Politics and the English language
Now, let's see if I've got this straight …
Voting isn't "democracy."
Terrorists are "insurgents."
Darfur isn't "genocide."
Kofi Annan is a "scapegoat."
Social Security isn't a "crisis."
Iraq is a "quagmire."
Gitmo detainees aren't "enemy combatants."
WAR IS PEACE.
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY.
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
Right. Got it.
The wretched of the earth
I still do.
"Voting isn't democracy"
The election is badly hampered from the start by its illegitimate lineage. It was spawned after an American-led military invasion, incubated in an American-led military occupation and administration, designed by a mildly credible condominium of Iraqi and U.N. officials working—literally and figuratively—under the gun of the United States, and administered by an interim Iraqi administration that has "Made in Washington" stamped all over it. (San Francisco Chronicle)
We know that the elections in Iraq aim for democracy, but it is not held in such an atmosphere. (Al Sharq, Qatar)
We can be certain that many people will deny [the election's] legitimacy. (Patrick Clawson, Institute for Near East Policy)
In a country like this with zero respect for human rights, no colonial experience of rule of law, no Magna Carta, how are you going to build a democracy? (Unnamed "Western official," quoted in The Los Angeles Times)
The election cannot bring the Iraqis democracy because all the conditions are missing, because freedom can't prosper on the battlefields. (Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Germany)
To me, all this sounds uncannily like the "not a mandate" nonsense we heard from the MSM back in November.
Or, to put it another way: If it's good news for President Bush, then it can't possibly be good news.
Hmmm … voting isn't democracy. Will someone please explain that to the lady in the photograph above?
UPDATE: Ryan emailed me this additional example of the meme, from an op-ed by Samuel Issacharoff in The Philadelphia Inquirer: "By itself, today's election in Iraq is a milestone. But it is not the key to the country's democratic legitimacy." Yep, it's definitely a virulent little bugger.
Votes of no consequence
The the outcome of the first is unsurprising; the second strikes me as more than a bit curious.
Are Time readers actually more pessimistic about democracy's future in Iraq than the fans of Aljazeera?
At any rate, the results prompt a poll of my own.
UPDATE: Baghdad Dweller is curious about this Time poll too. (The numerous comments to the post are heartening, however, and well worth a read.)
Knock the vote
Abu Musab al Zarqawi isn't the one who's singing the blues about the historic election just ended in Iraq.
Here are some other dissident voices of note.
Sunday’s election is not a cure for the violence and instability. Unless the Sunni and all the other communities in Iraq believe they have a stake in the outcome and a genuine role in drafting the new Iraqi constitution, the election could lead to greater alienation, greater escalation, and greater death—for us and for the Iraqis.
Iraq elections will take place as scheduled not because this is the ideal option to restore the country's security, stability and political process, but because it suits the interests of certain local and international forces.
No matter how the voting turns out, the prospects for genuine democracy in Iraq are increasingly grim. Unless there is a major change in course, Iraq is on track to become another corrupt, oil-rich quasi-democracy, like Russia and Nigeria.
Yes, I know how it's all going to be played out. Iraqis bravely vote despite the bloodcurdling threats of the enemies of democracy. At last, the US and British policies have reached fruition. A real and functioning democracy will be in place so the occupiers can leave soon. Or next year. Or in a decade or so. Merely to hold these elections—an act of folly in the eyes of so many Iraqis—will be a "success."
Jan. 30 is here at last, and the light is at the end of the tunnel, again. By my estimate, Iraq's election day is the fifth time that American troops have been almost on their way home from an about-to-be pacified Iraq. The four other incipient V-I days were the liberation of Baghdad (April 9, 2003), President Bush's declaration that "major combat operations have ended" (May 1, 2003), the arrest of Saddam Hussein (Dec. 14, 2003) and the handover of sovereignty to our puppet of choice, Ayad Allawi (June 28, 2004). And this isn't even counting the two "decisive" battles for our nouveau Tet, Falluja.
