Friday, July 30, 2004

All You Can Stand

Okay, everybody knows (it seems) who they will be voting for in the coming election.

But... what if it doesn't work out the way you want? Will you be able to accept the "other guy" as the legitimate President of the United States? Or is that beyond acceptable limits?

What would you do, in each of the following scenarios:

1. John Kerry wins and becomes President of the United States.

2. George W. Bush wins, and is re-elected President of the United States for another four years.

3. John Kerry tells one too many jokes about Tereza, and ends up the first President since William Harrison to die one month in office, and John Edwards becomes President of the United States.

4. George W. Bush has another "pretzel incident", this one fatal, and Dick Cheney becomes President of the United States.

5. President Bush chokes on a pretzel again, this time fatally, John Kerry is indicted for those war crimes he admitted to back in 1971, Dick Cheney tells the whole nation to "f" themselves, John Edwards is sued for stealing the life savings of veterans' widows, and so Ralph Nader becomes President of the United States.

6. President Bush chokes on a pretzel, fatally, John Kerry is indicted for those war crimes he admitted to back in 1971, Dick Cheney tells the whole nation to "f" themselves, John Edwards is sued for stealing the life savings of veterans' widows, and so Ralph Nader becomes President of the United States, but 5 minutes after his inaugeration Nader is killed by a falling tree, making Peter Camejo the President of the United States.

7. The night before the election, Bill Gates shows up on national television, and explains he has "acquired" the United States Government in a takeover. He offers full employment and tech support to the nation, names a Technical Support team to get rid of the "Osama bug", and promises to include the Bill of Rights in Windows 2005.

I await your responses.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Would You Prefer Roaches or Rats As Your Dinner?

John Edwards came to Houston last week. He was trolling for money, as national candidates do from time to time, and he spoke to a fundraiser where people pay $1000 a plate for reheated chicken, and listen to reheated speeches. I didn’t go, of course; I don’t have a thousand dollars to throw away, and I wouldn’t spend it on a millionaire who wants to raise my taxes, anyway. But I saw his speech on tape, so I got to see him in action. Edwards strolled left and right, smiling at people he’d never met before like he was their old college pal, looking around at individual people as he made his points, as if they had prompted him to think of it just then, and he was personally responding. I could understand how Edwards had made so much money by suing people into bankruptcy; he had the smooth moves, so focused yet carefully non-aggressive, like a cobra on Prozac.

Texas is not a swing state, and the conventions have not happened yet, so we got the standard “Two Americas” speech. Edwards is very proud of that speech, he tells it quite a bit. But something about it bothered me. As I listened, I became able to filter out the oily lawyer-speak, the predictable insinuations that every campaigning politician plugs into his speeches, and finally I realized what I hated about that speech. Neither of the situations described by Edwards was really America; they were just strawmen, drawn up to push people in the direction of Kerry & Edwards. And the resulting counter-spin by some on the Right, does nothing more than try to push people to Bush & Cheney. In the meantime, people like me, including a number of both liberals and conservatives, wonder when someone will get around to addressing our concerns. This is not to say that there is no difference between Senator Kerry and President Bush. There is, but there have already been a number of good columns written to describe that measure. But there are valid questions which go unanswered, valid dissent which goes unnoticed, valid possible alternatives which are not considered, and I began to wonder why. I realized, it’s because there is one America, but two usurpers of our attention and debate. It's as if you went to restaurant for a nice dinner, and the waiter insisted you had to accept either roaches or rats for your entree.

