Saturday, February 19, 2005

Martin Peretz Fights His Demons - It's a Draw

Every so often, you can get an idea where things stand, by paying attention to what your opponents are saying. With that in mind, I turn to the latest opinion piece in The New Republic, by Editor-in-Chief Martin Peretz.

The title gets your attention; “Losing Our Delusions: Not Much Left”. It certainly sounds as if Peretz is trying to express some mature consideration his party desperately needs to hear. Peretz has a lot to say; the article is sixteen paragraphs and 2,350 words long, which means it’s either very comprehensive or very evasive in its examination of the Liberal condition. I shall walk through the paragraphs to see where he’s going with that long process.

In the first paragraph, Peretz goes back forty years to quote a sneering John Kenneth Galbraith, as if conjuring the image of a time when Liberals seemed invulnerable would be useful in a time where Liberals lost their hold in every theater of power.

In the second paragraph, Peretz draws a predictable moral equivalence between Liberalism and Conservatism. Peretz laments the demise of Niebuhr, but lamely pretends that the loss of interest in Liberal politics is due to the unreasonable optimism of Liberals. Peretz writes “however much they may have been validated by history, liberals have no patience for such pessimism”, as if the Liberal message for the last generation has not been essentially negative and pessimistic. Peretez does admit to a strategic flaw in the Liberal plan, confessing that when Liberals advance an idea, “it is the apparatus that is designed to persuade, not the idea.“

In the third paragraph Peretz hits the mark again to some degree, wondering rhetorically, “Who is a truly influential liberal mind in our culture? Whose ideas challenge and whose ideals inspire?” Peretz also admits that the Liberal mindest boils down to a “daily panic dose” about President Bush.

In his fourth paragraph, Peretz considers “Europe’s leftist elites”, but blames the absolute failure of Socialism on Immigration, particularly “a virtually unchecked Muslim immigration”. Peretz somehow manages to miss the blinding irony of crediting superior tolerance to a philosophy which defends itself by racist ideology. While he does not actually consider the sheer lunacy of Socialism in practice, Peretz vaguely confesses that the Socialist policies amount to nothing more than “left-wing bromides” which “are no longer believed”.

In his fifth paragraph, Peretz claims “what animates American conservatism is the future of the regulatory state and the trajectory of federalism”. In saying so, Peretz makes two errors: Claiming to understand a philosophy which he opposes, which invites assumption and depends on a biased foundation, and generalizing the politics of a group tens of millions strong into a single convenient statement. I understand the desire to comprehend the attraction of a dominant political theme, as well as the inevitable hope to provoke “a great national debate” by challenging the truth of the claim he thinks all Conservatives hold. I think Peretz’s quasi-federalism claims do not work out in practice, especially in the pragmatic world-view of most Red-staters, who don’t buy into elaborate or academic theories, but at the gut level of what matches their personal values and personal experience.

In paragraph six, Peretz makes perhaps his most useful observation: That Liberals “have not yet conducted an honest internal conversation that assumes from the start that the very nature of the country has changed since the great New Deal reckoning”. Unfortunately Peretz does not pursue that vein of gold in political thought, consoling himself and his allies with the promise that Liberals must resist the Right, because under the Conservatives, “There will simply be too many victims left on the side of the road.” Such a statement demonstrates that Peretz remains unaware of Liberalism’s many victims over the years, that indeed these victims have come around to the Right, precisely because the Left deserted them.

In the seventh paragraph, Peretz plays an old card: China. Peretz warns of “the dizzying specter of economic competition from China, whose hold on U.S. Treasury bonds leaves the dollar vulnerable to a tremendous decline should China decide to sell them”. I considered this charge the first couple times I heard it, then had to laugh, when I considered it all the way through. First, governments do not speculate in investments the way individuals do. China invested in T-bills for exactly the same way every other nation does; because relative to other countries, the U.S. Economy is remarkably stable and robust in growth. Countries do not casually or drastically change major economic policies. In fact, it’s a simple and important fact that the Soviet Union kept massive reserves of American securities, even as they decried Capitalism. Even during World War 2, Nazi Germany held reserves of British and American securities. Economic actions are taken for the most elemental reason; they are economically viable. Dumping the bills would damage China, in almost every scenario to a greater degree than it could hurt the United States. That’s why the Soviet Union never sold off their T-bills, and Peretz has not considered History or Economics in his claim.