Patrick Basham (The Cato Institute):
[The elections] are premature and ill-advised … and therefore they are going to primarily serve the purpose of disenfranchising the Sunni minority, which will, I fear, create a situation in which an initial election may produce a stillborn democracy.
Flawed is altogether too mild a word to describe this Sunday's Iraqi elections. Crazy might be a better fit; how else to account for an exercise in democracy in which candidates are being urged to keep their identities a secret, and not to move around outdoors? The violence continues apace with no signs that it will decrease before the voting—or after the voting, for that matter.
Pepe Escobar (Asia Times):
The US administration of George W Bush, parts 1 and 2, has introduced to the world the concept of election at gunpoint. The guinea pig: Iraq, on January 30. The rules: candidates must be anonymous (otherwise they will be killed). Voters cannot go out and vote (otherwise they may be killed). Even if they wanted to vote, they wouldn't know where, because the location of the polling stations will be known only the night before the election.
There is no democratic process in Iraq. Iraq is occupied by 150,000 U.S. troops. The Baath and other parties are proscribed from participating in elections or holding public office. In a real democracy, voters are free to choose from any party. In a real democracy, a foreign occupation force does not exert any political influence whatsoever. And in a real democracy, people aren't afraid to venture out into the streets, risking rape or kidnapping in order to vote. You can't have democracy without basic security, period. So this is not democracy.
You know, I really wish Iraq were having an honest, safe, real election. But that isn't happening, and that's a shame. Even if you were and are opposed to this war, as I am, you would wish the Bush people would do things right just for the simple reason that it would help our standing in the world. But they can't even do that. Instead, we get a made for the media moment, then the cameras will go away and it will be 9/10 all over again, ripe for the next Bin Laden and ready for another Republican president idling his time away on vacation.
On the one hand I'm really excited that Iraqi people have been able to start the path to a potentially democratic political system, on the other hand I'm really upset that this will embolden neoconservatives and will be seen as a confirmation of their dangerous plans for the world.
Armando (The Daily Kos):
This Election is simply, in my estimation, an exercise in pretty pictures. Why? Because Elections are to choose governments, not to celebrate the day. Are the people elected capable of governing Iraq at this time? Without 150,000 U.S. soldiers? Or even with them?
Mark Plattner (American Samizdat):
There has got to be some word coined for the Sham that is a Farce wrapped up in and stinking of Bullshit that is this election.
In the democratic symphony, elections are but a single note. An election that produces more of the same, or possibly even worse, will mean neither success nor victory.
No one in the United States should try to over-hype this election. It is hard to say that something is legitimate when whole portions of the country can't vote and doesn't vote.
As Alice Miles wrote last week in The Times (London), "There is a shocking tendency … to be more interested in the failure of elections in Iraq than in their success …. People will risk their lives going to the polls in areas of Iraq this weekend, and some parts of the media—in other countries as well as in ours, I assume—have already written off those efforts as worthless, the elections as fatally flawed. What blinkered arrogance."
UPDATE: From the National Lampoon's "Iraq the Vote" website …
Baghdad Dweller comments: "There are people really pissed off because we Iraqis can vote and we voted and we will keep voting. Look at those losers who designed buttons, posters and bumper stickers to discourage the Iraqis … In your faces, you trolls. We did it."
UPDATE: Greg Djerejian, Michelle Malkin, Arthur Chrenkoff, Rand Holman and Hugh Hewitt all remark on the deafening silence coming from the left side of the blogosphere. In general, the MSM seem to have done better than their pajama-wearing counterparts in answering Soxblog's challenge.
MSM mash notes
Most bloggers on the right tend to view the mainstream media with as much trust as you'd accord a pit bull with a string of foam trailing from its mouth.
As a result, most of us respond to the MSM in one of two ways: outright hostility or avoidance.
But, despite the best efforts of the Bolsheviks to burn it down (to use Hugh Hewitt's memorable phrase), the MSM will probably be with us, at least through the end of 2005 and quite possibly for some time after that.
