Commentary Magazine


Topic: Michael Totten

Dividing Jerusalem Is Physically Impossible

In honor of Jerusalem Day, which was celebrated yesterday, anyone who hasn’t yet done so should read Michael Totten’s 2011 City Journal article on why dividing the city that was reunited 45 years ago is not merely foolish, but impossible. There are many good arguments against dividing Jerusalem, and they have been made many times before. What makes Totten’s article unique is that he physically walked the route along which the border would lie under the solution “everyone knows” any Israeli-Palestinian deal must include – a division in which the city’s Arab neighborhoods become part of Palestine while Jewish neighborhoods remain Israeli. For the purpose, he used the Geneva Initiative’s map. Here are some of the absurdities he found:

On a street near the Armenian Quarter, a house that the Geneva Initiative has slated for Israel is wedged between two houses that would go to a Palestinian state. Houses in the Old City are ancient. They lean on one another. It is physically impossible to weave a border between them … Things are even stranger where the Muslim Quarter abuts the Jewish Quarter. Arabs own shops at street level, while Jews own apartments upstairs. According to the Geneva Initiative, the ground floor on that street would be Palestinian and the second floor Israeli.

Even in neighborhoods where Palestinian and Jewish houses aren’t intertwined the way they are in the Old City, the map was utterly impractical:

Take the neighborhood of Abu Tor, on a hill just south of the Old City. The eastern side is Arab, and the western side is Jewish. The Green Line runs through its center. It would be easy enough, theoretically, to make the Green Line the border between Israel and a Palestinian state.

But that border would go right down the middle of a street where Jews live on one side and Arabs live on the other. If a wall or a fence were erected on that border, residents wouldn’t be able to drive down their own street. And if there were no wall or a fence, anyone could cross the border without passing through customs or security: tourists, spies, job-seekers, and suicide bombers. A Palestinian could throw a hand grenade into Israel from inside his living room, and vice versa.

As Totten noted, such a map would be possible only if Israel and Palestine had a completely open border, European Union-style, in which citizens of both nations could freely enter the other with no border checks whatsoever. That is indeed the fantasy envisioned by proponents of dividing the city. But in the real world, it’s completely impossible.

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In honor of Jerusalem Day, which was celebrated yesterday, anyone who hasn’t yet done so should read Michael Totten’s 2011 City Journal article on why dividing the city that was reunited 45 years ago is not merely foolish, but impossible. There are many good arguments against dividing Jerusalem, and they have been made many times before. What makes Totten’s article unique is that he physically walked the route along which the border would lie under the solution “everyone knows” any Israeli-Palestinian deal must include – a division in which the city’s Arab neighborhoods become part of Palestine while Jewish neighborhoods remain Israeli. For the purpose, he used the Geneva Initiative’s map. Here are some of the absurdities he found:

On a street near the Armenian Quarter, a house that the Geneva Initiative has slated for Israel is wedged between two houses that would go to a Palestinian state. Houses in the Old City are ancient. They lean on one another. It is physically impossible to weave a border between them … Things are even stranger where the Muslim Quarter abuts the Jewish Quarter. Arabs own shops at street level, while Jews own apartments upstairs. According to the Geneva Initiative, the ground floor on that street would be Palestinian and the second floor Israeli.

Even in neighborhoods where Palestinian and Jewish houses aren’t intertwined the way they are in the Old City, the map was utterly impractical:

Take the neighborhood of Abu Tor, on a hill just south of the Old City. The eastern side is Arab, and the western side is Jewish. The Green Line runs through its center. It would be easy enough, theoretically, to make the Green Line the border between Israel and a Palestinian state.

But that border would go right down the middle of a street where Jews live on one side and Arabs live on the other. If a wall or a fence were erected on that border, residents wouldn’t be able to drive down their own street. And if there were no wall or a fence, anyone could cross the border without passing through customs or security: tourists, spies, job-seekers, and suicide bombers. A Palestinian could throw a hand grenade into Israel from inside his living room, and vice versa.

As Totten noted, such a map would be possible only if Israel and Palestine had a completely open border, European Union-style, in which citizens of both nations could freely enter the other with no border checks whatsoever. That is indeed the fantasy envisioned by proponents of dividing the city. But in the real world, it’s completely impossible.

