The Real Point Of The Mess In Honduras

The story changes daily, and it is not as straightforward as first appeared. “Wingnut” news and commentary outlets on the internet arefussing (with good reason?) over Obama’s “support” of the Marxist jerk who just got transformed from the president of Honduras to a political refugee in Costa Rica. And the “moonbats” are saying that Castro and Chavez and Obama are right, as if that made them right about absolutely everything else in the known universe.

The Honduran military (at the orders of the judiciary and the legislative branch? Click here) got rid of a Bad Guy who wanted to change all the rules so he, a Bad Guy, could stay in power like Chavez and Castro (who are Worse Guys). Whether something like a correct, procedural deposition took place is now up for debate, but you won’t learn that from the lap dog media.

It’s worth remembering that Adolf Hitler, while never directly elected to political office, was quite properly appointed chancellor of Germany under a democratic system. He then changed the rules and assumed dictatorial power. How much better it would have been if…but only very late in the war did anyone in the military attempt to remove Hitler “illegally.”

A Persistent, Principled Press Would Be An Excellent Idea

ACORN (no longer called that), a whistle-blower, and race: put the three together and you have a topic guaranteed to produce sparks. People will be falling all over themselves to charge bias and political correctness and political incorrectness; it will be a real barroom brawl. You will see naked ideology competing with common sense. The spectacle of heretics rising up out of the mass of the faithful will be worth the price of admission.

So let the hissing and spitting begin! Click on the link and be outraged, Pilgrims. There’s something to offend everybody.

Meanwhile this newsletter is not sure racism is actually involved in the issues discussed at the link. It looks pretty much as if ACORN is behaving badly simply because it cannot tolerate exposure, lack of solidarity, and further bad publicity.

Yes, the ACORN folks are bad medicine, so the nastiness comes naturally, and a racist attitude would not be a huge surprise. A lot of leftists have long been so sensitive about racial issues that they make sweeping assumptions based on skin color, all in an attempt to get it right this time. That sentiment, where it exists, is a bit patronizing and haughty, is it not? Reasonable people could consider it bigoted, could they not?

Then there is the federal money to consider. ACORN has been accused of being the beneficiary of huge grants written into the “stimulus” bill, and of illegal practices. It’s is a big, complex outfit, so the facts are accordingly not exactly riveting reading. Is that why the press is not paying a lot of attention?

Whatever the cause for giving ACORN a pass, the effect is that the overwhelming majority of folks are utterly uninformed about this organization, and there’s no feeling in the public that watchdogs are needed.

Critics of ACORN are typically dismissed as lying “wingnuts,” which is often correct — and may be very unfortunate. That dismissal almost amounts to carte blanche handed to powerful and ethically impeachable apparatchiki.

That’s what happens when you represent gross exaggerations and lies as the truth, as the right has done in this case. The loss of the “wingnuts'” credibility disqualifies them as future critics, and there is no ethical, impartial and determined group to keep an eye on the highly political powerhouse. Presto, the fox is in charge of the henhouse.

No predictions are possible, but this coming census could be a real hoot.

Links

Folks in Atlanta, Georgia, USA are upset because local leftists shut down a planned tea party. The planning did not take into account that the political rally was to be on private property, and the owners can veto things like that. — Meanwhile, here’s commentary on how not to run a tea party, along with a few suggestions as to how it should work and what it should accomplish.

Michael Yon is back in Afghanistan. His followup to this report is now available, so read it here. This is news and commentary the major media do not bring you.

Here’s more on the propaganda organs that call themselves news media. (Some news outlets really are just that — professional, ethical news outlets.)

Says one “wingnut:” “…send the message that sexism and attacks on the children of people you disagree with are career suicide.” To which this newsletter says, good luck with that. You don’t know how utterly depraved those mud-slingers are, and how little clout your principles have with their supporters.

How long this post will be allowed to stay up on a Thai website is a good question. The original story is here (read the comments!). Thailand won’t be able to block that.

