Friday, March 24, 2006

With Moderates Like these...

who needs the Taliban?

"Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die," said cleric Abdul Raoulf, who is considered a moderate and was jailed three times for opposing the Taliban before the hard-line regime was ousted in 2001.

(Full article.)

Is this what our soldiers fought and died for? The article quotes Condaleeza Rice:

"There is no more fundamental issue for the United States than freedom of religion and religious conscience," she said. "This country was founded on that basis, and it is at the heart of democracy."

Someone needs to explain to the Bush administration that the US is not a democracy. Democracy is mob rule. It is the imposition of the will of the majority on the rest of the country. If the majority believes that converting to Christianity should be punishable by death, then under a democracy, they have the power to enforce that. The US is a constitutional republic that guarantees protection for individual rights. That is why we have freedom of conscience. If Afghanistan does not respect that fundamental right, then they are our enemy, not our ally.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

New Objectivist Periodical & Must-Read Article

The first issue of The Objective Standard is in the mail. I haven't received my copy yet, but an email from Craig Biddle this afternoon alerted me to a couple of articles from the issue that are available online to the general public. "Just War Theory" vs. American Self-Defense by Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein is a must read. Here's a short teaser:

Whenever President Bush wants to defend the morality of the wars we have fought, he insists that we fight for reasons “larger than our nation’s defense.” When Bush refers to our “good intentions” in Iraq, as he frequently does, he speaks not of our intention to defend ourselves, but of the intentions of American citizens to pay and of American soldiers to die so that Iraqis can hold a mob vote.

An injunction to go to war with altruistic intentions, seeking an altruistic outcome, is in direct contradiction to the requirements of self-defense; it forbids the very essence of self-defense in the context of war: identifying and defeating enemy nations.

To identify a nation as an enemy is to recognize it as a committed initiator of force that threatens one’s own life, that forfeits its right to exist, and that in justice deserves whatever is necessary to end the threat it poses. By Just War Theory’s moral standards, however, there is no such thing as an enemy nation. Even when a nation initiates aggression, it is not regarded as the proper object of retaliation, but as a haven of “others” to be served. (This notion is, unsurprisingly, rooted in Augustine’s religion, Christianity, which countenances us to love everyone—especially, as proof of extreme virtue, to “love thine enemy.”)

Observe that America has not gone to war with one nation since September 11. In each war, President Bush has made clear that we are in Afghanistan or Iraq to aid the “Afghan people” or the “Iraqi people,” and that we oppose only their current leaders. In the case of Iraq, he has made the well-being of the Iraqis, including the satisfaction of their religious and political desires, the overriding purpose of the war.

When I read Yaron Brook, I realize fully just how far the current war is from what we ought to be doing. It's rather depressing, but it's something that must be said over and over again and I'm glad he's saying it. The war we are fighting is primarily against ourselves. Our enemy is an expert in taking advantage of America's pervasive altruism. As I've noted before, his relative weakness prevents us from striking him with all our might. When we abandon that perverse moral code, the weakness of the enemy will no longer serve to shield him from us.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Media's Civil War, Part 1: Background

After the February 22nd bombing of the Askariya shrine the media reported that 120 mosques had been in attacked in reprisals, 1300 civilians had been killed in sectarian fighting, and that Iraq was descending into civil war. This version of events was so universally accepted that even certain paleocons felt safe enough to ride the tide by declaring the War in Iraq a failure.

On March 2, ten days after the attack, the commander of US forces in Iraq, General George Casey, gave a press briefing in which he attempted to counter some of the reports that had appeared in print. He brought the number of mosques attacked down to 30 with only ten of them taking moderate damage, and only a few of them suffering severe damage. He brought the number of civilian deaths down to 350, which he noted was unacceptable but far lower than the 1300 reported. He also noted that the Iraqi army and police force had performed well, though not uniformly so, that the government had remained united and had taken steps to calm the situation, and that the country was not descending into a civil war at this time.

The media reported on his briefing, but the Washington Post did not abandon its original figure of 1300 civilian deaths, reporting instead the counter claims of an "international official" who said that morgue officials in Baghdad had been pressured to reduce their numbers.

On March 7, the Washington Post reported on a poll they had conducted which showed that 80% of Americans believe that a civil war in Iraq is likely.

An overwhelming majority of the public believe fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq will lead to civil war and half say the U.S. should begin withdrawing its forces from that violence-torn country, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The survey found that 80 percent believed that recent sectarian violence made civil war in Iraq likely, and more than a third said such a conflict was "very likely" to occur. Expectations for an all-out sectarian war in Iraq extended beyond party lines. More than seven in 10 Republicans and eight in 10 Democrats and political independents believe civil war was likely.