I'll begin with automobiles. America has been a car-loving nation, even before we had freeways and Corvettes and Thunderbirds. And of course, people like Ralph Nader have been with us for a very long time, even when he wasn't running for office. I have to say, there is something to be said about mercantile imbecility. I am talking, of course, about mobile homes like the Hummer. I'm sure the people who buy and drive these things have their reasons, and like their zip-code-sized rides, but they're ridiculous in any sense of normal transport; they have rotten mileage, they don't even fit into normal garages, and theirdrivers seem incapable of realizing that nearby traffic is there. A recent review described their handling as "like teaching a grizzly bear to use indoor plumbing". Not the sort of thing you want to read about a vehicle which will be sharing the road with, say, school buses and emergency vehicles. Worse, there is a pervasive arrogance in some of the SUV drivers' attitudes. Drive like an idiot, in an ice storm, speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, and don’t wear your seat belts. If you’re in an SUV, you can still claim it’s the SUV manufacturer’s fault. For all of that, I deeply resent attempts by groups to ban SUVs, or terrorize people who happen to own them. SUVs follow the same emissions and inspection and registration laws as any other vehicle. They are legal for the roads in every city and town, and if a driver chooses to break the traffic and safety laws, SUV drivers are just as liable as any other driver. SUVs get rotten mileage, but so do freight trucks, limousines, and the news trucks that televise the "SUV-Bad" stories. I want to be able to buy a car which is comfortable, safe, and practical, which is becoming increasingly difficult. But if I want to be an idiot and buy a car which makes no sense, that is also my right. Speaking of the Environment (since the debate about cars always seems to drift tree-ward), I get fed up hearing only from the extremists on either end of that fracas, too. On the one hand, I don't need to see or hear sermons from advocates, until they accomplish what they promise. I get tired of auto emissions standards always getting stricter, while factories are allowed to 'grandfather' equipment to sidestep expensive and difficult improvements. I also am sick of hearing excuses for extreme environmental activists. Burning down buildings and destroying libraries is not an effective way to win my support. If I am spending more and working harder, just for someone's "green" image, I am going to become angry about it, and vote accordingly. Note to Mr. Nader - I am all for safe cars and a healthier world, but precious few of your stated plans work out, when I check the details and the cost. The government side of things is pretty dubious, too. The Federal government's achievements in the arena of the Environment always seem to come down to money. The Superfund has a budget now more than twenty times its original numbers, but its accomplishments have been so limited, the EPA has changed how it considers their work, counting even minimal changes as “success”. Call me cynical, but that sort of thing leaves me cold on the present course, as well. Especially when you can't be a Democrat without wanting to trash the existing business and industrial infrastructure, with no clear plan for a feasible improvement, and you can't be a Republican without supporting an infrastructure with a history of serious problems. We all deserve better.

This brings us to the election. Most Americans have a pretty even keel, but it's getting hard to have a civil debate on the issues. Just looking at the web, if you Google "Bush" and "Hate", you get 1.6 million responses Google "Kerry" and "Hate", and you get 666,000 responses. For comparison , "Clinton" "Hate" only gets 747,000 responses , and "Nixon" "Hate" gets a mere 187,000 responses . Did you get that? Both Kerry and Bush each get three times more "hate" responses than 'Tricky Dick' Nixon! That would seem a fair barometer for the mood this year. I won't even go into the available comment sites, partly because there are so many which invite personal attacks and profanity, some even including it in their site name! Bush has opened up the borders to Latinos in an unprecedented amnesty. This offended a number of conservatives . Yet some Hispanic groups still call Bush “repressive” and many rejected his actions as only a political ploy . I have yet to read a piece where the merits, costs and likely effects of the plan are seriously addressed. In years past, serious issues involving the welfare of tens of millions of people might be hotly debated, but at least they were not casually dismissed as merely a political tactic. There is a funny video going around, on JibJab , but it's funny because it reminds many people of the sometimes-juvenile sparring between the parties. President Bush and Senator Kerry largely remain above the fray (though during the primaries, Kerry made a few regrettable comments, like his Rolling Stone interview and his attacks on President Bush's National Guard service , while demanding his own service not be criticized, even implying that because he fought in Vietnam, his voting record as a Senator was above reproach ). Cheney proved he was also willing to take the gloves off, with a similar choice of retort to Kerry's earlier slur. Both sides have their attack dogs, and their more reasonable advocates. But all in all, most of us would like to have our questions answered, and not be served up the same rhetoric again and again.

