IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Iraq:  Quagmire for the terrorists

Iraq:  Quagmire for the terrorists

Despite pouring in military resources, and staking a good deal of their global prestige on success in Iraq, they've failed again, and people are talking quagmire.

No, not Bush, Rice and Rumsfeld, who are looking pretty happy -- I'm talking about the forces of Islamic terror.  Military blogger Bill Roggio, who more than any of the talking heads on TV actually understands what's going on, puts it this way:

The Iraqis have voted on the referendum. Turnout is reported to be high in many areas of Iraq.  Saddam's own hometown in Tikrit is estimated to have had a 78% turnout.  Dr. Fareed Ayar, a member of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, estimates over 11 million particpated in the ballot, almost 70% of the registered voters.  The much touted "Ramadan Offensive", designed to disrupt the election process and bring the Iraqi people to their knees has failed....Either al Qaeda did not have the resources to conduct such attacks, could not penetrate the security of the Coalition, or did not have the will to attack Iraqis exercising their democratic rights.  No matter what the reason, this is a victory for the Iraqi people and another strategic defeat for al Qaeda.  When given a choice between the vision of the Islamists and the ideal of freedom, Iraqis brave the jihadi's threats of violence and reject al Qaeda's hateful ideology.  Every time.

Yet many in the "anti-war" camp would rather see the Iraqis lose, so long as that means that the hated George W. Bush loses too.  Whether Iraqis die or suffer under tyranny doesn't matter -- just as it didn't matter to them under Saddam -- because all they care about is scoring political points.

British blogger Norm Geras on those rooting against success in Iraq:

The paragraph as a whole is a nice illustration of the anti-war system of accounting, which some of us who favoured the liberation of Iraq find hard to stomach (once stomachs is what you're talking): everything bad that has happened since the war is a result of the war; anything good that has happened is... why, something else entirely. But there are people who are capable of seeing the trick here, of seeing that the phrase 'the way its dictator was overthrown' includes the phrase 'its dictator was overthrown'.

It's really hard to avoid concluding that many on the left just don't care what happens, so long as it makes Bush look bad.  That's pathetic, but it seems to be inescapably true.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic of Iran is starting to worry that -- for its side:

This regime-run site in this report explicitly demanded that the Islamic Republic cease and desist from further meddling in the internal issues of Iraq and wrote: "To establish our aims in Iraq is a very difficult and labor-intensive process; we should not act in a way such that in a few years from now we would end up regretting those choices and be left wondering how we lost Iraq as well."

Heh.  They don't know the half of it.

October 13, 2005 |

The Miers nomination in trouble?

On the first day of the Harriet Miers nomination, I that I was underwhelmed by the choice. A lot of other people seem to feel the same way.

Part of the problem is that the vetting process seems to have been pretty iffy. As The Wall Street Journal's reports:

A real vetting process involves sitting down with potential nominees and grilling them with hard-charging and probing questions that go beyond the existing paper trail--or, in the case of Harriet Miers, the lack of a paper trail....Even though several highly regarded female lawyers were on Mr. Bush's short list, President Bush and Mr. Card discussed the idea of adding Ms. Miers. Mr. Card was enthusiastic about the idea. The New York Times reported that he "then directed Ms. Miers' deputy ... to vet her behind her back."For about two weeks, Mr. Kelley conducted a vetting he has described to friends as thorough. It wasn't. A former Justice Department official calls it "barely adequate for a nominee to a federal appeals court." One Texas lawyer called by the White House was struck by the fact "that the people who were calling about someone from Texas and serving a Texas president knew so little about Texas." (Mr. Kelley didn't return my telephone calls.)It is unlikely that the vetting fully explored issues surrounding Ms. Miers that are sure to figure in her confirmation hearings, such as her work as Mr. Bush's personal lawyer. Another issue will involve Ms. Miers's tenure as head of the Texas Lottery Commission, where lottery director Nora Linares was fired in a scandal involving influence-peddling and lottery contracts. In a curious move, the White House announced this week that regarding the Linares matter, "Harriet Miers has never commented and will not now on what was a personnel matter."  That is unlikely to remain a tenable position.

