My general libertarian tendencies, though, cringe at this level of federal government intrusion into private business and I eventually see the matter becoming moot. As internet bandwidth into the home increases and streaming technologies improve I can easily see a day when changing channels is the same thing as navigating to a new URL. The ISP would then just provide the infrastructure and broadcast providers would decide on their own to offer individual subscription, join with other providers into packages or allow both.

Howard has a valid point and message when he stays on message. This morning he very clearly expressed his point just before he alienated all his non-sycophantic listeners by launching into another "poor pitiful me" rant. His point? "Tell me what I can't say and I won't say it, and let a court decide what is and isn't indecent." This, however, doesn't exactly match the vivre inspired by the "freedom of speech" mantra that is such a popular slogan. Likewise, his tin-foil hat rantings about how the Bush administration is trying to silence him for his (previously) occasional anti-Bush statements only serve to distract from the legitimate issues he has. If, as I suggested earlier, local standards of decency were applied in a timely manner then nationally syndicated shows like Stern's would be able to objectively evaluate if they want to change their content to meet the standards in their strictest markets, leave those markets or make special provisions (e.g. delay and local censor) to remain in those markets. Or, as has often seemed to be the decision in the past, accept the fines resulting from those more restrictive markets as a cost of doing business.
Something tells me, though, that Howard already knows this. Something tells me that regardless of how much he rants and raves about how "we have to get rid of this administration" he knows that electing Kerry will not change a thing, since the FCC operates under laws and regulations passed by Congress and the President has no say in who the chairman is. Something tells me that the repeated playing of Robin Quivers saying "you'd better listen now, because we won't be on much longer" is just standard Howard self-promotion. Oh, I don't doubt that he is truly upset that some of his "best bits" are falling, literally, on dead air, but something still tells me that a very big unstated part of his bluster comes right back to the very real knowledge that the current tide is going to make the cost of doing business higher. If only he concentrated on the real problems with the FCC and on realistic and solution oriented approaches to those issues without falling to demagoguery, then I, too, could rally behind him. But something also tells me not to hold my breath.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Why Iraq? Why then? 

I was recently in a comment-discussion on The Command Post and, as it often does there, the topic shifted to include the reasons for us going into Iraq. It was a pleasant conversation, devoid of the usual sophomoric name-calling and knee-jerk reactions, and I was greatly complimented by the remarks of one of the participants who, while not sure of the actions taken, felt I had provided a good argument for them. Encouraged by Kevin's words, I will try and recreate the salient points and elaborate, as needed. As always, though, I'll try to clearly lay out my assumptions.

First, let us look critically at the phrase War on Terror that is often used to characterize the endeavor in which we struggle. I have always thought this sobriquet to be convenient but a bit of a misnomer, as it seems more accurate to say we are engaged in a war on terror with a global reach, the implication being that while we may have concerns from a humanitarian and cultural basis in actions like the IRA used to do, it really wouldn’t relate to the GWOT as the IRA had shown no interest in exporting their terror nor in threatening US national security. If we can agree that my description more accurately reflects the realistic goals of the war, it then seems obvious that there are two primary and simultaneous approaches to the goal: 1. eliminate the terrorists, and 2. eliminate the means by which terrorists achieve global reach. The second may, in the long-term, be the most important, as no one can reasonably expect to prevent all violent intent toward the US. While there are multiple approaches to both goals, and often action on one supports the other, our on-going campaign in Afghanistan has obviously been largely in support of the first. Likewise, I hold the campaign in Iraq was begun to directly support the second (although we are lately making great strides toward the first there as well).

Second, in any discussion of the justification and motives in the invasion of Iraq, we must agree to suspend our hindsight. Regardless of the "X lied" mantra (fill in the X to match the local political leader with whom you disagree), the one consistent piece of data is that everyone who had an opinion on the subject of Iraqi WMD, prior to the invasion, agreed they had existed and, absent convincing evidence of their destruction, assumed they still did. While it is vital that we determine where our judgment was in error or unduly influenced by external influences, it defies common sense to enter into the discussion with an assumption that "X knew" when everyone else in the world thought differently.

