Wednesday, March 9, 2005

"Yes, Buts" and "Neverthelesses"

Democrats find themselves in an unenviable position in the current political climate. They can't advocate the things they are for - higher taxes, weaker military, more deference to the U.N., gay marriage (whatever happened to that?), etc. - because they know that pluralities of voters will never buy what they're trying to sell. So they're reduced to talking only about what they are against, which is pretty much anything George Bush supports. Their gloomy rhetoric, however, is equally unhelpful, and just pushes them further toward the political margins. People, as Reagan knew, don't like negativity, but that's, unfortunately, all the Left has to offer.

Listen to political spokespersons like Kennedy, Boxer, Biden, Reid, and Pelosi. Visit web sites like Democratic Underground, Truth Out, and Move On. Listen to the MSM news outlets. All one hears from any of these pols or venues is just relentless, teeth grinding, mind-numbing negativism. It's all about "yes, buts", "remains to be seens", "on the other hands" and "neverthelesses". Reason after reason is adamantly put forward as to why we shouldn't do this or can't do that, accompanied by sophistical discourses on why this demarche or that program will never work and why everyone in the Bush administration has nefarious motives and intentions.

Meanwhile the world is changing under the nay-sayers feet, and they find themselves in the insufferable position of being irrelevant to that change. The blow to their egos produces resentment and the resentment spawns an inveterate pessimism and cynicism. The Bush administration's detractors are left pathetically scrambling to salvage their sense of self-importance by insisting that since they themselves had no hand in what is happening, since they opposed it from the start, it therefore is doomed to failure.

They're like sportswriters who never strapped on a helmet but who constantly criticize everything the coaches and players do even though their team keeps winning. They wholly unwittingly offer themselves up to the public and to future historians as objects of amusement and curiosity. For that role, sadly, they are well-suited.

Jon Leo makes a similar point with humor and style beyond the abilities we have at our command, and we commend to you his column titled Time for a Dose of Dr. No.

GWOT Scorecard

Strategy Page provides us with a scorecard for marking progress in the global war on terror (GWOT).

Al-Qaeda was originally built like a large corporation. It has a board of directors of 24, with Osama bin Laden as the CEO (official title is Emir-General). Bin Laden also has 15 people in what could be described as his "inner circle" of aides. Al-Qaeda also had training camps in six countries in September, 2001 (Afghanistan, Indonesia, Chechnya, Albania, Sudan, and the Philippines), with eight commanders. Al-Qaeda also maintained cells in numerous Arabian and European countries.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States and allies have been hunting down the leadership of al-Qaeda. Among the big fish (the "Board of Directors"), seven are dead and ten are in custody. Four members of the "inner circle" are also in custody. This is 53 percent of the senior leadership for al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden is still at large, along with Ayman al-Zawahiri (the deputy commander of al-Qaeda) and Abu Mohammed al-Masri (the planner of the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania). However, five out of the eight training camp commanders are dead or in custody.

Other statistics of note: Eighteen al-Qaeda financiers are dead or in custody. Among those still at large, though, are two of bin Laden's sisters, two of his brothers-in-law, and a Swiss banker by the name of Ahmed Huber. Huber also has extensive connections with neo-Nazis in Europe. The real financial resource for al-Qaeda remains untouched - the dozen or so Saudis who are called the "Golden Chain." All are at large, and all can still provide enough resources for bin Laden to regroup and strike again.

Al-Qaeda's military committee has also been decimated. One is dead (killed by a CIA Predator firing Hellfire missiles), fourteen, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Yousef, have been captured. These include the commanders in Singapore, Java, Southern Europe, and Japan. Several are at large, including the operations chiefs in Kosovo, Tunisia, and Somalia.

Subordinate networks in several countries have been rounded up or decimated. In Jordan, five out of the six major al-Qaeda figures are in custody; in Syria, only five major terrorist figures are still at large - dozens of al-Qaeda members are currently incarcerated, but three major Hezbollah figures are still on the loose. Syria, however, remains a sponsor of Hezbollah. Egypt has rounded up all of the major al-Qaeda figures, as have Italy, Belgium, Germany. The United Kingdom, Spain, and France have rounded up many al-Qaeda figures as well.

Many of the major al-Qaeda figures in Saudi Arabia are dead or apprehended, but a number of figures involved in the Khobar Towers bombing are still at large - some with connections to Hizbollah. In Turkey, 75 percent of the big fish connected with al-Qaeda are dead or in custody. Most of the support structure for the 9/11attack, including Mukhabarat agent Ahmad Khalil Ibraham al-Ani (who the Czechs insist met hijacker Mohammed Atta in Prague), are in custody.

But in some places, the network is pretty intact. Many major Taliban figures are still on the loose. So are all three members of al-Qaeda's WMD Committee, and all of those involved in a Bolivian hijacking plot.

Short version, al-Qaeda is on the run throughout most of the globe. Even Abu Musab Zarqawi, in charge of all al-Qaeda elements in Iraq, is on the run - as elements of his infrastructure are taken apart. Eight of Zarqawi's top aides are dead. Twenty others have been captured. Zarqawi was unable to disrupt the elections on January 30, a serious loss for the terrorists. Al-Qaeda is still potent, as the attacks in Madrid proved, but they are clearly reacting to the multi-pronged offensive in the United States.

