Saturday, October 14, 2006

Osama bin Laden, Somalia, Cut and Run, Clinton Smacks Down Wallace, and other Important Stuff

It so happens that the week The Big Dawg Layeth the Smacketh Down on Chris Wallace and Fox "news" I was guest-posting over at No More Mister Nice Blog. You can read my post on the Clinton-Fox News dust up here.

The accusation that raised Clinton's ire was Wallace suggesting, on the basis of Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, that Osama bin Laden had been emboldened by "Clinton's" hasty withdrawal from Somalia after American soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

Well, I've been reading The Looming Tower, and finally got to the section of the book where Wright makes the statement. It's on page 188. Here is the quote:

The downing of those two American helicopters in October 1993, however, became the turning point in the war. Enraged Somali tribesmen triumphantly dragged the bodies of the dead crewmen through the streets of Mogadishu, a sight that prompted President Clinton to quickly withdraw all American soldiers from the country. Bin Laden's analysis of the American character had been proven correct.

As I linked to in my post, Glenn Greenwald has demonstrated that this rendition of history is completely erroneous. It was Republicans in Congress that demanded an immediate withdrawal and President Clinton and Secretary of State Christopher (and Senator John Kerry) that urged the need to stay in Somalia as long as necessary to fulfill the nation's obligation and not "cut and run".

Wright doesn't have any footnotes in his book to document his breezy statement about Clinton's leading the cut and run brigade in 1993. So it's an unfortunate inclusion in a book that is otherwise informative and intriguing.

For example, at least through page 200, Wright paints a picture of Bin Laden that is at odds with his mythical image. According to Wright, Bin Laden didn't have much to do with routing the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. He did help recruit non-Afghan Arabs to go to Afghanistan for jihad against the Soviet Union and helped fund those who went, but his rag-tag group of Arabs appears to have been at best highly peripheral to the conflict in Afghanistan, whose own natives were the most responsible (and suffered the most casualties) in driving the Soviet Union from their country.

Bin Laden also has a penchant for claiming responsibility for various acts of terrorism or resistance, whatever one's interpretation. For instance, Bin Laden claimed to have been the inspiration for, if not the architect of, the Black Hawk down episode, which he was not. Bin Laden also appears to have benefited from a largely unfounded legend surrounding his Afghanistan adventure in the 1980's against the Soviets.

Bin Laden also isn't much of a business-man (although his father was) and at this point in the book, Bin Laden has had his family funding cut-off.

But he does have a certain charisma that effectively captures the dual motives of reformer and nihilist that embodies the divergent group of characters that come to Sudan to enlist with Bin Laden's Al Qaeda outfit. At this point in the book, Egypt and Saudia Arabia (Bin Laden's home country) have tried to get Bin Laden to quit his jihad against existing Arab governments in Algeria and Yemen (not to mention their own). There also appears to have been an ill-faited assassination attempt on Bin Laden in Sudan, which will lead him to leave that country for Afghanistan.

I'm disappointed Wright makes such an erroneous accusation about Clinton in his book. It reduces my trust of the rest of his account. But it reflects the necessity for verifying offhand comments in books about any leaders, whether they be Republican or Democrat. So let Wright's statement serve as a cautionary reminder of the need to be at least somewhat skeptical of qualitative value judgments, along with outright statements of supposed facts.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Why I am a Liberal Democrat

Glenn Greenwald:

On every level, it is difficult to envision a political party more hostile to individual liberty than the current Bush-led Republicans.

I might add, it's difficult to envision a political party more hostile to individual liberty than the Republican Party over the past 40 years.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Persecuted Christians?

From Tapped:

AN ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION. If you've yet to take in the extraordinary New York Times series on the business of religion that Scott flagged yesterday, I urge you to take a look before it gets locked up behind the Times's pay-for-play archive walls. The multitude of exemptions enjoyed by religious organizations and their pastors that business reporter Diana B. Henriques has chronicled is truly amazing. Did you know that the Rev. Rick Warren (he of The Purpose-Driven Life) enjoys a tax exemption on his housing?

Pastor Warren argued that the tax break is essential to poorly paid clergy members who serve society.

The tax break is not available to the staff at secular nonprofit organizations whose scale and charitable aims compare to those of religious ministries like Pastor Warren's church, or to poorly paid inner-city teachers and day care workers who also serve their communities.

The great state of Florida seems to pop up time and again in the series. Henriques reports that Governor Jeb Bush signed into law an exemption for religion-oriented theme parks, and notes that, despite the finding of such laws in other states as unconstitutional, Florida continues to exempt Bibles and other religious literature from sales taxes. The publications exemption is being fought, Henriques writes, "almost single-handedly," by a Wiccan lawyer named Heather Morcroft. (You go, girl!)