In the eighth paragrah, Peretz attacks the entire Stock Market. Peretz repeats the assertion of “rapacious Capitalism”, with no serious support for the claim. Peretz claims Capitalism “is demoralizing and punishing.” That is incredibly asinine, to attack the only system which allows an individual or group to succeed by the merit of their own work. Peretz is undeterred, also claiming “ Moreover, it threatens its own ethical foundations”. He never even attempts to support that claim, unless one counts the slanted and unfair assumption that businessmen are inclined to cheat and lie by their nature. Peretz admits that “The very extent of stockholding through mutual funds, pension funds, and individual holdings is a tribute to the reliability of the market makers, the corporations themselves, and their guarantors.”, but then contends “Many individual corporations, investment banks, stock brokerages, insurance companies, auditors, and, surely, lawyers who vetted their contracts and other arrangements were complicit in violating the public trust”. Peretz does not cite even one example of such a broad conspiracy. In fact, Peretz again demonstrates his own ignroance of the facts in such a claim. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which I wrote about earlier this week, was designed to determine the transparency, consistency, and honesty of Corporate reporting, and given the extremely few indictments since its implementation, the evidence proves Peretz is distinctly wrong. Peretz finally proves that ideology is driving his writing by falling back on some of the most blatantly false and unfair assumptions of Liberal thought, as he wrote “greed need not go unbridled. What is a responsible liberal for if he doesn't take on this task?”

In paragraph nine, Peretz returns to glance at some of the truths which have been hammered into their heads by the voters. He writes “The liberals are themselves uninspired by a vision of the good society”, and “For several years, the liberal agenda has looked and sounded like little more than a bookkeeping exercise”. Sadly, Peretz falls back on assumptions on certain American values, claiming “People who are voluntarily obliged to each other across classes and races, professions and ethnicities, tend to trust each other, like a patient his doctor and a student her teacher”. Unfortunately, he does not seem to understand that Republicans and Conservatives believe in this same trust and commitment to decency; pretending that only a Liberal can make this promise is to lie to yourself.

In paragraph ten, Peretz tries to salve his wounded pride, by playing again at the claims to Liberal moral superiority. “U.S. power is dangerous to others and dangerous to us”, he says. “Still, the last 30 years separate two worlds”, he contends. To read Peretz, he and his Liberal colleagues are all that separate America from a Dark Age. Nowhere does Peretz admit that the invasion of Iraq stopped a regime which murdered millions of innocents, that the Liberal refusal to save South Vietnam led to the murder of millions in that time, that it has been Liberal leadership in the White House and Congress which allowed Rwanda to happen. Far easier to indict the other guys, than to check the mirror and wonder how your hands got bloody.

In paragraph eleven, Peretz comes back to a serious consideration of Liberal faults, dwelling on the lionization of racist and bigoted figurehead Al Sharpton.
In paragraph twlve, Peretz compares this blatant and pervasive “patronizing position” with the open attitude of President Bush: “he may be the first president who apparently does not see individual people in racial categories or sex categories. White or black, woman or man, just as long as you're a conservative. That is also an expression of liberation from bias.” Bearing in mind Peretz’s clear slavery to filtering every piece of data through his own Left-wing bias, that is a remarkable statement.

In paragraph thirteen, Peretz attacks the lack of functional Liberal theory. He does so in the process of assuming the Conservative ideas are wrong, but at least gets to the point in three sentences: “The conservatives have their ideas, and many of them are good, such as charter schools and even vouchers. But give me a single liberal idea with some currency, even a structural notion, for transforming the elucidation of knowledge and thinking to the young. You can't.”

In paragraph fourteen, Peretz flails around again for some justification of the Liberal vision. His attempts come up with, ultimately, nothing, yet somehow Peretz can’t bring himself to say so. He comes a bit closer in paragraph fifteen, noting that in the past election, “liberals have been peddling one disaster scenario after another, one contradictory fact somehow reinforcing another, hoping now against hope that their gloomy visions will come true.”

In the end, while unwilling to come to the fundamental flaws of Liberalism as it is embraced in American Left-Wing politics, Peretz is able to identify the flaws in its practice, saying “It is corrupt, it is pompous, it is shackled to tyrants and cynics. It does not recognize a genocide when the genocide is seen and understood by all. Liberalism now needs to be liberated from many of its own illusions and delusions. Let's hope we still have the strength.” Peretz is unable to say where that strength may lie, or why anyone should believe their claims anymore.

