A Cautious Man
December 30, 2003
 
Babbling Brooks
I don't know why I get so annoyed reading David Brooks' columns in the New York Times. Once again, in today's column, he just seems particularly shallow. His starting point is sound - noting the varied religious journeys of the President and some major Democratic contenders, he observes: "What other country on earth would have three national political figures with such peripatetic religious backgrounds?" But, he then makes other observations (clearly designed to push his own political views) which are just nonsense. Taking just a few which bugged me (in sort-of increasing order of serious concern), Mr. Brooks says that Americans are "reasonable tolerant", noting: "In London recently, President Bush said that Christians and Muslims both pray to the same God. That was theologically controversial, but it was faithful to the national creed." Excuse me, Mr. Brooks, but it was only "theologically controversial" for some American evangelical leaders (the same people you claim do not have as much influence now). It's theologically orthodox for the rest of the world, such as among us Catholics. In another passage, Mr. Brooks cites deTocqueville's comment that Americans "don't seem to care that their neighbors hold to false versions of the faith", and he adds: "That's because many Americans have tended to assume that all these differences are temporary." Again, there are clearly a lot of Americans who very much do care about their neighbor's "false versions". Americans may be happy to go off by themselves, and leave others to their own faiths. When all together, though, there are many people who want to have their version of what faith is dominate - others can believe what they want, just as long as it remains unseen. If you don't believe me, observe how many commentators still seemed torqued off by the simple greeting, "Happy Holidays."

I have a big disagreement with Mr. Brooks' assertion that an "effect of our dominant religious style is that we have trouble sustaining culture wars." As evidence, he points to what he considers to be the waning of the influence of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority. Mr. Brooks is missing the point, that the culture wars are no longer being directed from the churches, but from political types who consider themselves on a mission to save America. Look at the conservative books which sell well, touting the left-wing plot to destroy America's soul. Take as an example the "marriage debate". Cal Thomas recently wrote about "a strategy session at the White House", to make gay marriage a hot button political issue in the upcoming year. As Mr. Thomas wrote:
Most people would probably be happy to launch a counter strike in the culture war. Many could be counted on to support an amendment that tries to do something about the social, moral and cultural erosion over which they have felt powerless. Surrounded by bad television, worse movies, anti-religious attitudes of judges and certain liberal activist groups, a pervasive sense that "anything goes," most of those responding to the New York Times/CBS News Poll apparently find a constitutional amendment in support of marriage a much-needed line in the sand. They think we have already gone too far, too fast on too many things.
There will continue to be a "culture war", not necessarily because of religious institutions, but because of the efforts of the "culture war profiteers". Whether for political power, personal aggrandizement , or plain-old money, these all-American entrepreneurs will continue to use the culture wars for their own ends. Personally, I have faith in the tolerance of the individual American, I'm concerned that there are people out there hoping to capitalize on intolerance.

Finally, Mr. Brooks paints a little word picture, of how Mr. Bush and Dr. Dean may be political opposites, but able to unite if they met in a Bible study. I think that would depend on what the topic was. Given that these two gentlemen wound up following very different life choices, from very similar, privileged starting points (as Mr. Brooks likes to remind us), they may have very different views about how to live their faith. I think that's a big point which Mr. Brooks just misses.

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December 22, 2003
 
A Little Christmas Song
Something in the spirit of the season, which you may not have heard of before ...
Once upon a time in a far off land
Wise men saw a sign and set out aross the sand
Songs of praise to sing, they travelled day and night
Precious gifts to bring, guided by the light
They chased a brand new star, ever towards the west
Across the mountains far, but when it came to rest
They scarce believed their eyes, they'd come so many miles
And the miracle they prized was nothing but a child

Nothing but a child could wash these tears away
Or guide a weary world into the light of day
And nothing but a child could help erase these miles
So once again we all can be children for awhile
Steve Earle, "Nothing But a Child" from Copperhead Road.

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December 17, 2003
 
More on the Cardinal's Sin
The "Instapundit" has gone into Round 2 on his generic Catholic-bashing, all because poor Cardinal Martino basically admitted that even the most despicable sinner could be viewed with compassion. Wonder where the Cardinal could have picked up a wacky idea like that? Personally, I think the real reason those folks have it out for the Cardinal is something he also said at that same news conference, regarding the capture:"But it seems to me to be illusory to hope that this will repair the dramas and the damage of the defeat for humanity that a war always brings about."

The "Instapundit" felt safe, I guess, because he first referenced an article by Michael Novak. Back in February, the Cardinal stuck with the Church's view of the "just war" concept, and not Mr. Novak's, when the latter tried to get the Vatican to sign up with the Coalition of the Willing. Mr. Novak still may be a little miffed over that.