'Values' Declines as Issue in Ohio

Economic Woes Boost Democrats

Although this Wash Post article might at first glance appear to be good news for Democrats this year, it may be at best only temporary good news for liberals.

This is because, aside from the fact no one has voted yet, there are two problems--for liberals--the article consciously or unconsciously brings out.

The first point is, to the extent that "values" issues are being subsumed this year by economic concerns, Democrats in Ohio (and elsewhere) are not confronting the cultural issues head-on. They're merely hoping voters care more about the economy and the Ohio Republican Party's scandals. So the debate about individual privacy, civil liberties, the separation of church and state, and social enlightenment generally just gets kicked to the curb this election cycle. If Democrats fail to address these issues, to take the radical right head-on, these issues, and the Democrat's problem responding to them will just hang out at the back of the bar waiting for the next election and Democrats will be back to where they started, or worse.

The second point, one the article is more explicit about, is the fact that to the extent cultural issues are a factor in Ohio, the leading state Democratic candidate is using his ministerial credentials and anti-gun control position as cover, helping to further mute, at least this year, the divisiveness and Constitutional implications of the radical right's authoritarian agenda.

In both cases, Democrats in Ohio (if not elsewhere around the country) are continuing to avoid the need to confront the Christian Right's rhetoric and agenda. And in the long run this is bad for liberals. It will mean future Democratic candidates will continue to emphasize their lack of ideology and their "centrist" positions, all the while what is meant by "centrist" or the center keeps getting shoved further right.

I recognize I may sound a bit too alarmist and pessimistic. After all, what are Democrats supposed to do in a state, and a country, where at least a large plurality of people believe the earth is 6,000 years old, slight majorities say the Bible is literal, inspired, and inerrant history, and larger majorities believe (or hope) that when they die they plan on making residence in heavenly mansions?

Well, if author Sam Harris is close to being prescient, our failure as a society, as a species, to confront our fear-based, non-testable, envidence-lacking assumptions and prejudices (particularly those concerning what happens to us after death) means we may fail to solve the most far-ranging problems facing the global community. Not to mention that if we fail to do so, we may also succeed in backing ourselves into a religious-fascist corner where individual liberities and the value of each human life are treated as a poor second cousin and given a back seat to puritanical religious demands, if not treated as treasonous, deviant subversions.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Iraq: Worse than you think, Part XVI

Fareed Zakaria:

CBS News's Lara Logan has filed astonishing reports on the Health Ministry, which is run by supporters of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. According to Logan, hospitals in Baghdad and Karbala are systematically killing Sunni patients and then dumping their bodies in mass graves.

Marine in Iraq (via Steve Gilliard):

There's really not much to write about. More exactly, there's not much I can write about because practically everything I do, read or hear is classified military information or is depressing to the point that I'd rather just forget about it, never mind write about it. The gaps in between all of that are filled with the pure tedium of daily life in an armed camp. So it's a bit of a struggle to think of anything to put into a letter that's worth reading. Worse, this place just consumes you. I work 18-20-hour days, every day. The quest to draw a clear picture of what the insurgents are up to never ends. Problems and frictions crop up faster than solutions. Every challenge demands a response. It's like this every day. Before I know it, I can't see straight, because it's 0400 and I've been at work for twenty hours straight, somehow missing dinner again in the process. And once again I haven't written to anyone. It starts all over again four hours later. It's not really like Ground Hog Day, it's more like a level from Dante's Inferno.
Rather than attempting to sum up the last seven months, I figured I'd just hit the record setting highlights of 2006 in Iraq. These are among the events and experiences I'll remember best.

Worst Case of Deja Vu - I thought I was familiar with the feeling of deja vu until I arrived back here in Fallujah in February. The moment I stepped off of the helicopter, just as dawn broke, and saw the camp just as I had left it ten months before - that was deja vu. Kind of unnerving. It was as if I had never left. Same work area, same busted desk, same chair, same computer, same room, same creaky rack, same . . . everything. Same everything for the next year. It was like entering a parallel universe. Home wasn't 10,000 miles away, it was a different lifetime.

Most Surreal Moment - Watching Marines arrive at my detention facility and unload a truck load of flex-cuffed midgets. 26 to be exact. I had put the word out earlier in the day to the Marines in Fallujah that we were looking for Bad Guy X, who was described as a midget. Little did I know that Fallujah was home to a small community of midgets, who banded together for support since they were considered as social outcasts. The Marines were anxious to get back to the midget colony to bring in the rest of the midget suspects, but I called off the search, figuring Bad Guy X was long gone on his short legs after seeing his companions rounded up by the giant infidels.

Most Profound Man in Iraq - an unidentified farmer in a fairly remote area who, after being asked by Reconnaissance Marines (searching for Syrians) if he had seen any foreign fighters in the area replied "Yes, you."

