Thursday, June 24, 2004

Sarasota principal defends Bush from "Fahrenheit 9/11" portrayal
By Associated Press
June 24, 2004

SARASOTA — Michael Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11" criticizes President Bush for listening to Sarasota second-graders read a story for nearly seven minutes after learning the nation was under attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

But Gwendolyn Tose'-Rigell, the principal at Emma E. Booker Elementary School, says Bush handled himself properly.

"I don't think anyone could have handled it better," Tose'-Rigell told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in a story published Wednesday. "What would it have served if he had jumped out of his chair and ran out of the room?"

"Fahrenheit 9/11," which won the top honor at last month's Cannes Film Festival, portrays the White House as asleep at the wheel before the Sept. 11 attacks. Moore accuses Bush of fanning fears of future terrorism to win public support for the Iraq war.

Bush told the federal 9/11 Commission, which released its report last week, that he remained in the classroom because he felt it was "important to project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening." Moore says Bush failed to take charge.

Tose'-Rigell, who was at Bush's side, did not hear what White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card whispered when he squeezed past her to tell the president of the attacks, but "I knew it was something serious."

"The president bit his lip and clenched his jaw," she said. "I didn't know what happened, whether it was something with his wife or children or something with the nation. I remember praying that God would watch over our school and protect our children."

She said the video doesn't convey all that was going on in the classroom, but Bush's presence had a calming effect and "helped us get through a very difficult day."

Tose'-Rigell said she plans to publish her account of the morning of Sept. 11 from pages she wrote in her journal following the attack. The principal said she didn't vote for Bush. "But that day I would have voted for him."

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Feeding the Minotaur
Our strange relationship with the terrorists continues.

As long as the mythical Athenians were willing to send, every nine years, seven maidens and seven young men down to King Minos's monster in the labyrinth, Athens was left alone by the Cretan fleet. The king rightly figured that harvesting just enough Athenians would remind them of their subservience without leading to open rebellion — as long as somebody impetuous like a Theseus didn't show up to wreck the arrangement.

Ever since the storming of the Tehran embassy in November 1979 we Americans have been paying the same sort of human tribute to grotesque Islamofascists. Over the last 25 years a few hundred of our own were cut down in Lebanon, East Africa, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen, and New York on a semi-annual basis, even as the rules of the tribute to be paid — never spoken, but always understood — were rigorously followed.

In exchange for our not retaliating in any meaningful way against the killers — addressing their sanctuaries in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, or Syria, or severing their financial links in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and their various state-sanctioned kindred operatives agreed to keep the number killed to reasonable levels. They were to reap their lethal harvests abroad and confine them mostly to professional diplomats, soldiers, or bumbling tourists, whose disappearance we distracted Americans would predictably chalk up to the perils of foreign service and exotic travel.

Despite the occasional fiery rhetoric, both sides found the informal Minoan arrangement mutually beneficial. The terrorists believed that they were ever so incrementally, ever so insidiously eroding America's commitment to a pro-Western Middle East. We offered our annual tribute so that over the decades we could go from Dallas to Extreme Makeover and Madonna to Britney without too much distraction or inconvenience.

But then a greedy, over-reaching bin Laden wrecked the agreement on September 11. Or did he?

Murdering 3,000 Americans, destroying a city block in Manhattan, and setting fire to the Pentagon were all pretty tough stuff. And for a while it won fascists and their state sponsors an even tougher response in Afghanistan and Iraq that sent hundreds to caves and thousands more to paradise. And when we have gotten serious in the postbellum reconstruction, thugs like Mr. Sadr have backed down. But before we gloat and think that we've overcome our prior laxity and proclivity for appeasement, let us first make sure we are not still captives to the Minotaur's logic.

True, al Qaeda is now scattered, the Taliban and Saddam gone. But the calculus of a quarter century — threaten, hit, pause, wait; threaten, hit, pause, wait — is now entrenched in the minds of Middle Eastern murderers. Indeed, the modus operandi that cynically plays on Western hopes, liberalism, and fair play is gospel now to all sorts of bin Laden epigones — as we have seen in Madrid, Fallujah, and Najaf.

Much has been written about our problems with this postmodern war and why we find it so difficult to fully mobilize our formidable military and economic clout to crush the terrorists and their patrons. Of course, we have no identifiable conventional enemy such as Hitler's Panzers; we are not battling a fearsome nation that defiantly declared war on us, such as Tojo's Japan; and we are no longer a depression-era, disarmed, impoverished United States at risk for our very survival. But then, neither Hitler nor Mussolini nor Tojo nor Stalin ever reached Manhattan and Washington.