Friday, February 18, 2005

John Negroponte: A Functional Intelligence Director


President Bush selected Ambassador John Negroponte to be the first National Intelligence Director (NID), and the announcement produced very little comment. Those inclined to attack President Bush attacked the choice out of habit, but there is not much buzz in the corporate media. I think it's because the Old Media doesn't understand what the NID is, or what the choice of Negroponte means.

Congress overwhelmingly approved putting the NID in control of all of the existing intelligence agencies. This makes the NID the single most powerful individual in U.S. Intelligence. He will have the power to give orders to the DCI at CIA, to the head of the NSA, even to the FBI on Intelligence matters. No one person has ever held that kind of authority at an appointed post. So, we really ought to look more closely at what's happening, and what we may expect from this appointment.

First, I want to take a look at why the Reform was necessary. A lot of people looked at the 9/11 Commission only as a political maneuver for the upcoming elections, and there was that. But there was a serious question, as well, about whether the Al Qaeda attack could not have been prevented. Essentially, what we discovered was that there was information available, which in hindsight seems to point to the attack, but which lacked enough specifics for an agency to reasonably hope to create a functional plan to stop it.

Also, following the invasion of Iraq and the deposing of Saddam, many critics of the war have harshly denounced the inability to locate stockpiles of suspected nuclear materials or biological/chemical weapons.

The continuing spate of bombings, sniper attacks, and assorted low-scale violence in Iraq is frustrating Coalition efforts to build a self-sufficient democratic government in Iraq. Progress is being made, but not on a pre-established timetable.

Other Arab governments are showing signs of potential trouble, best evidenced by the Syria-Iran co-defense pact.

The continuing question of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden has also bedeviled the United States.

Also, questions about intentions of the Chinese and Korean governments have brought pressure on the State and Defense departments, as well as the White House.

What these all have in common, is the question of Intelligence. There's an easy way to know how Intelligence is doing: If it has some problems, the media will talk about 'Intelligence failures'; if it has success, it will be ignored. The Intelligence community has long understood this condition, and sometimes has been able to make their sad-sack reputation work to their advantage, but there is no question the reputation is difficult to carry, however undeserved.

Intelligence operations in American history are actually older than the country itself. Not many people realize that the daring raid by the rebels on Trenton New Jersey (immortalized in the famous painting, "Washington Crossing the Delaware") was made possible by information Washington got from paid agents. Ask any veteran, and they'll confirm that good information saves lives. Of course, many of them will also tell you what they think of bad Intel, and the guys who commit soldiers to operations on weak analysis. The present conditions, then, come from three root causes, requiring three separate but vital corrections.

The first root is the history of U.S. Intelligence. While the Armed Forces have had variations of Intelligence over the years, the United States did not create a professional Intelligence agency until after World War 2. This is due to the attitude in Washington, which was the first of 4 opposing forces. This may best be demonstrated by the treatment of Herbert Yardley, whose "Black Chamber" team created an impressive codebreaking device. His office was shut down in 1929, however, with Secretary of State Stimson's naïve and myopic comment, "Gentlemen do not read other gentlemen's mail". As a direct result, the development of U.S. codebreaking operations was delayed by years, preventing the United States from being able to fully intercept the Japanese Naval codes which could have prevented the Pearl Harbor raid and saved thousands of lives.

The second opposing force came from the Intelligence Community itself. In a single generation, the CIA went from a small group of professional officers and analysts, to a massive government entity with thousands of employees, a huge budget, and no sense of accountability. Individual agents used the Agency as a cover for drug-running and smuggling, assassinations and even overthrow of foreign governments, without any sort of official authority. All those bad movies about 'plausible deniability', are talking about this era.

The third opposing force was the Church Committee investigations, as well as subsequent eviscerating legislation. Basically, the Church Committee is a big reason why we have fifteen Intelligence agencies in the United States, who were until recently not allowed to talk to each other and share information. At best, this wasted energy and promising leads of investigation. At worst, it denied critical pieces of information from being assembled in time to stop the deaths of three thousand innocent people. Many people do not realize that an American Intelligence agency operates under restraints unknown to any other major country. Ironically, while this has made it more difficult for the agencies to do their job, there's no evidence it has prevented abuse by individuals or groups.