First, Israelis wouldn’t accept a border wide open to Palestinian terrorists. An individual Israeli prime minister certainly might; both Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak reportedly did. But by law, ceding territory Israel has annexed requires the approval of either two-thirds of Knesset members or a majority of the public in a referendum. And given the escalation in terror produced by every previous Israeli-Palestinian agreement, a deal that left Israel’s security totally dependent on Palestinian goodwill would never win the requisite support.

But an open border is also an economic non-starter. Israel’s economy is a powerhouse compared not only to the Palestinian Authority, but to all its Arab neighbors. Hence with an open border, it would be flooded with economic migrants – primarily Palestinians, but also other Arab nationals, who could enter Palestine legally and then cross the borderless border into Israel. Even now, thousands of Palestinians risk imprisonment or even death every day trying to cross the security fence to work in Israel. If the passage were risk-free, the number would skyrocket.

In short, dividing Jerusalem isn’t physically possible. Thus, until the fantasy of division is abandoned, no Israeli-Palestinian deal will be possible, either.

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RE: Egypt Needs Liberalism

There’s not much more to say in a general sense about Michael Totten’s badly needed reality check differentiating liberal democracies — roughly, those that have robust democratic institutions that insulate themselves — from mere democratic spectacles. But it’s worth noting, as a way of beginning to evaluate how the Cairo riots will affect Near East diplomacy, just how much this fundamental point has been neglected in the specific context of Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

For Israel, the cold peace with Egypt and the intermittent peace with the Palestinian Authority have always been conducted against the backdrop of a see-no-evil approach to incitement. As long as Cairo and Ramallah cooperated with Jerusalem on security issues, Israeli and Western diplomats looked the other way as those regimes violated their Camp David and Oslo pledges to undertake normalization.

Put more bluntly: as long as Egypt and the Palestinian Authority helped stymie the terrorists of today, Israel and the West were content to let them go on creating the terrorists of tomorrow. Because at least those regimes were stable!

Those terrorists of tomorrow were made possible through geography textbooks that erased Israel, and through television programs that vilified Jews, and through official government propaganda that scapegoated the Jewish state for every imaginable social ill. As of this morning, the Mubarak regime is parading “protesters” in front of state-TV cameras to explain how they were trained by the Mossad to bring down the regime.

The result is that Egyptian and Palestinian civil society is a feverish cesspool of anti-Semitic conspiracism — recall the minor hysteria a few weeks ago over Zionist attack sharks — while Egyptians and Palestinians continue to very publicly indulge in fantasies of eradicating Israel itself. Read More

There’s not much more to say in a general sense about Michael Totten’s badly needed reality check differentiating liberal democracies — roughly, those that have robust democratic institutions that insulate themselves — from mere democratic spectacles. But it’s worth noting, as a way of beginning to evaluate how the Cairo riots will affect Near East diplomacy, just how much this fundamental point has been neglected in the specific context of Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

For Israel, the cold peace with Egypt and the intermittent peace with the Palestinian Authority have always been conducted against the backdrop of a see-no-evil approach to incitement. As long as Cairo and Ramallah cooperated with Jerusalem on security issues, Israeli and Western diplomats looked the other way as those regimes violated their Camp David and Oslo pledges to undertake normalization.

Put more bluntly: as long as Egypt and the Palestinian Authority helped stymie the terrorists of today, Israel and the West were content to let them go on creating the terrorists of tomorrow. Because at least those regimes were stable!

Those terrorists of tomorrow were made possible through geography textbooks that erased Israel, and through television programs that vilified Jews, and through official government propaganda that scapegoated the Jewish state for every imaginable social ill. As of this morning, the Mubarak regime is parading “protesters” in front of state-TV cameras to explain how they were trained by the Mossad to bring down the regime.

The result is that Egyptian and Palestinian civil society is a feverish cesspool of anti-Semitic conspiracism — recall the minor hysteria a few weeks ago over Zionist attack sharks — while Egyptians and Palestinians continue to very publicly indulge in fantasies of eradicating Israel itself.