What's more, not all of its editors and journalists necessarily have big political axes to grind (at least not as manically as, say, the ones at The New York Times or CBS).
This being the case, may I offer a modest suggestion—one I believe has as much, maybe more, transformational potential as congressional hearings over Memogate.
Mash notes to journalists.
Some of these folks—particularly at the local/regional level—do have their heads screwed on right and are generally doing a pretty good job of getting out the news that people need. (And even some of the diehard liberals do lapse into sanity from time to time.)
So why not let them know when they get it right?
Post an item on your blog, drop them an email, send them a valentine in the mail next month—or, better still, all of the foregoing.
Most local journalists are woefully underpaid and underappreciated. And most of the mail they get is critical. (In many cases, you really have to wonder why they do it.)
Anyway, I think you might be surprised by the response you get. And, if B. F. Skinner taught us anything, it's that behavior that's rewarded tends to produce more of the same.
Which is more powerful in the long run: The stick? Or the carrot?
Think about it.
UPDATE: The Power Line guys are writing favorable things about the Iraq election coverage of Geraldo Rivera, Christiane Amanpour, The New York Times and even Aljazeera—with a few disclaimers, of course. Captain Ed even offers a tip of the hat to the Gray Lady. Hmmm … could they possibly have taken my advice here yesterday? (Nah … but it's heartening to see nonetheless.) Joe Gandelman—who does occasionally read this blog and is never stinting with a kind word—also commends the Times for its election coverage.
More Friday dogblogging
(Sorry. No more catblogging. It's too much trouble when you don't own a cat.)
This story from the AP wire caught my eye:
ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) — When two men walked into a popular country store outside Atlanta, announced a holdup and fired a shot, owners Bobby Doster and Gloria Turner never hesitated. The pair pulled out their own pistols and opened fire.
The armed suspect and his partner were killed. The owners won't be charged, according to local officials, because they were acting in self-defense.
"I just started shooting," said Gloria Turner, 56. "I was trying to blow his brains out is what I was trying to do."
Shoats Grocery & Package near Crawford, 70 miles east of Atlanta, is a well-known spot where locals stop for breakfast biscuits or lunch. Gloria Turner said the two men who came there Monday had something else in mind.
She was rearranging boxes of soda by the store's front door when a man wearing a wig walked inside, the fake hair draped in front of his face.
"I asked him, 'Can you see to walk?"' Turner said. Then she noticed a second man behind him wearing a mask. He announced a holdup.
One man grabbed Gloria Turner and pushed her toward the register. She said the other kept his gun on her 62-year-old husband, who also goes by the name Shoats.
She said she tried to open the register, but one of the men told her she wasn't moving fast enough and tried to shoot her husband. He missed—and his gun jammed.
At that point, Bobby Doster pulled out a .380-caliber handgun and shot one of the suspects. Gloria Turner then went for a 9 mm pistol she keeps near the register.
"All hell broke loose," she said. "I was trying to shoot and dial 911 at the same time."
Both suspects took cover behind the store's meat counter as the owners opened fire. Gloria Turner said she doesn't know how many bullets were fired, or how many times the suspects were hit.
Police arrived about five minutes after receiving Gloria Turner's call; the suspects died a short time later at a hospital.
I feel obliged to note that, had this incident occurred in one of the "civilized" countries of Europe, Bobby Doster and Gloria Turner would, at this moment, be either (a) in police custody; or (b) dead.
But I guess that's just the price you have to pay for being a responsible member nation of "the new global consensus."
UPDATE: This seems to have caught more than just my eye. Peaktalk writes that the fact the owners weren't charged "pretty much sums up the difference between an American and European approach to dealing with crime." Daily Pundit comments: "It sounds to me, just from the brief account, like the store owners, Gloria and Bobby, were practicing fairly good 'gun control,' particularly on a couple of fast-moving 'targets.' An outstanding expression of Second Amendment rights, I'd say." James Joyner at Outside the Beltway echoes the thought: "It's been said that gun control is being able to hit your target." Walt at Truth, Lies & Common Sense notes: "We have a heard of a "robbery gone wrong" where innocent people died. I may be a little insensitive here, but I think this is an example of a 'robbery gone right.'" Acidman at Gut Rumbles writes: "I like stories with happy endings." As Glenn Reynolds would say: Indeed.
