Saturday, February 26, 2011

Colonel Gaddafi needs a promotion

Any dictator worth his salt holds a rank or a title befitting his position. Hitler was der Fuehrer, Stalin a Premier and Castro the leader of the people’s revolution. Despots invariably come packaged with lofty monikers, either by personal choice or popular declaration. So what happened to Col. Muammar Gaddafi?

Gaddafi is no doubt the perfect thug. But he falls short when it comes to image. Gaddafi has ruled in Tripoli since shortly after Thomas Jefferson’s forces persuaded the Barbary pirates to give up the ship. Yet the highest rank he has attained is that of colonel?

No disrespect intended toward colonels, mind you. Some of America’s greatest military leaders wore the silver eagle at one time or another: Pershing, Patton, Ridgeway, McArthur, Eisenhower, Schwarzkopf. But each one moved on to general before making their reputation and securing their fame. Few are the colonels who are household names.

Sure, there are some. Col. Sherman T. Potter of the 4077th M.A.S.H. comes to mind, as well as Colonels Hogan and Klink from Stalag 13. A colonel managed Elvis Pressley, at least for a while, and Col. Sanders is famous worldwide. There were also the Kentucky Colonels of the defunct American Basketball Association. Yet “Colonel Gaddafi” lacks the requisite pizzazz we would expect from an iron-fisted dictator who has ruled for half a lifetime.

Col. Gaddafi, your grip on Libya is tenuous at best. Still you’ve vowed to
die rather than surrender. If the time is nigh for your departure to the land of seventy virgins grant yourself a promotion before you go. I assume you possess that authority, and it’s only fitting for a tyrant to outrank his military generals.

Pick a new title, Colonel. Call yourself a Six-star General, or High Commander of the Libyan Revolution. How about Exalted Excelsior or Perpetual Potentate? Or you can go the acronym route. How about the Sympathetic, Understanding, Caring, Knowledgeable and Excellent Ruler of Libya (S.U.C.K.E.R. for short)?
Chose anything you like. But don’t die a colonel. You don’t want to be the lowest ranked despot gathered around Satan’s fireplace. The other dictators--the ones with cool titles--will laugh at you. “Hey, Col. Gaddafi, fix me another cup of brimstone.”

Your boasts are bold, Muammar. You’ll fight to the last drop of blood. Judging from the mobs in your streets, the defection of senior
diplomats and air force pilots, and the fall of one city after another you’ll probably get your chance. Don’t disgrace history’s great dictators by checking out of here a mere colonel. Go out with a new title, something grand, eloquent and memorable.

Libya’s Supreme Sultan of the Ceaselessly Shifting Sands. Now there’s an epitaph any tyrant would envy, and it’ll look great on your tombstone. What’s more, a Supreme Sultan won’t spend his eternity fetching cups of brimstone for Chairman Mao.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Middle East reaches a fork in the road

A fork in the road tells travelers that their current path has ended. The travelers are then compelled to decide among the four choices a fork presents. The first options are obvious; choose one of the new paths. The third option is to be satisfied with their current position and remain at the fork. The fourth option is to return the way they came.

Egyptians have followed Hosni Mubarak’s path for more than a generation. But autocratic rule has little respect for the individual and can carry a people only so far. Egypt has reached the end of Mubarak’s path. They arrived at the proverbial fork in the road and must choose from the four options.

Eliminate the third and fourth alternatives. Egyptians have no interest in revisiting the past or maintaining the status quo. The street protests and Mubarak’s subsequent resignation prove their desire to go in a new direction, with both the right and left fork presenting a series of unsettling unknowns.

How much time will pass before the wisdom in Egypt’s selection is manifest? Will their new path equal greater freedom, or produce a more caustic brand of totalitarianism than experienced under their former ruler, as did Iran’s revolution in 1979? How will Egypt’s new direction affect its relationship with the West, particularly the United States? As of now there are no adequate answers, only opinions.

Captain Ramius (Sean Connery, the Hunt for Red October) stated it so well, “A little revolution now and then is a healthy thing, don’t you think?”

American history began in revolt against a tyrannical sovereign, only our revolution was bloodier than Egypt’s has thus far been. Thus Americans admire the underdog, the courageous few who will thumb their nose at the despot. However, as much as we would love to see liberty flourish in the Arab lands, allegiance with the protesters is premature. That fact hasn’t kept President Obama from singing their praises.