A weblogger with a very large readership says, “I don’t know if it was really all about Trig or not, but the explosion of nastiness has been something to behold, and it will, as always, trigger a similar response at some point.” This guy is a bit late to arrive at the PenPo’s viewpoint, but at least he can see the problem. Then he sums it up: “…if the ever-so-thin-skinned Barack Obama got one-tenth the abuse that Sarah Palin has gotten, he’d cry like a little girl. And his defenders would scream raaaacciiiiism at the top of their lungs.” — Before you move on, consider clicking on that “all about Trig” link; it’s a doozy, with plenty of examples of “moonbat” malice. Chances are you have not seen this much venom in one place in a long time; it’s too bad the major media did not assemble and publish this compendium of filth. Sample quote from the weblogger: “There is something about a Down syndrome child in plain view which has exposed the moral and emotional bankruptcy of the left-wing of the Democratic party.” Are those folks wretched? You betcha.

“Having roots everywhere, he has them nowhere….” That quote is found in commentary that tries to explain why Obama has a hole where his ethics should be. This newsletter is only peripherally interested in the psychological causes for the man’s failure to grasp Enlightenment values. He’s simply morally deficient, as recent events remind us yet again, so it’s best to accept that unhappy fact and get on with life. Meanwhile, this newsletter continues to anticipate that eventually the president will let slip an anti-Jewish slur. The expectation was first mentioned in PenPo Numbers 66 and 75. We’ll see.

Comment on a website, referring to the recent US presidential election: “It would have been nice to have had some professional journalists in the country last year.”

Barney Frank. That is all.

Have you ever wondered what goes on inside an organization that is religiously committed to the concept that climatic warming and cooling are driven by atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide? Wonder no longer.

The struggle to make the Second Amendment a fully-fledged part of the Constitution continues.

Like many examples of good investigative reporting, this post is rather boring. It probably won’t set the internet on fire, nor will it be quoted by politicians. That’s a shame, for it describes the Muslim group the Obama administration is in bed with. Instead of getting cosy with these people, the feds ought to be investigating them all, charging and indicting some, and deporting others. Read the post and see why.

How is it that the amateurish credulity of the FBI gets a pass, and the facts are blatantly ignored, when the major media report some stories? Stories like this little gem, which is so weak and silly that it does not even merit further comment from this newsletter….

Obama did it. Raised the unemployment rate. No kidding.

Snotty weblogger asks, “Where does the Obama administration end and the Washington Post begin? That is becoming an increasingly metaphysical question.”

Speaking of the WaPo — What? A giant of the Major Mainstream Media peddling access to its staffers? No, never! — Oops. And oops again. Well, the scandalous misbehavior does give one group a potential opportunity, if those folks choose to ignore ethics, too.

These beautiful buildings were torn down and replaced by junk or worse. Take a look, and wonder at the stupidity.

Ooh…The One is not gonna like this, if he reads it! And then there’s this kick in the face. Doesn’t the Penguin Post ever get tired of kicking the community organizer around? Yep, you bet. But what is really fatiguing is the fact that he never stops deserving it. Look what he’s doing to our troops! Click on those links! And if you want photos, here they are.

Fun video here. It’s a comedy about the EPA (anything with a cast of those clowns is sure to be a knee-slapper) and the case of the missing report. Rated R for Republicans really riled, rational reviewers repulsed by rapscallions’ racket.

Would you believe it? This photo is banned in Thailand. At least the PenPo’s Thai ISP considers it too rotten to be viewed — either that, or the website considers the PenPo’s ISP too rotten to deal with. Sheesh.

In case you needed it, more information on the AGW hoax here. Then more here.

“Progressive” freedom of expression? “You can’t wear that T shirt. It’s pro-life.”

Iran is cleaning up after those naughty rioters.

The Tea Party protests don’t get mentioned much, except on some websites. The bicoastal elite considers them the typical magical behavior of genetically disenfranchised Neanderthaler who are utterly lacking in taste. Ten years from now, people will be saying, “The movement was right out there in the open, and any fool could have seen the consequences coming. But the fools running things at the time — meaning the White House, Congress and the major media — were a really special breed of fool. In deep denial.” Journalistic speculation here.

A Meditation On Ethnicity And Markets, Part IV

What should a nation do, when it is beset by economic and social problems that seem to be caused by an intrusive, alien ethnic group? Perhaps some strategies can be suggested.

