Brass Crescent Awards voting begins friday

Happy new Year, 1427 Hijri !

The nominations thread for the 2nd Annual Brass Crescent Awards is now closed. We are streamlining the process somewhat and skipping the finalist round; direct voting for each category will begin on this Friday February 3rd at brasscrescent.org.

Stay tuned to brasscrescent.org for the list of final nominees!


Disney buys Pixar

The best writeup on this is at ArsTechnica:

The deed is done, as Pixar's board of directors has accepted Disney's offer. The deal will replace every PIXR share with 2.3 DIS shares, which at today's trading prices values Pixar at US$7.4 billion. I bet Steve isn't complaining about getting $3.7 billion for something he spent $10 million on. As expected, Jobs will get a spot on the board, though not as chairman (for now). John Lasseter will serve as Chief Creative Officer of Disney Animation, as well as Principal Creative Advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering; Ed Catmull becomes President of the Animation department. In short, Pixar executives will have a major influence on the future direction of Disney animation and theme park entertainment.

This is a landmark event. Not least because it gives Disney the crown of animation again; I'll be buying every Pixar DVD that comes out as long as the stories are good, and now that means that Disney hangs onto that revenue stream.

But also because it merges like-minded revolutionaries like Jobs, and more importantly, Lassiter, with Bob Iger, whose really Big Idea is one that will shake up the movie inudustry a lot more: Same day release.

I also think that it saved Pixar from jumping the shark. Pixar has painted itself into a corner; its new movie ideas are nowhere near as original as were it's first ones. While Pixar still tells a great story, they haven't quite reclaimed the dizzy height from which they unleashed Nemo and Monsters, Inc. With Disney, they draw upon a deep well of material that will hopefully lead to some new innovation.

In other words, the intellectual opposite of the UPN/WB merger.


Iranian mullahs are not fools

What is the primary evidence for the assertion that Iran will have a bomb soon if not already? The words of the Iranian President, for one, and the deliberate kabuki dance of the Iranian government with the IAEA. An analysis by STRATFOR (which it must be noted in all fairness has a better track record than Wretchard or Winds of Change) argues that both of these can be interpreted in a strategic sense:

By the end of 2005, Iran had secured its western frontier as well as it could, had achieved what influence it could in Baghdad, had seen al Qaeda weakened.It was time for the next phase. It had to reclaim its position as the leader of the Islamic revolutionary movement for itself and for Shi'ism.

Thus, the selection of the new president was, in retrospect, carefully engineered. After President Mohammed Khatami's term, all moderates were excluded from the electoral process by decree, and the election came down to a struggle between former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani - an heir to Khomeini's tradition, but also an heir to the tactical pragmatism of the 1980s and 1990s - and Ahmadinejad, the clearest descendent of the Khomeini revolution that there was in Iran, and someone who in many ways had avoided the worst taints of compromise.

Ahmadinejad was set loose to reclaim Iran's position in the Muslim world. Since Iran had collaborated with Israel during the 1980s, and since Iranian money in Lebanon had mingled with Israeli money, the first thing he had to do was to reassert Iran's anti-Zionist credentials. He did that by threatening Israel's existence and denying the Holocaust. Whether he believed what he was saying is immaterial. Ahmadinejad used the Holocaust issue to do two things: First, he established himself as intellectually both anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish, taking the far flank among Islamic leaders; and second, he signaled a massive breach with Khatami's approach.
The second phase was for Iran to very publicly resume - or very publicly claim to be resuming - development of a nuclear weapon. This signaled three things:

1. Iran's policy of accommodation with the West was over.
2. Iran intended to get a nuclear weapon in order to become the only real challenge to Israel and, not incidentally, a regional power that Sunni states would have to deal with.
3. Iran was prepared to take risks that no other Muslim actor was prepared to take. Al Qaeda was a piker.

(NOTE: I've used some of the excerpt from WoC as I am not a STRATFOR subscriber)

Note that this is in effect a continuation of the original Islamic Revolution that put the mullahs in power. Phase one was Iran; that took twenty years. Phase two is the Ummah; that may well take another twenty, or fifty.