No, it's not, and the Miers nomination is in trouble now.  There are a lot of legitimate questions about Miers -- a virtual unknown before her nomination -- and about the propriety of choosing someone so close to the President as a Supreme Court Justice.  What's more, the White House spin operation, so deft on the Roberts nomination, has been inept this time around, igniting internecine warfare among Bush's base.  Democrats are laughing, Republicans are scuffling, and the polls are .  As they say in the Marines, "train hard, fight easy."  The Bush Administration didn't train for this fight, and it's going to be harder than they realize.

October 11, 2005 |

Onward and upward

NASA is pretty boring, but people still care about space.  Just look at the in New Mexico:

A central star of the show, XCOR Aerospace, demonstrated its EZ-Rocket here at the Las Cruces airport. The vehicle is a precursor to the Mark-1 X-Racer now under development with planned test flights in the spring and summer of 2006. Rocketing off the tarmac, the EZ-Rocket was put through its paces above the expo crowd by former shuttle astronaut, Rick Searfoss.  Demonstration flights of the EZ-Rocket signals the emergence of a new Rocket Racing League.

Yes, you read that right -- "Rocket Racing League."  Hey, it really is the 21st Century!  Of course, not everything went perfectly, as a couple of the rockets didn't work properly.  But unlike NASA, where each failure would have cost tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to correct, these were fairly minor because everyone involved was doing it on the cheap.  For these participants, failures are an opportunity for learning rather than a political embarrassment.

And it was enough to get to visit the remote New Mexico desert.  There's plenty of support for space exploration out there -- people have just lost interest, and faith, in NASA's efforts.  It's nice to see someone else picking up the slack.


Why technology matters

Yesterday, I wrote about Ray Kurzweil's ideas on technological progress.  People often dismiss the importance of developing new technologies, but the alternative is technological stagnation.  And stagnation leaves us vulnerable to all sorts of bad things.

One thing I'd like us to overcome our vulnerability to is avian flu, which has policymakers in Washington .  And they should be worried, as the strain of avian flu that's still infecting mostly birds in Asia is looking more and more like the that caused millions of deaths worldwide in 1918:

The strain of avian influenza that has led to the deaths of 140 million birds and 60 people in Asia in the past two years appears to be slowly acquiring the genetic changes characteristic of the "Spanish flu" virus that killed 50 million people nearly a century ago.

How far "bird flu" has traveled down the evolutionary path to becoming a pandemic virus is unknown. Nor is it certain the worrisome strain, designated influenza A/H5N1, will ever acquire all the genetic features necessary for rapid, worldwide spread.

After 10 years of work, Taubenberger and his team reported they had successfully reconstructed the Spanish flu virus, responsible for the deadliest epidemic since the Black Death of the Middle Ages. "Reborn" in mid-August at a high-security laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the pathogen has already been shown in animal experiments to be just as lethal as it was out in the world 87 years ago.

What makes the accomplishment so unusual is that no intact samples of the Spanish flu virus exist. When the pandemic occurred in 1918 and early 1919 -- only American Samoa and parts of Iceland appear to have been spared -- microbiologists didn't know for certain what caused it. (Influenza virus wasn't isolated and identified until 1933.) While biologists were able to deduce the broad family of influenza viruses the 1918 strain came from, Spanish flu's genetic identity was lost.

New technology let scientists make this discovery, which is useful both as an early-warning and, possibly, as data that could lead to a more effective vaccine.

This strain of avian flu might turn out to be a wet firecracker (and I hope that it does), but we're already overdue for a worldwide flu pandemic, and if it's not that, we're likely to see some other nasty epidemic.  The world is growing ever more populous, and ever more tightly coupled via travel and commerce, making that sort of thing only a matter of time.