The fourth opposing force came into play when Bill Clinton came into office. With the Soviet Union dissolving, and no apparent major threats on the horizon, President Clinton set about making the Intelligence community more useful to his purposes, by creating offices to uncover financial crimes and to use electronic tools to advance a futuristic tool for surveillance (it seems ironic to me, that ECHELON, the NSA system for intercepting potentially any telephone call from anywhere in the world, is often cited as an example of Republican indifference to privacy rights, but came into operation during the Clinton Administration) . The Clinton Administration also demanded background checks on the character of potential agents recruited, and severely curtailed operations in nations hostile to the United States. That's right; Bill Clinton pulled back on sending agents into Iraq, because he was afraid it might anger Saddam Hussein. Clinton depended instead on satellite imagery and NSA intercepts. In sum, that plan did not work, as enemy states simply learned how to conceal their movements and positioning.

To quell these four opposing forces, it is necessary for Intelligence executives to produce accountability to the President and Congress, while remaining able to do their jobs without interference or delay. This prompted the creation of the NID, in the same way that a new Organizational Chart can help a company route its authority and delegations.

The second root problem is turf. The fifteen existing agencies have different heads, separate budgets, jurisdictions which sometimes overlap, and no hierarchy. The DCI reported to the President or the NSA, the Director of the FBI reported to the Attorney General, and the heads of the armed services Intelligence groups reported to the Pentagon, and so on. The creation of the NID allows for fluid operations (preventing the rigidity of restricting authority), but allows the NID to authorize or delegate agencies to tasks and priorities at need.

The third root problem is direction. In years past, the whims of Presidents and Congresses have unduly influenced the priorities and roles of Agencies. The creation of the NID provides for a more independent leadership, free from the partisanship and political feuding which have crippled the Intelligence Community from operating effectively. The central nature of the NID office provides more control, while at the same time allowing a functional decentralization of the agencies in use of their resources.

The significance of these developments is also apparent in the characters and resumes of Porter Goss and John Negroponte, the new DCI and NID, respectively. At CIA, which remains the principal actor in Human Intelligence operations (actually sending in officers and recruiting agents inside a target country, often hostile to America), the need for a director the agents would understand and respect was paramount. So, President Bush chose Porter Goss, a former agent himself, and a man known for getting results. The noise coming from Langley has not been one of happy suits, which means that the long-overdue housecleaning of political drones is being accomplished, to be followed by a recruitment program to replenish the ranks of the field agents. The results won't be seen for a while, but they will happen.

At NID, the job requirement is a bit different. Some might wonder why Bush would select an ambassador, but it's really a very shrewd move. First off, while Negroponte is not a spook, he's worked in Baghdad for several months now, and has seen first hand what it means to have good, and bad, Intelligence data. Second, an ambassador is not at all a bad idea, to salve the bruised egos at NSA, FBI, ONI, and the like, where they will have to come to terms with a direct boss checking on their work. By all accounts, Negroponte is smart, tactful, and a quick learner; he won't embarrass the President or step on any toes by accident (if they need stepping, that's something else).

People have sometimes wondered if there was anything worthwhile about having a President, whose father also served as President. I think some of President George W. Bush's decisions show that he has been listening to George H.W. Bush. Especially since the father was once the Director of the CIA, and doubtless expressed his opinion on changes he would have liked to see there. George W. Bush has made a good choice, and a wise one, in selecting John Negroponte for the post of National Intelligence Director. And just like when Intelligence gets it right, the media will try to keep that success a secret, too.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Job Description : Must Be Accountable!


Yesterday, Hugh Hewitt had Bret Stephens (apparently the token weasel at the Wall Street Journal for the moment) on his radio show, and Bret was in due course defensive, whiny, evasive, and petulant. The next best thing to having Eason Jordan on the show as well.

In case you did not know, Bret is a personal friend of Mr. Jordan, and he allowed that friendship to influence his opinion of the scandal which forced Mr. Jordan to leave his high-priced, no-accountability position at CNN. I first wrote about Mr. Stephen's preferential defense of Mr. Jordan here, and when he (as it seem to be) wrote the editorial which claimed to represent the collected opinion of the WSJ staff, I reviewed it here.

Now, I'm sure Bret Stephens is serious about his work, certainly dedicated to getting the story right almost all the time. But he is also a human being, and certainly his last two articles, one under his name, and one hiding under the WSJ banner, were heavily slanted to the emotional and against rational consideration. Thus the weasel tag; he's earned it for now, but can shuck it if he comes back around to the normal WSJ standards of objective reporting.