Anyway, with all of this Catholic-bashing from the right now, where's the Catholic League when you really need them?

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December 16, 2003
 
If You Liked the Clark and Dean Speeches, You'll Love This ...
A Vatican official expressed concern about how pictures of the captured Saddam Hussein were presented, with pictures of an examination of his mouth and head.
"Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him," he said in answer to questions about Saddam's arrest.
From the news reports, it's hard to tell if it was more of an off-hand comment, since the main point of the news conference was to present the World Day of Peace message. Nevertheless, famous blogger "Instapundit" has a roundup of some anti-Catholic responses.

Those folks will really love the Pope's World Day of Peace message for this year, which includes the following:
Today international law is hard pressed to provide solutions to situations of conflict arising from the changed landscape of the contemporary world. These situations of conflict frequently involve agents which are not themselves States but rather entities derived from the collapse of States, or connected to independence movements, or linked to trained criminal organizations. A legal system made up of norms established down the centuries as a means of disciplining relations between sovereign States finds it difficult to deal with conflicts which also involve entities incapable of being considered States in the traditional sense. This is particularly the case with terrorist groups.

The scourge of terrorism has become more virulent in recent years and has produced brutal massacres which have in turn put even greater obstacles in the way of dialogue and negotiation, increasing tensions and aggravating problems, especially in the Middle East.

Even so, if it is to be won, the fight against terrorism cannot be limited solely to repressive and punitive operations. It is essential that the use of force, even when necessary, be accompanied by a courageous and lucid analysis of the reasons behind terrorist attacks. The fight against terrorism must be conducted also on the political and educational levels: on the one hand, by eliminating the underlying causes of situations of injustice which frequently drive people to more desperate and violent acts; and on the other hand, by insisting on an education inspired by respect for human life in every situation: the unity of the human race is a more powerful reality than any contingent divisions separating individuals and people.

In the necessary fight against terrorism, international law is now called to develop legal instruments provided with effective means for the prevention, monitoring and suppression of crime. In any event, democratic governments know well that the use of force against terrorists cannot justify a renunciation of the principles of the rule of law. Political decisions would be unacceptable were they to seek success without consideration for fundamental human rights, since the end never justifies the means.
As "Instapundit" would say, "Indeed".

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It Takes One for the Running But Two for the Road
There were two good speeches on foreign policy yesterday, by two of the Democratic candidates for President. In his speech, Wesley Clark noted:
Regardless of your views or my views about the war in Iraq, I am pleased that so many agree that the capture of a brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein is good news. After all, this is a dictator who was responsible for starting two wars in the Gulf, whose regime brutalized the Iraqi people, who committed massive human rights abuses, and who used chemical weapons against the Kurds and against Iran.

It has been a long time since there has been good news coming from Iraq. We were long overdue.

The capture of this dictator is good news not only for the Iraqi people - but for people around the world. And I wish to congratulate the American forces and the intelligence units involved in this mission.

But a day of good news in Iraq doesn't change the challenge we face there. The war is not over. There were insurgent attacks all this week against American forces. There was an attack yesterday and there was even an attack this morning.

The entire resistance in Iraq was not run by a pathetic ex-dictator hiding in a hole.

We still do not know how many outsiders have come to Iraq for suicide missions against American forces and the international community. We still not know how many insurgents are driven by a misguided nationalism. And we still do not know how many of the guerrilla fighters from Saddam's militias and intelligence service will fight harder or will give up now that he has been captured.

Our purpose of going to Iraq was not to capture Saddam Hussein. But in the chaotic aftermath of war, his capture was necessary to eliminate the fear that he inspired in so many Iraqis. But it is not sufficient. Iraq is still in danger of becoming a failed state.
And as Howard Dean stated:
The difficulties and tragedies we have faced in Iraq show that the administration launched the war in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with inadequate planning, insufficient help, and at unbelievable cost. An administration prepared to work with others in true partnership might have been able, if it found no alternative to Saddam’s ouster, to then rebuild Iraq with far less cost and risk.

As our military commanders said, and the President acknowledged yesterday, the capture of Saddam does not end the difficulties from the aftermath of the administration’s war to oust him. There is the continuing challenge of securing Iraq, protecting the safety of our personnel, and helping that country get on the path to stability. There is the need to repair our alliances and regain global support for American goals.

Nor, as the president also seemed to acknowledge yesterday, does Saddam’s capture move us toward defeating enemies who pose an even greater danger: al Qaeda and its terrorist allies. And, nor, it seems, does Saturday’s capture address the urgent need to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the risk that terrorists will acquire them.
Isn't there a way these two sensible kids could get together?

(Thanks to Political Aims and Oliver Willis for pointing to the speeches.)

