Iraqis Embrace Democracy With a Passion

Citizens of one of the world’s newest democracies go to the polls Saturday to elect representatives to the Provincial Councils. It’s the third nationwide election in Iraq, and the first since 2005.

But the Washington Post reports the atmosphere now is nothing like “the 2005 vote, when violence and its threat lurked menacingly over the process. Neither candidates’ names nor their pictures were published, for fear they might be assassinated.”

Plenty of candidates are willing to show their faces now. Salam Pax, the Baghdad Blogger, runs some of the numbers:

- Candidates up for election Iraq-wide: 14,428…

- Number of seats these +14k are fighting to nab for themselves: 440 (that’s 32.7 candidates per seat!)

- Candidates for Baghdad Council: 2371

- Number of seats on Baghdad’s Council: 57 (41.6 per wannabe ‘council member’ per seat.. there will be tears.. a lot of tears)….

- Number of FOREIGN journalists registered with Iraqi Electoral Commission to cover elections: 358

- Number of IRAQI journalists registered with Iraqi Electoral Commission to cover elections: 1629 (who knew we had that many journalists!)

It’s not perfect. There are concerns about fraud and vote-buying, and only 14 of the country’s 18 provinces are taking part — the Kurdish provinces are not participating. And while the violence has greatly diminished, it is by no means over.

But Iraqis are determined to make their voices heard. It may be contagious — the country’s neighbors should be on notice.

(Photo: Salam Pax)

You (Could Have) Read It Here First

Long-time readers (hi Sweetie!) know how much I admire Charles Krauthammer’s writing. I’ve said that when I read his columns, I often wish I had written them first. Well, now that fantasy has partly come true.

Krauthammer’s column today covers some of the same ground as my post Wednesday on Obama’s mixed signals to the Muslim world. (No, I am not so delusional as to think he got the idea from my blog, which weighs in at 213,974th in Technorati’s blog rankings. I’m just tickled that we’re on the same wavelength.)

We both reacted to Obama’s statement that he wants to return to “the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago” by noting that the Iran Hostage Crisis began 30 years ago. Despite Obama’s implication that his predecessor’s administration was hostile to Muslims, we both noted that Bush prominently reached out to Muslims six days after 9/11.

Here’s an additional Krauthammer point that I wish I had made:

In these most recent 20 years — the alleged winter of our disrespect of the Islamic world — America did not just respect Muslims, it bled for them. It engaged in five military campaigns, every one of which involved — and resulted in — the liberation of a Muslim people: Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Great column, Chuck! I mean Charlie. I mean… Mr. Krauthammer.

(Photo: Univ. of North Carolina)

Honeymoon-Over Watch: Campbell Brown Cites Obama "Hypocrisy"

As I’ve said before, I expect now that Obama is safely ensconced at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the cutthroat competitiveness of the news media is going to drive more and more reporters to go after the only President we have.

Campbell Brown has a show on CNN called “No Bias, No Bull.” When you market yourself that way, you have to be prepared to smack down anybody, “without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved,” in the immortal words that used to guide The New York Times. To her credit, Brown is a rare example of a mainstream journalist who actually took a hard shot at Obama before the election — dinging him for rejecting campaign finance limits once it became clear that Obama’s fund-raising power was much greater than McCain’s. She even quoted an Obama supporter saying the flip-flop met the definition of a “hypocrite.”

She raised the stakes in a commentary on last night’s show, using the H word without the fig leaf of attributing it to someone else. The piece, which describes how the administration is seeking a waiver from its own restrictions on hiring lobbyists, is available today on CNN.com, under a headline “Commentary: Obama’s Hypocrisy is Showing.”

Mr. President, if you want to hire former lobbyists because you think they are the best people to do the job, then hire former lobbyists. Just don’t hold a big news conference first to tell us how your administration is going to be so different from previous administrations in that you won’t be hiring lobbyists.

Don’t make your disdain for lobbyists and your pledges that they won’t wield influence in your administration a centerpiece of your campaign.

It’s the hypocrisy and the double-talk that makes so many of us so cynical. Do what you think is best for the country. Just be straight with us about how you’re going to do it.