Third, while I will agree that Saddam’s Iraq was devoid of terrorist acts due largely to his strong hand, it does not therefore follow that it was devoid of terrorists or terrorist contacts. One need only look to Salman Pak, where facilities were made available to train terrorists in "hijacking planes and trains, planting explosives in cities, sabotage, and assassinations" as well as smaller facilities discovered by coalition forces. Or one could ask about Ansar al-Islam, or the government policy of subsidizing suicide attacks by Palestinians or merely ask where Abu Nidal spent his last days and who footed the bill? While not directly linkable to 9/11, it seems clear and undeniable that Saddam did have ties and connections to various known terrorists and terrorist organizations, including al-Queda.

Now, let us look at the merits of the Iraqi campaign as it related to short-term security goals in light of the situation presented, trying to look at the following without using any hindsight. You are at war, and there is a country in a strategic position in the region that is explicitly hostile. The government of this country has known associations with your enemies. The best estimates are that he possesses WMD (remember, no hind sight here), has demonstrated in the past a willingness to use them and has refused, despite repeated warnings, to prove he no longer has them. Remember also that the ruler of this country had demonstrated petty minded vindictiveness in the past by attempting to assassinate the former President at whose hands he suffered embarrassing defeat. Do you wait it out in the status quo, betting that these presumed WMD don’t show up somewhere you don’t want? Think also of the cost of maintaining the status quo: military assets required in theater to keep pressure on Saddam and protect Saudi oil, diplomatic pressure required to maintain embargos, all based on the hope that Saddam will one day disappear before something too bad happens and relying upon our ability to detect the planning of bad things before they can be executed. Also consider that Bin Laden directly referred to the military presence in Saudi Arabia as a motivation for attacks against the US.

But, as there were certainly other, more strategic, considerations in the Iraq invasion, let us consider these as well. In addition to eliminating another source of terrorist support and removing potential WMD collaboration, the invasion of Iraq was certainly done with a mind to establish not only a staging area in the theater but also building a valuable regional ally against terrorism. "But," some might ask, "didn't we already have that in Afghanistan?" While these were also important in the Afghanistan campaign, there can be no comparison between the potential benefits of Afghanistan and Iraq as an ally. From a geographic perspective alone, Afghanistan lies on the periphery of the Middle East (more precisely, it is part of Central Asia), while Iraq is positioned smack-dab in the middle, between Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the three biggest supporters and exporters of Islamofascist terrorism in the world. Culturally, Afghanistan has its closest ties to its Central Asian neighbors, like Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, while Iraq shares cultural ties with the Arabs, Kurds and Shiia, critical in reaching the people of the region. Afghanistan is a resource poor country with both a low level of general education and standard of living. Iraq, on the other hand, is rich with resources, especially oil, and its people are well educated and have a relatively high standard of living for the region, placing it in an infinitely better position to more rapidly recover from the ravages of war and oppression. Finally, the removal of a brutal, almost universally despised dictator and the institution of a free democratic state would likely provide a motivated supportive people and government as well as a peace-nurturing environment. This "forward base" could support whatever tactics would be called for, if it were as simple as influence by example or even future military action. In short, a more perfect ally in the GWOT could not be imagined.

So, be the President for a day and it's your decision. Do we maintain the status quo, keeping provoking forces in Saudi Arabia, trusting that the imperfect embargoes in place would keep Saddam's strength down and hoping that our intelligence services would detect and understand collaboration between our enemies sufficiently to allow us to stop whatever attack might be planned before reaching execution? Do we continue to keep military and intelligence assets tied up watching Saddam? Do we continue to plan contingencies in the region based upon the assumption of either not having a favorable position from which to strike or relying upon sea-based power projection? Or, do you deal with the devil at hand, commit the assets and remove the threat, working to establish the long-term regional ally that may be necessary for ultimate success in the war? As long as Saddam was in power, he was always a threat to our flank in any action, military or political, we might need to take. In the post-9/11 world, would you have had the level of confidence in our ability to detect and stop another terrorist act before it was too late, especially one potentially involving WMD, necessary to have not invaded?

I have always seen the liberation of Iraq as a pragmatic necessity in the execution of the GWOT and the only question was when we were going to do it. Why Iraq? Why then? Because, for a change, we followed an important maxim of combat and placed the troops in the right place at the right time.

Friday, April 09, 2004

What the 9/11 Commission Should be Asking 

“Could we have prevented 9/11?”