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December 15, 2003
 
Killer Joe
In the quest to gain political advantage in the U.S., from an event which has been welcomed from across the political spectrum (i.e., the capture of Saddam Hussein), one of the least helpful suggestions has come from presidential candidate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, on his campaign website:
This evil man has to face the death penalty. The international tribunal in The Hague cannot order the death penalty, so my first question about where he's going to be tried will be answered by whether that tribunal can execute him. If it cannot be done by the Iraqi military tribunal, he should be brought before an American military tribunal and face death.
In other words, neither the Iraqis, nor the world as a whole, should deal with the deposed tyrant. Instead, we should make this a U.S.-only affair, just so folks such as the good Senator can try to earn points by shouting for the death penalty.

Not to quibble, but in the long run, in terms of international relations, or even in terms of whether the Iraqis view our troops as liberators or conquerors, maybe it would be a good idea to tone down campaign rhetoric like that..

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Then You're Outta That Hole and Back Up on the Street
In light of the fact that I'm actually getting comments now (from someone who isn't amused by "Unelectable"), I better make sure that I say something about the capture of Saddam Hussein.

We got him. Good. Excellent, in fact. Turns out the fearsome tyrant was cringing in a hole somewhere, with two guns and a lot of U.S. cash for company. He didn't use the guns, and I don't think he'll be spending that cash anytime soon. In fact, from news reports it sounds like it was the cash which helped bring about his capture. When our troops found $750,000 stashed in a crude hut, they decided that was a good area to look around further.

It's definitely too soon to tell how this will affect the long-term prospects for our involvement in Iraq. That hasn't stopped some from trying, or others from criticizing those who have tried. It didn't take long for the focus to shift from Iraq policy to U.S. politics, though, as if the capture in-and-of-itself solves all the problems. It's important, but it doesn't take the place of a well-designed plan for bringing about a peaceful Iraq.

Be that as it may, it's interesting to see how some people just have to start on the attack, as if "wrong-thinking" was somehow a punishable offense in the United States. Andrew Sullivan is on a tear, posting examples of what he calls "thinly-veiled disappointment at the capture of Saddam." He calls these examples "Galloway Award Nominees", after an anti-war British politician who was thought to have been receiving payments from some unsavory Middle Eastern types. Actually, the quote from Galloway used by Mr. Sullivan isn't so nonsensical: "This will not stop the Iraqi resistance. If anything, it may set the resistance free, if you like, from the cloud of Saddam Hussein, and transform it into a purely national resistance movement without the charge that it's being controlled from behind by the deposed president." That's not disappointment, that's an abundance of caution. Mr. Sullivan also disses Juan Cole, a very knowledgeable commentator, who had mused: "Those who dislike US policies or who are opposed to the idea of occupation no longer need be apprehensive that the US will suddenly leave and allow Saddam to come back to power. They may therefore now gradually throw off their political timidity, and come out more forcefully into the streets when they disagree with the US. " Again, that's not "disappointment", but some cautious thinking about the next steps in a land where only the firm boot of the Baath Party kept a lid on the competing interests in Iraq.

[Edited on 12/16 to add] The always-reliable Tom Tomorrow comes through, by introducing us to The Patriotism Police.

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December 11, 2003
 
Unelectable
Unelectable... Bush won't go far
Unelectable... not up to par
Before long, he'll botch his "victory"
His thoughts are so contradictory
Never before has someone been more...

Unelectable... there is no way
What's he running for? 'Cause he can pay
That's why, Dubya, it's a spectacle
That someone so unelectable
Thinks he's not an unelectable fool

(instrumental interlude)

Unelectable ... there is no way
What's he running for? 'Cause he can pay
That's why, Dubya, it's a spectacle
That someone so unelectable
Thinks he's not an unelectable fool


(To the tune of Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable", Parody by William Tong)
(Link for the word "unelectable" inspired by Roger Ailes and TalkLeft)

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December 10, 2003
 
You Be True to Me, and I'll Be True to You
Senator Lieberman is upset that Al Gore endorsed Governor Dean. He's said a few things about his loyalty, and about how Mr. Gore is helping to move the party backwards.

As reported back in July of 2002, Senator Lieberman had a different viewpoint about a year or so ago, as he was "waiting" for Mr. Gore to decide whether he was going to run:
"He has not decided to run," Lieberman told a group of reporters at a lengthy session during the Democratic Leadership Council's annual meeting. "It was a 50-50 matter."

Gore spokesman Jano Cabrera said Sunday night: "Gore has yet to make up his mind."

In the meantime, Lieberman is meeting with state delegations from early states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina - telling them that he wants to run as a "New Democrat," referring to the pro-growth, pro-business philosophy of the DLC.
But what's really interesting are Senator Lieberman's thoughts at the time, about the 2000 campaign and about the issues for 2004::
Lieberman said that he and Gore ran on a program that was faithful to New Democrat values, but said some of the campaign rhetoric about "the people vs. the powerful" may have sent the wrong message.