Much the "three conjectures" analysis that is so breathlessly quoted by the pro-Iran war camp (summarized as: preemptive genocide) hinges on the basic assumption that the Iranian regime and leadership is utterly unhinged. Yes, the Iranian president has made references to the 12th Imam; but these references fit perfectly into the STRATFOR analysis above in terms of establishing legitimacy - as one commenter at WoC said, this is theater for the audiences of Dar ul Islam, not Dar ul Harb.

And if the Iranians genuinely believe the return of the Mahdi is imminent, then they would be obligated to prepare their nation for the Mahdi to lead. It is the sole prerogative of the Mahdi to make holy war on behalf of Islam. If the Iranian mullahs want to retain the power and prestige they have grown fat upon, the return of the Mahdi would be a disaster; if they genuinely want the Mahdi to return, they cannot expect His pleasure at starting the war without him. I claim more authority in discussing spiritual motivations on this score than Joe Katzman, student of Islam though he is.

Ultimately, the most insightful comment I've seen is by Porphyrogenitus, presently serving in the armed forces but who did manage to leave a comment at WoC to the effect:

Really it is a race to the finish line between two possible endings.

Yes. Iran is universally acknowledged to be in a pre-revolutionary state. The internal demographics alone point to inevitable social disruption. Even Joe's "moderate" prescription would utterly negate those forces of democratization and set the cause of freedom - which is the ultimate goal of the war on terror, after all - significantly backwards, perhaps fatally.

And the evidence suggests that in this race between possible endings, the "bad" ending isn't as swift of foot as the doomsayers (whose credibility, it must be noted, is tarnished, after Iraq) presuppose:

Overall, Iran is probably a little less than a decade away from developing a nuclear weapon. The key question here is how long it will take Iran to enrich a few tens of kilograms of uranium to more than 90 percent U-235.

Dafna Linzer reported that the US Intelligence Community does not believe that Iran could do so before “early to mid next decade”—a revision of previous assessments that Iran would “have the ability to produce nuclear weapons early in the next decade.”

Why so long? The answer is that Iran still has to build, install and operate its centrifuges to enrich uranium.

David Albright and Corey Hinderstein at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) released an estimate that breaks down the steps for Iran to make fissile material for a bomb, along with a nifty satellite image (at right) of Iran’s Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz.

Most references to Iran being “months” away from a bomb are really statements about how close Iran will be once it completes the FEP—something, as you will soon see, that will take a few years.

The analysis by ArmsControlWonk is thorough and detailed and goes into the specifics of nuclear production - including a very relevant discussion of lead. I urge everyone to read the full post. The bottom line: Iran is at least three years away from the bomb, even with the unrealistic assumption that the engineering is flawless enough to avoid even a single technical problem.

It is deeply troubling that instead of discussing how we might facilitate the birth of a new Iran, we are instead talking about "Hobbesian choices" and hinting darkly at 100 million potential dead in the middle east - by our hands. How noble of us! How monstrous. Preemptive war is one thing; preemptive genocide another.

"It's not enough to survive - one has to be worthy of surviving." -- Commander Adama

Does all the rhetoric of freedom fall by the wayside, and we reach for our nukes, that easily? I am deeply disappointed - especially in those who have argued consistently for years that there are winds of change blowing throughout the middle east.

Let us pose an alternative. I pose to you here the question: starting with the assumption that our end goal is to enable the Iranian people to effect their own Mahogany Revolution, what can we do? And let us take as our budget one trillion dollars. Let us explore the possibilities of what changes our multi-pole superpower can effect. Discuss.

UPDATE: Dave Schuler just posted a great response to a great comment by Jeff Medcalf on a great post by Armed Liberal at WoC. All of these posts (er, read in reverse order of course) provide a much more rigorous and stable extension of the discussion and are *highly* recommended.


political will

Suffice it to say that I am deeply skeptical of the competence of the Administration in any attempt to replace the regime in Iran; I have however reasonable confidence that we could destroy the regime in Iran. This Atlantic Monthly article has probably the most trustworthy (but ultimately still a speculative) assessment that we can use for a baseline on the much-needed discussion.