These are the wages of making peace with governments while allowing normalization between societies to atrophy. Israel let its partners in peace purchase domestic tranquility by demonizing the Jewish state in terms that often crossed the line into outright bigotry, and so now that its partners in peace are collapsing — Cairo, Palileaks, etc. — we’re in a situation where serious people are talking about a return to cyclical nation-state war-fighting.

If a defensible land-for-peace framework returns — and that’s a real question — normalization will have to become more than a pro forma addendum to treaties. Above and beyond normalization being good in itself, an end to incitement will force regimes to undertake badly needed liberal reforms. If they don’t have the Jewish state to demonize for their problems, they might need to address those problems, and something approaching liberal democracy might begin to take shape.

But instead, our best foreign-policy minds are engaged in white-washing the Muslim Brotherhood into an organization with which we can do business. That’s not true and it’s never been true, but let’s pretend it is.

In that case, it would still be a disastrous decision, since it repeats the same stability-oriented mistakes of the old see-no-evil approach. Under autocracies, anti-Israel incitement suffocated liberal institutions indirectly, by channeling dissent into hatred of Israelis and Jews. A Muslim Brotherhood government would suffocate liberal institutions more directly, insofar as the party would make good on its promises to exclude gender and religious minorities from the highest echelons of Egyptian life.

If the instability in Egypt shows us that there’s a difference between democratic niceties and actual liberal democracy — and it does — then the question becomes one of how to create the conditions for liberal democracy. Viewed through that lens, there’s no real difference between engaging Mubarak and engaging the Muslim Brotherhood. Both are out to undermine the institutions and practices that are preconditions for genuine peace in the Middle East.

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Are Egyptians Growing Tired of the Protests?

At Pajamas Media, Michael Totten pointed out this excellent post today by Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey. The pro-democracy activist — who was rumored to have been arrested by Egyptian authorities today — wrote that some of his fellow citizens appear to be tiring of the mass demonstrations, and are showing signs that they may accept Mubarak’s rule until the next scheduled elections:

We started getting calls asking people to stop protesting because “we got what we wanted” and “we need the country to start working again.” People were complaining that they miss their lives. That they miss going out at night, and ordering Home Delivery. That they need us to stop so they can resume whatever existence they had before all of this. All was forgiven, the past week never happened and it’s time for Unity under Mubarak’s rule right now.

To all of those people I say: NEVER! I am sorry that your lives and businesses are disrupted, but this wasn’t caused by the Protesters. The Protesters aren’t the ones who shut down the internet that has paralyzed your businesses and banks: The government did.

But despite his vow to keep fighting, the blogger concluded the post with little hope that the protesters will be able to bring about the democratic reforms they’ve been struggling for.

“I have no illusions about this regime or its leader, and how he will pluck us and hunt us down one by one till we are over and done with and 8 months from now will pay people to stage fake protests urging him not to leave power, and he will stay ‘because he has to acquiesce to the voice of the people,’” wrote Sandmonkey. “This is a losing battle and they have all the weapons, but we will continue fighting until we can’t.”

The post is worth reading in full, as it gives a great perspective from someone who has been involved in the protests from the beginning. It’s important to remember that, despite the recent reports of looters, Islamic extremists, and violent rioters involved in the protests, a yearning for liberal democracy still exists at the heart of the demonstrations. Unfortunately, these democratic activists are caught in the middle of a fight between two extremes that both go against their interests: Islamist groups and the secular but oppressive Mubarak regime.

At Pajamas Media, Michael Totten pointed out this excellent post today by Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey. The pro-democracy activist — who was rumored to have been arrested by Egyptian authorities today — wrote that some of his fellow citizens appear to be tiring of the mass demonstrations, and are showing signs that they may accept Mubarak’s rule until the next scheduled elections:

We started getting calls asking people to stop protesting because “we got what we wanted” and “we need the country to start working again.” People were complaining that they miss their lives. That they miss going out at night, and ordering Home Delivery. That they need us to stop so they can resume whatever existence they had before all of this. All was forgiven, the past week never happened and it’s time for Unity under Mubarak’s rule right now.

To all of those people I say: NEVER! I am sorry that your lives and businesses are disrupted, but this wasn’t caused by the Protesters. The Protesters aren’t the ones who shut down the internet that has paralyzed your businesses and banks: The government did.