UPDATE: Lee Bowman—an American who has lived in England for two decades now—sends this link to a story by Richard Munday from The Telegraph: "While American 'gun culture' is still regularly the sensational subject of media demonisation in Britain, the grim fact is that in this country we now suffer three times the level of violent crime committed in the United States."
UPDATE: Here's a follow-up letter to the Athens, GA, Banner-Herald (free registration required) from Andy Totten:
I applaud the courage displayed by Bobby Doster and Gloria Turner during the attempted armed robbery of their Oglethorpe County store Monday by two teenage street thugs.
Doster and Turner demonstrated the only logical way to deal with criminals who are willing to kill for a few dollars. Their actions not only saved themselves, but also put an end to the criminal careers of two teenage hoodlums who likely would have committed more violent crime in the future.
There will be no lengthy trials, no excuses, no plea bargains for these teenagers, because they chose the wrong people to victimize.
FBI unfazed by lasers
Well, actually, the incidents didn't stop. Only the news coverage did.
From yesterday's Washington Post:
Over the past month, pilots have reported more than 30 incidents of laser beams being trained from the ground into their aircraft, prompting warnings from federal authorities and new reporting guidelines. One of the incidents occurred in Anne Arundel County, where a man is charged with shining a laser beam at a police helicopter on New Year's Eve.
A UPI story today adds, "According to federal authorities, there have been about 400 reported instances of hand-held lasers being aimed at aircraft since the early 1990s."
Which would indicate the incidents have jumped from an average of two or three a month to 30 in a remarkably short time.
But not to worry, the article goes on:
Jack Hess, acting assistant special agent in charge of counter-terrorism for the FBI, said the apparent increase in incidents in the last month might be caused by new reporting requirements [which only went into effect on January 19] in which pilots must report every laser encounter.
"There are more incidents being reported, but we're not sure if there are more incidents," Hess said.
Yeah, that's the ticket. Whew. I feel much better now.
Peggy Noonan: still pouting
As I mentioned earlier, The New Republic described John Kerry as a case of "sour grapes" for his scowling performance at Condi Rice's confirmation hearings last week.
But—despite the stiff competition from the stiff—this month's Sour Grapes Award goes to Peggy Noonan for her two recent columns on the Bush inaugual.
Last week, you may recall, she landed the first blow.
After the typical Noonan digressions about fire alarms in the night and milling around in a hotel lobby (flashing her pedicured tootsies at Warren Buffet and James Baker), she finally got to the point—namely, that the speech promised more than the Bush administration could reasonably deliver over the next four years.
Leaving aside the fact that nearly every inaugual in history has overpromised (Kennedy: "a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle … against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself."), it's hard to know what "realistic" objectives Bush could have offered—reforming the tax code? fixing Social Security?—that would have been in any way inspirational to his audience. Personally, I thought that encouraging freedom abroad (especially in the Middle East) and an "ownership society" at home were fairly concrete and realistic goals, but maybe I didn't listen to the same speech.
Noonan rightly took a lot of heat for her column, and she's back this week trying to bolster her sagging arguements.
But—as her old boss Dan Rather should have learned by now—standing by a bad story just tarnishes your credibility that much more.
Words have meaning. To declare that it is now the policy of the United States to eradicate tyranny in the world, that we are embarking on the greatest crusade in the history of freedom, and that the survival of American liberty is dependent on the liberty of every other nation—seemed to me, and seems to me, rhetorical and emotional overreach of the most embarrassing sort.
When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public and the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration, a witness said, "It rang as if it meant something." In our time it means something still. America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof.