That seems to be the question everyone is asking, but is it the right question? One could argue that 9/11 was prevented in 1993 due to the error and miscalculation of the terrorists. One could likewise argue that we prevented 9/11 in 1999 when a customs agent playing a hunch foiled the Millennium plot. We have heard others opine that if INS had stopped the entry of the terrorists or if the FBI had picked up the terrorists or if the airlines had detained individuals on watch lists or if (insert condition here) … we could have prevented 9/11. I, however, feel it is more accurate to say that we could have, once again, only delayed 9/11.

As Dr. Rice’s testimony emphasized, nothing that would have stopped the attacks on the WTC and Pentagon from happening would have changed the long-known assessment that “Bin Laden [was] determined to attack inside the United States” nor would it have likely changed the mindset in place that prevented us from being on a “war footing” at that time. As such, the question of “could we have prevented 9/11” is akin to asking a baseball player “can you hit a home run?” Through luck or skill or circumstance almost any play can hit a home run, but the real question is one of consistency and intention. For years, in the world of global terrorism, we have at times been good and at other times lucky, but on 9/11 we were betrayed by both.

A more important question not being asked is “should we have been on a ‘war footing’ prior to 9/11 and, if so, what should have served as the stimulus to put us there?” What, in the future, should our threshold be for violent rhetoric and deeds before initiating decisive action to avert another, potentially more devastating, attack? This question is extremely important to our national character and what sort of country the US will be in this century. I say this, because while the surest way to have prevented 9/11 would have been to eliminate the threat prior, doing so would have required the US to act contrary to its history and nature, to have initiated conflict and employed deadly force based upon threat, goals and motivations of out enemies rather than based upon their demonstrated actions. While some claim we have done such a thing in Iraq, the long legacy of UN sanctions and violations make a convincing arguement for many against the charge. No, what I am talking of is a truly pre-emptive action. If we detect DPRK shipping nuclear components, are we willing to put that ship on the bottom? If we find Iran nearing completion of weapons, will we take whatever action is needed to stop their work? If we find elements at work in Casablanca preparing to act against the US or her interests and do not get adequate help from local authorities will we go in and take care of the problem? These are the real questions that come from 9/11, for there has to be some line, as a nation, beyond which we will not go. Some line beyond which we say “we are willing to accept that risk and do our best, but to go further compromises who we are as a nation and a people.” So the real question is if truly “preventing” and not just “delaying” 9/11 laid beyond that line or not?

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Smoking Out the Pests 

Is there anybody who did not expect at least one “tough guy” to try and seize control of Iraq through force? To use the tools and mechanisms that have, for over 50 years, been the one sure-fire road to power? To attempt to follow in the footsteps of their spiritual parents: Lenin, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Saddam and others? If there are any true surprises in the fact that al-Sadr and his gang of thugs have violently burst upon the scene in Iraq it is in the coordination and timing of these actions. For while they are more coordinated and widespread in activity than I anticipated, they may also more ill timed than I would have imagined. While the former may speak to the competence of al-Sadr’s people or his backers (assumed by many to be Iran), I feel the latter is, at least in part, the result of US actions.

If I were al-Sadr, when would I time my take-over? There are advantages to both moving prior to and after the June turnover. In favor of moving early is the potential surging of other anti-US forces as unknowing accomplices. In fact, this seems to be the nature of the unlikely Shiia/Suni partnerships seen in some areas of the Suni triangle. It also avoids the possibility that he would find himself having to act against a truly popular governing body of Iraqis. This especially would have been a problem if the governing body were largely made of competing Shiia political forces. The main advantage, obviously, of waiting until after turnover is to be able to fight against more poorly armed, trained units as well as being able to configure it as a “legitimate” civil war between Iraqis, and the general rule of civil wars, internationally, has been “hands-off.” Of course, victory in the post-turnover scenario requires victory, while victory in pre-turnover scenario, according to conventional wisdom, merely requires you to punch long and hard enough to get the US to go home. So while in this view, it seems that a fight clearly against the US and not against other Iraqis has the advantage, we are still left with the question of “why now?” While it seems to not have worked so far, another potential goal of action pre-turnover might be to force a rollback of the June date, helping to support the assertions that the US has imperialistic goals in Iraq and serving as a further recruiting tool. We are, however, rather far removed from that date, meaning that they either mistimed the “uprising” or had their hand forced.

