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Losing Wars, Winning War.

Saturday, July 28, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

I wouldn't be picking out the Caliphmobile just yet.

The author of the Jihadist's Bible recants. Zawahiri is angry and worried.

The Pew poll shows sharp decline in Muslim support for suicide bombing. In Pakistan the number has gone from 33% in 2002 to 9% today.

There may be a split within Al Qaeda, even within their Pakistani tribal regions stronghold.

Sunnis in Anbar province, Iraq, are joining with Americans and iraqi government forces to kill Al Qaeda in what is being called the Anbar Awakening.

Straws in the wind. Nothing conclusive. And bear in mind: they'll manage to hit us again. Hard.

So I'm not saying it's over. It's a long way from over. But I think the tide has turned. I think Al Qaeda has jumped the shark. And I am starting to think that even while we lose one and a half small wars, we may win the big war.

Usually the United States wins its wars with overwhelming power. It's what worked in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War II and Gulf War I where we won convincing victories. It's what we didn't manage to bring to bear in 1812, Korea or Vietnam. We are good with a sledgehammer. Not so good with a scalpel. (Mexican-American war being perhaps our best scalpel-handling moment.) We stink when we do subtle. That's why we're in trouble in Iraq: we went with subtle.

But there's another great American war, different from the other wars we fought because we never quite got around to the shooting at all. (Had we done so this blog would be written by a radioactive mutant cockroach named Zang.) That war, the Cold War, we didn't win by bringing a crushing weight of men and materiel to bear. We won it by being Americans. We won it because we were right and the enemy was wrong about economics, and about the nature of man.

At the start of the Cold War the action looked like this: the Soviet Union bet it could win with a command economy, political repression, a docile empire, and a relentless propaganda effort to promote a unifying ideology. The Americans bet they could win with a free market, small 'd' democratic politics, a gaggle of fractious allies and a sort of vague free-lance propaganda effort centered on loud music, hamburgers and breasts.

To the surprise of every thinking person, the Americans won. We out-produced the Soviets in weapons technology and had plenty of capacity left over to out-produce them in food, cars, clothing, computers, toys, fancy cooking implements and every other category except vodka and gloomy political jokes. To everyone's amazement our political system -- a system based on the rule of law, the protection of minorities, and the bloviation of windbags -- was actually more effective than the Soviet system of unanimous votes cast by mummified apparatchiks. Our allies which, God help us, included the French, were superior in every way to the Evil Empire's cowed Slavs and lesser Germans. And as absurd as it sounds, ragged-looking potheads singing about peace made more effective propaganda than the enemy's May Day marches and nine hour speeches on the topic: "Shoes: Why We Have Eight Million Pairs of Size Nine, and Only Six Pairs Of Size Ten.'

We didn't win the Cold War because Ronald Reagan told that evil emperor Mr. Gorbachev to tear down the wall. We won because by that point the moral, economic, cultural and intellectual superiority of the West was undeniable. Even in the communist world. Even in Berkeley. We won because it was clear that we were right -- about economics and the nature of man -- and they were wrong.

Flash forward about 20 years. This time the enemy isn't an evil empire. It's more in the nature of an evil death cult obsessed with imposing a legal system the Chaldeans would have found backward, and reviving a Caliphate that, far from representing some shining historical high water mark was, in fact, a stumblebum regime kept alive for a time by nominal foes more worried by its weakness than its strength.

This enemy is a fish that swims in the sea of Islam. It echoes themes found in Islam. It plays on fantasies that have some currency within Islam. And because of that it has a weight that we might not accord to another bunch of murderous dealth-cultists motivated by a pathetically adolescent desire for virgins. Al Qaeda isn't powerful as a force, it's only powerful as an ideology with the capacity to hijack a religion with a billion odd (some quite odd) adherents.

But increasingly Muslims -- Al Qaeda's only possible constituency -- are seeing Al Qaeda not as a liberating ideology but as vicious political murderers. With the emphasis on "murderers" rather than "political."

Since September the 11th, 2001, Al Qaeda's gains against the West are . . . non-existent. They wanted to terrify us and we were not, and are not, terrified. New York has long since gone back to being New York. Madrid's Atocha station has a great churro stand. (You can kill a ventricle for 5 euros.) The London tube still speeds Londoners from the Twaddle Street station to the station at North Eelpie-on-Gorge. Australian tourists are flooding Bali, drinking gigantic beers and being irritatingly friendly. We in the West have not been intimidated. We are not cowed. We are not terrorized. We're still drinking, still frolicking, still fornicating, still praying to Jesus and Jehovah, still not giving a good goddamn what some stick-up-the-ass primitive has to say about our decadent lifestyles.

On the larger world stage, since September 11, 2001 Al Qaeda has traded Afghanistan and the Americans far away, for Waziristan and the Americans next door. That's not what we wanted. But it also sure as hell isn't what Al Qaeda wanted, either.

Al Qaeda has of course spread beyond its initial home base, setting up franchises, (or at least tolerating copyright infringements on its name,) in south and southeast Asia, and, most famously, in Iraq. But I suspect this isn't really a plus for them. Yes it has expanded the pool of available terrorists and extended its reach into new geographical areas. But it has also diluted and distorted the Al Qaeda message. Al Qaeda's no longer just about killing Jews and Crusaders. Al Qaeda's franchisees kill a lot more Muslims than they do anyone else.