In the face of the continuing violence, fully half--52 percent--of those surveyed said the United States should begin withdrawing forces. But only one in six favored immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq.

The claim that half of the people believe that the US should begin withdrawing forces is inaccurate. The question asked whether troop numbers should be increased or decreased. While 52% said that the numbers should be decreased, only 17% favored immediate withdrawal, while 35% said that the troops should be decreased but not all withdrawn immediately. One can favor a decrease in the number of troops without favoring a complete withdrawal. Meanwhile, 11% favored increasing the number of troops while 34% favored keeping the levels the same.

Still, the poll can be read as a measurement of the success that the mainstream media has had in painting a bleak picture of sectarian strife in Iraq after the bombing in Sammara. That is how it was presented in the article in which it was reported, and that is how it was read in many quarters.

That same day, Rumsfield gave a press briefing in which he dwelt at some length on the exaggerations that appeared in the press after the bombing, and pointed out that they all tended in the same direction.

From what I've seen thus far, much of the reporting in the U.S. and abroad has exaggerated the situation, according to General Casey. The number of attacks on mosques, as he pointed out, had been exaggerated. The number of Iraqi deaths had been exaggerated. The behavior of the Iraqi security forces had been mischaracterized in some instances. And I guess that is to say nothing of the apparently inaccurate and harmful reports of U.S. military conduct in connection with a bus filled with passengers in Iraq.

Interestingly, all of the exaggerations seem to be on one side. It isn't as though there simply have been a series of random errors on both sides of issues. On the contrary, the steady stream of errors all seem to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq.

And then I notice today that there's been a public opinion poll reporting that the readers of these exaggerations believe Iraq is in a civil war -- a majority do, which I suppose is little wonder that the reports we've seen have had that effect on the American people.

Rumsfield's statement is slightly inaccurate though. Looking at the poll numbers, only 1% of the respondents believed that Iraq is currently in a civil war. Of the 80% who believe that a civil war is likely, only 34% believe that it is very likely with 1% saying it definitely will happen, and another 1% saying it is already happening. The other 44% described it as somewhat likely, which at best can be interpreted as meaning that there's a better than 50-50 chance of it happening. The question does not give a time frame, so respondents could be projecting Since we have heard from the very beginning of the war about how much the Sunnis and Shia hate each other, it is not surprising that many people would ascribe greater than even odds to the possibility of a civil war in Iraq at some point in the future.

That's important because it actually suggests the opposite of what one might expect. Even though the media went through a major campaign to present a picture of Iraq torn by civil war, the public didn't buy it. Practically no one thinks that Iraq is currently experiencing a civil war. Lots of people are pessimistic about the long term prospects of avoiding one, but it's an open question whether they think it will happen while our troops are still there, or at some point after the US has withdrawn from Iraq.

Still, Rumsfield obviously believes that the media is presenting a distorted picture of the war, and that the distortions are having an effect on the American public's determination to continue the war until victory is achieved. There has been a debate in the blogosphere about whether this is the case, and in my next post I will talk more about that.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Is that Cricket?

Gateway Pundit has pictures and links to news about President Bush's visit to Pakistan (h/t Instapundit). Apparently, he found time for a little cricket. This was my favorite pic:

Here's an excerpt from an* interview Brit Hume did with Bush:

Hume: Yeah. Now, I notice this here, you've got this cricket bat here...
Bush: Yes.
Hume: Do you play?
Bush: No, I carry this partly of, uh, I don't know some sort of, uh, I suppose what's the word...uh....
Hume: Affectation?
Bush: Yes, I mean it's, it's, a it's a kind of totemestic thing you know, but to be quite frank with you, it's come in useful in a couple of situations. Certainly in the topsy, turvy world of [politics], having a good solid piece of wood in your hand is quite often...useful.**


Friday, March 03, 2006

Propaganda in the Classroom

Long before I knew a philosophical reason for being an atheist, I was turned against religion by the manner in which many preachers preach. Rather than appealing to a person's mind, they shout, stamp their feet, wave their arms and carry on like madmen. For a young person to see an adult behaving in such a way, not really understanding what he's talking about, and unable to judge whether he is right or wrong in what he's saying, is very scary. It's even more so when he proclaims that his listener's are sinful and doomed to burn in hell for eternity unless they live as he says they ought to.

If a person wants to convince another person of something, he has to respect the context of that person's mind. He has to begin from what the person already knows, and present facts in a dispassionate manner, and, instead of forcing the conclusion on the person, allow that person to draw the conclusion himself. As Frederic Bastiat said, "a mind never fully accepts a conclusion that it has not reached by its own effort."