First, a cautionary reminder. It is simply not the case that the mindset, the fundamental assumptions, of a scholar, journalist, casual observer or committee are ever objective. Candor requires that I reveal all the rational and irrational preconceptions I bring to this topic.

I begin with the fact that I do not view the cultures of India, or Indians themselves, in a positive light. My aesthetic preferences lie elsewhere. India’s history strikes me as a nearly perfect example of shocking religious, ethical and social imperfection, and the Indian mindset, so far as I am aware of it, repels me. Mother Teresa was not a good woman, in my view, and Mohandas K. Gandhi was a hypocrite. I would not find it hard to believe bad things about Indian mercantile practices.

The remainder of my biases and preconceptions lies in what might be called my philosophical orientation. Here is a summary.

At the root of all politics and economics is ethics, which is included in the value system of the body politic. Just as some ideas are better than others, some values are good and others are bad — in the moral sense. Some things are wrong for everybody, and that’s a fact. It does not matter how many people say witch trials are beneficial for society; on fundamental ethical issues, we are not entitled to take a vote.

That means I deny the multiculturalist view that ethics are entirely a matter of opinion, and that all moral guidelines must be respected. There are evil values, and that means there are evil cultures.

The solutions to many political and economic problems are easier to discover if one looks first at the ethics of the parties involved. Yes, things may still be in a mess after we do our best to correct moral lapses. There is no Utopia available.

In no particular order, I note several moral shortcomings that are reported in the first three parts of this series.

1. It is easy to see the predatory, exploitive behavior of some merchants. When the Chinese fleece the Tahitians and then send (smuggle?) their profits out of Tahiti, they behave badly. The same holds for price-fixing (a true free market is an ethical market). To the extent that the Chinese community in each nation tries to monopolize a segment of the business community and exact a high economic rent, it is unethical.

2. The venality of the authorities and unions is no less obvious. Illegal immigration always implies corruption, and in a small nation like Fiji or PNG, corruption must be present if aliens are to circumvent the law. Bribes sustain the Chinese control of the longshoremen in Tahiti, keep people in businesses they are not entitled by law to operate in PNG, and open the national doors to the triads in Fiji and PNG.

3. Was the British import of Indians into Fiji an ethical undertaking? Hah! It was actually an exploitation of Fiji to serve British interests. Development is one thing, and mindlessly creating a huge new class of very alien residents of a nation as small and delicate as Fiji is entirely another.

4. The failures of the government of PNG to provide services to all the nation’s citizens are, for the most part, understandable. But are they all? Ample evidence exists to prove corruption in immigration enforcement, which suggests that other agencies are on the take, too. It’s likely that PNG suffers from the virtually universal “developing nation” curse of bad governance. A decent business community is always militated against in such environments.

The Thai example, where corruption is deeply rooted in every aspect of the economy, serves as a horrible instance. Doubtless everything in Thailand is more expensive than it could and should be, and doubtless the illegal outflow of hard and soft currencies bleeds the nation’s resources. Law enforcement could staunch the wounds, but when the legislative and jurisprudential systems are literally for sale, what can be done? No one should be surprised that ethnic Chinese control of a disproportionately large segment of the economy has resulted.

A long succession of unethical, willfully weak, and discriminatory Thai governments has indirectly contributed to hatred of the Chinese. If the phlegmatic, see-no-evil Thais kept their ethnic brothers and sisters honest, any dishonest ethnic minority in Thailand would be stymied. Instead, the nation is a gigantic thugocracy.

5. Not all ethical issues are so clear-cut. I can’t decide whether to blame Idi Amin for the problems that seem to be caused by Indian merchants in Belize. Amin was crazy, but does that mean that his motive in throwing the Indians out of Uganda was evil, or that it was not a counter to racist business practices? If he was not just cruel but factually wrong, why are prices of ordinary consumer goods in Belize so high? Is it standard Indian practice to exploit black folks? My attempts to answer these and related questions fail; I need more information. The case of Belize must be filed away as incomplete and inconclusive.

Indians in Thailand live in a society that gives them a cold shoulder. Thais are (to put it mildly) not fond of them. A Thai saying claims that if you encounter a dangerous snake and an Indian in the forest, the best self-defense requires you to kill the Indian first. Anti-Indian bigotry is common in Thailand. I speculate that is because Indians do not assimilate completely, seem to have a low regard for non-Indians, and, as shopkeepers and landlords, are the victims of a certain amount of resentful stereotyping that portrays them as greedy and heartless.