It is my opinion that we pushed al-Sadr by the arrests and warrants issued and that it was intentional. Despite the widespread nature of operations specific reporting is rather sparse. This all looks like a plan that was waiting to be sprung. There is no doubt that we have known about a lot of bad guys and groups that either for lack of evidence or proximity to civilians we could not effectively move against. Well, now they’ve been smoked out and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are being taken down piece-by-piece and if in our actions we’re getting more bad guys than just al-Sadr’s gang. The confusion and combat is giving us the opportunity to take out more of those potential trouble makers long before June gets here. Hints by Joe Roche and John Galt seem to bear this out.

The long-view? This will be a good thing. We will get rid a lot of the scary folks that have been keeping normal Iraqis cowed and we will get rid of a lot of bad guys that were going to cause trouble in June anyway. We will also strengthen the argument for disarming militias, as whomever takes over in June will probably welcome any measure that helps prevent someone from trying this on them. Finally, with the memory of what the al-Sadr uprising would have looked like if they had been targeted, it greatly improves the odds the coalition will operate in a sovereign Iraq at the clear and welcome request of the Iraqi government. Contrary to what CNN will tell you, this looks to be a battle of our choosing at our chosen time and there is a lot to gain in the victory.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Do we live in the same world? 

Every time I find myself becoming frustratingly enraged over the political comments of someone, I try and ask myself if I am, myself, acting in a mindlessly partisan manner or if there is reason in my reaction. Lately, I find myself more and more concerned, as it seems the source of my wrinkled brow, the vast majority of times, is from the left. Have I become more transparently and reactively "conservative" over time, or has the rhetoric from the left departed further from the confines and strictures of reality?

For example, a recent article in the New York Times addressed the prevalence of anti-Bush comments inserted into otherwise non-political prime-time programming. (tip provided by Glenn Reynolds) On the second page, an upcoming film for HBO, called "Strip Search" is described as "track[ing] the parallel experiences of an American woman being held for questioning by the authorities in China and a Muslim man being held for questioning in the United States, both on suspicions of terrorism" and quotes the creator, Tom Fontana, as saying "The real question is, if it's wrong for a white American woman to be mistreated in a repressive country, is it O.K. for us to mistreat a Muslim male in this country?"

This whole idea generates such a violent reaction of "wrongness" it is hard to keep seated. While the question of to what degree collective safety and security may trump an individual's freedoms is not only valid but vitally important in a free society, the "comparison" of "experiences" is not only irrelevant but deceptive. Let us dismiss the question of how many creative liberties will be exercised in depicting the "mistreatment" the Muslim man is subjected to relative to any actually documented mistreatment. Let us ignore, for one moment, the legal rights and recourses afforded the Muslim man in the United States as compared to the lack of similar civil liberties and protections for the white woman in China. Let us, however, address the fundamental fallacy in the entire comparative scenario. How many organizations of "white woman" terrorists are there worldwide and how many acts of terrorism against China have been perpetrated or threatened by these "white woman" groups? Because, apparently unknown to Mr. Fontana, there are hundreds of known organizations of almost exclusively Muslim males that have not only threatened but attempted violent terrorist action against the United States. In fact, now please sit down so the shock doesn't strike too hard, one of those groups killed over 3,000 people just two years ago, destroying two landmark buildings and damaging another, causing billions of dollars of economic loss to the country in the aftermath. And, now here's the kicker, there are still more out there and they regularly issue statements and tapes bragging how they will do it again.

Now, if there were evidence of widespread "mistreatment" of random Muslims or organized pogroms against Arabs, I'd be arm in arm with Mr. Fontana wanting to get to the bottom of it and finding out where we went wrong, but I just don't see any. And no matter how objective I try to be, when I think about Mr. Fontana and read his statements, I see nothing but a blatantly political creature who, from one side of his mouth will say "Bush didn't do enough to prevent 9/11" and from the other side essentially say "he's doing too much to prevent the next attack." I see one who is either coldly calculating in his attempts to use whatever means suits his ends, or a politically correct partisan who doesn't understand that paying extra attention to male Muslim travelers is not racism, but more akin to looking for your keys where you dropped them rather than looking where the light is best. Lest any try to misconstrue my words, I advocate neither mistreatment nor random harassment of Muslims in the United States, but think it seems a willful negligence of responsibility to not concentrate and direct the limited resources available for security where they have the best chance for success.

And if ELF ever so clearly and violently declared its hostilities against the US, I'd expect to see that "Muslim man" waiting his turn for questioning right along side that white, granola-eating, Birkenstock-wearing Berkleyite.

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