But despite his vow to keep fighting, the blogger concluded the post with little hope that the protesters will be able to bring about the democratic reforms they’ve been struggling for.

“I have no illusions about this regime or its leader, and how he will pluck us and hunt us down one by one till we are over and done with and 8 months from now will pay people to stage fake protests urging him not to leave power, and he will stay ‘because he has to acquiesce to the voice of the people,’” wrote Sandmonkey. “This is a losing battle and they have all the weapons, but we will continue fighting until we can’t.”

The post is worth reading in full, as it gives a great perspective from someone who has been involved in the protests from the beginning. It’s important to remember that, despite the recent reports of looters, Islamic extremists, and violent rioters involved in the protests, a yearning for liberal democracy still exists at the heart of the demonstrations. Unfortunately, these democratic activists are caught in the middle of a fight between two extremes that both go against their interests: Islamist groups and the secular but oppressive Mubarak regime.

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Wikileaks and the Final Defeat of Tet

I agree with Max that the content of the leaked Afghan war documents is underwhelming. The thousands of pedestrian, narrow-scope field reports tell us nothing we didn’t already know about the overall conduct of the war or our coalition partners’ roles in it. The real story here is how accurate our view of the war in Afghanistan has been: even the failures and missteps have been chronicled with thematic, if not always specific, fidelity.

A swelling chorus of voices is pondering the roles of New and Old Media in the Wikileaks disclosure, with its effect being compared to that of Tet and the Pentagon Papers (see here, here, here, and here, for example). These analogies are overblown — wildly so, in my view — but there is nevertheless an important New/Old Media dynamic to watch in this case. The question in the coming days will be whether the Old Media — of which Time, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, et al. are members — can establish a counterfactual narrative and make it politically decisive. Will Congress, for example, consider itself bound to accept the narrative that this massive leak amounts to a set of game-changing revelations?

I predict not. Although John Kerry has stated already that the leaked documents “raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan,” my sense is that there is simply too much knowledge of that reality, both in Congress and among the public, for the political gambit to go anywhere. Much credit for that knowledge must go to New Media — independent online reporters like Michael Totten, Michael Yon, and COMMENTARY’s Max Boot, websites like Long War Journal and Small Wars Journal — which has labored to bring the war to the average reader in a level of detail unimaginable even two decades ago.

Credit is also due to both the Bush and Obama administrations and the military that has served them. In terms of “secrets” about the war, political or operational, there’s just no story in the leaked documents. We already know about all the categories of information revealed in them. They are, moreover, tactical-level reports from the field; they are not a source of “smoking-gun” policy documents like the Pentagon Papers’ infamous McNaughton Memo, which demonstrated that Johnson’s actual policy in Vietnam differed from the justification he presented to the public. (James Fallows raises this topic by referring to the McNaughton Memo in his Atlantic post, linked above.)

The severity of the leaks is related primarily to the damage they may do to our forces’ operational security in Afghanistan, and much of what is reflected about their activities is outdated now. Meanwhile, the eager hope of left-wing pundits that this leak will turn American sentiment to widespread anger and unrest is unfounded. From 1968 to 1971, Americans had few alternatives to Walter Cronkite and the New York Times. Today they have thousands. I believe the New Media will succeed in the signal task of burying Old Media’s “Tet-effect” talisman, once and for all.

I agree with Max that the content of the leaked Afghan war documents is underwhelming. The thousands of pedestrian, narrow-scope field reports tell us nothing we didn’t already know about the overall conduct of the war or our coalition partners’ roles in it. The real story here is how accurate our view of the war in Afghanistan has been: even the failures and missteps have been chronicled with thematic, if not always specific, fidelity.

A swelling chorus of voices is pondering the roles of New and Old Media in the Wikileaks disclosure, with its effect being compared to that of Tet and the Pentagon Papers (see here, here, here, and here, for example). These analogies are overblown — wildly so, in my view — but there is nevertheless an important New/Old Media dynamic to watch in this case. The question in the coming days will be whether the Old Media — of which Time, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, et al. are members — can establish a counterfactual narrative and make it politically decisive. Will Congress, for example, consider itself bound to accept the narrative that this massive leak amounts to a set of game-changing revelations?

