Friday, April 4 2003
MICHAEL KELLY:
I hate eulogies, especially from people who didn't really know the deceased. But that's the thing: as someone who has been a professional follower of opinion writers over the last three years I feel as if I did know Michael Kelly - even though we never met.

It's a perfect example of what great writers do. They are a unique combination of conversationalist, debater, and provocateur that can generate a personal connection with their readers. It's a rare talent. Let's face it, there are a lot of brilliant people in the world but only a few brilliant writers.

Because in the end brilliant thoughts are useless without the ability to articulate them. And writing is both the most difficult and most powerful method of communicating ideas. Stephen King describes the art of writing fiction using one simple word: telepathy. Think about it for a second and you see he's exactly right. It's the ability to transfer an image or thought from your mind's eye into that of another person.

For anyone who's ever read opinion writers of the highest caliber - of Michael Kelly's caliber - you know exactly what this feels like. Sometimes it's comes like a revelation, other times it arrives feeling more like a clarification of thoughts you've already had but just couldn't quite express. It always feels sharp and refreshing, and it leaves you with a sense of admiration for the author who didn't just get it right, but got it EXACTLY right. More often that not, Michael Kelly's columns generated those feelings in a great number of people, myself included.

There is probably no greater compliment to be paid to an author than to say you'll miss reading his work. We will unquestionably miss waking up to Michael Kelly's columns here at RCP. - T. Bevan 4:11 pm

FEEL GOOD STORY: Just a great story. J. McIntyre 10:23 am

THE UN IS BACK: UN humanitarian experts are back in Iraq and assessing the conditions on the ground. This, I think, is good news. The sooner we can get help in ramping up humanitarian efforts the better off the Iraqi people will be. No doubt there are political benefits as well to utilizing the UN's expertise and manpower in the humanitarian effort.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, Colin Powell tossed out a fig leaf to the UN over its potential role in the larger reconstruction of Iraq, suggesting that Kofi Annan appoint a "special coordinator" to work with the interim coalition authority in Iraq, supervise the humanitarian effort and to be the "eyes and ears of the U.N. in the area."

This, of course, is like the coach of the team telling you what a great opportunity it is for you to be the water boy, and how it's a really important part of the team's overall success.

It didn't take our good buddy Dominique de Villepin long to become indignant:

"We must stabilize Iraq and the region. The United Nations is the only international organization that can give legitimacy to this."

Someone should tell Mssr. Villepin to stop talking about the UN's "legitimacy" - that question was settled weeks ago. It reminds me of the hilarious scene from the Princess Bride where Vezzini (Wallace Shawn) keeps describing things as "inconceivable." Finally, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) turns to Vezzini and says, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

THE REASON WE'RE THERE: The AP reports:

U.S. troops found thousands of boxes of white powder, nerve agent antidote and Arabic documents on how to engage in chemical warfare at an industrial site south of Baghdad, a U.S. officer said Friday.

Two questions: was this a site on the UN weapons inspectors' list? Would Hans Blix have reported it anyway?
(Late Update on WMD: Coalition Discovers Suspicious Sites Near Baghdad,
Signs of Ricin, Botulinum Found in Northern Iraq)

MASS SURRENDER: The Associated Press is reporting that 2,500 Republican Guard soldiers have surrendered on the outskirts of Baghdad. Wise decision. Hopefully it's also a symbolic decision that will resonate through the rest of the resisting Iraqi forces.

MASS CONFRONTATION: Just a tidbit from the Boston Globe about a physical confrontation that took place between a professor and a National Guard recruiter at the University of Massachusetts. - T. Bevan 7:48 am

Thursday, April 3 2003
THE MEDIA PENDULUM SWINGS AGAIN:
Today the news is all good. Our troops are surging towards Baghdad, rumors are rampant that Hussein and his sons have fled Baghdad (that is of course if they are even still alive). The vaunted, "elite"Republican Guard has either been obliterated or has just melted away. Will there be another media pendulum swing back this weekend or next week if there is a 'pause' or two before the final collapse of Hussein's regime? Who knows.

Except for the truly out of touch the final outcome of this military campaign was always never in doubt. That was true on day two, day seven, today, and it will be true if this war is still being fought three weeks from today. The media hysteria the past ten days led by the NY Times, LA Times, etc... has been pathetic and sickening. Bill Kristol summed it up well in the Weekly Standard:

These liberals--better, leftists--hate George W. Bush so much they can barely bring themselves to hope America wins the war to which, in their view, the president has illegitimately committed the nation. They hate Don Rumsfeld so much they can't bear to see his military strategy vindicated. They hate John Ashcroft so much they relish the thought of his Justice Department flubbing the war on terrorism. They hate conservatives with a passion that seems to burn brighter than their love of America, and so, like M. de Villepin, they can barely bring themselves to call for an American victory.