So al Qaeda is both worse and not worse than the German Nazis: It is hardly the identifiable threat of Hitler's Wehrmacht, but in this age of technology and weapons of mass destruction it is more able to kill more Americans inside the United States. Whereas we think our fascist enemies of old were logical and conniving, too many of us deem bin Laden's new fascists unhinged — their fatwas, their mythology about strong and weak horses, and their babble about the Reconquista and the often evoked "holy shrines" are to us dreamlike.

But I beg to differ somewhat.

I think the Islamists and their supporters do not live in an alternate universe, but instead are no more crazy in their goals than Hitler was in thinking he could hijack the hallowed country of Beethoven and Goethe and turn it over to buffoons like Goering, prancing in a medieval castle in reindeer horns and babbling about mythical Aryans with flunkies like Goebbels and Rosenberg. Nor was Hitler's fatwa — Mein Kampf — any more irrational than bin Laden's 1998 screed and his subsequent grainy infomercials. Indeed, I think Islamofascism is brilliant in its reading of the postmodern West and precisely for that reason it is dangerous beyond all description — in the manner that a blood-sucking, stealthy, and nocturnal Dracula was always spookier than a massive, clunky Frankenstein.

Like Hitler's creed, bin Ladenism trumpets contempt for bourgeois Western society. If once we were a "mongrel" race of "cowboys" who could not take casualties against the supermen of the Third Reich, now we are indolent infidels, channel surfers who eat, screw, and talk too much amid worthless gadgetry, godless skyscrapers, and, of course, once again, the conniving Jews.

Like Hitler, bin Ladenism has an agenda: the end of the liberal West. Its supposedly crackpot vision is actually a petrol-rich Middle East free of Jews, Christians, and Westerners, free to rekindle spiritual purity under Sharia. Bin Laden's al Reich is a vast pan-Arabic, Taliban-like caliphate run out of Mecca by new prophets like him, metering out oil to a greedy West in order to purchase the weapons of its destruction; there is, after all, an Israel to be nuked, a Europe to be out-peopled and cowered, and an America to be bombed and terrorized into isolation. This time we are to lose not through blood and iron, but through terror and intimidation: televised beheadings, mass murders, occasional bombings, the disruption of commerce, travel, and the oil supply.

In and of itself, our enemies' ambitions would lead to failure, given the vast economic and military advantages of the West. So to prevent an all out, terrible response to these predictable cycles of killing Westerners, there had to be some finesse to the terrorists' methods. The trick was in preventing some modern Theseus from going into the heart of the Labyrinth to slay the beast and end the nonsense for good.

It was hard for the Islamic fascists to find ideological support in the West, given their agenda of gender apartheid, homophobia, religious persecution, racial hatred, fundamentalism, polygamy, and primordial barbarism. But they sensed that there has always been a current of self-loathing among the comfortable Western elite, a perennial search for victims of racism, economic oppression, colonialism, and Christianity. Bin Laden's followers weren't white; they were sometimes poor; they inhabited of former British and French colonies; and they weren't exactly followers of the no-nonsense Pope or Jerry Falwell. If anyone doubts the nexus between right-wing Middle Eastern fascism and left-wing academic faddishness, go to booths in the Free Speech area at Berkeley or see what European elites have said and done for Hamas. Middle Eastern fascist killers enshrined as victims alongside our own oppressed? That has been gospel in our universities for the last three decades.

Like Hitler, bin Ladenism grasped the advantages of hating the Jews. It has been 60 years since the Holocaust; memories dim. Israel is not poor and invaded but strong, prosperous, and unapologetic. It is high time, in other words, to unleash the old anti-Semitic infectious bacillus. Thus Zionists caused the latest Saudi bombings, just as they have poisoned Arab-American relations, just as neo-conservatives hijacked American policy, just as Feith, Perle, and Wolfowitz cooked up this war.

Finally, bin Laden understood the importance of splitting the West, just like the sultan of old knew that a Europe trisected into Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism would fight among itself rather than unite against a pan-Islamic foe. Hit the Spanish and bring in an anti-American government. Leave France and Germany alone for a time so they can blame the United States for mobilizing against a "nonexistent" threat, unleashing the age-old envy and jealously of the American upstart.