Yesterday, Mr. Stephens was a guest on Mr. Hewitt's radio show, as I mentioned, and he had a hard go of defending his position. Of course, it's pretty hard to defend Mr. Jordan's comments, even more so when you try to admit the comments were indefensible, but somehow the man should not be held accountable. And there turns the knot in Mr. Stephen's stomach. On the show, Mr. Stephens worried aloud, about whether the blogosphere might become a mindless pack, chasing down innocent journalists for a single slip. I can set Mr. Stephens' mind at ease on that count, although I also have to give him some very bad news.

The good news for the Old Media comes in three parts. First, Jordan was like Dan Rather, an arrogant and vindictive man who long ago lost any respect for the truth, who wielded his position for the purpose of vendetta and the feud. That has no place, at all, in journalism, and no one in the blogosphere has any intention or motive to make hunting down journalists in general. Further, the overwhelming majority of bloggers were not after Jordan's scalp, or Rather's either. What they wanted was accountability, an honest admission of the facts and an open review by Old Media of the conduct of their leaders and leading figureheads. I do not know of a single blogger of group, who honestly had the sort of power to force anyone out of a job. In the case of Rather and Jordan, it looks very much like CBS and CNN took an expedient course to cover their rear ends and avoid something nastier they had hidden; I would think an investigative journalist, like Mr. Stephens say, could make a story out of that, if they tried.

Second, the bloggers are almost all analysts; we do not have access to the primary sources for most news. That means the Old Media still gets to the noise first, and if they would just do their job up to the standard they advertise, they could make the bloggers redundant for the most part. Bloggers are accessories, effective and powerful and fast yes, but we won't replace the Old Media. Unless it kills itself with rash assumptions and paranoia.

Third, the medium always changes. First, it was print, then telegraph, then radio, then TV, then live TV, and so on. We are what news is becoming, and there's no reason the existing journalists can't learn from us. We are not your enemy. We do what you do, except we are decentralized and free from corporate ties. Bloggers are not elitists.

Now the bad news. The world is changing, and one of the good changes, is the move towards universal accountability. Most of us already know about that, from schools with standardized testing to hold teachers and districts accountable, to employees evaluated on a standard measure, to reward them on an objective scale, and yes, to bloggers fact-checking the Old Media and fisking their articles for signs of hubris.

I wrote about the Sarbanes-Oxley Act yesterday, in part because it demonstrates how corporations are being forced to prove they are being upfront and consistent. That's the way of the New World, Mr. Stephens, and while it makes it a little tougher to be a journalist, the ones who meet the standard can enjoy the knowledge that they passed a test others couldn't accomplish. When people are held to a high standard and tough out meeting the requirements, they take pride in their results. Ask any Marine just out of Parris Island.

So, maybe it hurts losing a friend to the ravages of truth and a close look at unsupported claims. In the end, it means a better product for the reader, better information, and a reason for the writers to take pride in their work, knowing they are not spinning a story, but honestly reporting the truth.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Sarbanes-Oxley, or Why Accountants Are Happy


I went to a seminar about the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) legislation this morning. Interesting stuff, if you're into Risk Analysis, Congress, and Auditors Gone Wild.

Just after the new millenium began, certain executives at a place called Enron (it depends who you ask, which executives were at fault, or all) thought it would be cool to fly the corporation into the ground, as long as they could make tons of money doing it. Along the way, these executives talked Accounting Superpower Arthur Andersen into fluffing the financials for them, so shareholders only figured out there was a problem when the stock made crunchy noises from hitting the ground hard.

After a lot of yelling and demands to "do something!", Congress formed a committee, and produced a law which punishes every public company, but with the promise of improved business practices. If you've been following the noise, you're aware that Enron execs have been arrested, charged with all sorts of crimes against America, Nature, and the Supply-Side Economy, while for its part Arthur Andersen was allowed to die quietly, its thousands of honest, hard-working accountants watching their credibility shredded by an unscrupulous few. Sarbanes-Oxley is a bit hard on auditing firms, but not to the degree the law requires of the corporations. It's all about preventing another Enron, not another Andersen.

If you're an accountant, you love SOX. Especially if you are an auditor by profession, and love the intracacies of Forensic Accounting (like a coroner, except in this case the corpse is from a deceased corporation). Basically, three of the key tenets of SOX are that all publically traded companies must follow consistent policies, maintain full, truthful and timely documentation, and report honestly to audits. The way this is done, is for companies to listen to their Risk Managers, and to give them the control necessary to meet the law's demands.

Why are companies so worried about SOX? Because right after it was passed, the SEC began looking for a message to send. The arrest of three Ernst & Young auditors in 2003, one of them a former partner in the firm, was a clear shot across the bow. Since then, the word was out - the government is serious about enforcement. And believe it or not, this is good news for everybody involved.