It is this mindset that allows for the literal misrepresentation of the truth on the front pages of major newspapers all across this country. This military campaign will be over at some point in the near future, whether that comes in four days or four weeks, either way from a military standpoint this will have been a short war.

I have no idea what is going to happen in the next 2-5 days. The balance of news this morning seems to indicate that we may be on the verge of the tipping point of the regime. On the other hand, it would not surprise me one bit if the Battle for Baghdad over the coming days becomes quite messy. This of course would provide the media another opportunity to run a whole string of new 'quaqmire' stories and nightmare scenarios of prolonged door-to-door urban fighting.

I do know that we are going to win. I've always known that we were going to win. I've also had immense faith in the leadership of Secretary Rumsfeld. I read Sy Hersh's hatchet job in The New Yorker on Monday which included gems like:

"It’s a stalemate now” - "The carriers are going to run out of jdams” - "The Marines are worried as hell" - "The only way out now is back, and to hope for some kind of a miracle." - “Hope is not a course of action.”

After finishing this article, described by the liberal blogger Josh Marshall as "unquestionably today's required reading," my first two thoughts were Bob Woodward's interview with President Bush where the President looked Woodward in the eye and said “Seymour Hersh is a liar” and, second Rumsfeld sounds like the exact kind of person I would want running the Pentagon.

One of the reasons the media criticism of Operation Iraqi Freedom was able to reach the fever pitch it did was all the carping from ex-military officers who don't like Rumsfeld's vision of the new military. That's fine. This Secretary of Defense understands that the wars and conflicts of the new millennium are not going to be fought the way they were fifty, thirty or even ten years ago. This unnerves many in the bureaucratic echelons of our armed forces, but that is a good thing not a bad one.

The combination of liberal media and disgruntled officers makes Rumsfeld a vulnerable target and leaves more than a few hoping Rummy gets a very public comeuppance. The truth will come out in the following weeks and months, and we will see where the chips fall regarding whether or not this battle plan was well conceived. J. McIntyre 9:09 am

Wednesday, April 2 2003
THE STRAIN OF WAR: It's beginning to show on the President and on the coalition. As difficult as it might be for our troops to show restraint in the face of uncertain and terrorist-like tactics from Iraqi combatants, right now it still remains a political necessity. Yes, protection of our forces is paramount and yes, we want this thing over as fast as possible. But we still need to keep our heads, and we need to keep the coalition tight. And that means addressing the concerns of the Brits, both their military commanders and their political leaders.

U of M: The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday. One thing that has bothered me about the discussion of affirmative action over the past few months is that it doesn't address the broader issue of education in the country. Let me explain.

Affirmative action was originally designed as a temporary measure to address educational (and economic) equality. Decades later, despite the significant progress that has been made in the area of educational opportunity for minorities, liberals tell us that affirmative action is still necessary.

The rationale for this is that diversity - not necessarily educational opportunity - is now seen as the main goal. This allows for an incredible paradox: liberals who fervently support affirmative action also vehemently oppose any changes to the current status quo of our primary education system - a system that for decades has shortchanged minority students and continues to churn out underqualified applicants to universities across the country. Put another way, one of the main reasons we're still having a debate about affirmative action in this country is because our public school system, despite trillions of dollars of spending over the last fifty years, continues to fail to produce a broader and deeper pool of minority applicants. And the answer isn't more money - it's school choice. - T. Bevan 7:50 am

Tuesday, April 1 2003
KRUGMANIZING YOUR ARGUMENT: Yes, I've created another new word - this time to describe what happens when you take a rational argument and then absolutely prostitute it for partisan political gain. You end up losing credibility and leave the impression that the argument isn't what matters - scoring cheap points is the true goal..

If you strip away the snide potshots in the opening grafs, Krugman is essentially making a reasonable point in his column today: We should take a hard look at the formula for dispensing Homeland Security grants to individual states to make sure they address issues of population and risk. We don't need to be spending millions and millions of dollars in South Dakota when those dollars could provide more effective defenses in New York, Los Angeles, or Washington DC. It's a common sense point that I think most everyone would acknowledge.

But Krugman's insatiable partisanship won't let him stop at common sense. Instead, he makes a mockery of himself by suggesting that the discrepancies generated by the funding formula are.......wait for it......a Bush political strategy for 2004! I'm afraid if anyone is looking like Captain Queeg these days it's poor Mr. Krugman, who sees political conspiracies everywhere:

Why adopt such a strange formula? Well, maybe it's not that strange: what it most resembles is the Electoral College, which also gives disproportionate weight (though not that disproportionate) to states with small populations. And with a few exceptions, small-population states are red states — indeed, the small-state bias of the Electoral College is what allowed Mr. Bush to claim the White House despite losing the popular vote. It's hard not to suspect that the formula — which makes absolutely no sense in terms of national security — was adopted precisely because it caters to that same constituency. (To be fair, there's one big "red state" loser from the formula: Texas. But one of these days, sooner than most people think, Texas may well turn blue.)