I predict not. Although John Kerry has stated already that the leaked documents “raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan,” my sense is that there is simply too much knowledge of that reality, both in Congress and among the public, for the political gambit to go anywhere. Much credit for that knowledge must go to New Media — independent online reporters like Michael Totten, Michael Yon, and COMMENTARY’s Max Boot, websites like Long War Journal and Small Wars Journal — which has labored to bring the war to the average reader in a level of detail unimaginable even two decades ago.

Credit is also due to both the Bush and Obama administrations and the military that has served them. In terms of “secrets” about the war, political or operational, there’s just no story in the leaked documents. We already know about all the categories of information revealed in them. They are, moreover, tactical-level reports from the field; they are not a source of “smoking-gun” policy documents like the Pentagon Papers’ infamous McNaughton Memo, which demonstrated that Johnson’s actual policy in Vietnam differed from the justification he presented to the public. (James Fallows raises this topic by referring to the McNaughton Memo in his Atlantic post, linked above.)

The severity of the leaks is related primarily to the damage they may do to our forces’ operational security in Afghanistan, and much of what is reflected about their activities is outdated now. Meanwhile, the eager hope of left-wing pundits that this leak will turn American sentiment to widespread anger and unrest is unfounded. From 1968 to 1971, Americans had few alternatives to Walter Cronkite and the New York Times. Today they have thousands. I believe the New Media will succeed in the signal task of burying Old Media’s “Tet-effect” talisman, once and for all.

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Required Reading

In the New York Times Book Review, Anthony Julius reviews Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals – a book Michael Totten calls “your required reading this month.” (I would add Julius’s remarkable book on anti-Semitism, Trials of the Diaspora.)

The “flight of the intellectuals” is Berman’s phrase for Western public intellectuals running away their own heritage in the confrontation with a totalitarian Islamist threat. In a valuable interview with Totten, Berman has summarized the thinking as follows:

We look at ourselves in the Western countries and we say that, if we are rich, relatively speaking, as a society, it is because we have plundered our wealth from other people. Our wealth is a sign of our guilt. If we are powerful, compared with the rest of the world, it is because we treat people in other parts of the world in oppressive and morally objectionable ways. Our privileged position in the world is actually a sign of how racist we are and how imperialistic and exploitative we are. All the wonderful successes of our society are actually the signs of how morally inferior we are, and we have much to regret and feel guilty about.

Julius’s judicious review contains an even shorter summary of the elements of the contemporary intellectual’s thinking:

the false identification of liberal values with an oppressive West, and of political Islamism with an oppressed third world; an unreflective, unqualified opposition to every exercise of American power; a certain blindness regarding, or even tenderness toward, contemporary expressions of anti-Semitism.

Berman’s book extends a debate that began in Europe four years ago with French writer Pascal Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt, which has just been published in English. Bruckner argues that:

In Judeo-Christian lands, there is no fuel so potent as the feeling of guilt. … From existentialism to deconstructionism, all of modern thought can be reduced to a mechanical denunciation of the West, emphasizing the latter’s hypocrisy, violence, and abomination. In this enterprise the best minds have lost much of their substance. … Remorse has ceased to be connected with precise historical circumstances; it has become a dogma, a spiritual commodity, almost a form of currency.

As the Europeanization of America proceeds — under an administration featuring apology tours, rejections of American exceptionalism, and an inability even to utter the words “terrorism” or “Islamofascism” (substituting “man-caused disasters” and refusing to acknowledge that “radical Islam” might be involved) — Bruckner’s book is an even clearer description of the intellectual collapse coming our way. Put it on the required reading list as well.

In the New York Times Book Review, Anthony Julius reviews Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals – a book Michael Totten calls “your required reading this month.” (I would add Julius’s remarkable book on anti-Semitism, Trials of the Diaspora.)

The “flight of the intellectuals” is Berman’s phrase for Western public intellectuals running away their own heritage in the confrontation with a totalitarian Islamist threat. In a valuable interview with Totten, Berman has summarized the thinking as follows:

We look at ourselves in the Western countries and we say that, if we are rich, relatively speaking, as a society, it is because we have plundered our wealth from other people. Our wealth is a sign of our guilt. If we are powerful, compared with the rest of the world, it is because we treat people in other parts of the world in oppressive and morally objectionable ways. Our privileged position in the world is actually a sign of how racist we are and how imperialistic and exploitative we are. All the wonderful successes of our society are actually the signs of how morally inferior we are, and we have much to regret and feel guilty about.

