Saturday, December 3, 2005

Sudden Death

Proving once again that terrorism is a tough way to make a living, the CIA has just sent al Qaeda's number three head-chopper off to enjoy his seventy two virgins:

Al-Qaeda's third-ranking leader has been killed by a missile fired by an American drone in Pakistan, near the Afghan border, NBC television news reported yesterday.

Egyptian-born Abu Hamza Rabia, who is said to head al-Qaeda's international operations, was among five people killed in a blast at a house where they were hiding in North Waziristan on Thursday. President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan confirmed Rabia's death yesterday.

Quoting unnamed officials, NBC said Rabia was killed by a missile launched from an unmanned Predator drone controlled by the US Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA would not comment. Tribal witnesses in Pakistan said a "hail of missiles" struck the mud house in the village of Haisori. Other witnesses told NBC that missile remnants bearing US markings remain in the area. They also said they had heard six explosions, but it is uncertain how many of these were the result of missile attacks and how many may have been explosives detonating inside the house.

Rabia, in his 30s, took over al-Qaeda's number three spot, behind Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, after the capture of Abu Faraj Farj al-Liby in Pakistan in May, said US and Pakistani security officials.

"Rabia's international portfolio included planning attacks against the United States," said a US official, adding that his death would be a serious blow for al-Qaeda. Rabia was involved in two attempts on President Musharraf's life two years ago and security forces had been hunting him for some time.

The life expectancy of middle and upper management in the terrorist ranks has dropped in the last six months to about four weeks. This is not a very reassuring statistic for those aspiring to move up the organizational ladder. Try to imagine what it must be like for these ambitious young jihadis who, after retiring for the evening, every evening, must lay in bed wondering whether there is even now a missile headed straight for their bedroom window. It must make for a fitful night's sleep no matter where in the world they try to take their rest. Every unexpected noise, every rustle of the wind, must rouse them awake with a start. And you thought sleep apnea would be an insufferable affliction. What these guys have to endure must be pure psychological hell.

It just occured to us: Would the threat of sudden death count as cruel and inhuman treatment under the McCain amendment?

Adopting the French Strategy

The editors at National Review Online have treated us to this clarifying portrait of the Democrats' strategy and good advice as to how President Bush should respond:

One of the most stirring lines from Bush's Iraq speech the other day was his vow, "America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your commander-in-chief." In his response to the speech, John Kerry denounced the line as an attack on a straw man: "No one has ever suggested or believes that we should run in the face of car bombers or assassins." Oh, really? Almost simultaneously on Capitol Hill, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was endorsing Rep. John Murtha's call for an immediate pullout and vouchsafing that most of his fellow House Democrats support it too. And so the balance of the Democratic party is swinging behind the very position that John Kerry says no one supports.

The battle lines are being drawn with increasing clarity on Iraq. More and more Democrats will give up on their former posture of denouncing Bush's handling of the war without offering any real alternative of their own, and instead forthrightly enunciate their own favored policy: quitting. There is a kind of honor in this - at least it is the position many of them have always believed in. But it is their shame that it has taken a dip in support for the war in the polls for them finally to be frank about it.

This is a debate that Bush can win. He will have to remain fully engaged in it, not letting his attention lapse as it has at various times over the last year. Yesterday's speech was an impressive entry into the debate, the sort of explanation and argument Bush will have to repeat again and again. It was specific. It admitted errors, which it would be pointless to try to deny. It emphasized that Bush's resolve doesn't mean a lack of flexibility in tactics. And it made clear his continued determination to achieve victory.

Cogent speeches, however, can only go so far. There is no substitute for progress on the ground in Iraq. That requires a coordinated political-military strategy, and the administration has one. It is a sign of how badly the rhetorical fight has been going that the "no strategy" meme has gotten the traction it has. The administration is working to keep the political process on track to create a legitimate, permanent Iraqi government; forge a national reconciliation that limits Sunni disaffection; train Iraqi forces so that they can take over security functions from us. Not only is this a strategy, in its broad outlines it is the only strategy that makes any sense. Even a persistent critic like Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria says this strategy is making headway in Iraq.