The Cold War against the Soviet bloc lasted seventy years. The GWOT, despite the successes noted above, will probably last as long, unless the West decides it lacks the will to fight it. If this happens, though, the West will cease to exist as a cultural entity, and Islam will stand on the cusp of achieving its dream of a worldwide caliphate.

Hunting the Big Rat

Australian Broadcasting Company's News OnLine reports that an intense search for Abu al-Zarqawi is underway in Samarra north of Baghdad:

Iraqi commandos and United States soldiers have stepped up operations in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in search for top wanted militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a senior Iraqi security official said.

"We have information that Zarqawi may be hiding in Samarra or this region and this operation is aimed at checking that out," the officer said on condition of anonymity.

The official said 66 suspects have been arrested in the operation, which is expected to last a week with the goal of rounding up 250 wanted suspects working for seven armed groups in the area.

On the ground all entrances leading to Samarra were sealed as Iraqi and US forces conducted their searches. No vehicles were allowed to circulate inside the city where most businesses, schools and government institutions were closed for a second day.

The US military confirmed the operation. "Elements of the Iraqi Ministry of Interiors 1st Commando Brigade began operations to kill or capture insurgent elements in the city of Samarra this weekend," said Major Richard Goldenberg of the 42nd Infantry Division, adding that US soldiers are providing a supporting role. He said the operation was based on Iraqi intelligence.

Sounds like even if they don't get the big rat lots of lesser vermin are being taken out of service which can only further erode Zarqawi's ability to project terror. Let's hope, though, that they find the big rat as well.

Two Tales of Suffering

A friend of mine, reflecting on his father-in-law's cancer as well as a couple of our posts on the Culture of Death, was moved to write a beautiful meditation that deserves to be placed before all of our readers:

Pope John Paul II and Hunter S. Thompson have been in the news a great deal lately, reminding me of how much these two dynamic men had in common - as authors, as keen observers of contemporary mores, as charismatic countercultural figures who have inspired loyal followings.

They also shared something else: advancing age and declining health. But their responses to that condition have demonstrated just how little they have in common on the most important matters of all - that is, the meaning of suffering and, by extension, the meaning of life. On one hand, we have the frail Pope, assailed by Parkinson's disease and the flu, straining mightily to carry on his duties at the Vatican; and then we have Thompson, hounded by degenerating joints and constant pain, sitting down in his kitchen chair and shooting himself through the mouth.

Some commentators have called Thompson a coward for what he did. I won't say that. I've seen enough suffering among friends and family to know that people who attempt suicide or even contemplate it are most likely in a terribly dark place physically or mentally or both. They deserve our comfort and prayers, not our judgment. But in Thompson's case it appears that his death was entirely consistent with his philosophy of life.

"It was just like Hunter wanted. He was in control here," his wife, Anita, told a Colorado newspaper shortly after his suicide. "This is a triumph of his, not a desperate, tragic failure." Historian and author Douglas Brinkley, who edited some of Thompson's work, said in an Associated Press story, "I think he made a conscious decision that he had an incredible run of 67 years, lived the way he wanted to and wasn't going to suffer the indignities of old age. He was not going to let anybody dictate how he was going to die."

At that very time, Pope John Paul II was setting an example of his own, exhibiting a lesson handed down through centuries of Christianity - that suffering has tremendous spiritual value, that it can be more of a blessing than a curse, that it is, in fact, the bedrock of salvation. As he shuttled back and forth from the hospital, the Pope lived out the meaning of a recent Lenten message he delivered on euthanasia: "What would happen if the people of God yielded to a certain current mentality that considers these people, our brothers and sisters, as almost useless when they are reduced in their capacities due to the difficulties of age or sickness?.... Thou shalt not kill applies even in the presence of illness and when physical weakness reduces the person's ability to be self-reliant."

And that's really what it comes down to - it's about who is really in control and on whose terms we're really living. Simply put, Thompson lived on selfish terms and the Pope has lived on God's. Thompson took the easier path, the one defined by his will, not by God's - and most, if not all of us, are guilty of that to some extent. Trying to live any other way is a monumental battle, particularly in a consumer society that places premium value on getting what we want, when we want it. I don't like suffering any more than anyone else, and I certainly don't wish for it. But it's clear that the Pope has chosen the harder way, and the fruits of putting God first, rather than himself, show it to be the better way as well.

He is a man, after all, who engaged in dangerous underground work against the Nazis, forgave his would-be assassin and played a leading role in ridding his native Poland - and the world - of the Soviet regime. His unilateral leadership style and stances on hot-button issues in the Roman Catholic Church have infuriated some, but his personal example is sterling. Thompson, though clearly a gifted writer and a discerning journalist, reveled in drug and alcohol use, built a cult of self around those experiences and ultimately shot himself with his wife apparently on the phone and other family members in the house.

In his best-selling novel The Thanatos Syndrome, Walker Percy, a great cultural diagnostician of our times, examined a world that is consumed with a death-wish manifested through the unending pursuit of self-indulgence and self-gratification. We all live in that world today, and I think it's fair to say that Hunter Thompson helped create it by glamorizing excess and celebrating reckless individualism before showing us how it all ends - with a bang and a whimper.

Meanwhile, the Pope, who was once a magnificent athlete, is now so weak that strong winds literally threaten to knock him down during his travels. The man fluent in several languages often has trouble speaking at all. The many gifts God has given him are being taken away a little bit at a time, stripping him bare as death nears. In Hunter Thompson's world, that's an indignity. I can't shake the feeling and the hope that it's really a sign of grace.

Steve M.