Sometimes I wonder what the Indians here are really up to. I marvel at the many Indian-owned shops in Bangkok, almost all of them in high-rent areas, that seem never to have any customers. Are they money-laundering fronts, or…what? Surely speculation like that is improper. Still….

I am told that when a recession hits and tourism falls, businesses that cater to tourists find their rents increased — and the owners squeezing their renters are always said to be Indians.

A possible explanation for animosity to Indians is that when officials do not do their jobs decently, the business community must adapt — which often means evolving a dishonest value system. Who came first, the corrupt official or the corrupter of officials? I don’t know, and I am uneasy with explanations that are so speculative.

Accordingly, I try to set aside my personal bias and deal with pure facts. The attempt is a partial success.

I have yet to see a scholarly and/or governmental report that does not skip over the fact that the Fijians feared from the first that Indians would take over the island’s economy and plunge the native population into third-class status. No one seems to care where this idea came from. Evidently the great majority of the Fijians were aware of gossip/rumor/lies/reports that cast serious aspersions on Indians.

The current military government exploits fear, and pledges to protect ethnic Fijians from Indian greed and power. Yet the intense anxiety that drives coups and anti-democratic legislation is never thoroughly analyzed in the bureaucratic reports, or ever characterized as anything but simple error — which it might not be. When candor is called for, officialdom retreats behind a curtain of political correctness.

The disingenuous silence has not worked. The official documents present no barrier to the anti-Indian stereotype and its conspiracy-minded advocates; the argument is conceded from the first. The bigots are not proved wrong when they say that Indians are notorious blood-sucking merchants, and that most governments are either afraid of Indian reprisals or are in league with the malignant aliens.

A worse situation can hardly be imagined, for in this failure to deal with basic questions, the authorities of several nations have impeached their own credibility. The Fijians have no information that might reduce their anxiety or explain to them the factual errors that give rise to anti-Indian bigotry. The ugly stereotype has been proved correct by default. The result: desperately frightened Fijians have abused their government, shattering democracy.

Ethical questions, primal though they are, are not the whole of the matter. It is clear that the size of the Fijian and PNG economies is a vital factor in both nations’ distress. That brings me to my Cardinal Rule: do not overwhelm a tiny, economically fragile and already politically challenged nation by introducing significant numbers of aliens.

This means that everybody, including missionaries, UN agencies, the Peace Corps and tourists should be under severe and skeptical control, or kept the hell out. No globalization, not yet. No “development” that unwittingly introduces seismic cultural change. No huge technological advances, no matter how seductive. And most certainly there can be no significant immigration of any cultural group.

Yes, globalization is important; it is the hope of the world’s poor. And yes, changes must be made in order to produce better lives for the people of PNG and Fiji. All of those long-term projects can be initiated while the Cardinal Rule is strictly observed. To break that rule means to act unethically.

Development is often said to be a kind of leapfrog operation, speeding the simple economies and traditional value systems of the “third” or “developing” world into the twenty-first century. Unfortunately the introduction of one or two technologies into such a society can be catastrophic. The problem is particularly serious because it is impossible to predict the consequences of importing sophisticated technology into a nation like Fiji, Tahiti, or PNG.

Well, how to cope? I suggest that a responsive Fijian government would, for example, offer business classes in its schools, and, copying US affirmative action, provide them only to ethnic South Sea Islanders. A tradition of mercantile activity can be begun in a population that does not already have it; it is not a genetic trait. Anti-monopoly measures and rules to prevent activities in restraint of trade would be in order, guaranteeing Fijians they would be able to open retail shops. The best approach to price-fixing and other sharp practices is a dual program of consumer information and open competition.

Then there is the matter of political imports. To be ethical and effective, democracy must emerge from the values of the people. We know that good governance depends upon good education, but we usually overlook the fact that most nations base their political systems on indoctrination and intimidation. The lesson should be obvious: slow and steady is best, and begin by inculcating basic concepts of freedom of choice and the dignity of the individual. A nation like PNG cannot be expected to accomplish in a decade what took the USA several generations.