Here's a simple question: who is more afraid of Al Qaeda today? a) A New York City Jew, b) a Washington DC Christian, or c) a Baghdad Muslim?

The Al Qaeda brand has been diluted. "Al Qaeda: Scourge of Jews and Crusaders," has become "Al Qaeda: Scourge of Muslims." And their only constituency is . . . Muslims. See the problem there?

For a while the Communists got away the notion that they were friends to the worker. But over time it became clear that no one was worse off than a Communist worker. And from then on, once the ideology was revealed as rotten, the ideology stopped spreading.

I think Al Qaeda is at that point. And remember that the Communists had real power. They were more than just an ideology, they were tanks and nukes and vast tracts of land. Al Qaeda? They got nothing but semtex and a dream.

It's not that the Muslim world is ready to rush weeping into our arms and confess their love for us. I don't think we've made converts of them by any stretch. But I suspect they're starting to get that whatever their problems are with the Jews and Crusaders, Al Qaeda blowing up Iraqi soccer fans isn't really all that helpful.

Osama Bin Laden (R.I.P.?) and Al Zawahiri are smart boys. They'll try to refocus and relaunch the Al Qaeda brand. But it won't work. Too many failures, too many mistakes, too many franchises, too much water under the bridge. They'll kill some more people, blow up some more airliners, but their moment is over.

In our long struggle with the Communists we fought two hot wars. We pulled off a draw in Korea and lost in Vietnam. But we won the war against Communism. I suspect we'll be lucky to pull off a draw in Afghanistan and will most likely lose in Iraq. But the real war is against Al Qaeda and the global jihad. I think we're already winning that one.

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D'oh No.

Friday, July 27, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

I love the Simpsons. My family loves the Simpsons. My son and I have been looking forward to this for about a year. So, it is with utmost sadness that I say the Simpsons Movie is not good.

It is slow. It is flaccid. The writing is gentle, not edgy. The characters are softened to the point of blandness. It just doesn't work. I really wish it did. Did I mention I love the Simpsons?

And whatever jokes might have worked have been given away by a reckless marketing department. There is hardly a punchline you haven't already seen.

I'm depressed.

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Random Birthday Data Dump

Thursday, July 26, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

Pretending to work.

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday blah, blah, blah ....

Age: 53

Kids: 2

Lifetime total wives: 1

Current favorite song: "Into Action," by Tim Armstrong.

Good things about the last year: Sold a book series, lost 15 pounds, shaved my head, decided to move to Florence next year, drove in Italy and survived, daughter coped well with dyslexia, son developed a sense of humor about himself, got an iPhone.

Bad things about the last year: Sister died, still yelled too much at the kids.

Current favorite TV shows: Scrubs, 30 Rock, Battlestar Galactica, The Shield, The Wire, The Simpsons, Lost, Jon Stewart, Olbermann. (Sorry Colbert, you're on too late.)

Longest 12 hours of last year: Delta flight from Rome to RDU. With kids. In coach. Shitty domestic-use plane repurposed and with no entertainment.

Best evidence I'm an asshole: I didn't cut Italy short to make my sister's memorial service.

Best evidence I'm not a complete asshole: Creature Comfort, the mini-charity we run to provide companion animals to indigent handicapped people passes its tenth year.

Things I learned from my kids: Nutella's kind of good.

Signs of self-control: the goddamned pug's still alive, isn't he?

New vice: Cubans. I was fine with the Macanudo Golds and the Ashton Maduros, then along came the Cubans.

Best movies I saw during the year: Knocked Up and Hairspray. Bear in mind I see a lot of kid flicks.

Best movie news: the two guys from Hollywood trying to put together a movie deal for our old s-f series. Can you say "separate merchandise accounting stream?"

Best reason to wince: my lawyer/agent and I pressure an editor to make a yes/no decision, the negotiation ends on a pissy note, and a few weeks later the man dies of cancer. He'd always been a sweet guy and I ended it badly, not knowing what was going on.

Fun but exhausting: 12 day documentary shoot in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid and Barcelona. Overbook much?

Current health paranoia: stroke. No, I don't have high blood pressure. But since I have books due the Irony Gods would go with brain damage. Just to fuck with me. Hey, I've made no claims to sanity.

Best hotel of the year, domestic: Hotel 1000, Seattle.

Best hotel, foreign: San Clemente Palace, Venice.

Most disturbing thing I learned about myself: when I lost weight I purged some clothing. Turned out I owned 48 pairs of underwear. What the fuck is that about?

Pictures from my 52nd year:

The wife.


Doing 'research.'

Looking important.

Shiny head man.

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No Excuse.

Sunday, July 22, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

You know, this seems pretty unequivocal. From Egypt's Grand Mufti:
As for suicide bombing, Islam forbids suicide, it forbids the taking of one’s own life. In addition, Islam forbids aggression against others. Attacking civilians, women, children, and the elderly by blowing oneself up is absolutely forbidden in Islam. No excuse can be made for the crimes committed in New York, Spain, and London, and anyone who tries to make excuses for these acts is ignorant of Islamic law (shari’ah), and their excuses are a result of extremism and ignorance.
I've wondered about the fact that Muslim authorities seem not to do a very good job of condemning terrorism in straightforward terms. But I'm not seeing weasel room here. That seems pretty definite. "No excuse." Good enough.

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