Thursday, May 29, 2008

Monica Crowley's jet black pot

On her blog, Monica Crowley disapproves of Scott McClellan's new tell-all book:

[F]or someone who was once the president's confidante, someone he knew and trusted, someone who gave him the opportunity of a lifetime, to write a tell-all while that history is still being made, is not cool. There will be plenty of memoirs coming out of the Bush administration. Most will be cover-your-tushy affairs, as memoirs often are. Some will paint a glossy picture. Some will be critical. But their timing is crucial.

McClellan could have published this book in 8 months, when Bush was on his way out the door. But then, he wouldn't have sold as many books. Publishing now may make him a bit wealthier, but it's simply not cool to do to your former boss and your president. Not cool at all.

Crowley, of course, made her name by plagiarizing Paul Johnson writing two books about her experiences as a foreign policy aide for ex-president Richard Nixon. Here's an excerpt from Michiko Kakutani's New York Times review of Crowley's first book:
All this makes for some fascinating, if gossipy, reading. It also makes the reader question Ms. Crowley's assertion that ''through our conversations, Nixon was insuring that his message and his vision would live on after he was gone.''

Ms. Crowley writes that her account (which tends to read like a tape-recorded transcript) was based on ''a daily diary beginning in 1989, of which Nixon was unaware.''

''The quotes herein are the words of former President Nixon verbatim,'' she goes on. ''His professional and personal disclosures were made in confidence but with the implicit understanding that they would be eventually recounted.'' Would Mr. Nixon have wanted his petty, self-serving remarks about other politicians laid out in print? Would he have wanted his overheard phone conversations preserved for posterity? Would he have wanted his gloating interest in Mr. Clinton's problems exposed? It's hard to imagine that anyone would, least of all Mr. Nixon, with his compulsive desire to rehabilitate his reputation.

As near as I can figure, Crowley thinks it's OK to publish tell-alls once the person you have served has left the scene, or if you say only laudatory things about this person (since can't find Crowley berating Ari Fleischer for publishing his memoirs before Bush left office).

I'm just going to file thus under the "distinction without a difference" category and move on.

UPDATE: Can't resist one historical correction to Crowley's post. She writes, "George Stephanopoulos was the first high-ranking White House official to publish a tell-all while his president was still in office."

Actually, no. David Stockman's The Triumph of Politics beat Stephanopolous' All Too Human to it by more than a decade.

posted by Dan at 04:54 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Al Qaeda is losing

Last week, we sawquantitative evidence that terrorist tactics in general -- and Al Qaeda in partcular -- appears to be on the wane.

This week, there's some qualitative evidence that Al Qaeda is losing, and losing badly, among its core constituency -- Muslims sympathetic to the cause of jihad.

Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank make this point in The New Republic:

After September 11, there was considerable fear in the West that we were headed for a clash of civilizations with the Muslim world led by bin Laden, who would entice masses of young Muslims into his jihadist movement. But the religious leaders and former militants who are now critiquing Al Qaeda's terrorist campaign--both in the Middle East and in Muslim enclaves in the West-- make that less likely. The potential repercussions for Al Qaeda cannot be underestimated because, unlike most mainstream Muslim leaders, Al Qaeda's new critics have the jihadist credentials to make their criticisms bite. "The starting point has to be that jihad is legitimate, otherwise no one will listen, " says Benotman, who sees the Iraqi insurgency as a legitimate jihad. "The reaction [to my criticism of Al Qaeda] has been beyond imagination. It has made the radicals very angry. They are very shaky about it."

Why have clerics and militants once considered allies by Al Qaeda's leaders turned against them? To a large extent, it is because Al Qaeda and its affiliates have increasingly adopted the doctrine of takfir, by which they claim the right to decide who is a "true" Muslim. Al Qaeda's Muslim critics know what results from this takfiri view: First, the radicals deem some Muslims apostates; after that, the radicals start killing them. This fatal progression happened in both Algeria and Egypt in the 1990s. It is now taking place even more dramatically in Iraq, where Al Qaeda's suicide bombers have killed more than 10,000 Iraqis, most of them targeted simply for being Shia. Recently, Al Qaeda in Iraq has turned its fire on Sunnis who oppose its diktats, a fact not lost on the Islamic world's Sunni majority.