(To be clear, there was a flurry of commentary when the administration first sought a waiver to the lobbying rules just a day after promulgating them. But this is the first time I’ve seen such sharp criticism on the issue from a nominally nonpartisan source.)

While the revolving door between government and lobbyists can be unseemly, lobbying is a form of free speech. Some regulation of lobbying is appropriate, and government officials need to make a special effort to seek out the opinions of people and groups that cannot afford a fancy office on K Street. But the reason why lobbyists are able to command high salaries for plying their trade is that they have substantial expertise in the ways of Washington and the business interests of their employer — it would make little sense to exclude such people from the government completely.

Interestingly, the lobbyist that sparked Brown’s commentary is intended to be chief of staff for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. I haven’t returned to the subject of Geithner since writing, just after the tax controversy first surfaced, that I didn’t think his tax “peccadillos” should sink his candidacy. Geithner has been confirmed, but I’ve changed my mind about his suitability for the office he now holds. The turning point for me was reading the objections of the three Senate Democrats who voted against his confirmation. As Sen. Tom Harkin said:

He has stated this was an innocent mistake and that there was no intent to deliberately avoid paying the required taxes. However, the IMF informs us that in order to avoid exactly this kind of situation, its U.S. citizen employees are fully informed of their obligation to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes and must sign a form acknowledging that they understand this obligation.

Moreover, the IMF gives its U.S. citizen employees quarterly wage statements that detail their U.S. tax liabilities. The IMF pays its U.S. citizen employees an amount equal to the employer’s half of the payroll taxes with the expectation that the individual will use that money to pay the IRS.

Geithner failed to pay the required taxes for four successive years. When the problem was discovered, he was billed for back taxes only for the last two of those years, because the IRS statute of limitations had passed on the earlier two years. He finally settled up for the earlier two years only after being nominated as Treasury Secretary.

I hope this guy does a really good job managing the financial crisis. Even if he does, I don’t think it will be enough to justify the fact that the man we’ve put in charge of overseeing the IRS appears to be a tax cheat.

(Photos: CNN.com; Geithner swearing in from LA Times)

Mixed Signals in Obama’s Approach to Radical Islam

“Respect and partnership” 30 years ago

I didn’t pay close attention to Obama’s first media interview as President yesterday, with with Al-Arabiya. The news snippet I saw led with:

President Barack Obama on Tuesday chose an Arabic satellite TV network for his first formal television interview as president, delivering a message to the Muslim world that “Americans are not your enemy.”

Sounds good, I thought. Same message President Bush started emphasizing six days after 9/11.

Today a former favorite professor, Fouad Ajami, offers a somewhat more troubling perspective in the Wall Street Journal [free link], noting that Obama said he wants to return to “the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago.”

[Hm… 20 years ago… 1989… that would have been during the investigation into the December 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, for which a Libyan intelligence officer was convicted. 30 years ago would have been 1979… now why does that year stick in my mind? Oh yes, that was when militant Islamists declared war on America by taking hostages at our embassy in Tehran.]

But let Professor Ajami make his own points. Under President Bush:

America had toppled Taliban rule and the tyranny of Saddam Hussein; it had frightened the Libyan ruler that a similar fate lay in store for him. It was not sweet persuasion that drove Syria out of Lebanon in 2005. That dominion of plunder and terror was given up under duress…

In this vein, the assertive diplomacy of George W. Bush had given heart to Muslims long in the grip of tyrannies.

Take that image of Saddam Hussein, flushed out of his spider hole some five years ago: Americans may have edited it out of their memory, but it shall endure for a long time in Arab consciousness. Rulers can be toppled and brought to account. No wonder the neighboring dictatorships bristled at the sight of that capture, and at his execution three years later.

The irony now is obvious: George W. Bush as a force for emancipation in Muslim lands, and Barack Hussein Obama as a messenger of the old, settled ways. Thus the “parochial” man takes abroad a message that Muslims and Arabs did not have tyranny in their DNA, and the man with Muslim and Kenyan and Indonesian fragments in his very life and identity is signaling an acceptance of the established order. Mr. Obama could still acknowledge the revolutionary impact of his predecessor’s diplomacy, but so far he has chosen not to do so.