I was getting pretty frustrated, when I saw an interview on "Dateline" last week. I had gotten used to hearing stars talk down to us average folk, as if we needed to be doing things more towards their perfect satisfaction. And yes, it happened again. But this time, one of the golden folk spoke up as if he understood the ordinary mind. So, there she was, Katie Couric, America's Sweetheart when she wasn't hoping Saddam might have escaped into Syria, or asking Marines if they were screwing up, talking to the stars of the new remake of "The Manchurian Candidate". She started off by homing in on Meryl Streep's hatred of President Bush's personal faith:

"Couric: "I know you were there. And in fact, I read your quote. You said -- you talked about President Bush and his invocation of religion and you said—"
Streep: "No, of Jesus."
Couric: "Of Jesus, sorry."
Streep: "Through the shock and awe, I wondered which of the megaton bombs Jesus, our president's personal savior, would have personally dropped on the sleeping families in Baghdad."

Such cheap shots went on for awhile, until Couric turned the mike to Mr. Denzel Washington, who quickly corrected Ms. Streep, with exchanges like this one:

Streep: "The money-changers should get out of Congress, I agree. And I agree, but he didn't—"
Washington: "He didn't. He didn't only say turn the other cheek though. You’ve got to read the whole book. That's not what all he said."
Streep: "Oh, I do read the whole book."
Washington: "I do too. And that's not all he said."
Washington: "Like I said, he did go into the temple and cleared the place well—"
Streep: "Of money, yeah."
Washington: "Okay, well, we're all—"
Streep: "Money's bad."
Washington: "We all make money. So does that make us bad? Maybe he's talking about us?"
Streep: "Well, yeah, maybe."

Now, I have no idea whom, if anyone, Denzel Washington plans to support for President, or if he'll even vote. But in that interview, I saw a man who not only understands his influence as a celebrity, but also accepts his responsibility for how he applies that influence. Even to the point of reminding some of his proud colleagues that they are actors and actresses, not authorities fit to pass judgment on Senators and Presidents on national television.

Just maybe, Denzel Washington represents that long-lost character in Hollywood. Maybe we can even get him to be an ethics donor for Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Bounce or No Bounce ,Maybe even a False Bounce?

Trolling through the Archives at Gallup this week, I came across the records of their polling trends for past Presidential elections. It’s fascinating to read how many people are predicting bounces for Kerry and/or Bush, when the history might not say what they think. Using the Gallup Polls as reference, I looked at the elections beginning in 1944 (in 1936 and 1940, there were no polls before the conventions, so the effects of the conventions cannot be measured).  I got the dates of the conventions from InfoPlease.

In 1944, polls before both conventions had FDR ahead, 47-45.  They were unchanged after the conventions, no bounce.  

In 1948, before the Republican Convention, Dewey led Truman 49-38.  After the Republican Convention, Dewey led Truman 48-37, no bounce.  Before and after the Democratic Convention, Truman trailed Dewey 48-37, no bounce.  

In 1952, before both conventions, Eisenhower led Stevenson 59-31.  After the conventions, Eisenhower led Stevenson 50-43, a 21-point bounce for Stevenson, but Eisenhower won easily in November anyway.  

In 1956, before both conventions, Eisenhower led Stevenson 61-37 (!).  After the conventions, Eisenhower led Stevenson 54-41, a 13-point bounce for Stevenson, but again, in November Eisenhower routed Stevenson.  

In 1960, before both conventions, Kennedy led Nixon 50-44.  After the conventions, they were tied 47-47, a 6-point bounce for Nixon.  

After 1960, the Republicans and Democrats began to hold their conventions further apart by date, and there are then polls in between the two conventions.

In 1964, before the Republican Convention, Goldwater trailed Johnson 76-20 (!!!).  After the convention, Goldwater trailed Johnson 59-31, a 28-point bounce for Goldwater.  Before the Democratic Convention, Johnson led Goldwater 65-29.  After the convention, Johnson led Goldwater 62-32, for a loss of six points, a negative bounce.   

