Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Is Syria Getting Tough on Terrorists?

Maybe Syria intends to avert an American incursion of its territory after all:

A Syrian policeman was killed and two militants captured during fighting on a mountain overlooking Damascus yesterday in a second day of battles between Syrian security forces and rebels connected with the war in Iraq. The gunbattle, which allegedly involved former bodyguards of Saddam Hussein, came amid indications that the Syrian Government is increasing its efforts to capture militants who use Syria as a staging ground for attacks in Iraq.

Sana, the official Syrian news agency, reported: "The clash took place on Mount Qassioun with a group of people wanted for terrorist crimes, some of whom were former bodyguards. The gunbattle claimed the life of Ahmad Hijazi, a security forces officer, Sana said, which added that two police officers and two other security force officers were wounded.

The agency said that the two people arrested were Sharif Aied Saif Smadi, a Jordanian, and the wife of his brother, Mohammed, who is on the run.

The incident came a day after fighting between Syrian troops and suspected Islamist militants returning from Iraq who were trying to cross into northern Lebanon, near Homs. Two soldiers and a militant were killed in the fighting, the first incident of its kind along the Lebanon-Syria frontier. Syrian troops arrested at least 34 militants staying at a nearby safe house, Sana said.

Lebanese media reports said that among those arrested were Lebanese and Algerians. The al-Jazeera satellite channel named the dead militant as Majdi bin Mohammed bin Said al-Zreibi, a Tunisian. Syria faces pressure from the US to stop militants crossing into Iraq.

Let us hope that Syria will be consistent in applying pressure on those who are using its territory as a safe haven from which to launch assaults on Iraq.

Debka File says that the gun battle broke out as a result of a massacre of Syrian tourists by the terrorists although why they would have done this was not made clear.

Sagan on Skepticism

"But the tools of skepticism are generally unavailable to the citizens of our society. They're hardly ever mentioned in the schools, even in the presentation of science, its most ardent practitioner, although skepticism repeatedly sprouts spontaneously out of the disappointments of everyday life. Our politics, economics, advertising, and religions (New Age and Old) are awash in credulity. Those who have something to sell, those who wish to influence public opinion, those in power, a skeptic might suggest, have a vested interest in discouraging skepticism."

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

Sagan is exactly right. He has put his finger on one reason why there is so much opposition from the Neo-Darwinian priesthood to those skeptics who dissent from the true religion.

Moral Equivalency Watch

Apparently Brian Williams' blow dryer has singed his common sense. That's as good an explanation as any for why the NBC anchor would have made this blockheaded statement to Andrea Mitchell the other night. In a story on the newly elected Iranian president, a man who appears to some of the Americans who were held hostage in Tehran in the late seventies to be one of their abductors, Williams said:

"What would it all matter if proven true? Someone brought up today the first several U.S. presidents were certainly revolutionaries and might have been called 'terrorists' by the British crown, after all."

Evidently, at some point in Mr. Williams' educational journey he was taught that George Washington kidnapped and held foreign diplomats against their will for over a year, had them beaten and mistreated and in fear of their lives, which were repeatedly threatened, not because they had committed any crimes against the colonies but simply because they were British. Ah, you say Washington never did that? Maybe it was Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, or Jefferson. Maybe John Adams. It must have been one of those guys because Brian Williams said so on NBC.

For sophisticates like Williams terrorism is relative. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, don't you know. The fact is that the word terrorist denotes something pretty specific in today's parlance. It refers to one who deliberately undertakes to kill large numbers of innocent civilians in order to weaken opposition to whatever goals the murderer might have in mind. At the very minimum a terrorist is a murderer.

Since the word terrorist did not exist in the 1770s, when Williams says that the British might have regarded the founders as terrorists the only meaning he can be ascribing to the word is the meaning it has today. As such, his statement makes him look like a dunce.

Williams, like so many liberals, can't seem to escape the desire to draw a moral equivalence between Americans and America's foes. In their view, if our enemies are evil they're no more so than the very best men this country has produced. Evil, after all, has no objective definition. In the Orwellian Newspeak of the times evil is in the eye of the beholder. Thus, the liberation of fifty million people is a great atrocity, terrorists who deliberately murder women and children are compared by Michael Moore to the Minutemen of colonial America, Bush is Hitler.

It's as pathetic as it is stupid.

The Dems' Dilemma

A couple of Washington Post writers think that the bipartisan filibuster deal struck six weeks ago will make it difficult for the Democrats to stop a conservative Bush nominee for the seat vacated by Sandra Day O'Connor:

The pact, signed by seven Democrats and seven Republicans, says a judicial nominee will be filibustered only under "extraordinary circumstances." Key members of the group said yesterday that a nominee's philosophical views cannot amount to "extraordinary circumstances" and that therefore a filibuster can be justified only on questions of personal ethics or character.

The distinction is crucial because Democrats want to force Bush to pick a centrist, not a staunch conservative as many activist groups on the political right desire. Holding only 44 of the Senate's 100 seats, Democrats have no way to block a Republican-backed nominee without employing a filibuster, which takes 60 votes to stop.

GOP leaders, sensing the Democrats' bind, expressed confidence yesterday that the Senate will confirm Bush's eventual nominee, no matter how ideologically rigid. "I think there is every expectation, every reason to believe that there will be no successful filibuster," Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on "Fox News Sunday."

Under the "Gang of 14" accord, the seven Republican signers agreed to deny Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) the votes he needed to carry out his threat to bar judicial filibusters by changing Senate rules. The seven are implicitly released from the deal if the Democratic signers renege on their end. Yesterday, key players suggested the seven Democrats will automatically be in default if they contend a nominee's ideological views constitute "extraordinary circumstances" that would justify a filibuster.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of the 14 signers, noted that the accord allowed the confirmation of three Bush appellate court nominees so conservative that Democrats had successfully filibustered them for years: Janice Rogers Brown, William H. Pryor Jr. and Priscilla R. Owen. Because Democrats accepted them under the deal, Graham said on the Fox program, it is clear that ideological differences will not justify a filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee.

"Based on what we've done in the past with Brown, Pryor and Owen," Graham said, "ideological attacks are not an 'extraordinary circumstance.' To me, it would have to be a character problem, an ethics problem, some allegation about the qualifications of the person, not an ideological bent."

Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), a leader of the seven Democratic signers, largely concurred. Nelson "would agree that ideology is not an 'extraordinary circumstance' unless you get to the extreme of either side," his spokesman, David DiMartino, said in an interview.

Of course, this all assumes that Democrats can be trusted to keep their word. Even if they violate the spirit of the deal, however, and seek to filibuster a nominee on ideological grounds, it still works to their disadvantage inasmuch as their betrayal would anger perhaps all Republicans and enough Democrats a cloture vote to end the filibuster would succeed.

So if the Democrats refuse to filibuster over ideological differences, Bush wins. If they do try to filibuster, either cloture will be invoked (if the Republicans can get 60 votes), or the rules will be changed to disallow filibusters (if the Republicans can muster 50 votes). Either way, it looks like any reasonably well-qualified nominee will be confirmed.

The wild-card in all this would be the nomination by Bush of his buddy Alberto Gonzalez. There are enough conservative Republicans who will settle for nothing less than a staunch "original intent" Justice on the Court and who are sufficiently skeptical of Gonzalez that the necessary votes to confirm him may not be there. The word among conservatives is that Gonzalez is Spanish for Souter. Another Souter is the last thing the Court, or the nation, needs.