19 September, 2005

Another bad idea

There's rumblings that the administration wants to repeal (all or elements of) the Posse Comitatus and Insurrection Acts, so soldiers can contribute to civilian law enforcement. This is a staggeringly bad idea. Soldiers aren't cops, and blurring the distinctions between them makes things worse for law enforcement and for the military. That's one of the reasons the military is opposed. You really have to work to find an idea so bad that both the Defense Department and the American Civil Liberties Union unite in opposition to it.


Some concern over labels is warranted, but much of it is simply an excuse to avoid looking at reality. With this in mind, I was pleased by this column by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post. A taste:

Arafat was murdered.

No, not that Arafat (Yasser) but the other Arafat (Moussa). The latter was the cousin of the former and at one time his head of military intelligence. When Yasser Arafat died, Moussa was demoted by the new Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and named an adviser. Last week in Gaza he was dragged out into the street and shot.

His murder -- an execution, actually -- followed a 30-minute gun battle between Moussa Arafat's security people and the 100 or so armed men in 20 vehicles who had come to get him. The killing attracted little international attention, which is pretty remarkable because it says more about the prospects for peace in the region than do the assurances of the Brioni suit set (assembling now for the U.N. session) that everything is going just fine. This would be particularly the case, we are told, if only the Israelis would cooperate by, among other things, limiting themselves to a block or two of Tel Aviv.

Think about it, though. Doesn't it say something -- and something troubling -- about a political entity (the Palestinian Authority) that two armed groups could battle for half an hour and not one of the PA's security forces could get to the scene and intervene? It is an odd state -- if a state is what it is -- where brigands can show up at the door and fight it out without anyone's calling 911. This, though, is what passes for Palestine.

You can argue that for all the calamity that the creation of Israel has meant to the Palestinians, it has been greatly exacerbated by the corruption and ineptitude of their own leadership. Israel, of course, is hardly blameless. It is out of Gaza, but it remains an occupying power on the West Bank, and its policies there are sometimes not pretty. Still, the Palestinians seem intent on making matters worse. As a society, they have exalted suicide bombings, tolerated senseless and atrocious terrorism and for years they apathetically supported the kleptomaniacal Yasser Arafat, whose peace plan consisted, basically, of waiting for Israel to evaporate. He died very rich but presumably very frustrated.

At the recent Ambrosetti conference of Italian and other notables in Cernobbio, Italy, both Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, and Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, warned against blunt talk. Moussa insisted that anyone who questioned whether Arabs could have a democracy was a "racist." And Erekat, for his part, insisted that the term "Islamic terrorist" was likewise an expression of bigotry. This caused the plain-talking Sen. John McCain, a conference attendee, to suggest that the word "banana" be substituted for "Islamic" while I, exhaustively searching for the proper PC term, chanced upon "persons of terror." That cannot offend anyone.

Referring to the pattern of Israeli policy towards Palestinians as "not pretty," is disengenous at best. However, the main point is valid. It's hard to make a legitmate demand for a state if you are incapable of operating as one.

It seems to be a tradition among the Palestinians to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. I suspect this was part of what Sharon has had in mind all along with the transfer of Gaza: encourage the natural tendency to civil war, and (behind the wall) get out of the way.

When I taught a class on terrorism last spring my proposal was criticized for using the word "Islamist" to describe a substantial number of the terrorists now operating around the world.
Is there a label that would keep everyone happy? I doubt it, but if it does exist it would probably be devoid of all meaning.

11 September, 2005

Looking ahead to repeat the same mistakes

People are looking to West Africa as the next big oil field, and already worrying about terrorism and piracy. Of course, they might want to reduce oil dependency, but that seems too difficult.

07 September, 2005


It's been long enough now that we can begin to see the shape of the political disaster that followed the hurricane. A few obvious points:

  • If you build city below sea level, you should plan for the worst.

  • The city, in particular the mayor of New Orleans, blew it. You don't call for the evacuation of a city and do almost nothing to make it work. There were hundreds of buses left unused. Traffic flow could have been improved by the simple expedient of using all but one of the lanes of the interstate highways for outgoing traffic. Obvious things were left undone.

  • The governor of Louisiana blew it. Sometimes, you have to make decisions and adapt to reality. It appears she was unable to do either.

  • FEMA is not a first-responder organization. It wasn't meant to be. Too many people think it is.

  • FEMA is a seriously screwed-up organization. If cable news networks can manage communications from the disaster zone, it should be well within the capability of a federal agency. The agency arrived late, and if stories are to be believed its mismanagement made things worse.

  • In the final analysis, people have to be prepared to take care of themselves and the people around them, at least until help arrives. It's not necessary to get as second mortgage and build a bomb shelter in the basement (although, if you have the cash, it's not the worst way to spend it). Just setting aside a few things may be enough. Look, for example, at this and this.

Anyone who says the flooding was "impossible to forsee" is an idiot or a liar (these are not mutually exclusive catagories). I spent a spring break in NO a few years ago as part of a service-learning group working in the area. The potential for catastrophe was obvious. It was commented upon, by visitors and by locals. It was the subject of jokes (a common reaction when people don't want to face difficult facts). The natural disaster that was Katrina was nothing more than the "worst-case scenerio" told to me by people in New Orleans all those years ago. Everyone knew the "hundred-year storm" was coming, but everyone hoped it wouldn't arrive in their lifetime. It was too easy to pass the buck. Nobody wanted to spend political (and financial) capital without a personal payoff. It was too easy to procrastinate in the hope that it would eventually become somebody else's problem. It was human. It was predictable. And now thousands of innocents pay.

Perhaps now somebody will recognize that the Department of Homeland Security was one of the worst bureaucratic disasters of the past fifty years. It was wrong in concept, wrong in design, and wrong in implementation.