Being a beacon of hope to the rest of the world is something the United States has done by quiet example (often too quiet) throughout its history. Making the spread of democracy an explicit part of our foreign policy is a comparatively new wrinkle, but certainly not one that's out of line with American values (for what for other objective did we fight the Cold War?) or traditions (didn't Presidents Wilson and Kennedy once say something about this too?).
If that's overreach "of the worst sort," then what's overreach of the best sort?
Noonan goes on:
If in the next 30 months he can stabilize and fortify Iraq, helping it to become a functioning democratic entity that doesn't encourage terrorism; further gird and undergird Afghanistan; keep the U.S. safe from attack; make our alliances closer; make permanent his tax cuts; and break through on Social Security, that will be huge. It will be historic. It will yield a presidency that even its severest critics will have to admit was enormously consequential, and its supporters will rightly claim as leaving a lasting legacy of courage and inspiration. We don't need more than that—it's quite enough. And it will be quite astonishing. Beyond that, don't overreach. Refrain from breast beating, and don't clobber the world over the head with your moral fabulousness.
Okay, Peggy, then let's try writing that speech together, shall we?
My fellow Americans … we have much to accomplish in the next four years.
But we have infinitely more to gain.
If we live up to the greatness … the promise … inherent in each of us … then I see a world very different from the one we live in now …
I see a world where the newly-liberated nation of Iraq has been stablized and fortified … where it has become a functioning democratic entity that doesn't encourage terrorism.
I see a world where the freedom of another newly-liberated nation, Afghanistan, has been further girded … and undergirded.
I see a world where America's vast and productive homeland continues to be safe from terrorist attack.
I see a world where America and its allies work more closely togther.
I see a world where America … the symbol of democracy to many around the globe … has made its tax cuts permanent and reformed its Social Security system … for the betterment of all …
Boy, I don't know about you, but that sure gets me in a lather. Makes me want to roll up my sleeves and get down to the job.
In all seriousness, what Noonan seems to want isn't an inaugural address at all but a state of the union speech, complete with bullet points and a plug for the new website (www.americasagenda.gov) where you can find all the specifics. (We'll have one of those, but we'll have to wait until next month.)
What she really wanted, I suspect, was to have been given the opportunity to write the inaugual herself, and I have no doubt she would have done an acceptable job of it.
Except that the final product would have ended up very much like the one Mike Gerson and George Bush actually wrote. Because that's what the President deserved and what most Americans rightly expected from a second-term inaugural.
So, Peggy, why not just tell your readers that?
Let me be honest: I wanted Gerson's job. Wanted it so bad I could taste it. But I didn't get it. My stablemate here at The Wall Street Journal, Bill McGurn, wound up with it instead. And I'm pissed about it. Really pissed. Particularly given the fact that I actually took a leave of absence to write all those convention speeches for second-stringers like Rick Santorum to support the President. McGurn didn't do that, did he? Didn't think so. Bet McGurn couldn't come up with "slipped the surly bonds of earth" on a couple hours' notice either. And how many books about speechwriting has Mr. Editoral-Writer-in-Chief published? Hmmm … let me count. That would be none. And yet you gave him the job, because … hmmm … the President prefers his chief speechwriter to have a penis? Would that be it???
No, on second thought … I'll just write another column about how badly Bush's inaugual address sucked and let it go at that.
UPDATE: My friend James Fredrick Dwight at Soxblog has similar suspicions: "It does seem as if the impulse behind Peggy’s repeated savaging of the Inaugural may well be professional jealousy." Read the whole thing.
UPDATE: Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom adds some important perspective to the Noonan story: "I happened to be watching FOX for the Pres’s inaugural speech, and Noonan was on the panel that reacted to it. Her initial reaction was that the speech was “breathtaking”, though it did overreach slightly in a couple of spots toward the end. The next day, she penned a column that foregrounded those overreaching problems (as she perceived them) and forgot, suddenly, about all the “breathtaking” portions she had commented on earlier." Aha.