Political Animal

NORTH KOREA….Reader James Lucky sent

NORTH KOREA….Reader James Lucky sent along a link to this slide show of a recent tourist excursion to North Korea. The photos and text are by Olivier Mirguet, and they are eerie and oddly compelling. Take a couple of minutes and flip through them.

The pictures are part of a site called foto8, and their home page has links to some other photo journals as well, including one of Iraqi Kurdistan. It’s interesting stuff.

PETERS ON RUMSFELD….Ralph Peters, a

PETERS ON RUMSFELD….Ralph Peters, a military analyst generally respected by both left and right, isn’t impressed with Donald Rumsfeld:

The least credible version of the war – at least outside of the Arab media – is that repeated daily in the Pentagon. While there should be no doubt that American and allied armed forces are winning impressively, OSD’s adherence to a party line of almost Stalinesque rigidity becomes more untenable with each press briefing.

….As it became evident that more ground troops would have been a great help to the campaign, the secretary of defense denied any responsibility for capping troop levels. This is breathtaking: the first-ever doctrine of secretarial infallibility. It is a display of moral cowardice by an arrogant man who was dangerously wrong.

(“OSD” is the Office of the Secretary of Defense.)

Peters is quite clear, and rightly so, I think, that we will win the war. However, he’s equally clear that he thinks Rumsfeld was badly mistaken in promoting an amateurish strategy that involved ridiculously low troop levels, and he calls the final operational plan an “ill-tempered compromise.”

Coming from a guy like Peters, this is a pretty searing indictment of Rumsfeld. Things don’t look good for him.

TRIVIA TIME….What common name has

TRIVIA TIME….What common name has the most number of common nicknames? I nominate “Margaret”:

  • Marge

  • Margie

  • Maggie

  • Mag

  • Peg

  • Peggy

  • Meg

  • Greta

Is there another common name that has a greater number of common nicknames? Variant spellings (Peggy, Peggie) don’t count, and uncommon nicknames don’t count either.

And while we’re at it, what common English word of more than three letters has the highest ratio of consonants to vowels? I can think of a common nine-letter word with only one vowel. Is there a longer one?

UPDATE: Lots of nominations for Elizabeth: Liz, Liza, Lizzie, Eliza, Beth, Bess, Bessy, Betty, Betsy, Libby, Liddy, and possibly others depending on how you count.

THE NEOCON GRAND PLAN….I’ve been

THE NEOCON GRAND PLAN….I’ve been talking frequently about the “neocon grand plan” lately, and it occurs to me that some of you might not really know what I’m talking about or why I think it’s so scary. Two months ago I didn’t know what this was all about, and some emails I’ve gotten make it clear that I’m not the only one.

So: “neocon” does not just mean “really conservative,” and it doesn’t merely mean “hawkish conservative” either. Rather, it’s a specific group of people with a specific plan for, among other things, what they want to do about the Middle East. Here is Josh Marshall’s description of the neocon agenda from his recent article in the Washington Monthly, “Practice to Deceive”:

The hawks’ grand plan differs depending on whom you speak to, but the basic outline runs like this: The United States establishes a reasonably democratic, pro-Western government in Iraq–assume it falls somewhere between Turkey and Jordan on the spectrum of democracy and the rule of law. Not perfect, representative democracy, certainly, but a system infinitely preferable to Saddam’s. The example of a democratic Iraq will radically change the political dynamics of the Middle East.

When Palestinians see average Iraqis beginning to enjoy real freedom and economic opportunity, they’ll want the same themselves. With that happy prospect on one hand and implacable United States will on the other, they’ll demand that the Palestinian Authority reform politically and negotiate with Israel. That in turn will lead to a real peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. A democratic Iraq will also hasten the fall of the fundamentalist Shi’a mullahs in Iran, whose citizens are gradually adopting anti-fanatic, pro-Western sympathies.

A democratized Iran would create a string of democratic, pro-Western governments (Turkey, Iraq, and Iran) stretching across the historical heartland of Islam. Without a hostile Iraq towering over it, Jordan’s pro-Western Hashemite monarchy would likely come into full bloom. Syria would be no more than a pale reminder of the bad old days. (If they made trouble, a U.S. invasion would take care of them, too.) And to the tiny Gulf emirates making hesitant steps toward democratization, the corrupt regimes of Saudi Arabia and Egypt would no longer look like examples of stability and strength in a benighted region, but holdouts against the democratic tide. Once the dust settles, we could decide whether to ignore them as harmless throwbacks to the bad old days or deal with them, too. We’d be in a much stronger position to do so since we’d no longer require their friendship to help us manage ugly regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Syria.

As Josh puts it, this has enough surface plausibility that you might be thinking, “That plan’s just crazy enough to work.” The problem is that the neocons’ plan is based almost entirely on the aggressive and unilateral use of American military power, essentially trying to build democracy and liberalism at the point of a gun. In other words, a sort of updated version of the Vietnam-era domino theory based on an endless series of wars in the Middle East.

This is not, I think, something the American public wants to sign up for, and for good reason: it would involve America in decades of cultural warfare in the Middle East that would almost certainly fail in its objective. Terrorism levels would increase, lots of Americans would die, and most important, it wouldn’t work. At best it would turn the entire Middle East into a sullen, oversized version of what Palestine is now, and at worst it would embroil the entire region in constant war and turn virtually the entire world against us.

Read all of Josh’s article for more. As good as it is, however, I have to say that I don’t think the definitive neocon story has been written yet for a wide audience. It’s still a story waiting to be told, and when it’s done right ? and in the right place ? I think it could have an enormous impact on the public. This is what the 2004 election should be all about.