Then there are those folks who are attracted to places like Fiji and Tahiti. They should not all be let in. Are some folks safe immigrants, due to their culture? That’s a tough question. I believe that it was not so much the Chinese-ness of the Chinese that delivered a huge blow to PNG, and that the Indian-ness of the Indians was not the cause of the disaster in Fiji. Virtually any alien ethnic group as large as the Indian community would have done great damage, though I can’t say exactly how much or in what areas.

So without exonerating the Chinese or Indians, I insist that all aliens are toxic to nations like PNG and Fiji, and must be admitted in small numbers. As the USA has learned, uncontrolled immigration is not a good idea, period.

Then too, the history of PNG and Fiji should remind us that ignorance can be an ethical lapse. A wise man will try to be moral, and, when aware of his ignorance, will act with fastidious caution. Well, the British have a spotty record as regards ethics and wisdom. I suspect the Brits viewed Fijians as just another group of brown-skinned primitives very like the Indians, assumed that the two groups would work things out, probably violently if not held in check by the white man’s law, and shrugged the matter off rather than think it through. That dismissive disdain for inferior races is hardly a foundation on which to build a peaceful and prosperous new society.

Whether Australia will be able to help PNG correct its obvious shortcomings remains to be seen, and the same is true for New Zealand and Australia in the case of Fiji.

These days the “developed” nations have to behave properly toward fragile states like PNG, which means deploying a battalion of infantry to put the corrupt civil servants in prison is not “on the cards,” as the saying goes in the region. So the people least equipped to deal with the problems are the only ones who are permitted to try to solve them.

What, then, of the prospects for Tahiti, PNG, and Thailand?

Tahiti is under French quasi-colonial administration, and the prognosis is accordingly grim.

PNG can do much better, and might, if Australia plays its role intelligently; education is vital, for it might lead the population to see that the government needs to be dismantled and rebuilt. Where is the mob with torches and pitchforks when you need it? Clearly, hope lies in a popular reform movement that clears away much if not most of the civil service and political establishment.

In Thailand, the rich and powerful Chinese are not terribly important. That’s because the nation is in the grip of the criminal element. In fact Thailand is hopeless; it is South East Asia’s developed nation of tomorrow, and always will be. The size of the economy creates a political angular momentum that resists reform perfectly. Too many powerful people have too much to lose if things are cleaned up. The deeply-entrenched corruption is universal, and “influential figures” as the Thais call them are ready to commit murder to defend their fiefdoms. No combination of NGOs and popular reform parties stands a chance of success.

This is the work not of an alien minority that exercises disproportionate power, but the result of medieval social stratification based on gangsterism. In spite of the obvious drawbacks involved in turning the nation over to crooks, Thailand is lucky: one only has to look across the border at Burma to see what happens when the merchant class and the military link up. The Burmese dictatorship, one of the world’s most obnoxious, is not what most observers believe it to be, namely, army rule. It is a partnership composed of the merchants (virtually all of whom are ethnic Chinese) and the military. And — sanctions-mongers and UN-resolution-writers, take note — it is utterly impregnable.

A brief consideration of the success of the Chinese and Indians in the USA is in order. While prejudices against these groups do exist — everybody is hated by somebody — in general, the Indians have been unable to convince the US population that they are dishonest, power-hungry retailers and con artists. The Chinese, some of whom have never acculturated enough to speak halfway intelligible English, are considered a tourist attraction or pretty much ignored, along with those of Scots-Irish, Russian or Ecuadorian descent. The reason, of course, is the size and range of US society. Drop a few thousand Indians in, and they will vanish almost without a trace, even if they refuse to acculturate.

For still more perspective on the problems of Fiji and PNG, ponder the needs of swindlers and monopolists. They seek markets they can restrict, customers they can trick, and a legal system that is either weak or for rent. (Think of Microsoft.) Blame the Chinese and Indians if you wish, but understand that blatant thieves can not thrive in retail in a nation that enforces good laws. It could be that only the worst elements of the Chinese and Indian business communities are attracted to Fiji and PNG, and for very practical reasons. If that’s true, then we have excellent evidence that the overwhelming majority of the world’s Chinese and Indian businessmen are ethically irreproachable.