The reason this is good news, is the same reason people always need exercise and vegetables more than they get. Risk Management is hated by sales people, who think it needlessly slows down bringing in clients. Executives hate it, because they don't see revenue produced by the Credit Managers and Analysts who reduce Risk and prevent loss. Customers hate it, because they don't like finding it difficult to get preferred rates and privileges. But it's the Credit guys, who serve to confirm the stability of prospective customers, who save companies millions (on average) each year by catching out fraud and insolvent applicants at the front door, and prices stay low because Credit lowers the amount of bad debt the company must pass on to the customers.

Boring? For most people, sure. But every once in a while, Congress gets it right. A law which makes corporations account for their activity, which makes them more stable and restores investor confidence, that's not bad. And as someone who works in the business of preventing Risk, I have to say I like it when Congress listens to us. Now if only we can get Congress to give full, truthful, and timely reports to the American people, we'll really have something.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

SET II: Asia is Smaller Than You May Think

In 1989, Japanese politician and arrogantuer Ishihara Shintaro wrote a book entitled "The Japan That Can Say No", based on the premise that Western Supremacy in all things was coming to a close, and that Asian powers were coming to their deserved prominence. At that time, there was reason for his optimism: Asian stocks were booming, American military might was increasingly seen as irrelevant, especially now that the threat from the Soviet Union was dissipating (the Asians seemed to assume this was more an act of nature than from any American action or plan), and new alliances of Asian nations seemed poised to start the next Millennium as the Pacific Century. That same year, Francis Fukuyama wrote an essay in The National Interest about the waning of Western influence. The essay became a best-selling book in 1992, entitled "The End of History". But it was already obsolete by the time it reached the shelves of bookstores.

The crash of the Nippon Stock Market, the wave of earthquakes and natural disasters in the Pacific in the past decade, as well as crises in North Korea, Burma, the Yellow Sea, and the uncertainty of the PRC intentions, all contributed to the failure of Asia to grasp its vision, but there is a more fundamental cause and problem to observe: Asia, for all its potential, remains unable to cooperate honestly in financial ventures beyond the very short term, unwilling to commit to the reforms to establish viable infrastructures for business and science, and cannot its people enough to commit to essential political reform. As a consequence. each nation is able to advance only marginally, by the strength of whatever national resources it possesses, while consigning itself to pursuit of the established leaders in medicine, science, technology, business, and of course, military operations. In any one of these venues, the United States has more operations in progress than all Asian nations combined.

As we move forward, it appears to me that the Bush Administration, however subtly, has arranged things to move even more towards American Leadership. No, they won't like us. But they will follow us.

Monday, February 14, 2005

SET: The Arab World Scenario and American Doctrinal Strategy


Back in 1986, former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinksi (under President Carter) published a primer on regional strategies between the United States and the Soviet Union, called "Game Plan". In many ways the book was already out of date by the time it was published (for instance, the book took no notice of the December 1983 Navy mutiny incident at Murmansk), especially as it was unable to understand the underlying brilliance of Reagan's economic and military strategies, but it did at least present the global contest between the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. in simple terms, with clear geospatial references that made clear why certain locations were important stress points. With the many changes in the past 18 years, as well as the clear victories over the forces and ideology of the Warsaw Pact, it bodes well to re-examine that global map, and to focus on the new global map and attendant areas of interest.

Brzezinski's map focused on the Eurasian continent as the main field of conflict between the USSR and America. Brzezinski correctly understood that it would be difficult for the USSR to maintain harassment of nations friendly to the United States in the South American continent, especially Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Mexico, but failed to realize that the condition in Eastern Europe were quite different. Essentially, Soviet attempts to destabilize U.S. support in Latin America was a gun aimed at America's foot, while U.S. support for dissidents in Poland and Russia was a gun aimed at Communism's heart. This is important to understand, because the same difference in strategies exists today.

The old men in Europe rage at George W. Bush, among other reasons, because America has made Europe irrelevant. The continent of Kings and so much history has lost the position and influence they depended upon for more than half a millennium; just as Spain and France lost their power with their empires, so now do Germany and Russia find that the world has passed them by; the best minds are not European, nor the best products, nor the best governments, nor the best ideals. Except for England, who shines more brightly now in the person of Tony Blair than she has since Churchill, the beacons of leadership are all but one moved now to the Pacific Rim and Ocean, and America, to the astonishment of so many, remains captain at the helm. Look to economic news, to military events of significance, to the focus of diplomatic efforts, and one constantly finds two themes: Pacific countries like China, the Koreas, Japan, and so on, and events controlled or directed by the United States. The one remaining other place where we must keep our focus sharp, is the Middle East.