Note that in 1952, 1956, and 1964, where a candidate was far ahead of his opponent, the trend was to close the gap.

In 1968, before the Republican Convention, Nixon led Humphrey 40-38.  After the convention, Nixon led Humphrey 45-29, a 14-point bounce.  Before the Democratic Convention, Humphrey trailed Nixon 45-29.  After the convention, Humphrey trailed Nixon 43-28, a 1-point bounce.  Note that the 1968 campaign is the first instance where the Convention shows a candidate clearly pulling away from his opponent.  
In 1972, before the Democratic Convention, McGovern trailed Nixon 53-37.  After the convention, McGovern trailed Nixon 57-31, a ten-point loss, or negative bounce.  Before the Republican Convention, Nixon led McGovern 64-30 (!).  After the convention, Nixon led McGovern 61-33, for a 14-point convention bounce.  

In 1976, before the Democratic Convention, Carter led Ford 53-36.  After the convention, Carter led Ford 62-29, a 16-point bounce.  Before the Republican Convention, Ford trailed Carter 51-36.  After the convention, Ford trailed Carter 51-40, for a modest 5-point bounce.  The 1976 campaign was the first election where both parties clearly got a bounce from their convention, though Carter got much more than Ford did.  

In 1980, before the Republican Convention, Reagan led Carter 37-34.  After the convention, Reagan led Carter 45-29, for a 13-point bounce.  Before the Democratic Convention, Carter trailed Reagan 45-29.  After the convention, Carter trailed Reagan 39-38, for a 15-point bounce. 1980 is the first year where substantial bounces cancelled each other out in the main.  Note also that by the election, Reagan had regained a substantial lead.  

In 1984, before the Democratic Convention, Mondale trailed Reagan 53-39.  After the convention, Mondale trailed Reagan 53-41, for a 2-point bounce.  Before the Democratic Convention, Reagan led Mondale 52-41.  After the convention, Reagan led Mondale 56-37, for an 8-point bounce.  Note here, that the closure in August did not keep Reagan from destroying Mondale in November.  

In 1988, before the Democratic Convention, Dukakis led GHW Bush 47-41.  After the convention, Dukakis led GHW Bush 54-37, for an 11-point bounce.  Before the Republican Convention, GHW Bush trailed Dukakis 49-42.  After the convention, GHW Bush led Dukakis 48-44, for an 11-point bounce.  This is the first election where the convention bounces cancelled each other out, yet the lead changed sides.  

In 1992, before the Democratic election, Clinton led GHW Bush 56-36.  After the convention, Clinton led GHW Bush 56-37, for a net loss of one point.  Before the Republican Convention, GHW Bush trailed Clinton 54-39.  After the convention, GHW Bush trailed Clinton 51-42, for a 6-point bounce.  Bush was not, however, able to close ground after that point.  

In 1996, before the Republican Convention, Dole trailed Clinton 53-36.  After the convention, Dole trailed Clinton 53-37, giving Dole a 1-point bounce.  Before the Democratic Convention, Clinton led Dole 54-36.  After the convention, Clinton led Dole 53-37, for a net loss of 2 points.  That was not nearly enough to allow Dole to close in on Clinton.  

In 2000, before the Republican Convention, GW Bush trailed Gore 47-46.  After the convention, GW Bush still trailed Gore 47-46, no bounce at all.  Before the Democratic Convention, Gore led GW Bush 47-44.  After the convention, Gore led GW Bush 47-45, for a net loss of 1-point.  

In the fifteen elections starting with 1944, the Republicans have averaged 4.8% bounce from the convention, the Democrats have averaged 3.5%.  However, from this record, we can also see that while large bounces are possible, small bounces are as well, and so are no changes, and even losses.  Further, there does not appear to be a direct relation to gains from the party convention, and actual victory in the elections.  So, even a big bounce could end up being a false bounce.  