If after four years of careful planning, al Qaedists hit the Olympics in August, the terrorists know better than we do that most Europeans will do nothing — but quickly point to the U.S. and scream "Iraq!" And they know that the upscale crowds in Athens are far more likely to boo a democratic America than they are a fascist Syria or theocratic Iran. Just watch.

In the European mind, and that of its aping American elite, the terrorists lived, slept, and walked in the upper aether — never the streets of Kabul, the mosques of Damascus, the palaces of Baghdad, the madrassas of Saudi Arabia, or the camps of Iran. To assume that the latter were true would mean a real war, real sacrifice, and a real choice between the liberal bourgeois West and a Dark-Age Islamofascist utopia.

While all Westerners prefer the bounty of capitalism, the delights of personal freedom, and the security of modern technological progress, saying so and not apologizing for it — let alone defending it — is, well, asking a little too much from the hyper sophisticated and cynical. Such retrograde clarity could cost you, after all, a university deanship, a correspondent billet in Paris or London, a good book review, or an invitation to a Georgetown or Malibu A-list party.

Nearly three years after 9/11 we are in the strangest of all paradoxes: a war against fascists that we can easily win but are clearly not ready to fully wage. We have the best 500,000 soldiers in the history of civilization, a resolute president, and an informed citizenry that has already received a terrible preemptive blow that killed thousands.

Yet what a human comedy it has now all become.

The billionaire capitalist George Soros — who grew fabulously wealthy through cold and calculating currency speculation, helping to break many a bank and its poor depositors — now makes the moral equation between 9/11 and Abu Ghraib. For this ethicist and meticulous accountant, 3,000 murdered in a time of peace are the same as some prisoners abused by renegade soldiers in a time of war.

Recently in the New York Times I read two articles about the supposedly new irrational insensitivity toward Muslims and saw an ad for a book detailing how the West "constructed" and exaggerated the Islamic menace — even as the same paper ran a quieter story about a state-sponsored cleric in Saudi Arabia's carefully expounding on the conditions under which Muslims can desecrate the bodies of murdered infidels.

Aristocratic and very wealthy Democrats — Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, Howard Dean, and John Kerry — employ the language of conspiracy to assure us that we had no reason to fight Saddam Hussein. "Lies," "worst," and " betrayed" are the vocabulary of their daily attacks. A jester in stripes like Michael Moore, who cannot tell the truth, is now an artistic icon — precisely and only because of his own hatred of the president and the inconvenient idea that we are really at war. Our diplomats court the Arab League, which snores when Russians and Sudanese kill hundreds of thousands of Muslims but shrieks when we remove those who kill even more of their own. And a depopulating, entitlement-expanding Europe believes an American president, not bin Laden, is the greatest threat to world peace. Russia, the slayer of tens of thousands of Muslim Chechans and a big-time profiteer from Baathist loot, lectures the United States on its insensitivity to the new democracy in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Iraq, and the rest of the Middle East, we see the same old bloodcurdling threats, the horrific videos, the bombings, the obligatory pause, the faux negotiations, the lies — and then, of course, the bloodcurdling threats, the horrific videos, the bombings...

No, bin Laden is quite sane — but lately I have grown more worried that we are not.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004


The End of Power
Without American hegemony the world would likely return to the dark ages.

Monday, June 21, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT

We tend to assume that power, like nature, abhors a vacuum. In the history of world politics, it seems, someone is always bidding for hegemony. Today it is the United States; a century ago it was Britain. Before that, it was the French, the Spaniards and so on. The 19th-century German historian Leopold von Ranke, doyen of the study of statecraft, portrayed modern European history as an incessant struggle for mastery, in which a balance of power was possible only through recurrent conflict.

Power, in other words, is not a natural monopoly; the struggle for mastery is both perennial and universal. The "unipolarity" identified by commentators following the Soviet collapse cannot last much longer, for the simple reason that history hates a hyperpower. Sooner or later, challengers will arise, and back we must go to a multipolar, multipower world.

But what if this view is wrong? What if the world is heading for a period when there is no hegemon? What if, instead of a balance of power, there is an absence of power? Such a situation is not unknown in history. Though the chroniclers of the past have long been preoccupied with the achievements of great powers--whether civilizations, empires or nation states--they have not wholly overlooked eras when power has receded. Unfortunately, the world's experience with power vacuums is hardly encouraging. Anyone who dislikes U.S. hegemony should bear in mind that, instead of a multipolar world of competing great powers, a world with no hegemon at all may be the real alternative to it. This could turn out to mean a new Dark Age of waning empires and religious fanaticism; of endemic rapine in the world's no-go zones; of economic stagnation and a retreat by civilization into a few fortified enclaves.