Worst City in al-Anbar Province - Ramadi, hands down. The provincial capital of 400,000 people. Killed over 1,000 insurgents in there since we arrived in February. Every day is a nasty gun battle. They blast us with giant bombs in the road, snipers, mortars and small arms. We blast them with tanks, attack helicopters, artillery, our snipers (much better than theirs), and every weapon that an infantryman can carry. Every day. Incredibly, I rarely see Ramadi in the news. We have as many attacks out here in the west as Baghdad. Yet, Baghdad has 7 million people, we have just 1.2 million. Per capita, al-Anbar province is the most violent place in Iraq by several orders of magnitude. I suppose it was no accident that the Marines were assigned this area in 2003.

CBC News:

The bodies of 60 men were found in and around Baghdad over a 24-hour period, and Iraqi officials said Tuesday the men appeared to have died at the hands of sectarian death squads.

The bodies, all riddled with bullets and all showing signs of torture--their hands and feet had been bound were dumped in several neighbourhoods around the capital.

NBC News (via Atrios):

Some readers and viewers think we journalists are exaggerating about the situation in Iraq. I can almost understand that because who would want to believe that things are this bad? Particularly when so many people here started out with such good intentions.

I'm more puzzled by comments that the violence isn't any worse than any American city. Really? In which American city do 60 bullet-riddled bodies turn up on a given day? In which city do the headless bodies of ordinary citizens turn up every single day? In which city would it not be news if neighborhood school children were blown up? In which neighborhood would you look the other way if gunmen came into restaurants and shot dead the customers?

Day-to-day life here for Iraqis is so far removed from the comfortable existence we live in the United States that it is almost literally unimaginable.

It's almost impossible to describe what it feels like being stalled in traffic, your heart pounding, wondering if the vehicle in front of you is one of the three or four car bombs that will go off that day. Or seeing your husband show up at the door covered in blood after he was kidnapped and beaten.

I don't know a single family here that hasn't had a relative, neighbor or friend die violently. In places where there's been all-out fighting going on, I've interviewed parents who buried their dead child in the yard because it was too dangerous to go to the morgue.

Imagine the worst day you've ever had in your life, add a regular dose of terror and you'll begin to get an idea of what it's like every day for a lot of people here.

So, does it sound like it's about time to send this gang back to Iraq for some truthiness reporting?

But in all seriousness, and these are serious times, so we should be serious, the debacle in Iraq, which the next Democratic President will have to clean up, is the product of this administration's one-percent doctrine-bomb's away-pre-emptive war strategery. Remember this the next time the 101st Keyboarders are calling diplomacy "appeasement" and demanding we bomb and invade whatever country they're afraid of at the moment.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

State of Denial

The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy

With the help of a Phillips Journalism Fellowship, St. Louis Post-Dispatch journalist Carroll [and former Republican speechwriter--ed] traveled the country to interview young adults to ascertain how religion fits into their lives. Most of her interviewees were Catholics or evangelical Protestants, along with some Orthodox Christians. Carroll found a turn to the Right in the religious lives of her peers, born between 1965 and 1983; not everyone in this age group is religiously oriented, but those who are have more often than not turned to traditional beliefs and morality. Among Catholic priests, for example, the youngest are as traditional as the oldest, with the baby boomers falling in between. It is not unusual for married couples in this age group to embrace natural family planning as opposed to artificial birth control and for singles to reject premarital sex. These young adults are seeking authoritative guidelines and meaningful commitments. Carroll's journalistic skills are evident in this very readable volume about a tendency toward traditionalism that she predicts will spread.

Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity

Shiflett makes no pretense of editorial objectivity. His own views as to which group of religious leaders should perhaps worry about the exact nature of their eternal reward, and which ones will be welcomed by a majestic, sometimes foreboding God into heaven, are quite obvious. But he still gives a fair shake to subjects on both sides of the divide, presenting his questions, and recording the hopes, fears and faith he finds in the answers. And like any good marketing analysis, Exodus looks beyond the numbers and comes to some clear conclusions, one of which being that the power of orthodox Christian faith lies in its clear hope and steady assurance of what lies beyond death’s door.

Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers

Despite their packed megachurches, their political clout and their increasing visibility on the national stage, evangelical Christian leaders are warning one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves.

At an unusual series of leadership meetings in 44 cities this fall, more than 6,000 pastors are hearing dire forecasts from some of the biggest names in the conservative evangelical movement.

Their alarm has been stoked by a highly suspect claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation.

Seems like a paradox, doesn't it? Some conservative Christians see a religious revolution among the young, others see an approaching disaster. It may be that the teenagers that leave the church will come back when they have kids of their own. But if only four percent of today's Christian teens will go on to be "bible-believing Christians" as adults, it seems like a conflict. Maybe the former's methodology is wishful thinking; maybe the latter's projections are paranoid rantings designed to fill the coffers.

Meanwhile, further signs the conservative culture war is flopping.