Julius’s judicious review contains an even shorter summary of the elements of the contemporary intellectual’s thinking:

the false identification of liberal values with an oppressive West, and of political Islamism with an oppressed third world; an unreflective, unqualified opposition to every exercise of American power; a certain blindness regarding, or even tenderness toward, contemporary expressions of anti-Semitism.

Berman’s book extends a debate that began in Europe four years ago with French writer Pascal Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt, which has just been published in English. Bruckner argues that:

In Judeo-Christian lands, there is no fuel so potent as the feeling of guilt. … From existentialism to deconstructionism, all of modern thought can be reduced to a mechanical denunciation of the West, emphasizing the latter’s hypocrisy, violence, and abomination. In this enterprise the best minds have lost much of their substance. … Remorse has ceased to be connected with precise historical circumstances; it has become a dogma, a spiritual commodity, almost a form of currency.

As the Europeanization of America proceeds — under an administration featuring apology tours, rejections of American exceptionalism, and an inability even to utter the words “terrorism” or “Islamofascism” (substituting “man-caused disasters” and refusing to acknowledge that “radical Islam” might be involved) — Bruckner’s book is an even clearer description of the intellectual collapse coming our way. Put it on the required reading list as well.

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Wurmser Weighs In

Be sure to check out David Wurmser’s take on Lebanon, by way of Lee Smith, who is guest-blogging for Michael Totten. (Wurmser was VP Cheney’s Middle East guru for many years.)

Be sure to check out David Wurmser’s take on Lebanon, by way of Lee Smith, who is guest-blogging for Michael Totten. (Wurmser was VP Cheney’s Middle East guru for many years.)

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More On Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald says I mischaracterized what he wrote in the following paragraph:

Writing at The Podhoretz Family’s Commentary Magazine, right-wing blog favorite Michael Totten — who says he has been the only reporter other than al-Fadhily in Fallujah — takes issue with some of al-Fadhily’s claims about the extent to which Fallujah was destroyed by our 2004 military assualt. In doing so, Totten revealingly points out that he, Totten, is always with the U.S. military, while the independent al-Falahdy “isn’t embedded with the military and focuses his attention on Iraqi civilians,” as though that makes Totten’s assertions more credible, rather than less credible, than al-Fadhily’s.

He wrote in an email that he did not say my “reporting was less credible with regard to whether 70 percent of Fallujah had been destroyed.” It looked that way from my first reading of his paragraph, but I suppose it could be read both ways and the misunderstanding can be chalked up to sloppy writing on his part, sloppy reading on my part, or both.

In any case, I have no interest in mischaracterizing what he or anyone else writes. And I’m glad to hear he did not mean to say what I thought he said.

He says, in his email, that he thinks al-Fadhily is more credible than me “SOLELY WITH RESPECT to the point about whether Falljuah residents had been harassed or arrested after speaking with journalists.”

I think he’s wrong about that, but feel free to click on over and read his argument.

One point he makes is fair enough, at least. I did not back up my assertion with evidence. He’s right. I didn’t. I exceeded my word limit and tried to keep it short, so here is some evidence now:

Arresting citizens for talking to journalists is a strict violation of the human rights rules being handed down from the Americans to the Iraqis. And the Iraqi Police are very closely supervised by the Marines. They live together in the same stations and go on joint patrols with each other.

I personally sat in on a class where two Marine officers instructed Iraqi Police officers in the human rights ethics expected of them. United Nations documents, rather than American documents, were the source material for the course, but the Iraqi Police are being trained to act like professional police officers in a liberal democracy, not a dictatorship.

Not everything sticks. It’s possible that the Iraqi Police would round someone up for no reason other than talking to journalists, but the Marines would be furious and would instantly undo the problem as soon as they found out about it.

No one can disprove a negative, but this one does not pass the smell test. Iraq is a paranoid place. I can’t prove that the Americans didn’t put a shark in a Euphrates River canal to scare people, either, but I shouldn’t have to.