Additionally, Al Qaeda and its affiliates have killed thousands of Muslim civilians elsewhere since September 11: hundreds of ordinary Afghans killed every year by the Taliban, dozens of Saudis killed by terrorists since 2003, scores of Jordanians massacred at a wedding at a U.S. hotel in Amman in November 2005. Even those sympathetic to Al Qaeda have started to notice. "Excuse me Mr. Zawahiri but who is it who is killing with Your Excellency's blessing, the innocents in Baghdad, Morocco and Algeria?" one supporter asked in an online Q&A with Al Qaeda's deputy leader in April that was posted widely on jihadist websites. All this has created a dawning recognition among Muslims that the ideological virus that unleashed September 11 and the terrorist attacks in London and Madrid is the same virus now wreaking havoc in the Muslim world.

Lawrence Wright makes a similar argument in The New Yorker:
Zawahiri has watched Al Qaeda’s popularity decline in places where it formerly enjoyed great support. In Pakistan, where hundreds have been killed recently by Al Qaeda suicide bombers—including, perhaps, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto—public opinion has turned against bin Laden and his companions. An Algerian terror organization, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, formally affiliated itself with Al Qaeda in September, 2006, and began a series of suicide bombings that have alienated the Algerian people, long weary of the horrors that Islamist radicals have inflicted on their country. Even members of Al Qaeda admit that their cause has been harmed by indiscriminate violence. In February of this year, Abu Turab al-Jazairi, an Al Qaeda commander in northern Iraq, whose nom de guerre suggests that he is Algerian, gave an interview to Al Arab, a Qatari daily. “The attacks in Algeria sparked animated debate here in Iraq,” he said. “By God, had they told me they were planning to harm the Algerian President and his family, I would say, ‘Blessings be upon them!’ But explosions in the street, blood knee-deep, the killing of soldiers whose wages are not even enough for them to eat at third-rate restaurants . . . and calling this jihad? By God, it’s sheer idiocy!” Abu Turab admitted that he and his colleagues were suffering a similar public-relations problem in Iraq, because “Al Qaeda has been infiltrated by people who have harmed its reputation.” He said that only about a third of the nine thousand fighters who call themselves members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia can be relied upon. “The rest are unreliable, since they keep harming the good name of Al Qaeda.” He concludes, “Our position is very difficult.”

In Saudi Arabia, where the government has been trying to tame its radical clerics, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Aal al-Sheikh, the Grand Mufti, issued a fatwa in October, 2007, forbidding Saudi youth to join the jihad outside the country. Two months later, Saudi authorities arrested members of a suspected Al Qaeda cell who allegedly planned to assassinate the Grand Mufti. That same fall, Sheikh Salman al-Oadah, a cleric whom bin Laden has praised in the past, appeared on an Arabic television network and read an open letter to the Al Qaeda leader. He asked, “Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilled? How many innocent children, women, and old people have been killed, maimed, and expelled from their homes in the name of Al Qaeda?” These critiques echoed some of the concerns of the Palestinian cleric Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who is considered by some to be the most influential jihadi theorist. In 2004, Maqdisi, then in a Jordanian prison, castigated his former protégé Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the now dead leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, for his unproductive violence, particularly the wholesale slaughter of Shiites and the use of suicide bombers. “Mujahideen should refrain from acts that target civilians, churches, or other places of worship, including Shiite sites,” Maqdisi wrote. “The hands of the jihad warriors must remain clean.”