That is the ideal way to teach, which is what makes this so disturbing (h/t Instapundit, via Michelle Malkin). Most of you have probably already seen the story, but to recap, it is about World Geography teacher Jay Bennish of Overland High School in Denver, Co., using his classroom as a bully pullpit from which to disseminate his personal view of American politics.

Ignore for the moment the exact content of his views. That's really unimportant, except for being the impetus for all the publicity. He is committing grievous errors in teaching methods here.

First, his entire demeanor is strident, confrontational and intimidating. Judging from the tape, few of the students have the nerve to express a dissenting opinion. Given his reaction to the one student who did, it is no wonder. He blasts the student with a barrage of disconnected assertions designed to overwhelm the student's ability to process and still remain focused on the central issue. The student who did respond did an admirable job of coming back to the main point each time, but that is probably because he lacked sufficient knowledge to even attempt to counter the teacher's other points.

His second error is discussing issues which the children do not yet have sufficient knowledge to judge for themselves. He constantly tells them, in between brow-beatings, that he just wants them to think about those issues for themselves, but what exactly is a 16 yr old supposed to think regarding issues about which he lacks any independent information? How many books would the average high schooler have read about US foreign policy and Cuba? It's obvious that he wants them to agree with him, or he wouldn't be pushing his viewpoint so hard. He wants his evaluations to acquire the status of facts in their minds. Instead brow-beating them, he ought to be providing them with the basic information they would need to draw their own conclusions.

His third error, is that he has veered completely off the subject matter of his class in order to propagandize. A World Geography class should be about world geography, not about current events. A dictionary definition of capitalism might be necessary to identify which countries have such a system, but a diatribe about the evils of such a system is beyond the scope of his course. One might get into evaluating economic systems in a world history class in order to explain why events unfolded the way they did, but not in a world geography class.

Jay Bennish is the kind of teacher that makes me glad I'm homeschooling.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


I was born 50 miles east of Birmingham, but fortunately my parents moved away 3 months later. I often tell people that Alabama is a really good place to be from. Some of the folks there seem bent on proving it.

(h/t Instapundit.)

"Where is the crime?"

A Washington Post story today continues the coverage of Saddam's trial under the title, Saddam asks: "Where is the crime?"

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Saddam Hussein told judges Wednesday that he ordered the trials of Shiites who eventually were executed in the 1980s and said their lands should be confiscated, but he insisted that those actions were not criminal.

The former Iraqi leader also said his co-defendants should be freed, and he alone should be tried for the crackdown in southern Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt on Saddam. He said the men simply were following orders.

"Where is the crime?" Saddam asked the court. "Is referring a defendant who opened fire at a head of state, no matter what his name is, a crime?

"If there is a law issued by Revolutionary Command Council that calls for confiscating land, then try the chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council. He is present," said Saddam, who was the head of the council, a main institution of his regime.

Saddam's argument is: the government passed a law, and these men obeyed the law, therefore, they cannot be found guilty of committing a crime. Implied also in his argument is that the people he had executed were complicit in an attempt to assassinate the leader of their country, and were therefore guilty of a capital crime.

It's a perfectly sensible argument, if we leave out the part about him being a dictator who, with the help of his followers, seized control of the government by force. That was his crime. All his other crimes flowed directly from it. A dictator can only hold onto power by killing those who oppose him, so of course he killed people.

For that matter, any government must be willing to jail and/or execute those who attempt to overthrow the government by force. Whether the government's actions in protecting itself are just depends primarily on whether the government itself is just, i.e., whether it is a government that protects the rights of individuals.

Protecting individual rights was never on Saddam's list of things to do. He was a bloody-handed dictator. Anyone had a right to depose or assassinate him, and he had no right to defend his murderous regime. He still has no right to defend himself on any grounds whatsoever, least of all on the need he had to protect and perpetuate his rule. As I have argued before, he was a tyrant, and, once deposed, the only proper thing to do with a tyrant is shoot him.

Update: Adding to my argument above, this trial, by assuming a legal framework for trying Saddam, is actually giving legitimacy to the Ba'athist regime. To argue that crimes were committed they must say that he broke the laws which existed at that time. Saddam responds that he did not, and then the argument is suddenly over whether he followed correct procedures in executing people, rather than whether he was a murderous thug. Hence, in a Reuters article we find the following quote:

"What we saw today was not Saddam admitting guilt, but admitting to the fact that he acted in accordance with his official duties and powers," said Nehal Bhuta, a legal expert from Human Rights Watch who has been monitoring the case.

And he did. He acted in complete accord with his official duties and powers as the tyrant of Iraq.

This is a complete travesty. Shoot him already.