Obama said that “Egypt will never be the same.” He is correct, change is coming and Egypt will be different. Yet neither he nor anyone else knows how the transformation will unfold or what future waits down either fork the Egyptians follow. Free elections, democracy in action, don’t guarantee freedom.

For instance, one of the Iraq War’s key objectives was to depose a dictator and establish a democratically elected government. Such a government would, theoretically, produce a free Middle Eastern state with close ties to the West. That mission is complete. Saddam Hussein is gone and Iraqis have chosen their path. But the result hasn’t been the Jeffersonian Republic we had expected or hoped for, at least thus far.

Post-Saddam Iraq is a Shiite Muslim theocracy, governed by the same religious doctrine that guides Iran’s Ayatollahs. Liberty, particularly religious liberty, isn’t common under such rule. Iraqi Christians have suffered repeated assaults on not only their religious liberty but their very lives. And the Shiite attitude toward women is in no way conducive to freedom.

Egypt’s new path could lead in a similar direction. What’s more, Egypt isn’t the only predominantly Muslim nation facing a choice. Many such nations stand at a comparable fork in the road. In each case--Algeria, Tunisia, Bahrain, Iran, etc.--protesters are targeting authoritarian regimes. Their uprisings have brought the United States to its own fork in the road.

Americans admire the revolutionary spirit and desire for self-determination. But revolts are worthwhile only when they result in free nations with peaceful intentions. It’s too early to determine that freedom and peace are coming to Egypt or to the Middle East overall. In fact, there’s little reason to believe either fork will foster greater liberty, prosperity, or peace with Western Civilization within the Islamic world.

Middle East protesters have no apparent desire to retrace their steps or remain at the fork. They will choose one of the paths ahead. But it’s quite possible that both paths will lead them to another, perhaps harsher, form of authoritarian oppression. Let’s not be hasty in pronouncing 2011 the year Arabs and Muslims chose the road to liberty.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Death by a thousand firecrackers?

People in Dearborn, MI can breathe a little easier; a mad bomber is off the streets. Roger Stockholm is safely locked in the jug, charged with issuing terrorist threats and possessing explosives.

Stockholm, a 63-year-old Californian, was arrested outside the Islamic Center of America. In his car was a veritable arsenal. Well, it was an arsenal if a cache of
Class-C fireworks constitutes an ammo dump. Apparently, Stockholm intended to bring down the Islamic Center with a battery of Black Cat firecrackers. Even so, Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad said after Stockholm’s arrest, “I think the society he wanted to impact is safe.”

Really Chief Haddad? Safe from what: putting out an eye or losing a finger? It’s difficult to imagine Stockholm inflicting mass casualties or widespread damage with explosives that can be bought at a convenience store. And just what was his plan of attack: illuminate the target with sparklers and utilize bottle rockets for suppressing fire while deploying M-80s to blow the mosque apart brick-by-brick? Sure, fireworks can be dangerous. But this case seems a mite overblown.

In my youth my friends and I played with similar weapons of mass destruction. No model airplane, Hot Wheels car, or plastic soldier proved a match for our FDTs (Firecracker Demolition Teams). Yet the only times we inflicted casualties was when we’d stuff firecrackers in anthills. We never damaged so much as a dog house, much less a mosque. Furthermore, today’s M-80s aren’t comparable to those of yesteryear, which would instantaneously transform a wooden birdhouse into toothpicks. Destroy a mosque? If Muslims want to play the terror victim they’ll have to do better than this.

When it comes to plotting terror attacks Roger Stockholm is a rank amateur compared to Islamic militants. Stockholm chose roman candles. Muslims pack a skiff with high explosives and sail it into the hull of a U.S. Navy warship. Stockholm had a carload of firecrackers. Muslims detonate remote control car bombs in the midst of open-air markets and have elevated the dynamite vest into a demolition art form.

Admitted, Stockholm does appear something of a crank. But in this case he’s guilty of no more than poor judgment and possessing illegal fireworks, which makes him as much a terror threat as a 13-year-old kid on summer vacation. So what purpose is served--other than the obvious comic relief--by terrorism charges against Stockholm?