Finally, the Strategy Page reports on the abject collapse of Al Qaeda in Iraq:
Today, al Qaeda [in Iraq] has been shattered, with most of its leadership and foot soldiers dead, captured or moved from Iraq. As a result, al Qaeda attacks have declined more than 90 percent. Worse, most of their Iraqi Sunni Arab allies have turned on them, or simply quit. This "betrayal" is handled carefully on the terrorist web sites, for it is seen as both shameful, and perhaps recoverable.
Speculating about all of this, Andrew Sullivan makes an interesting point:
Maybe this will be history's judgment of the last few years: both the US and al Qaeda over-reached. But al Qaeda's over-reach was greater. And in this we see why democracies do actually do better in warfare in the long run: because our leaders have to be responsive to the people; because legitimate internal criticism and debate forces course correction and exposes self-defeating hubris. With the Bush administration, this process took much longer than it should have, and the Bushies did all they could to stamp out, rather than hear, criticism. But in the end, democracy adjusts to reality; religious extremism cannot.

posted by Dan at 01:07 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Speaking of karma....

Appropos of my last post, it's worth remembering that five years ago western investors were fretting about the implosion of China's financial sector.

In the here and now, you have this sort of gleeful comeuppance as reported by the FT's Jamil Anderlini:

Western governments must strengthen their oversight of financial markets and improve cross-border regulatory co-operation if they are to avoid future global financial crises, a senior Chinese banking regulator told the Financial Times on Tuesday.

“I feel the western consensus on the relation between the market and the government should be reviewed,” said Liao Min, director-general and acting head of the general office of the China Banking Regulatory Commission....

The majority of China’s financial sector is still owned by the state, and the government retains tight control over many aspects of the industry, including senior personnel decisions at the country’s largest banks, insurers and brokerages.

Thanks to China’s lack of integration with global financial markets as well as the cautious regulatory approach of the CBRC, Chinese banks have emerged relatively unscathed from the global credit crisis, which so far has caused nearly $380bn of losses at western financial institutions.

posted by Dan at 09:29 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

The blog post that writes itself

From the Hollywood Reporter's Karen Chu:

Sharon Stone, who last year was a guest of the Shanghai International Film Festival, now faces a boycott of her films in China after she suggested the devastating May 12 earthquake there could have been the result of bad "karma."

Stone's remarks, made Thursday at the Festival de Cannes, pondered a link between the earthquake -- which to date has taken the lives of more than 65,000 -- and China's treatment of ethnic Tibetans and their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom she called "a good friend."

"I'm not happy about the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans because I don't think anyone should be unkind to anyone else," Stone said in a brief red-carpet interview with Cable Entertainment News of Hong Kong. "And then this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and then I thought, is that karma? When you're not nice that the bad things happen to you?"

Her remarks triggered anger across the Chinese-language media and were called "inappropriate" by the founder of one of China's biggest urban cinema chains, who said his company would not show the Hollywood star's films.

You can click on the story to read more, but here are two ways in which it might have ended:
1) "Ng See-Yuen, founder of the UME Cineplex chain and the chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers, denied that his decision to ban Ms. Stone's film had anything to do with Basic Instinct 2: "I said her comments were 'inappropriate,' not 'God-awful dreck from the dredges of hell.'"

2) "After making her comments about karma, Ms. Stone stepped into an elevator, which mysteriously stopped soon afterwards and began playing a uninterrupted loop of Catwoman on its video monitor for the next ten hours."

posted by Dan at 08:54 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What made me laugh today

If you read much about baseball on the web, you soon discover that Kansas City Star beat writer Joe Posnanski is someone who's worth reading.

Posnanski proves this today in a hysterically funny tirade against those who worship at the feet of Derek Jeter -- not Jeter himself, but rather those who deify him. In fact, he invents a word for it:

Jeterate (verb) meaning “to praise someone for something of which he or she is entirely unworthy of praise.”

Example: “The father could not but jeterate his daughter for coloring on the wall because she looked so cute.”....