Pay close attention to that last line, which undermines Krugman's entire argument and is therefore relegated to a parenthetical aside and coupled with the bizarre notion that the President is sticking it to his home state because it may potentially vote Democratic at some point in the future.

Now let's move to a news story today in the Washington Post addressing the same issue. I suggest you read the whole thing, but here are the grafs relevant to our discussion:

But Johndroe said the $2 billion supplemental budget will be distributed mostly on the original formula, which comes from the USA Patriot Act, passed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Among the formula's authors was then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), whose state gets more than six times as much money per capita as California under the formula. A spokesman for Leahy said smaller states need more money because their communities do not have large standing police forces to respond to emergencies. "Small states have security concerns, too," the spokesman said. "Protection of Vermont's northern border benefits the whole country. What if a terrorist got across and went to New York?" (emphasis added)

So which sounds like a more plausible cause for the fact that the distribution formula is out of whack: That President Bush and Karl Rove sat down in the Oval Office with an eye on reelection in 2004 and devised the formula themselves, and then slid it into the Patriot Act when no was looking OR that Congress devised and passed a formula that satisfied the needs of individual elected representatives and their constituencies but ending up making very little sense from a practical point of view?

Either Congress is functioning as it always has or the President - who Krugman considers to be a complete incompetent - just orchestrated the biggest coup in modern political history. Hmmm. Occam's Razor anyone?

DOES RUMSFELD NEED DEFENDING?: As usual the Wall Street Journal does an incomparable job this morning in defense of the Secretary, as did Tim Hames yesterday in the Times of London. Despite all the carping at Rummy from Sy Hersh, Josh Marshall, and miscellaneous "unnamed sources" there is little to no evidence detracting from the fact this war is an unparalleled success so far.

I think everyone acknowledges that the most difficult days still lie ahead, and things could very well get ugly as coalition forces move into Baghdad. Still, if things proceed only half as well as they have thus far, I suspect history will look very favorably on the accomplishments of this war - and on the men who planned it and ran it.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "This book is dedicated to the people of America - strong, outspoken, intense in their convictions, sometimes wrong-headed but always generous and brave, with a passion for justice no nation has ever matched." - Paul Johnson, A History of the American People. - T. Bevan 7:11 am

Monday, March 31 2003
MORALITY GAP - PART II: What to make of al-Jazeera, the media outfit that pumps inflammatory, graphic, and misleading images throughout the Arab world? Yesterday Jihad Ballout, a spokesman for al-Jazeera, defended the network's coverage of the war in an interview on NPR (I'll take a pass on THAT low-hanging fruit), including their repeated airing of gruesome footage of executed American POW's. Not showing the tape, he said, would have deprived its viewers of the unvarnished truth about the war. Journalistic integrity, Mr. Ballout claims, is why Al-Jazeera won't censor the horror of war.

It's a nice rhetorical trick for an Islamic propaganda machine to invoke the concept of freedom of the press, but anyone who has an ounce of objectivity understands that al-Jazeera's motives are less than pure. Indeed, their coverage is carefully constructed to mislead, and to present a view of war to the Islamic world that the British government is describing as a "complete fiction."

This leads me back to the point I made on Friday. Most Western media outlets, in addition to being confined by professional principles of accuracy and honesty (with the possible exception of the BBC as we've seen), also adhere to an unwritten moral code which simply will not allow them to publish gruesome images of war - regardless of the ratings such images might generate or the passions they might inflame. To the American media horrific visual images of decapitations and executions are taboo, to al-Jazeera they are the meat and potatoes of a daily broadcast.

This isn't to say that Americans wouldn't tune in to see such images, surely they would. But there is a significant cultural difference at work here, as well as a religious one. Al-Jazeera is not interested in presenting the news from an Arab worldview, it is using the medium to try and foment feelings of religious fervor, of retribution, and of jihad.

BATTLE FOR THE MIND OF THE PRESIDENT: These behind-the-scene stories about the machinations of the Bush administration are fascinating to read, but they really don't provide any level of certainty as to what is truly going on. By the way, is it even news anymore that there are some "unnamed sources" in the State Department bitching about Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz?

THE PUBLIC: Despite all of the handwringing in the media over the twelve-day-old war, the public seems to be quite comfortable with where we are and what we're doing in Iraq. I think the reason for the steady support is contained in the answer to this question:

Do you feel that you have a clear idea of what this war is all about — that is, what we are fighting for?

Eighty one percent said yes - even though support for the war overall is only 70%. In other words, most everyone in the country understands the objectives for being in Iraq - even if they don't all agree with these objectives. When this number starts to slip and people lose sight of what we're fighting for then the Bush administration should start to worry.

MR. DEGENOVA: By now you've heard about his statement hoping for "a million Mogadishus." The guys at Powerline have more on the Nutty Professor. - T. Bevan 7:20 am

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