Perhaps this is the latest attempt to prove that terrorism isn’t exclusively Muslim. Of course, no one has claimed it was. Not all Muslims support terrorism. It’s unlikely a majority of them do. Yet it’s undeniable that a significant number of Muslims find their epiphany in converting the world to Islam one suicide bomb at a time.

If Islam’s best counter to the Muslim terrorist stereotype is a 62-year-old kook with a carload of fireworks they have precious little evidence to offer. I suggest they go back to the drawing board.

This column first appeared at American Thinker.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Super Bowl XLV: Green Bay Packers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

If fluff and folderol were electrical energy the Super Bowl could power America for the next millennium. The “event” has become a tiresome six-day carnival followed by an equally tedious six-hour pre-game show on Sunday afternoon. Each year the halftime show is more garish than last. Add Meatloaf, Korn, Vanilla Fudge and Cream to this year’s Black-Eyed Peas and your Super Bowl party is fully supplied.

Somewhere amidst the nonsense is a football game, which is what the Super Bowl is all about. Green Bay and Pittsburgh are so similar and evenly matched that the actual game should help football fans forget the over-hyped media circus. One thing is certain; there’ll be more yellow (uniforms, not flags) in Super Bowl XLV than in any game since the Steelers beat the Rams in 1980. Uniforms, however, are the only thing “yellow” about the Packers and Steelers. Both bring hard-hitting, aggressive, blitzing defenses to Dallas.

When Pittsburgh has the ball

Statistically the Packers match up well against the Pittsburgh offense. Green Bay ranked fifth in the NFL in total defense and second in scoring defense. The Packers love to pressure the quarterback, recording 46 sacks during the regular season (second only to Pittsburgh). Thus opposing quarterbacks completed only 56-percent of their passes (4th) for 6.5 yards per play and recorded a league worst passer rating (67.2).

Green Bay must apply that pressure Ben Roethlisberger if they’re to be successful. Big Ben is tough and he’s no stranger to the Super Bowl spotlight. But he can’t do a thing when he’s on his back. The Packers have reason to believe they can hit Roethlisberger hard and often. The Steelers line allowed 78 QB hits and 43 sacks, both ranked in the bottom third of the league. Also, inured Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey is out for Sunday. His replacement had exchange issues with Roethlisberger in the AFC Championship Game.

Pressure on Roethlisberger opens opportunities for Green Bay’s secondary to make big plays. The Packers allowed only 16 touchdown passes (4th) while recording 24 INTs (2nd). Their chances increase immensely with a pick or two, especially in the red zone where Pittsburgh converted only 51-percent of the time during the regular season.

The opposite holds true if Roethlisberger has time to throw. Few teams went deep as well as Pittsburgh. Green Bay wasn’t exactly susceptible to the long ball, but they surrendered enough pass plays of greater than 20 yards to cause some concern in that area. Big Ben will use his strong arm and big play receiver Mike Wallace (21 yards per catch, 10 TDs) to test the Packer secondary.

Pittsburgh’s offensive advantage lies in the running game. The Steelers weren’t the league’s top rushing team, but they did manage 120 yards per game and more than four yards per carry behind 1273-yard rusher Rashard Mendenhall. Green Bay ranked only 18th against the run and surrendered 4.7 yards per attempt (28th). Green Bay’s task isn’t hopeless, however. Pittsburgh will find running in the red zone difficult. The Packers gave up only six rushing TDs all year (3rd) and, as stated earlier, the Steelers weren’t great inside the twenty.

When Green Bay has the ball

There’s no reason whatsoever for the Green Bay Packers to run the football Sunday night. James Starks did a fair job late in the year. But the Packers leading rusher, Brandon Jackson, averaged only 3.7 yards per carry. They ranked 24th in yards per game, 25th in yards per carry and rushed for only 11 touchdowns (18th). The lone bright spot for Green Bay’s running game is ball security; they fumbled only four times in the regular season.

Pittsburgh is by far the NFL stingiest run defense. Opponents rushed for only five touchdowns, averaged three yards per carry and 60 yards per game. Forget about the lethargic Packer running game breaking a big play. They had only four runs of more than 20 yards all year while Pittsburgh surrendered only one such run. Anything positive Green Bay can muster on the ground is a huge plus. But only a breakdown on the Steelers part will make that possible.