Glenn Greenwald says I mischaracterized what he wrote in the following paragraph:

Writing at The Podhoretz Family’s Commentary Magazine, right-wing blog favorite Michael Totten — who says he has been the only reporter other than al-Fadhily in Fallujah — takes issue with some of al-Fadhily’s claims about the extent to which Fallujah was destroyed by our 2004 military assualt. In doing so, Totten revealingly points out that he, Totten, is always with the U.S. military, while the independent al-Falahdy “isn’t embedded with the military and focuses his attention on Iraqi civilians,” as though that makes Totten’s assertions more credible, rather than less credible, than al-Fadhily’s.

He wrote in an email that he did not say my “reporting was less credible with regard to whether 70 percent of Fallujah had been destroyed.” It looked that way from my first reading of his paragraph, but I suppose it could be read both ways and the misunderstanding can be chalked up to sloppy writing on his part, sloppy reading on my part, or both.

In any case, I have no interest in mischaracterizing what he or anyone else writes. And I’m glad to hear he did not mean to say what I thought he said.

He says, in his email, that he thinks al-Fadhily is more credible than me “SOLELY WITH RESPECT to the point about whether Falljuah residents had been harassed or arrested after speaking with journalists.”

I think he’s wrong about that, but feel free to click on over and read his argument.

One point he makes is fair enough, at least. I did not back up my assertion with evidence. He’s right. I didn’t. I exceeded my word limit and tried to keep it short, so here is some evidence now:

Arresting citizens for talking to journalists is a strict violation of the human rights rules being handed down from the Americans to the Iraqis. And the Iraqi Police are very closely supervised by the Marines. They live together in the same stations and go on joint patrols with each other.

I personally sat in on a class where two Marine officers instructed Iraqi Police officers in the human rights ethics expected of them. United Nations documents, rather than American documents, were the source material for the course, but the Iraqi Police are being trained to act like professional police officers in a liberal democracy, not a dictatorship.

Not everything sticks. It’s possible that the Iraqi Police would round someone up for no reason other than talking to journalists, but the Marines would be furious and would instantly undo the problem as soon as they found out about it.

No one can disprove a negative, but this one does not pass the smell test. Iraq is a paranoid place. I can’t prove that the Americans didn’t put a shark in a Euphrates River canal to scare people, either, but I shouldn’t have to.

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Syrian Incursion

Michael Totten reports today a piece of incredibly disturbing news: Syria, on Thursday of last week, made a quiet incursion three kilometers into Lebanon. The Syrian troops are digging in, according to Totten’s citation of the Lebanese daily Al Mustaqbal:

The sources said Syrian troops, backed by bulldozers, were fortifying positions “in more than one area” along the Lebanese border, erecting earth mounds and digging “hundreds” of trenches and individual bunkers.

And the Syrian government is, apparently, evacuating Syrian citizens from Lebanon. Totten goes on:

Syria can, apparently, get away with just about anything. I could hardly blame Assad at this point if he believes, after such an astonishing non-response, that he can reconquer Beirut. So far he can kill and terrorize and invade and destroy with impunity, at least up to a point. What is that point? Has anyone in the U.S., Israel, the Arab League, the European Union, or the United Nations even considered the question?

Read the rest here.

Michael Totten reports today a piece of incredibly disturbing news: Syria, on Thursday of last week, made a quiet incursion three kilometers into Lebanon. The Syrian troops are digging in, according to Totten’s citation of the Lebanese daily Al Mustaqbal:

The sources said Syrian troops, backed by bulldozers, were fortifying positions “in more than one area” along the Lebanese border, erecting earth mounds and digging “hundreds” of trenches and individual bunkers.

And the Syrian government is, apparently, evacuating Syrian citizens from Lebanon. Totten goes on:

Syria can, apparently, get away with just about anything. I could hardly blame Assad at this point if he believes, after such an astonishing non-response, that he can reconquer Beirut. So far he can kill and terrorize and invade and destroy with impunity, at least up to a point. What is that point? Has anyone in the U.S., Israel, the Arab League, the European Union, or the United Nations even considered the question?

Read the rest here.

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