Why might a power vacuum arise early in the 21st century? The reasons are not especially hard to imagine.

• The clay feet of the colossus. The U.S. suffers from at least three structural deficits that will limit the effectiveness and duration of its crypto-imperial role in the world. The first is the nation's growing dependence on foreign capital to finance excessive private and public consumption. It is difficult to recall any empire that has long endured after becoming so dependent on lending from abroad. The second deficit relates to manpower: The U.S. is a net importer of people and cannot therefore underpin its hegemonic aspirations with real colonization; at the same time, its relatively small volunteer army is already spread very thin as a result of recent military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Finally, the U.S. is afflicted by what is best called an attention deficit. Its republican institutions make it difficult to establish a consensus for long-term "nation-building" projects.

• "Old Europe" grows older. Those who dream that the European Union might become a counterweight to the U.S. should continue slumbering. Impressive though the EU's enlargement has been, the reality is that demography likely condemns it to decline in international influence. With fertility rates dropping and life expectancies rising, European societies may, within less than 50 years, display median ages in the upper 40s. Indeed, "Old Europe" will soon be truly old. By 2050, one in every three Italians, Spaniards and Greeks will be 65 or over, even allowing for immigration. Europeans therefore face an agonizing choice between "Americanizing" their economies, i.e., opening their borders to much more immigration, with the cultural changes that would entail, or transforming their union into a fortified retirement community.

• China's coming economic crisis. Optimistic observers of China insist that the economic miracle of the past decade will not fade--that growth will continue at such a pace that within three or four decades China's GDP will surpass that of the U.S. Yet it is far from clear that the normal rules that apply to emerging markets have been suspended for Beijing's benefit. First, a fundamental incompatibility exists between the free-market economy, based inevitably on private property and the rule of law, and the persistence of the Communist monopoly on power, which breeds rent-seeking and corruption, and impedes the creation of transparent institutions. As usual in "Asian tiger" economies, production is running far ahead of domestic consumption--thus making the economy heavily dependent on exports. No one knows the full extent of the problems in the Chinese domestic banking sector. Western banks that are buying up bad debts with a view to establishing themselves in China must remember that this strategy was tried a century ago, in the era of the Open Door policy, when American and European firms rushed into China only to see their investments vanish in the smoke of war and revolution. Then, as now, hopes for China's development ran euphorically high, especially in the U.S. But those hopes were disappointed, and could be disappointed again. A Chinese currency or banking crisis could have earth-shaking ramifications, especially when foreign investors realize the difficulty of repatriating assets held in China.

• The fragmentation of Islamic civilization. With birthrates in Muslim societies more than double the European average, Islamic countries are bound to put pressure on Europe and the U.S. in the years ahead. If, as is forecast, the population of Yemen will exceed that of Russia by 2050, there must be either dramatic improvements in the Middle East's economic performance or substantial emigration from the Arab world to senescent Europe. Yet the subtle colonization of Europe's cities by Muslims does not necessarily portend the advent of a new and menacing "Eurabia." In fact, the Muslim world is as divided as it has ever been. This division is not merely between Sunni and Shiite. It is also between those seeking a peaceful modus vivendi with the West (embodied in Turkey's desire to join the EU) and those drawn to the Islamic Bolshevism of the likes of Osama bin Laden. Opinion polls from Morocco to Pakistan suggest high levels of anti-American sentiment, but not unanimity. In Europe, only a minority expresses overt sympathy for terrorist organizations; most young Muslims in England clearly prefer assimilation to jihad. We are a long way from a bipolar clash of civilizations, much less the rise of a new caliphate that might pose a geopolitical threat to the U.S.

In short, each of the obvious 21st-century hegemons--the U.S., Europe, China--seems to contain within it the seeds of decline; while Islam remains a diffuse force in world politics, lacking the resources of a superpower.

Suppose, in a worst-case scenario, that U.S. neoconservativism meets its match in Iraq and that the Bush administration's project to democratize the Middle East at gunpoint ends in withdrawal: from empire to decolonization in 24 months. Suppose also that no rival power shows interest in filling the resulting vacuums--not only in Iraq but conceivably also Afghanistan, to say nothing of the Balkans and Haiti. What would an "apolar" future look like?
The answer is not easy, since there have been very few periods in history with no contenders for the role of global or at least regional hegemon. The nearest approximation might be the 1920s, when the U.S. walked away from Woodrow Wilson's project of global democracy and collective security. But that power vacuum was short-lived. The West Europeans quickly snapped up the leftovers of Ottoman rule in the Middle East, while the Bolsheviks reassembled the Tsarist empire.

