Friday, January 4, 2008

Change Agent

A lot of people this morning are pointing out the irony of Sen. Clinton advertising herself as the agent of "change" while surrounded by various relics of her husband's administration. In the photo below she's flanked, inter alia, by Wesley Clark, Madeleine Albright and, of course, Bill. How much change does that suggest?

P.S. Any candidate who promises "change" in Washington should be automatically disqualified from the race and hooted off the stage. Not only does such a claim barely rise to the level of rhetoric in a middle school student council election, it's about as ridiculous as John Edwards' promise in 2004 that if John Kerry were elected president quadriplegics would walk again.


Celebrating Diversity in Kenya

Another African nation appears on the verge of going up in flames:

Dozens of people seeking refuge in a church in Kenya were burned to death by a mob on Tuesday in an explosion of ethnic violence that is threatening to engulf this country, which until last week was one of the most stable in Africa.

According to witnesses and Red Cross officials, up to 50 people died inside the church in a small village in western Kenya after a furious crowd doused it with gasoline and set it on fire.

In Nairobi, the capital, tribal militias squared off against each other in several slums, with gunshots ringing out and clouds of black smoke wafting over the shanties. The death toll across the country is steadily rising.

Witnesses indicate that more than 250 people have been killed in the past two days in bloodshed connected to a disputed election Kenya held last week.

The Kenya celebrated for its spectacular wildlife and robust economy is now a land of distress. Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes, and some are so frightened that they have crossed into Uganda.

"We've had tribal fighting before, but never like this," said Abdalla Bujra, a retired Kenyan professor who runs a democracy-building organization.

As for the people burned alive in the church, Mr. Bujra echoed what many Kenyans were thinking: "It reminds me of Rwanda."

Well, it reminds us of the predictable outcome in most societies in which people divide themselves along religious, ethnic, racial or tribal lines. The multiculturalist ideal of different cultures all living harmoniously together is very difficult to find in the real world. It's an ideal which repeatedly fails to survive its encounters with human nature.

This is why any society that wishes to endure needs to thoroughly assimilate minorities, speak a common language, and emphasize the things that make them alike rather than the things which make them different. People will tolerate each other as long as things are going well, but when difficulties arise superficial ethnic or racial cohesion dissolves and is often replaced by an ugly and brutal us vs. them conflict. This has happened so often around the world that one is quite amazed at the steadfastness in the face of counter-evidence of those who think that having multiple languages, customs and cultures within a polity is a good thing.


Another American Success

This article contains significant information about a crucial development in the war in Iraq - stopping the flow of foreign terrorists into Iraq from Syria and North Africa. The article discusses several reasons for the decline in infiltration rates and points to economic ties between Iraq and Syria as providing much of the incentive for Syria to crack down. Some key points of the article:

General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, is crediting efforts by the Syrian government, along with stepped-up counter-terrorism activities in other Arab states, with cutting the flow of al-Qaeda terrorists entering Iraq.

This change in Syrian behavior has occurred at a time when the Iraqi government and the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad have been increasing their diplomatic and economic engagement, and when relations between Jordan and Syria also have been warming.

"The progress that has been made against al Qaeda-Iraq this year is very significant, .... It has been helped, I should note, by the way, by actions in a number of source countries, including Saudi Arabia, some of the Gulf states, and some north African countries, who have conducted operations against so-called foreign fighter facilitators, financiers, and others who have supported and provided money and individuals to al Qaeda-Iraq. And also, by Syria, which has taken more aggressive action against al Qaeda-Iraq in the networks in Syria that take individuals through Damascus Airport and then on into Iraq."

In a December 7 interview with the Guardian, Petraeus credited Islamic fatwas "condemning extremism" issued in countries such as Saudi Arabia along with efforts by the Syrian government to take "more aggressive action against some of the foreign fighter facilities there" with helping to cut the flow of al Qaeda terrorists entering Iraq.

The paper cited U.S. officials as saying that between August 2006 and September 2007 about 700 foreign terrorists had entered Iraq from Syria. Since then, the flow has been cut dramatically.

At a December 21 Pentagon press briefing, Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also credited Syria with helping to stop the flow of terrorists into Iraq. Cartwright suggested that Iraqi-Syrian commercial relations were beginning to supplant the flow of terrorists.

"I still think there are challenges along the Syrian border, but not to the extent that there were," said Cartwright. "Again, out in that area, the flow has turned heavily to commerce and to the returning refugees and not so much to fighters moving back and forth, which is what we experienced six months ago."

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari is quoted as saying that:

"They numbered between 80 and 100 persons a month and this figure dropped at present to less than 30. In other words, there is still infiltration but at a lower rate. These are suicide bombers and dangerous criminals who targeted the innocent with booby-trapped vehicles and explosive belts and posed a very dangerous security threat."

Zebari suggested that the change was the result of a political decision taken by the Syrian regime to accept the new Iraq, which led to increased diplomatic, economic and security engagement between the two countries.

"We said from the beginning that the security and economic cooperation between Syria and Iraq could not be achieved if there was not a political will and if no political understanding was reached as well as acceptance of the new reality in Iraq and dealing with it in a realistic way," said Zebari. "We noticed that there is a right movement in this direction. A greater understanding between the security services was achieved from the series of visits made by Iraqi leaders and Syrian officials and as a result of the bilateral efforts and also the neighboring countries' conferences."

Zebari said, as reported by Al Hayat, that the agreements made between the two countries included "measures at the borders, airports, and border crossing and the interrogation of suspects, their ages, and the circumstances of their travel."

He also credited the assistance of other Arab states from which terrorist recruits had been coming to Iraq. Iraq, he said, "is working with countries of origin in North Africa, the peninsula, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Countries to control the movements of these people. The efforts do not include Syria alone but other countries too."

In December, Syria and Iraq agreed to reopen the Kirkuk-Banyas oil pipeline that carried Iraqi crude from Kirkuk to a port on Syria's Mediterranean coastline. In November, the two countries agreed to establish a joint Syrian-Iraq bank.

If this continues it'll be hard not to see it as yet another foreign policy success for the Bush administration. It'd be hard to believe that these developments just happened without the U.S. being deeply involved in the negotiations which led to the decisions in the relevant countries to improve economic relations and to stem the flow of terrorists to Iraq. At least it'll be hard for fair-minded observers not to credit the administration for this success. I doubt that many of the administration's critics on the left will have any difficulty withholding their kudos.


America's End

Left-wing celebrity Naomi Wolf has written a book about America's slide into fascism titled The End of America. If Jacob Laksin's review is anywhere near a fair evaluation Wolf's book should be shelved under "humor" in libraries and book stores across the land. According to Laksin, Ms Wolf apparently has only a passing acquaintance with the facts upon which she tries to build her case, but read the review and decide for yourself.