So: the basics are three. One, keep it honest. Two, be respectful. Don’t overwhelm a tiny nation, whether with aliens, technology or grandiose plans for “development.” Do nothing in haste or out of ignorance, and remember that predictions are usually just irrational projections of our hopes and assumptions. Three, promote the understanding of the concept of Liberty, which means free markets, free people, and free choices; do that in a setting that allows decent, peaceable individuals to put a No Trespassing sign on their values, and opt out of the mainstream.

No, those basics won’t solve all problems, and historical policies that were madness at the time and have produced chaos today will often defeat the best efforts of good people.

Addendum

A very recent issue of the PNG newsletter brings this welcome report:

Thousands march against PNG corruption

In a spectacular outpouring of public discontent, more than 4,000 people joined a Walk Against Corruption in PNG late last month.

Around 3,000 people turned out in the capital Port Moresby and 1,000 others in Kokopo. The walk was organised by Transparency International and raised about K300,000 to support TI’s fight against corruption.

People from 125 corporations and 93 schools as well as 2,500 individuals participated in the demand for greater honesty and integrity in the political, public and commercial life of PNG.

Transparency International said it was “overwhelmed” by the level of interest in the march. The response was so big it had to close registration for participants.

Chairman Peter Aitsi told Radio Australia that mismanagement of the country’s resources are keeping it poor. “The community is obviously concerned about the current situation,” he said.

“There is an ongoing deterioration of the ability of government to deliver services to its rural majority and out of those concerns has come this overwhelming support by the public to take part in this walk against corruption.”

From The Archive

The first of March, 2005. This is the way the Terrapin Gazette saw things in Iraq and Syria. The optimistic tone of the piece reproduced here was made possible by the first genuinely resolute military-diplomatic major initiative since the end of the Second World War — with the possible exception of a few efforts in Korea and Vietnam that faded without forcing the seismic changes needed.

The Handwriting On The Wall

It has been going on for a long time, and we have seen little of it, but the campaign to bring significance to the downfall of Saddam is succeeding.

Why did the USA invade Iraq? The real goals of the Bush administration were not simply to remove a tyrant and preclude the possibility that Iraq would produce unconventional weapons and then distribute them to terrorists. As laudable as those goals were, they were just part of the picture.

The USA is committed to a more complex and ambitious agenda that will transform the Middle East. The central location of Iraq made it the natural first target, for shock waves from Saddam’s removal have radiated into Iran, Syria, Jordan and the Gulf states. The transnational terrorist network has been distracted, the Saudis have been told that the USA is growing impatient with their deceit and subversion, the Iranian mullahs are transfixed in terror (as their increasingly bombastic pronouncements prove), and Syria is tearfully approaching the abyss of political collapse.

Perhaps most important of all, the USA, with a first strike in Afghanistan (which was supposed to be a disaster on the British and Soviet models) and a second in Iraq, has demonstrated the will to fight. Until US forces set foot in Afghanistan, no Arab or predominantly Muslim nation had any reason whatsoever to believe that Uncle Sam would get involved, bleed, and see the fight through. Now, given the success of operations against the thugs, fanatics and former Ba’athists in Iraq, the Middle East is not so sure that the USA is a quitter. More evidence is required, of course, before the Koranic world will realize that it has a great deal to fear if it antagonizes the USA, but the prospects for the next three and a half years are becoming clearer. For the jihadists, the outlook is grim, and they are beginning to realize it. This is a president who will stay the course, and that fact is sinking in.

Syria has shown signs of facing reality, and it is to this nation that we turn our attention. No, it is not the first Muslim nation to read the headlines correctly. Libya was in the vanguard, and as a result of Khaddafi’s new pragmatism, revealed how easy it is to hide the technology of war. That was a major accomplishment for the Bush administration, and one that was of course downplayed by the news media.

The next obvious step, outlined here, was the result of considerable pressure. It was slow in coming, and that only emphasizes the fact that it is truly a sea change.

First were the US special forces operating along the Iraq-Syria border. What they did, how much they learned, what links they established with groups in Syria we shall never know, but their role was vital in gathering intelligence. We can surmise that is not all they did.