Regime change alone is not sufficient. If we attack Iran, destruction of the nuclear facilities MUST be a guarantee, with genuine accountability of the sort that the Bush Administration has never once demonstrated previously.

To even have a hope of convincing skeptics like me to support a noble cause when said cause will be executed by those with a record of incompetence, a certain level of hard-nosed metrics will need to be publicly embraced by the Administrations' supporters. The standard for success and the stakes are far higher and if those calling loudest for invasion are not willing to hold the Administration accountable, and publicly demand it in advance of any campaign, then we can expect a total snafu, and refusing to support the Administration then becomes not obstructionism but simple patriotic duty.

And on that score, the signs are not good. Already we see ominous references to "militarily possible, but politically impossible" and the usual references to treasonous liberals and defeatism and all the rest of the same dialouge-obliterating terminology that has prevented a genuine unity in this country. Just as reference to "liar" and "oil" utterly prohibit patriots like Dean from even wanting to talk to the DailyKos left, reference to "traitor" and "America hater" shut down patriots like myself from dialog with the RedState and Windsofchange crowd.

So, I am a skeptic, not of whether America can prevail, but whether the cause for war is truly as critical as those who argue its necessity is, such that they will be willing to put their political concerns aside. If the war on Iran is a political suicide pact; so be it. If you truly believe that it is a necessary thing, then demand that the Administration pursue it nevertheless, and roll the dice with public opinion.

You might find that certain patriots, in the mold of myself and many others, would respect and support an Administration that made a genuine, honest, and damn-the-political-consequences argument for war on Iran. That was the President I thought I had on September 12th, 2001.

Sadly, I expect that the Administration's political instincts will prevail, and that is not the fault of Democrats or the media. I hope to be proven wrong. Please.




in 1964 these two men met. Some would say they represented polar opposites: Christian and Muslim, pacifist and warrior, mediator and antagonist.

Others might just see two black men.

I see two men, of faith but also of resolve, who saw an injustice and articulated its downfall, who serve as an inspiration to me as the son of immigrants that this great nation is a land of promise. But fulfillment of that promise often requires struggle.

Struggle - jihad - crusade - a righteous endeavour for justice. Pope John Paul II was also one of a kind with these men, against a different type of oppression, but oppression all the same.


Al Gore speech on monday

There will be an important speech by Al Gore on monday about the constitutional abuse of the Bush Administration. The speech will be carried live on C-SPAN. I'll be posting more ongoing details at Dean Nation.


The relationship between certain evangelical Christian groups and Israel has always been fascinating. Via Haroon comes a piece in the Washington Post that discusses the "philo-semitic" movement in detail. The following quote from one such pastor caught my eye:

"I feel jealous sometimes. This term that keeps coming up in the Old Book -- the Chosen, the Chosen," says the minister, who has made three trips to Israel and named his sons Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. "I'm a pardoned gentile, but I'm not one of the Chosen People. They're the apple of his eye."

I am baffled. and here's another:

The Rev. Donald E. Wildmon, chairman of the evangelical American Family Association, warned in a Dec. 5 radio broadcast that Foxman was "in a bind" because the "strongest supporters Israel has are members of the religious right -- the people he's fighting."

"The more he says that 'you people are destroying this country,' you know, some people are going to begin to get fed up with this and say, 'Well, all right then. If that's the way you feel, then we just won't support Israel anymore,' " Wildmon said.

So their support for Israel is what, a high-school clique? "You meanies, stop complaining about our theocratic agenda, or we won't invite you to our party!"

I'm teasing a bit but there is a genuinely fascinating aspect to the intellectual and theologic disconnect that seems to govern these people. Here's the theologic underpinning:

Mark A. Noll, a professor of Christian thought at Wheaton College, a center of evangelical scholarship in Illinois, said evangelicals are beginning to move away from supersessionism -- the centuries-old belief that with the coming of Jesus, God ended his covenant with the Jews and transferred it to the Christian church.