See, the thing is Derek Jeter is such a good baseball player — I mean, we are talking about a no-doubt, first ballot Hall of Famer here — that people don’t need to jeterate him for his fielding. The guy sucks as a defensive shortstop, OK? He’s brutal out there. Every detailed defensive number shows it. He’s back near the bottom again in zone rating and range factor and, I’m sure, the Dewan plus/minus. Plus every scout who pays attention knows he can’t go two steps to his left and his arm is subpar. It’s OK! Really! He doesn’t have to be Mark Belanger. He’s a great hitter! He plays every day! He’s makes up for some of his flaws with his awareness and mental stamina! I wouldn’t be bothered by his defensive liabilities, I really wouldn’t, except, well, you know, so many people don’t think he HAS defensive liabilities. They give him freaking gold gloves. They knight him Sir Derek of Defensive Wizardry because 238 years ago he tagged Jeremy Giambi and jumped into the crowd on a foul ball.

This is not the part that made me laugh (well, OK, I'm enough of a Sox fan to admit to a cackle or two here). No, you'll have to click on the post and read Posnanski's imagined dialogue between the minds of Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, and A-Rod to understand why I was laughing out loud.

Hat tip: David Pinto.

posted by Dan at 11:38 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Where should Hillary go?

The New York Times' Carl Hulse and the Washington Post's Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane file similar reports: the notion that Hillary Clinton will downshift from presidential candidate to Senate Majority Leader or a similarly high-ranking position is complete fiction.

To sum up: Clinton does not have a ton of seniority. All the high-ranking Dems show no signs of budging. Based on endorsements, it's not clear how many members of her caucus really like Clinton all that much. If the best post she can get is the chairmanship of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, we're not talking about a lot of plum advancement possibilities for Hillary Clinton.

Whither Hillary? There's been a lot of careless chatter about other career possibilities for Hillary Clinton -- vice president, governor of New York, Supreme Court Justice, etc. -- so as part of this blog's continuing dedication to careless chatter, the following are the top five jobs she should consider after losing the nomination:

1) Secretary of Defense. Following up on my bloggingheads debate with Megan McArdle, if Hillary Clinton truly wants to continue her trailblazing path, Obama shouldn't make her VP, he should give her this job. Given the current military state of play, it's not going to be a fun assignment. This has the added benefit of (relatively) sidelining Bill Clinton -- a cabinet spouse has a lower profile.

2) Buy and run The New Republic. Hey, campaign debts aside, she has the money. Marty Peretz, watch your back.

3) Give Oprah a run for her money. Hey, her numbers are down, and if Cinton started a talk show, she'd be able to deepen her bond with the very demographic she claims to command now. Plus, sticking it to Obama's chief celebrity endorser would have to be a fringe benefit.

4) Produce, direct, write and star in new documentary "An Inconvenient Campaign." Look, if Al Gore can go from world class stiff to possessing the World's Most Awesome Mantle Ever, I have every confidence that Hillary Clinton could start rubbing shoulders with environmental celebrity activists within two months of trying.

5) Enter Dancing with the Stars competition. Based on this video, I have to think she'd at least place in the top three:

Another possibility: replace Paula Abdul on American Idol.

posted by Dan at 09:11 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, May 26, 2008

There are crazy people everywhere

Lots of people are fretting about the persistent and mistaken belief of some Americans that Barack Obama is a Muslim. [Not that there's anything wrong with that!--ed.]

Over at his Politico blog, Ben Smith puts this 10% of mistaken Americans in perspective:

[L]arge minorities of Americans consistently say they hold wildly out-of-the-mainstream views, often specifically discredited beliefs. In some cases, those views should make them pretty profoundly alienated from one party or the other.

For instance:

22% believe President Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance.
30% believe Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
23% believe they've been in the presence of a ghost.
18% believe the sun revolves around the earth.

Smith makes an excellent point here -- but I think he's actually being too modest. It's not just minorities of Americans who hold out-of-mainsteam views -- minorities (or majorities) of every nationality hold strange beliefs. In Africa, the Congo has been gripped by outsized fears of penis theft; a few years ago, there was the great vampire frenzy in Malawi. Lots of Brazilians believe the United States is hell-bent on taking over the Amazon. And let's not get into Arab public opinion on who was behind 9/11.

posted by Dan at 11:55 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)