Next were the diplomatic moves, scarcely hinted at in the press, that informed Assad that Damascus was being watched and would not be given carte blanche. Of course the Syrians, steeped in the tradition of the USA’s familiar “fight until we bleed, then run like a scalded cat” behavior, brushed aside the messages with absurd denials. Syrian support of the “insurgency” in Iraq, a cooperative effort planned long ago by Saddam and his henchmen and worked out in spite of feuds with the ruling Syrian elite, went ahead. After all, the Yankees would withdraw from Iraq soon. Money flowed to the thugs, training was carried on openly in Syria, and the border was just a line on a piece of paper. Syria was engaged against the new regime in Iraq.

Then Israel made some carefully-orchestrated noises, and the USA pretended to be unaware of the Jewish state’s intentions. It was a clever and effective ploy, for the Arab-Muslim world honestly believes Israel calls the shots and the USA does as ordered; when it appeared as if Israel were about to attack Syria and the US was unaware of Israeli plans and had been relegated to the sidelines, the Syrians were genuinely alarmed. The Muslim world hates Jews, but knows that Israel can be relied upon — to fight to win, to fight dirty if necessary, and to fight to the death. After all, repeated losses only humiliate the Muslim states, while a single massive defeat would eradicate Israel. So the Syrians respect the Jews as they do not yet respect the Yanks.

The non-crisis passed, but Damascus had no way of knowing whether Israel was trying to create the mere impression that an attack was no longer planned. Diplomatic pressure from the USA and some European nations was stepped up.

Then came some evidence — partial and tentative, but evidence none the less — that the USA was behaving pretty much as Israel behaves. Nobody was watching more closely than the Syrians when the battle lines were drawn and the fighting started in earnest.

Fallujah. It was the place the thugs chose; they worked hard to fortify it; they made it a point of pride and a symbol of their power to defy the occupying foreign troops. This was where the USA would fail.

The loss of Fallujah was a terrific blow to the anti-Iraqi forces — in fact no one expected the US to take the city so quickly and at such low cost in casualties, perhaps not even the US military commanders on the scene. The fleeing rebel leaders had left some of their best troops behind, fully expecting to stall the US advance and exhaust it. Big mistake.

Syria was confronted with a simple fact of life: the US simply cannot be defeated in battle, as long as it desires to win. Whether the USA will cut and run as in the past is now in serious doubt, for this time the US forces seemed ready to take the city, whatever the cost.

For years severe critics of US foreign policy have been predicting that when it comes to “urban warfare,” the US will bleed profusely and withdraw rather than accept politically incorrect casualty levels. “House to house” fighting, the “warren” of deadly mined alleys, the “hand to hand” combat with fanatics and suicide bombers — it was long assumed that the USA simply had no experience, no tactics, no stomach for such bloody work. Even if US soldiers and marines managed a favorable kill ratio, the exhausting work of clearing thousands of houses one room at a time would prove too much, and the “quagmire” would triumph. Rather than spill rivers of US blood, the “crusaders” would pull back as they did in Vietnam and Lebanon and Somalia.

It was a delusion. Self-appointed military experts on the USA’s political fringes have failed to grasp the fact that the Pentagon is today a new bureaucracy. The horrible past has made an impact on the USA’s military planners, and the result is an appreciation of the importance of adaptability. In the past, the enemy had the upper hand because he waged unconventional warfare; now he faces an opponent that observes, studies, and learns. The result is evolved battle tactics and new weapons. These give US forces the ability to exploit the weaknesses of “urban guerillas.” The anti-Iraq forces in Fallujah literally did not know what hit them.

Then came a staggering hammer-blow. The Iraqis actually voted in a fair election. That phenomenon, hated and dreaded by every despot, was not just a vindication of the Bush administration’s hopes for responsible government in the Middle East; it was not just a rebuttal of US critics who have been peddling defeatist propaganda; it was a special delivery letter to the governments in the region. The letter was a slightly crumpled piece of paper, empty and bare — save for a black spot in the middle.

Syria realizes the significance of these events, even if home-grown critics of the Bush administration still refuse to.

The Middle East is changing, and so rapidly that keeping up will be difficult. Perhaps the last to grasp the implications of the changes and glimpse where the road leads will be those who depend on the orthodoxy of the political left for their compass, and the major news media for their map.