All that said, the American public probably won't be convinced that we are making progress until we begin to draw down American troops. This creates a temptation for the administration to engage in a wishful evaluation of the state of Iraq to justify troop withdrawals. It should be resisted. The strategic gains we have made in Iraq have been bought with too much blood and treasure to give them back in the hopes of winning a bump in the polls here at home. But there is a confluence of both American and Iraqi domestic politics on the question of American troop levels - it will help the political situation in both countries to have fewer U.S. troops in Iraq, so long as the reductions are justified by conditions and not made according to an artificial timetable that will only encourage our enemy.

America now has two choices before it: attempting to see the war through, or running from car bombers and assassins. Bush has staked his claim, and so have the Pelosi Democrats. The battle is joined.

The Dems are gravitating toward their natural place, having put into motion what might be called the French/Dem Strategy: When the going gets tough, the Dems, like the French, quit and get out. Murtha and Pelosi are the vanguard. Most of the rest will join them as soon as they think it is politically safe to do so. This is the same party, ironically, that once claimed the allegiance of John F. Kennedy, author of a book titled Profiles in Courage.

A Time For Compassion, Not Ridicule

Although mean-speak is almost exclusively a province of way-far lefties who call for soldiers to train their guns on their officers and who say the vilest things about their political opponents (whom they see as "enemies"), sometimes even fine people succumb to the temptation to cross the line with their rhetoric. We hope the good folks at Le Sabot Post-Moderne would reconsider the wording of this post on the Christian Protest Team members who have been kidnapped in Iraq and who are threatened with death by their captors. They write:

In an ideal world, active treason would have consequences. For example, take Americans and Brits who go to a war zone and "work against" the American and British troops fighting and dying there. In a perfect world, really bad things would happen to such people. Well, sometimes the world can be downright ideal.

This is the truly amazing part about these chuckleheads. . . They went there to collaborate with the bad guys. The Islamists in turn kidnapped them and are threatening to kill them.

Whatever CPT's motives for being in Iraq, the kidnap victims should receive our compassion rather than our scorn. These are people who are doubtless quite frightened and who have families which must be beside themselves with worry for their loved ones. We should be praying for their rescue rather than gloating over their foolishness and naivet�.

We agree with Le Sabot Post-Moderne that CPT's presence in Iraq is unhelpful and perhaps even a hindrance, but this moment calls for Christians to express our love, not our judgment.

Even harsher is the language used at this site. It's not so much the sentiments or even the words chosen to express them that are offensive, but rather the circumstances under which the sentiments are voiced. When the lives of people hang in the balance Christians, it would seem, have an obligation to show that we care more about the people themselves than we do about their ideology.

Recognizing Willful Stupidity

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost has begun a series of posts on how not to argue. His first recommendation is to avoid hyperbole because it just makes you sound stupid. He says this about the use of gross exaggerations in an argument:

An example of a rule of thumb that I find to be particularly useful in helping to avoid problems is to avoid, whenever possible, willfully stupid people. Intelligence is, of course, a relative concept and everyone (except for the World's Smartest Person) is just a little less bright than someone else. Willful stupidity, however, is distinct from IQ because it consists of a moral failing: Choosing to be dumber than you have to be.

One way to recognize a willfully stupid person is to examine the role hyperbole plays in their rhetoric. Take, for example, those who, like Pulitzer-nominated author Stephen Pizzo, say that "George Bush is the worst president of the United States of America, ever. Hands down." Whenever I encounter such people I walk the other way for fear that such stupidity might be contagious. For anyone to make such a claim would require a basic understanding of Presidential history, an objective standard for comparing other Presidents to George W, and an ability to make nuanced judgments. In other words, it requires the very skill set that would generally prevent a person from making such an inane claim in the first place.

(I should note that this is not just a failing of left-leaning progressives. Willful stupidity is certainly not a partisan issue; we heard the same sort of claims about Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The only difference is that Bush became President during the Age of the Blogosphere when the effects of echo-chamber ranting became more pronounced.)

The problem with making such a hyperbolic claim is that such exaggerations are not meant to be taking seriously. When the person who makes them treats them as if it were a rational claim then it shows that they themselves are not worthy of being taken seriously.

[If you're] inclined to disagree with this particular rule of thumb....I recommend you consider how you apply it in your own life. Think of the people whose analysis and judgment you most trust, the ones you consider to be sober and scrupulous thinkers. Now think of the people who are most prone to exaggeration and to making comments that amplify certain aspects out of proportion to reality. I suspect that, like me, you won't find much overlap between the two groups.

Good advice. We always thought that people who use wild and crazy exaggerations in their arguments were the dumbest people ever. Hands down.