With technology that we don't quite have, but could have soon, we will be able to respond to new diseases with very rapid development of vaccines and treatments -- in weeks instead of months or years.  That's likely to be important, and to save literally millions of lives.  That's why technological progress in this area is important.  People are literally dying without it.


Is the singularity near?

For quite some time, people in the futurist and scientific communities have been talking about the "Singularity" -- a time when technological progress has advanced so far beyond the present that we can't really predict what things will be like.  (The term was coined by computer scientist/science fiction writer Vernor Vinge in essay).

Now Ray Kurzweil has a new book out entitled , and it's causing something of a stir.  Kurzweil thinks that the Singularity will come within the lifetimes of many people alive today, and predicts massive changes based on advances in biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology.

I reviewed Kurzweil's book for the , (it's a free link to nonsubscribers) and Janet Maslin reviewed it for the .  Interestingly, despite my pro-technology geeky nature, Maslin's review is actually more positive, and more techno-optimistic, than mine.

Is Kurzweil right?  I think he probably is.  In fact, if you project back a few centuries, we're probably past a singularity already, what with the Internet, heart transplants, and the like.  (I've written an on how science fictional today's society really is, and it doesn't even mention the ).  And the technological changes that we're undergoing are likely to be more important than the day to day political and economic and military news that occupies most of our attention.  Somebody in a lab somewhere will change our lives more, for better or worse, than Harriet Miers is ever likely to.

October 3, 2005 |

Harriet who?

President Bush has nominated to the Supreme Court, and the reaction could most charitably be described as "mixed."

Lots of people on the right are unhappy because they doubt she's a social-conservative dedicated to overturning Roe v. Wade.  Some are also upset because she donated to Al Gore's campaign in 1988.

I don't mind those two things -- I'm against overturning Roe myself, and I actually worked for Al Gore's 1988 campaign.  But I'm underwhelmed by Miers' credentials for the Court.  As wrote when her name was floated last week:

"Here is bio ... and here's .  Assume they're both fine people.  If you had to make a snap decision, which one should be on the United States Supreme Court?"
Bush made the, um, non-obvious choice.  That doesn't mean it's wrong, of course: Obscure candidates for the Court have in the past sometimes turned out to be superstars.  William J. Brennan, for example, was an obscure New Jersey judge before Dwight Eisenhower named him to the Court, but he wound up being one of the most influential jurists of the 20th Century.

Brennan, however, was a disappointment to Eisenhower, and no doubt the social-conservative crowd won't be comforted by this example.  But the larger point is that we shouldn't be making those kinds of excuses for this appointment: Michael McConnell, along with a host of other candidates whose qualifications no one could doubt, was available.

At the moment, the strongest criticism is coming from the right.  Over at , Ramesh Ponnuru writes:

It's an inspiring testament to the diversity of the president's cronies.  Wearing heels is not an impediment to being a presidential crony in this administration!  I can only assume that the president felt that his support was slipping in this important bloc, and he had to do something to shore it up.

And Rich Lowry observes:

After the Roberts pick conservatives swooned and said Bush doesn't care about "diversity"; it's only high qualifications that matter to this bold, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may leader, etc., etc.  Don't we have to take all that back now?

John Hawkins at RightWingNews, meanwhile, is :

Miers is a Bush crony with no real conservative credentials, who leapfrogged legions of more deserving judges just because she was Bush's pal.  She used to be Bush's staff secretary for God's sake and now she's going to the Supreme Court while people like Michael Luttig, Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown & Emilio Garza are being left on the sidelines.To merely describe Miers as a terrible pick is to underestimate her sheer awfulness as a selection.

Democrats, seeing this sort of complaint from Bush's own supporters, are likely to smell blood. It's early to start the handicapping, but this is a nomination that -- unlike John Roberts' -- is starting out in trouble.