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Missing: The Fine Print in the Clintons' Speeches

For reasons I don't really understand, I watched Bill & Hillary speak at the DNC (Deliberately Nuanced Convention) in Bahston last night.  I saw and heard what I expected.  Thinking it through, what struck me, though, was what was not said. Hillary spoke first, technically to introduce Bubba, but her patient acceptance of Democrat adulation left no doubt in my mind, she was already thinking ahead to her 2008 Nomination Acceptance Speech.  Certainly she was in full campaign mode.  I don't have a copy of the transcript (I looked, but couldn't find one online) of her speech, but it seems to me that when speaking of the great Democratic ideals and plans, Hillary said "we" a lot (sounded downright royal), but didn't mention John Kerry by name very much.  Almost as if there was a little imp on one shoulder, telling Hillary she might suggest a "Draft Hillary" movement,  which appeared a very feasible option while she stood before the cameras.   Hillary made sure to push all the required buttons, and to avoid hot topics.  For instance, she asserted the need for immediate resumption of the harvest of stem cells, but never once did Hillary mention where stem cells come from, or why the issue might be contentious to people who consider the ethical implications.  Hillary made one misstep, however.  When discussing Healthcare, Hillary boasted "I know about Health Care".  Well, ma'am, for certain many of us recall your intense desire to add yet another layer of bureaucracy and expense onto the system, and your belief that you had the right to dictate how 300 million Americans must address their medical needs, despite not a single vote to elected office at the time.  One wonders what, if you were made President, would happen to that last lingering vestige of responsibility to the people who have to live with such decisions.

Then up rolled Bill.  I have read quite a few  columns and comments about how well he did at the podium.  On the drive to work, I heard the radio host opine that Bill Clinton could beat either George W. Bush or John Kerry this year, and maybe should.  But then, that has aways been Mr. Clinton's forte' - spin, delivery, and evasion of unpleasant facts.  Why change the script now? Bill is smart, keenly aware that since John Kerry has so often noted that this election  is a referendum on George W. Bush, he needs to hit Bush where he can.  Not the economy!  Oh sure, Clinton bandied out the "lost jobs" fiction again, because that is part of the Democrat Doxology, never mind what the Household Survey says.  Never mind the million-plus new jobs this year, gotta pretend they didn't happen.  And there is not a Democrat alive, who doesn't worry what will happen if the average American realize the GDP growth is strong, along with Real per-capita Income increases, Business and Housing Starts, all in all a strong Recovery growing into a boom.  So Bubba skated around it with a few one-line dismissals of Bush's acocmplishments, and addressed Kerry the Warrior.  But really, it was Kerry the Cooperative. Kerry the International Sophisticate.  Bubba hinted at a Rambo headband somewhere in Kerry's wardrobe, but made clear it wouldn't be used without permission from our friends, presumably the ones in West-Central Europe. 9/11 was noted by everyone who spoke, and all agreed it was a terrible tragedy.  Like it was a hurricane, or maybe a bad round of the flu.  No mention of Osama bin Laden, not a word about Saddam Hussein, not a word about Al Qaeda.  No, 9/11 means only three things to Bubba and the Bobble-Delegates: 

[] A terrible tragedy, which we can only avoid by opening our hearts and bank accounts to other countries;
[] A very important film by that sagacious malcontent, Monsieur Moore;
[] A pretext for Republican aggression against harmless Middle Eastern nations, designed by President Bush, who listens to no one but his own cronies.

And that's what is so good about last night's speeches.  Smooth as they were, they only appealed to people who already hate George W. Bush, who will vote for John Kerry simply because he is not Mr. Bush.  People with very valid questions found no answers last night.  People looking to find what the Democrats are all about, received the same bitter pablum the Left has been serving up since February. They missed a chance, and with Governor Dean, Ron Reagan, and Senator Ted Kennedy coming next to the podium, it looks like they won't have another chance at reaching the average American until Edwards makes his case.  And unless Edwards and Kerry decide to radically change their style and tactics, what we saw last night will likely be repeated all over again, and the average American will turn to President Bush in August for an explanation about what the present situation is really leading towards, and whom he can trust.  