As I have noted before, most Americans (indeed, most people, period) have little knowledge of Arab History. They have vague notions about Islam and the Crusades, about Oil and OPEC, about various terrorist groups, about the Palestinians and Israel, and of course the constant drumbeat that whatever is wrong with the Middle East, should be laid at the feet of the American government/President. Far too many have never studied the Ottoman Empire, or the colonial policies of France, Germany, and England. Far too many people watch "Ghandi", and forget that he was successful, in some good measure because the British government was inclined to grant independence to India if they could do so with stability, while France sent troops to Syria and Lebanon to put down rebellion and protests, peaceful as well as militant. The same Wahhabi factions in Islam which are causing the largest headaches now, rose in opposition to European oppression or artificially-imposed borders, long before the United States had any presence in the region. Also, it is not commonly rcognized, that the infrastructure which allowed most OPEC nations to modernize, came as a direct result of contracts with Western petroleum companies, especially American companies. Many liberals think it unseemly, that Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, the U.A.E., Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Iran, to name the major players from 1945 to 1975, had closer ties to American enginerring and petroleum companies than with any government, but this was simply the most functional arrangements, and one which OPEC found to its liking - for one thing, it allowed the Arabs to deal directly with the people who impacted their countries the most directly, without necessarily forcing a political stance.

Some people like to believe that the United States provoked the instability of the region, by supporting Israel, but that is not true, historically. Israel remains a thorn for the Arab countries, for a number of reasons, but there was generally a good degree of certainty through the 1970s. Then, things changed through a series of events which the United States did not cause. To be blunt, the Soviet Union committed a number of strategic blunders, and most of what has happened in the poast generation has been more aftershock of those actions, than any deliberate course of action.

It must be understood at this point, that the U.S.S.R. considered terrorism a valid measn of destabilizing regimes. Many people do not realize that Soviet tactics often included key assassinations and random events of violence, as precursors to an invasion, in order to decapitate leaders and damage confidence in the government. This what they did in Vietnam, in Germany, and in many South American countries. At least a dozen major Middle Wastern terrorist groups have ties to Soviet sponsors, including the Black September orgnization, the Abu Nidal organization, and early factions of the PLO. This is also why so many terrorist groups found support and supplies through Iraq; the Bathist regime was a solid Soviet client all the way up to the day the Berlin Wall fell. Syria and Algeria also supported terrorists through their Soviet connections, though it is difficult at times to know whether it was the Soviets using the Arabs to build anti-U.S. terrorist groups, or the Arabs using the Soviets to build anti-Western terrorist groups.

1979 was a critical year for the Middle East. First, President Anwar Sadat, who hated the Soviets and dearly loved the dream of true independence for Egypt, sought out the Israelis for a peace treaty. It was not President Carter who deserves trhe most credit for the accord, but Sadat and Begin, who spent 16 months hammering out the terms to end the most divisive split in Arab-Jew relations. Ironically, Sadat would be assassinated in 1981 by Wahhabiists, specifically for the peace treaty, in the same year that saw attempts on the life of the Pope and President Reagan. At least 2 of the 3 attempts have some kind of Soviet connection in method and supply. Later in 1979, Secular dictator Saddam Hussein seized power in Iraq, and immediately began a purge of Shiite Muslims and Kurds. In Iran, France assisted in the return of outlaw Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to Teheran, which signalled the beginning of the end of the Shah's reign there, and the rise of a radical militant Shiite theocracy. At the end of 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, which to the Arabs signalled a secular invasion of their belief world, provoking a reaction which in part fed desire for Jihad by the radical Islamists.

The general results of these salient events was the emergence of an Arab-Israeli dialogue, opposed by radical Islamists who used the Palestinian position to create disruption and violence through the instigation of the 'Intifada', various efforts to deal with the weakening Soviets to advantageous terms, while at the same time playing having both sides of the pro-West/anti-West alliances, leading to situations (especially in Saudi Arabia) where a private agreement may be made in direct contradiction to public statements, while the United States sought to rearrange its priorities to protect Israel and maintain some sense of order in the region, while not advancing regimes hostile to U.S. interests. This led to a number of situations where the United States broke old alliances with nations like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Lebanon (to address U.S. demands for a moral foreign policy), and European mercenary corporations rushed in to fill the void. It also led to a more pro-active American military presence, willing to protect Iraq from Iran in the first years of their border war, to escort Kuwaiti tankers in the Gulf, and to provide intelligence in the Israeli raid on the Osirak reactor. The U.S. also began to maintain, more or less permanently, a sea and air presence in the South Mediterranean, which Libya learned to its cost.