Indeed, one must go back much further in history to find a period of true and enduring apolarity; as far back, in fact, as the ninth and 10th centuries, when the heirs of the Roman empire--Rome and Byzantium--had receded from the height of their power, when the Abbasid caliphate was also waning and when the Chinese empire was languishing between the Tang and Sung dynasties. In the absence of strong secular polities, it was religious institutions--the Papacy, the monastic orders, the Muslim ulema--that often set the political agenda. That helps explain why the period culminated with the holy war known as the Crusades. Yet this clash of civilizations was in many ways just one more example of the apolar world's susceptibility to long-distance military raids directed at urban centers by more backward peoples. The Vikings were perhaps the principal beneficiaries of an anarchic age. Small wonder that the future seemed to lie in creating small defensible entities like the Venetian republic or the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England.

Could an apolar world today produce an era reminiscent of that troubled time? Certainly, one can imagine the world's established powers retreating into their own regional spheres of influence. But what of the growing pretensions to autonomy of the supranational bodies created under U.S. leadership after World War II? The U.N., the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO each regards itself as in some way representing the "international community." Surely their aspirations to global governance are fundamentally different from the spirit of the Dark Ages?

Yet universal claims were an integral part of the rhetoric of that era. All the empires claimed to rule the world; some, unaware of the existence of other civilizations, maybe even believed that they did. The reality, however, was political fragmentation. And that remains true today. The defining characteristic of our age is not a shift of power upward to supranational institutions, but downward. If free flows of information and factors of production have empowered multinational corporations and NGOs (to say nothing of evangelistic cults of all denominations), the free flow of destructive technology has empowered criminal organizations and terrorist cells, the Viking raiders of our time. These can operate wherever they choose, from Hamburg to Gaza. By contrast, the writ of the international community is not global. It is, in fact, increasingly confined to a few strategic cities such as Kabul and Sarajevo.

Waning empires. Religious revivals. Incipient anarchy. A coming retreat into fortified cities. These are the Dark Age experiences that a world without a hyperpower might find itself reliving. The trouble is, of course, that this Dark Age would be an altogether more dangerous one than the one of the ninth century. For the world is roughly 25 times more populous, so that friction between the world's "tribes" is bound to be greater. Technology has transformed production; now societies depend not merely on freshwater and the harvest but also on supplies of mineral oil that are known to be finite. Technology has changed destruction, too: Now it is possible not just to sack a city, but to obliterate it.

For more than two decades, globalization has been raising living standards, except where countries have shut themselves off from the process through tyranny or civil war. Deglobalization--which is what a new Dark Age would amount to--would lead to economic depression. As the U.S. sought to protect itself after a second 9/11 devastated Houston, say, it would inevitably become a less open society. And as Europe's Muslim enclaves grow, infiltration of the EU by Islamist extremists could become irreversible, increasing trans-Atlantic tensions over the Middle East to breaking point. Meanwhile, an economic crisis in China could plunge the Communist system into crisis, unleashing the centrifugal forces that have undermined previous Chinese empires. Western investors would lose out, and conclude that lower returns at home are preferable to the risks of default abroad.

The worst effects of the Dark Age would be felt on the margins of the waning great powers. With ease, the terrorists could disrupt the freedom of the seas, targeting oil tankers and cruise liners while we concentrate our efforts on making airports secure. Meanwhile, limited nuclear wars could devastate numerous regions, beginning in Korea and Kashmir; perhaps ending catastrophically in the Middle East.

The prospect of an apolar world should frighten us a great deal more than it frightened the heirs of Charlemagne. If the U.S. is to retreat from the role of global hegemon--its fragile self-belief dented by minor reversals--its critics must not pretend that they are ushering in a new era of multipolar harmony. The alternative to unpolarity may not be multipolarity at all. It may be a global vacuum of power. Be careful what you wish for.

Mr. Ferguson, professor of history at NYU and a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution, is the author of "Colossus: The Price of America's Empire" (Penguin, 2004). A longer version of this article appears in the upcoming edition of Foreign Policy.

Unfairenheit 9/11
The lies of Michael Moore.


Please read this! Click on Pic above.
By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Monday, June 21, 2004, at 12:26 PM PT