"It was not the pro-growth approach," Lieberman said. "It ultimately made it more difficult for us to gain the support of some`of the middle class, independent voters who don't see America as 'us vs. them,' but more in Kennedy's terms of a rising tide lifts all boats."

Lieberman said that message was inconsistent with Gore's previous record and "ultimately hurt."

Asked whether he would support Gore if he runs another economic populist campaign and there's no other "New Democrat" in the race, Lieberman said: "That's an alluring question I won't answer right now."
So, when asked whether he would "be true" to Mr. Gore, if Mr. Gore wanted to continue to fight in the 2004 campaign, Senator Lieberman politely declined to answer. That's his prerogative. But he shouldn't be complaining now.

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All the Hatred and Dirty Little Lies
It seems that, as each day passes, the case against Captain James Yee stinks. Captain Yee is a Muslim chaplain, who had been assigned to Guantanamo Bay to counsel the detainees there. He was arrested amid allegations that he was involved in espionage against the United States. As noted below, the "case" against him, such as it was, seems to have little to do with espionage at this point, and more to do with trying to ruin the man. Now, it is reported that the government can't even decide whether the documents, which form the basis of the case, were even "classified":
Criminal proceedings against Army Capt. James J. Yee came to an abrupt halt Tuesday as Army prosecutors sought additional time to review and classify documents taken from the Muslim chaplain when he was arrested.
The "stink" comes from the fact that, at the time of his arrest, there were statements made that the "highest levels" of our government had assessed the situation, and considered Yee to be a traitor and a spy. As reported by "Newsmax" at the time:
The Washington Times source disclosed that the "highest levels" of government made the decision to arrest Capt. Yee, who had counseled suspected al-Qaeda terrorists at Guantanamo for a lengthy period. According to the report, he had been under surveillance for some time.

Although what country or organization is suspected of receiving information from Yee is as yet unknown, Yee has been charged with five offenses: sedition, aiding the enemy, spying, espionage and failure to obey a general order.

The report noted that the Army may also at some point charge him with the more serious charge of treason against the U.S.
As the Washington Times later reported:
The Bush administration decided to arrest Army Capt. James J. Yee because it feared he would reveal information that could aid terrorists and endanger the lives of military guards at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, a law-enforcement source said.
As a result, Captain Yee was marked for stopping and searching, not before he left Guantanamo, but instead as he arrived on the mainland:
Special Agent Sean Rafferty, who works as a customs inspector in Jacksonville, Fla., said he was tipped off to watch for Army Capt. James Yee, 35, at the airport as Capt. Yee returned from the Cuba base. He said he searched the backpack that Capt. Yee carried off the plane.

"I found numerous notes of a suspicious nature," Mr. Rafferty said during a conference call to the preliminary hearing that will determine whether Capt. Yee should be court-martialed. "It was determined the documents were of interest to national security."
As I discussed below the other day, this has always seemed suspicious. Putting these elements together, we see that the "Bush Administration" wanted Captain Yee stopped, searched and arrested, even though to this day nobody can state that he had any classified material, or that he engaged in any action which could be considered espionage. Why were the "highest levels" of the Administration so hell-bent to arrest or otherwise ruin this Muslim chaplain?

Would it be possible for one of our fearless media types to ask this question at the White House?

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December 02, 2003
 
In Which the Cautious Man Uses a Bad Word, but Only in the Interest of Accurate Reporting
This morning I sat at my kitchen table, drinking coffee and reading the paper (as I usually do most days). I read David Brooks' column in today's New York Times, in which he discusses how our troops in Iraq must be, not only fighters, but also builders of a better community in that country. Mr. Brooks discusses an incident in which an American soldier confronts an angry mob, which was "furiously accusing a man of butting in line and stealing gasoline." After investigating, the American officer "established that the man was merely a government inspector checking the quality of the fuel." Then, says Mr. Brooks, the American "took the chance to teach the mob a broader lesson":
The problem is that you people accuse each other without proof! That's the problem!
I don't know if Mr. Brooks does this on purpose just to annoy people, or if he really does miss the meaning of what he writes. But, when I read that, I shouted back at my newspaper, "How the fuck do you think we got into this mess in the first place!" (As I mentioned above, the use of the bad word is entirely due to the need to accurately report what I did this morning.) But really, how can someone miss the point that the "broader lesson" needs to be learned not just by Iraqis, but by us? Our government decided to charge into Iraq, without broad international support, and without any proof at all that it was either necessary or the best approach to the problem of Saddam Hussein. And, THAT'S THE PROBLEM.

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