Ajami currently is a professor at Johns Hopkins, but he previously taught at Princeton, where I had the good fortune to take his International Relations course during my freshman year, more than [cough] years ago. His latest book, The Foreigner’s Gift, occupies a place of honor on my bookshelf — it is a scholarly examination of the war in Iraq, which the Lebanon-born Ajami strongly supports as a just war.

The WSJ article has an unfortunate headline that Ajami undoubtedly did not write: “Obama Tells Arabia’s Despots They’re Safe — America’s Diplomacy of Freedom is Officially Over.” That vastly overstates the point the good professor makes in the text. I read the article as a caution to the new president to avoid giving up the progress that has been made toward establishing a model for Islamic democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Ajami says in the article:

This war was never a unilateral American war to be called off by an American calendar. The enemy, too, has a vote in how this struggle between American power and radical Islamism plays out in the years to come.

Radical Islam will not end its war against America anytime soon. It will be up to President Obama to ensure that we continue to fight back. He struck the right tone in his inaugural address: “for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.” When the inevitable next crisis arises, I hope his actions will be guided by those words, rather than by a yearning for the idyllic days of “20 or 30 years ago.”

Curse You, NY Post: I Had "Reign of Thain" First

In 2007, when John Thain became the first outsider named to lead Merrill Lynch in the firm’s history, I called a bunch of former colleagues there, looking for the insider scoop on the company where I worked for 12 years.

Making conversation, I said to a couple of people, “As a stockholder, I wish him well, but if the new guy doesn’t work out, at least you’d be able to say “the reign of Thain is regarded with disdain.” I should have copyrighted the phrase.

Comes now the news that Thain, who briefly was a genius for selling the company to Bank of America, thereby preventing the stock from going to zero, managed to spend $1.2 million of the shareholders’ money redecorating his office. This prompted the headline above in the New York Post (if you’re reading via RSS, it says “The Reign of Thain Was Mainly Just a Pain.”) I like my version better (imagine that!), although theirs is more true to the original rhyme scheme.

Now, I don’t expect the CEO of Merrill Lynch to get his new office furniture at Ikea. But Thain was hired away from the New York Stock Exchange specifically to rescue Merrill Lynch after predecessor Stan O’Neal golfed while the subprime crisis swirled. Even on Wall Street, you’d expect he would know better than to pay a celebrity interior designer $800,000 to buy knick-knacks like an $88,000 rug. Two words, Mr. Thain: Dennis Kozlowski.

It brings to mind another legendary Wall Street titan, Ace Greenberg, who used to send quirky staff memos urging employees to save money by, for example, reusing paper clips. At least he had the symbolism right. But all those paper clips were not enough to save Bear Stearns, which sold out to JPMorgan Chase in the early days of the Wall Street meltdown.

C’mon, You Know You Want to Hear About My Stats

It has come to my attention that some of you are less fascinated than I am by discussions of my blog traffic. If that describes you, I suggest scrolling down past this post.

I wrote previously about a “Sullivalanche” caused by a link to one of my posts from Andrew Sullivan’s blog, back in October. Earlier this month I finally received my first “Instalanche,” the original slang term for an avalanche of visitors from a link by Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit. The snapshot above from my Google Analytics data (click to enlarge) shows how dramatically such links change my normal traffic pattern.

Sullivan’s link, which was posted early in the morning, caused the largest single-day traffic on my site, 4,514 visits, some of which came from other sites that posted their own links after seeing me on Sullivan’s blog. But the Instapundit link actually drove more total traffic — Reynolds posted his link in the evening, which gave me a couple of thousand visits in the few hours before midnight, then more than 3,000 the following day. In the table below (again, click to enlarge), the Pajamas Media visitors overwhelmingly are from Instapundit, although a handful may be from comments I left for other Pajamas Media bloggers.

After Reynolds and Sullivan, the next largest group of my visitors came to the site directly — 2,829 visits from people who have my site bookmarked, including me, my wife, my mother, and probably a few other folks. Then there were about 1,000 visits from The Corner, where my BFF Iain Murray linked to me two times.