The Iraq Fitnah

A favorite aphorism of many lecturers, is the cautionary pronouncement; “Those who do not learn from History are condemned to repeat it.”  For some reason, however, I cannot remember anyone following through to the obvious counterpoint: What happens when a leader does learn from History, and applies what he knows to his plans?  We may very well be seeing the answer to that question, in President Bush’s plans for the Middle East. 
The 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US-led coalition has been widely ridiculed and derided in many places.  The most common charge claims that Bush had no idea what he was getting the nation into, or what consequences his decision would bring.  Both claims, like so many attacks against the President, are false, and demonstrate only the inability of Bush’s critics to see beyond their own subjective opinions.  The actions taken by the Bush Administration in Iraq, are essential components of a policy which not only has the potential to revolutionize the notion of representative democracy in the Middle East, but also to render obsolete the use of terrorist attacks as a tool for political position.

The first point to make, is that it was unavoidably necessary to invade Iraq.  Iraq under Saddam Hussein represented a triple threat:  First, Saddam Hussein supported Terrorism.  He paid money to terrorist organizations and to the families of suicide bombers who killed Israelis.  He stockpiled thousands of explosive vests in military warehouses, where US forces discovered them. He established and supplied terrorist training camps in Iraq, such as Salman Pak .  He hosted and sheltered terrorist leaders such as Abu Abbas , Abu Nidal , and Carlos “The Jackal”. Saddam’s Baath Party officials had direct meetings with leaders from Al-Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and other international terrorist groups .  Second, Iraq tried to invade Iran, and followed up with an invasion of Kuwait.  He mobilized his army twice during Clinton’s terms as US President, forcing Clinton to deploy troops each time .  Third, He used WMD against Iran , and against the Kurds , as well as using prisoners to develop bioweapons , including two previously unknown weaponized strains (Brucella and Congo Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF)) discovered by David Kay’s inspectors. Saddam broke the terms of his cease-fire by hiding his WMD from inspectors for 12 years, committed an act of war by attempting to kill former President George HW Bush , and used the UN’s own Oil-for-Food program to buy prohibited weapons .  Saddam Hussein represented a grave threat to the region, a man with a track record of aggressive violence, a pathological hatred of many enemies, and an utter ruthlessness to use any means at hand to advance his aim.  The second point then, comes down to method.  Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan tried to buy out Saddam Hussein, to the tune of ten billion dollars. Saddam preferred power to luxury, and so ignored the offer.  A number of Imams approached Saddam in the name of Islam, but since Saddam was a Muslim in name only, this went nowhere.  President Clinton warned Saddam off, including air strikes to emphasize the point, but Saddam continued his preparations.  All the possible options were explored and removed from consideration, until only 4 remained: Sanctions, Assassination, a UN-approved invasion, or unilateral action by the United States.

Sanctions were tried for 12 years, and by now everyone has heard about the UN’s Oil-for-Food scandal, so there is no point going back to that failed attempt, except to note that twelve years is quite long enough to have tried the option.  Assassination may or may not have been approved by President Clinton, but in any case it would have proved a poor measure; If one of his sons (the noble qualities of Uday and Qusay rivalled the meanest attributes of the Marquis de Sade) had not simply become the new Thuggus Maximus, it’s entirely possible the vacuum would have been filled either by another Baathist despot, or else an angry mullah in the mold of Khomeini could have taken the reins of Iraq.  One can only imagine an evil comparable to Hussein’s, but in the form of an even less predictable enemy.  As for anything by the United Nations, Bush knew early on the track record of the UN’s military actions.  In over a half-century of existence, the UN has sanctioned exactly two military actions: the response to the Communist invasion of South Korea, and the first Gulf War.  In neither case was peace ever accomplished by anything done by the UN . Korea remains split to this day, to the happiness of no one.  And the failure to resolve the Iraq issue in 1991 is the source of the present difficulty.  The UN did nothing to stop the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or to protect fleeing refugees from Somalia and the Sudan.  And the massacre in Rwanda is a landmark of UN indifference.  There is absolutely no reason to believe that the United Nations is capable or willing to resolve any sort of military conflict, or effectively address any sort of threat to the region.  That leaves what happened, direct military action, led by the one nation able to lead such an effort, as the irreducible option.

