Notes from all over
A reader writes to say a monument to Bruce Lee has been erected in the Balkans to commemorate his contribution to World Peace.
The kung fu movie star Bruce Lee would have turned 65 in November, and a two-ring media circus descended on Mostar, Bosnia, for his birthday. It was then, in this mortar- and bullet-pocked city once famous for its Ottoman bridge, that the world’s first public monument to Lee was unveiled. Building civil society never seemed so weird: Here was a life-sized bronze statue of a topless American immigrant paid for by the German government and christened by a Chinese diplomat, erected at the behest of a dysfunctional community of Croats, Serbs, and Muslims.
But there are always unintended consequences.
Just hours after the monument was unveiled, a group of rowdy teenagers defaced the statue and stole the nunchucks, leaving the site littered with wine bottles. According to Sky News, one citizen responded with the cry, “Once again we’ve shown what Balkan savageness is!”
The London Times Online has a provocative post called Why America's generals are out for revenge: The US top brass are ducking their responsibilities - and beleaguered Donald Rumsfeld is just doing his job. Whatever merits the article may have, the Rumsfeld vs the Generals debate has become political, a stage where noise really starts to exceed signal.
The Defence Secretary has trod on toes in this process. He has insisted on interviewing every appointment to four and three-star rank — something that was more of a pro forma process under his predecessors. He appointed a retired Special Forces general, Peter Schoomaker, as US Army Chief of Staff, thus passing over stacks of serving officers. And with his greater emphasis on high-tech “jointery”, he has forced both the Army and the Marines to depend more on Air Force and Navy supporting fire.
The real criticism of Mr Rumsfeld is not that he “kicked to much butt”, but that he kicked too little. At George Bush’s behest, he sent the US armed forces into a war that they weren’t yet fully ready to fight: they are much more prepared now, but the insurgency genie is out of the bottle. He was part of the Republican consensus that was contemptuous of Clinton-era peacekeeping operations, believing that real soldiers don’t do social workerish stuff. Like so many reformers, his problem is that his changes discomfit existing interest groups before the benefits become fully visible.
A reader sends a video link to a Scott Ritter interview on Iranian uranium enrichment capability. Technically speaking Ritter is probably right in saying that Iran can't produce enough fissile material to make an A-bomb in the near future. For a collateral assessment see In From the Cold's: Numbers. But for those who regard Iran as the Serpent's Egg there is no percentage waiting for it to progress any further. If the regime is inherently hostile in nature, then from that point of view a showdown as early as possible would be best. Historically, the dangers on both sides of the Serpent's Egg argument can be illustrated by Germany. Germany probably started the First World War in the belief it was being strangled by France, England and Russia and 1914 was the year of "now or never". But on the other hand, Munich is a counterexample of how it is genuinely possible to miss the "now or never" boat to preserve world peace. Serpent's Egg arguments are dangerous ones indeed. The problem with history is that things are only clear in retrospect, but as a guide to the future, it is useful as driving down the freeway by looking only at the rear-view mirror.
Daniel Pipes has a piece on how the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) applied for Goverment Emergency Telecommunications Service at a time when they had a history of communicating with dubious individuals. Apparently the Emergency Service let's the caller get through during a time of disturbance when phone lines may be jammed. Their application was denied.
Oxblog thinks President Bush made a crucial mistake in not managing war expectations, citing the example of Winston Churchill who promised nothing more than "blood, toil, sweat and tears". You could make the case that President Bush already talked about a generational effort, a war like the Cold War, etc, but that the message fell through the cracks when confronted with his declaration that major combat operations were over in Iraq. But many images, like that of the Vietnamese police General executing an NVA infiltrator, become the message themselves. Take the Six-Day War. Until I read Michael Orren's book I had the idea it was a swift, relatively bloodless Israeli victory. Not until I read up on it did I realize that in per capita comparison terms with the US, Israel lost the equivalent of 80,000 men during the Six-Day War. That was an example of image obscuring reality. But going back to managing expectations, if an American President went to the public and said, "boys, we've got to get ready to lose 80,000 lives over the coming week in a war we're about to declare" he'd be ridden out of Washington on a rail, I think. It wouldn't do him much good to say "but Winston Churchill said ...". Those words would echo as he got bounced down the political steps.
Marc Cooper, who is somewhat left of center, says:
Comedian Lewis Black likes to joke that the difference between the two parties is that the Republicans are the party of bad ideas while the Democrats are the party of no ideas.
Writer and professor Alan Wolfe takes up at least the first half of that axiom in a somewhat more serious vein in the most recent Chronicle of Higher Education. Calling George W. Bush perhaps the "most anti-llectuial president of modern times," Wolfe points to two new books by conservative renegades to underline "just how bad the ideas associated with the Bush administration" have been. Wolfe's talking about the latest offerings from Francis Fukuyama and Bruce Bartlett.
Now I'm not so sure Francis Fukuyama represents Republicans, or for that matter, who does. But Lewis Black's observation is an interesting example of policy by negation: a situation in which an entire party defines itself by rejecting the other; a kind of anti-matter to matter relationship. The problem with that, as exemplified by the defense debate, is that one party becomes masterful at obstruction without itself providing a roadmap of where to go. To modify a recent media sound-bite: "I'm the derider here". At the end of the day one party leaves you with a roadmap and the other leaves you with wanting to tear it up. But it doesn't actually get you anywhere.