By the end of Reagan's second term, two significant changes in the Middle East had become apparent: The Soviet Union was no longer in position to oppose U.S. intentions in the Middle East, but anti-Western proxy actions were harassing business and government intentions there, especially in Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq. When Iraq was foolish enough to invade Kuwait, the United States seized on this to not only send a military message, but also to advance diplomatic initiatives. The success and failure of these initiativs displayed the true nature of the Arabs' intentions towards the United States, and despite the Conventional Wisdom, these intentions were far from uniform or united.

To be blunt, President Clinton lacked the foresight or fortitude to pursue some promising opportunities in the Middle East. As a result, the United States not only failed to take advantage of some early chances in the region, but sent the worst sort of message in the Islamic context; weakness and decadence. As a result, a number of Arab nations held to their religious factions, believing they could not rely on the United States for protection of their interests and values. This also allowed the more brutal of these regimes to plot against the United States, which fed the rise Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Al-Jihad, and of course Al Qaeda. I need to note briefly, however, that the variety of names and networks demonstrates that lack of unity and purpose I mentioned; it's greatly annoying to recognize that a U.S.-Arab initiative in 1994 or 1995 could have swept the region clean of this menace in large part. Also, the removal of HUMINT agents from the region made it impossible for later operations to gain the necessary foundational steps. When George W. Bush came into office in 2001, he was ill-equipped to deal immediately with the mess left to him.

The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were, to be blunt, brutal for the armies who stood in the way of the Americans, and the cost of U.S. life has not been a casual consideration. But through the efforts of the military, the United States now owns its best opportunity in at least two centuries, to stabilize the entire region. This is not, I must caution, a matter of gaining American advantages in price or supply of oil, or of simply building U.S.-friendly governments. Under no circumstances can we predict how a free government in the Middle East will conduct its trade and diplomacy, and any functional Arab government will have a valid Islamic culture, which is somewhat foreign to us by any definition. But the United States, while it has made errors in history, has the cleanest hands of any nation able to craft a coalition of free Arab governments. And we are already seeing an intriguing variety of reactions, from countries hustling to make a deal with us, to regimes facing strident demands from their own people for free elections.

The risks are great. We will see instability in the region for a long time to come, as those in power now resist the movement of Democracy. And we may well see our military called up to come to the aid of a revolution against one of more of the tyrannic despots who face their own people down. But the Arab world presents the best chance for a stable coalition of free nations that it has ever known, and with victory in the region on economic, democratic, and egalitarian terms, the United States may well establish its leadership for the next century over its would-be rivals in the Pacific, by prudent and visionary actions taken in another sea and ocean completely.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Sunday Pondering On Senate Empire-Building


One of the nice things about writing a blog with pretty low readership numbers, is you don’t get a lot of flak when you miss a day. Of course, that might also be, because Haloscan hit a technical bump and closed down my ‘Comments’, which may make some people think that I don’t want feedback (I love feedback, it’s like coffee to me, which most people over 30 know is the essence of life before noon). For the record, my wife and daughter are down with a cold/virus/flu, and I have a headache making its way into its second day. I wrote some stuff yesterday, but decided not to impose it on anyone else.

Many of you know I am working a project on Government Responsiveness and Accountability. In that process, I am trying to sort out which Senators and Representatives work in the committees with the most relevant duties and powers. The House of Representatives has not constituted its new committees yet, but the Senate has, and I have begun to sort out a ranking system for the Senators, based on Chairmanships and membership in the major Committees. I am ignoring Sub-Committees for minor activities, but I will be writing on the committees and sub-committees, then putting up rankings using a point system, based on Chairmanship of Major Committees, Ranking membership of Major Committees, simple Membership of Major Commitees, Chairmanship of Major Sub-Committees, Ranking Membership of Major Sub-Committees, simple Membership of Major Sub-Committees, and Chairmanship/Ranking Membership of Minor Committees, in that order. This should help to put up a good picture of what we can expect from the Senate. That will take time, though, so I appreciate your patience.