Rounding out the top five traffic sources is Entrecard, which sent more than 900 visitors during the period in question. Entrecard is a service that enables bloggers to feature 125 x 125 pixel ads on each other’s sites (see today’s ad on my site in the right column).

I joined Entrecard at the suggestion of my friend Lori Widmer at Words on the Page — and I immediately started finding fault with it. Members are awarded one EC (Entrecard Credit) for each site on which they “drop” (click on the Entrecard widget), up to 300 EC per day. The ECs are used to purchase ads on other sites in the Entrecard universe.

This means members have an incentive to whip through up to 300 sites as quickly as possible, finding and clicking on the widget and then moving on. Not exactly a quality visit — the traffic source table above shows that Entrecard visitors viewed the fewest pages per visit of any of the top traffic sources. (Interestingly, Instapundit visitors were not much higher.)

Skeptical though I was, I decided to give Entrecard an honest chance to prove its worth, and I’m glad I did. Once I installed the Entrecard toolbar for my Firefox browser, I had an easy way to open 10 sites at a time in separate tabs, so I could jump from tab to tab doing my drops in quick succession. It sounds mindless — and yet, from time to time something would catch my eye, and I might explore a little further. As I continued dropping day after day, I found I was having fun doing it, and eventually certain sites on my EC favorites list or inbox started to look comfortably familiar.
After I got serious about “dropping” on a daily basis, my traffic from Entrecard started to rise (see graph above), because many member make a point of reciprocal visits. On my own site, I started noticing that some of my new commenters were Entrecard members — people who found me in the course of doing their own daily drops. In other words, while the vast majority of Entrecard visitors were just dropping and running, a small percentage started coming back day after day. I think in the long run Entrecard will do more to build readership on my site than any Instalanche.

One other traffic insight, and then I’ll shut up. (Hey, you could have scrolled down.) If you click on the Visitors widget with all the little flags in the right column, you’ll find a breakdown of my traffic by country of origin. Nearly 90% of my traffic is from the U.S., and the next two biggest contributors are Canada and Great Britain, about what I’d expect. But I was surprised to notice that the Philippines is in 4th place, and other top-ten countries include Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. It turns out Entrecard has a very active following in the Philippines and the Pacific Rim.

Thrilled to Hear the Words of My President


We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you…

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Phrases become cliches because they vividly express something profound. “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist” one day soon will become a cliche. Today it is simply perfect.

The imagery is so compelling, the symbolism so precise, the message so important, that it’s hard to believe we have not heard it before. “Be quiet, and unclench your fist,” wrote Robert Browning, capturing half of the phrase and less of its power. But apparently he left it to a more modern wordsmith to make the inspiring connection.

Godspeed, Mr. President, and may you govern as well as you speak.

"Vets for Freedom" Offers a Template for the Loyal Opposition

Captain Pete Hegseth of the Minnesota National Guard was deployed in Iraq in 2005-06. After returning he helped found Vets for Freedom, whose mission is “to educate the American public about the importance of achieving success in these conflicts” in Iraq and Afghanistan. The group is officially non-partisan, but based on their mission, it’s not too hard to guess which Presidential candidate they preferred.

As Hegseth writes this week in National Review Online (which for some reason still lists him as a lieutenant):

Our group, Vets for Freedom, ran millions of dollars’ worth of television and radio advertising this year that directly challenged Obama’s policies toward Iraq and the surge. We aggressively instigated his return trip to Iraq and called on him to tell the truth about the success of the surge. We believed his stated policy prescriptions for Iraq were outdated and pressured him to reconsider his rigid timeline for withdrawal.

Then Obama won. Now what?

But on Inauguration Day, our approach will change—as a candidate becomes our commander-in-chief. We will not do to President Obama what others did to President Bush. Our brothers are still in harm’s way, and Obama is their commander-in-chief, just as he is ours.

We will support President Obama whenever possible, persuade him at decisive and deliberative moments, and constructively oppose him when he pursues policies we deem detrimental to battlefield success. Success on the battlefield—as well as the health of our military—must be our lodestar, as we seek to help our new president defend our nation.

Thank you for your wise counsel, Captain Hegseth, and for your service to our country.