At this point, the critics start up again, this time insisting that the US is doomed to failure in Iraq, for a variety of reasons.  But there are a number of reasons to believe that, as before, Bush’s critics are wrong.  Some people actually seem to believe that the Arab people are unable or unwilling to pursue Democracy.  Besides the blatant racism and bigotry of such thinking, it can be quickly disproven by simply pointing to the many Americans of Arab descent living quite well in the United States .  And there’s more.  When the FBI arrested Ahmad Musa Jibril and his father Musa Abdallah Jibril on September 9, 2002, it was on tips from Muslims in Dearborn Michigan, alarmed by the tone and message of the militants.  Mahmoud Youssef Kourani raised money for the terrorist group Hezbollah, but his American brother discovered his activities and turned him in.  OK, some say, but what does that prove about Iraqi Muslims?  Well, consider the capture of Saddam Hussein last November.  He was caught hiding in a spider hole, and it sure looked sweet finding him huddled in the mud, but seriously, just how do you suppose the troops knew where to look?  Yeah, they’re thorough, but the fact is clear that someone tipped off the troops.  All right, that’s a big-time loser worth a big reward, but it tracks with local warnings to US forces about planned attacks , and informants' directions to hidden weapons and wanted leaders.  The simple fact is, more and more Iraqis are sick of the fighting, and they realize the US forces are the key to resolving the conflict.  Now, Iraq has held the first truly free elections in its history, with a growing number of Iraqis not only optimistic about their future, but grateful to the United States for the way it is handling the rebuilding of Iraq, and the organization of its future government.  This is happening because of a fundamental mistake made by bin Laden.

Bin Laden correctly understood the lesson of Khomeini, that many Muslims saw the United States not as an empire, but as a seducer.  But bin Laden soiled the teachings of Islam by advocating violence as Jihad, even when used against women and children, even when used against people who had done no offense to Islam, even when done against other Muslims.  Bin Laden has already lost the support of most Muslims, provided the U.S. does one thing, which it is doing now: Keep its promises to return Iraq to the Iraqis, and leave the Hajib alone, especially Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem.  It is beginning to dawn on many Muslims, that even if the U.S. keeps a military presence in Iraq, it will likely lead to removing troops from Saudi Arabia, which is exactly what two of the most important groups of Muslims, the Fundamentalists and the Conservatives, want most.   The war in Iraq is also paying dividends in other countries.  Following the success of the US-led Coalition into Iraq, Libya announced a sudden decision to cooperate fully to disarm from its WMD programs. Iran followed by announcing it would unilaterally accept IAEA inspectors, even though those were often led by American scientists.  That’s progress by any standard, and it came directly as a result of the US actions in Iraq.  Bin Laden also accidentally gave an insight into Arab mistrust of the US plan. On his October 7, 2001 tape, bin Laden claimed that Islam had suffered “humiliation and disgrace” for “more than eighty years”.  That brings us back to 1918, when the Ottoman Sultanate lost to the Allied powers in World War I.