Since the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church and some Protestant denominations have renounced supersessionism and stressed their belief that the covenant between God and the Jewish people remains in effect.

Evangelicals generally have not taken that step, but "among what you might call the evangelical intelligentsia, questions of supersessionism have come onto the table," Noll said. "It's in play among evangelicals in the way that it was in mainline Protestantism and Catholicism -- but wasn't among evangelicals -- 30 or 40 years ago."

I confess to being flabbergasted that supersessionism isn't doctrine for all Christians. Rejeccting it is tantamount to denying the primacy of your own faith. And if that's the case. then why follow that faith?


India: Center of the Muslim World

I've previously disavowed the utility of the notion of Ummah in a political sense, but in a cultural sense I think it's a valid and useful concept. I think that the following argument makes a lot of sense, if you allow for inclusion of Pakistan into the Subcontinent as a pan-Desi entity* :

India is the rough geographic center of the Muslim world. It is at the least the 3rd largest Muslim country (after Indonesia and Pakistan(?)) and the 2nd largest Shia country after Iran. We have the the most diverse (Muslim) population of any nation. Our architecture - a grand distillation of all things Indian - inspires awe. Our intellectual sophistication is peerless in the Muslim world. Islam has been in India since the Prophet was alive.

The author argues that other countries with nominally more muslims such as Malaysia and Pakistan have not yet separated mosque and state effectively enough to let true diversity of Islamic thought propser. I am not an expert on Malaysia, but from what I understand of Pakistan, it's more the military rather than the theocratic wing that is the hidden power (sepoy, Zach, and Zack are all better positioned than I to comment). Also, India has its own troubles with ethnic strife which should not be papered over; the Gujrat riots saw muslims targeted using voter lists, for example, suggesting local government complicity in the pogrom. Still, warts aside, I think it's an interesting idea, and India has enough depth to qualify for civilization status on its own.

*I am sure Zach will vociferously disagree.



Rather than shoot the messenger, or slag his former employer, I think that it is important to engage Zbigniew Brzezinski's argument on its merits:

Victory or defeat" is, in fact, a false strategic choice. In using this formulation, the president would have the American people believe that their only options are either "hang in and win" or "quit and lose." But the real, practical choice is this: "persist but not win" or "desist but not lose."

Victory, as defined by the administration and its supporters — i.e., a stable and secular democracy in a unified Iraqi state, with the insurgency crushed by the American military assisted by a disciplined, U.S.-trained Iraqi national army — is unlikely. The U.S. force required to achieve it would have to be significantly larger than the present one, and the Iraqi support for a U.S.-led counterinsurgency would have to be more motivated. The current U.S. forces (soon to be reduced) are not large enough to crush the anti-American insurgency or stop the sectarian Sunni-Shiite strife. Both problems continue to percolate under an inconclusive but increasingly hated foreign occupation.

Moreover, neither the Shiites nor the Kurds are likely to subordinate their specific interests to a unified Iraq with a genuine, single national army. As the haggling over the new government has already shown, the two dominant forces in Iraq — the religious Shiite alliance and the separatist Kurds — share a common interest in preventing a restoration of Sunni domination, with each determined to retain a separate military capacity for asserting its own specific interests, largely at the cost of the Sunnis. A truly national army in that context is a delusion. Continuing doggedly to seek "a victory" in that fashion dooms America to rising costs in blood and money, not to mention the intensifying Muslim hostility and massive erosion of America's international legitimacy, credibility and moral reputation.

My response is that Brzezinski minimizes the importance of the fledgling Iraqi political establishment. There is a force for cohesion that does operate in opposition to the valid forces (religious and tehnic) that he identifies, and that is the self-interest of those who have invested in the political process in Baghdad, which judging from the vast spread of political parties and enthusiastic, exuberant campaigning, has developed an infrastructure all its own.

Will that be enough? We certainly hope so - but it would be utmost foolishness to dismiss Brzezinski's argument out of hand. After all, there are real seeds of separatism, and civil war, being sown in Iraq. I have not yet seen the Administration even acknowledge the infiltration of the Iraqi military with ethnic loyalists, and the resulting potential for the Iraqi Army itself to serve as an agent for strife:

Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.

Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national army aren't gaining traction. Instead, some troops who are formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable.

The soldiers said that while they wore Iraqi army uniforms they still considered themselves members of the Peshmerga — the Kurdish militia — and were awaiting orders from Kurdish leaders to break ranks. Many said they wouldn't hesitate to kill their Iraqi army comrades, especially Arabs, if a fight for an independent Kurdistan erupted.

''It doesn't matter if we have to fight the Arabs in our own battalion,'' said Gabriel Mohammed, a Kurdish soldier in the Iraqi army who was escorting a Knight Ridder reporter through Kirkuk. ``Kirkuk will be ours.''

If the sole purpose of our remaining in Iraq is to prevent civil war, then we have already failed. We must address these issues head on, and openly, and call upon the Administration to do the same, or concede the game to those of Brzezinski's persuasion.


Cut and run

The gist of the basic argument against withdrawal from Iraq is that cutting and running would abandon Iraq to its fate before the fledgling democracy there has established the deeper root system it requires to thrive in the hostile climate of terror and tyranny.

Then why do we see the Administration prepare to hamstring the Iraqi nation by cutting off desperately needed reconstruction funds?

The Bush administration does not intend to seek any new funds for Iraq reconstruction in the budget request going before Congress in February, officials say. The decision signals the winding down of an $18.4 billion U.S. rebuilding effort in which roughly half of the money was eaten away by the insurgency, a buildup of Iraq's criminal justice system and the investigation and trial of Saddam Hussein.

Just under 20 percent of the reconstruction package remains unallocated. When the last of the $18.4 billion is spent, U.S. officials in Baghdad have made clear, other foreign donors and the fledgling Iraqi government will have to take up what authorities say is tens of billions of dollars of work yet to be done merely to bring reliable electricity, water and other services to Iraq's 26 million people.

What's even worse is the way some apologists for the Administration are already trying to spin this blatantly political move in advance of the 2006 midterms as a "light at the end of the tunnel."

Let us be clear, You cannot on one hand argue against troop withdrawals (on the basis that Islamist terrorists remain a threat to Iraq's seccurity) and on the other argue for reconstruction budget cuts (on the basis that Iraq's civil infrastructure is sufficiently restored). Only the most vapid observer could possibly conclude that the security status and the reconstruction are utterly separable elements.

The Washington Post article has been highly selectively quoted by some to make it appear to argue that all is well. Reading the actual article, however, one reads:

In two of the most crucial areas, electricity and oil production, relentless sabotage has kept output at or below prewar levels despite the expenditure of hundreds of millions of American dollars and countless man-hours. Oil production stands at roughly 2 million barrels a day, compared with 2.6 million before U.S. troops entered Iraq in March 2003, according to U.S. government statistics.

The national electrical grid has an average daily output of 4,000 megawatts, about 400 megawatts less than its prewar level.

Iraqis nationwide receive on average less than 12 hours of power a day. For residents of Baghdad, it was six hours a day last month, according to a U.S. count, though many residents say that figure is high.
In a speech on Aug. 8, 2003, President Bush promised more for Iraq.

"In a lot of places, the infrastructure is as good as it was at prewar levels, which is satisfactory, but it's not the ultimate aim. The ultimate aim is for the infrastructure to be the best in the region," Bush said.

U.S. officials at the time promised a steady supply of 6,000 megawatts of electricity and a return to oil production output of 2.5 million barrels a day, within months.

Look, many have argued that there is plenty of good news out of Iraq. Rather than the media reports of death and destruction, we shoudl be focusing on schools painted and hospitals built.

What use are these schools and hospitals if the electricity is still not even up to pre-war levels?

The Iraqi people are not fools. They will rightly interpret this action by the Administration as evidence that our domestic politics trump their security, all the noble rhetoric of Freedom be damned.

And the reputation of America as an agent for liberty will be further discredited. That is the greatest tragedy of all, because any future mission will be evaluated by the record we set as a nation here.

For shame.