As a consequence of the war, Britain claimed the provinces named as Iraq and Palestine, while France took a region named Syria.  “Palestine” was later divided into sub-regions named Trans-Jordan (present day Jordan) and Cis-Jordan (which includes present day Israel); “Syria” was divided into sub-regions named Syria and Lebanon, which later became the countries by those names.  After World War 1, the Arabs discovered to their anger that they had been lied to by Britain in the Balfour declaration.  The only clear winner in the region was ibn Saud, whose private agreement with Britain secured his control over al-Hasa and most of the Nejd.  Other men in power would take his example and make their private agreements to establish their thrones.  In March 1920, an elected assembly proclaimed Feisal king of the sovereign state of Syria.  France’s response was to invade Syria, seizing Damascus on July 25.  France followed up in 1925, dividing its territory into four parts, including Lebanon, a Syrian republic, present-day Libya, a district of Latakia.  The Arabs revolted against the new foreign rulers, but were suppressed ruthlessly.  Britain gradually began to relinquish its hold on Arab lands, especially Egypt in 1936, and recognized Shah Pahlavi in Iran and ibn Saud in the Hejaz.  After World War 2, the fate of the Middle East fell into the hands of the victors, including Britain and France.  So, as recently as a generation ago, the Middle East found itself unable to decide its own affairs, relegated to the status of pawns.  From there, the condition of Arabs, Jews, and other peoples in the region have taken one of three broad paths. 

Some, mostly those nations which were Soviet client states, were run by despots and ruthless dictatorships.  Countries like Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Syria all learned their ways of government from Soviet patrons, who preferred to keep the people in those nations from ruling over themselves, especially after Egypt found it did not need the Soviets, and threw them out of the country in 1974.

The second path is of religious radicalism, as evidenced in Iran, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, where groups of religious ‘purists’ have risen against American and other Western nations and people; cooperation and mutual benefit is rejected as no more than lies and imperialism.

The third path, however, is very real.  It shows up in Jordan’s restraint in their relations with Israel, a thing not mentioned much in the news.  It shows up in Egypt, which has shown remarkable stability, even in the face of the assassination of President Anwar el-Sadat; most people are unaware that Hosni Mubarek was Sadat's Vice-President, and succeeded Sadat in much the same way that LBJ suceeded JFK.  When George W. Bush speaks about the Middle East, he is in large part speaking of these nations which are the foundation for the future Arab world.  In Islam, 'Fitnah' is a test for the faithful, one with special significance. Iraq is just such a test.  If (I think when) the United States shows it can and will do as it promised, the whole region will come to a better understanding not of the United States, but also of Islam's proper role in its future.  George W. Bush already knows that lesson of History.

An Appointment at 10:37

I was preparing a column on a different topic, but then I saw this, from the New York Times , July 22:

“Flight 93 became part of American lore when passengers banded together to try to storm the cockpit of the hijacked airliner, which crashed in Pennsylvania. New details of the hijacking and the passenger uprising were made public in the report released today by the 9/11 commission.”

“Of the 33 passengers on the plane who were not hijackers, at least 10, and two crew members, spoke to people on the ground. At least five of the calls included discussion of the World Trade Center. At 9:57, about seven minutes before the end, one of the passengers ended her conversation saying: "Everyone's running up to first class. I've got to go. Bye."

"The report indicates that Mr. Jarrah, at the controls of United 93, did what many airline pilots have fantasized about since the hijackings: tried to maneuver the plane sharply, rolling and pitching, to keep control of the cockpit. It apparently did not work; the plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

"The report does not clarify whether the hijackers' goal for Flight 93 was the White House or the Capitol, but indicates that the hijackers tuned a cockpit radio to the frequency of a navigation beacon at National Airport, just across the Potomac River from the capital, erasing any doubt about the region of their intended destination.”

“The hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them," according to the report, which seems to indicate that the hijackers themselves crashed the plane.

"With the sounds of the passenger counterattack continuing, the aircraft plowed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 580 miles per hour, about 20 minutes' flying time from Washington, D.C," according to the report.”

I don’t know what your plans are, for remembering September 11th’s third anniversary.  But at 10:37 AM Eastern time, I will be saluting 33 ordinary people who showed incredible valor and courage in the face of certain death.  We will never know how many other lives they saved, but we know what a ‘hero’ looks like in our generation because of them, and others like them. Please visit this website to learn more about them.