The lack of a running game places the Packers chances squarely on Aaron Rogers. He’ll be harassed by the only pass rush to exceed Green Bay in QB sacks. Advantage Pittsburgh. Their pass rush won’t be slowed by the anemic Green Bay ground game. But Rogers is a strong-armed quarterback who is highly mobile and throws accurately on the run. There will be some opportunities if Rogers moves outside the pocket.

Green Bay’s advantage comes in completion percentage. Rogers had a 65-percent completion rate while opposing quarterbacks connected on 61-percent of their throws against Pittsburgh. The Packers need to make the passing game their form of ball control. Third down at any distance is tough against the rush happy Steelers. But Rogers can buy time with his feet and the Packers have enough receivers to spread the Pittsburgh defense. The Steelers must contain Rogers in the pocket where they can hit him often and force a fumble or an interception.

Special Teams

Neither team excelled on special teams, nor are there exploitable disparities between them in any area of the kicking or punting game. If there’s a special teams edge it belongs to the Steelers. Pittsburgh connected on 78-percent of their field goal attempts while Green Bay converted just 70-percent. That doesn’t seem like much, especially when neither team plays home games under kicker-friendly conditions. But the open end of Heinz Field makes it the NFL’s toughest venue for converting field goals. That degree of difficulty plus an eight point edge in accuracy percentage equals a clear advantage for the Steelers.

How does it end?

Aaron Rogers will have a sound game and the Packers will move the ball. But without a ground game to slow the Pittsburgh pass rush Green Bay will become one-dimensional, making it difficult to sustain drives. The Steelers should simply play their defense; stuff the run and pressure the quarterback. An interception or two will be more than the Packers can overcome. Pittsburgh pressure will make it difficult for the Packers receivers to finish their routes. Third and five or greater is Green Bay’s worst enemy.

The running game is the key for Pittsburgh. They needn’t be dominant on the ground; just good enough to tire the Green Bay defense and counter their blitz. A few well-timed draws or screens should benefit Pittsburgh, taking pressure off Roethlisberger and opening up deep routes for Mike Wallace. If the Packers blanket Wallace on deep routes Roethlisberger can find Hines Ward and Heath Miller underneath.

Pittsburgh will hoist its seventh Lombardi Trophy, solidifying their status as the NFL’s most successful franchise of the last forty years. The defense will play the major role, but the quarterback will get the glory. Ben Roethlisberger, despite his off-field drama, earns legendary status in the Steel City with his third Super Bowl title, equaling Troy Aikman and Tom Brady. He also moves a step closer to joining Bart Starr, Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the most successful championship signal-callers in NFL history.

Final score: Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Green Bay Packers 14

Statistics and league rankings:
Red zone efficiency:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The war that will not end

Thirty-five years ago the last U.S. soldiers left Vietnam. Yet the war continues because Vietnam’s veterans returned home to contempt rather than appreciation. Even today a celebration in their honor--held near Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville, NC no less--can’t escape the longstanding divisions.

Fayetteville’s mayor organized this “homecoming” celebration. But he also invited
Quaker House to participate in the festivities. Quaker House represents a pacifist, anti-Vietnam War attitude, a fact readily recognized by the organization’s director, Chuck Fager. Fager defended his group’s participation on the basis that anti-war sentiment is a historical aspect of the Vietnam era. While he’s factually correct, he has missed this event’s point.

Not every celebration needs to be a history lesson. The Holocaust is a historical fact of World War II. Selling out neighbors to the British was common during the Revolutionary War. But we don’t recognize Nazis on Victory in Europe Day or Tories on Independence Day. These examples are extreme, yet the inclusion of an anti-Vietnam protest organization in a Vietnam veteran’s recognition ceremony is equally inappropriate.

The mindset represented at Quaker House had its day. Protesters received the hero’s treatment during the Vietnam War. Sure, they had their share of detractors. But media coverage gave protesters far more favor than was their due. Why can’t the Fayetteville celebration honor the soldiers who did Vietnam’s dirty work? Why should they share the spotlight with an organization promoting anti-Vietnam War films featuring the traitorous Jane Fonda, which is Quaker House’s plan?

Mr. Fager, stay home and keep your sympathizers with you. Keep your films in the can and the North Vietnamese Army’s favorite vixen off the screen. This is the soldier’s day, not yours. Fayetteville’s mayor shouldn’t have invited you and you should gracefully butt-out.

People can disagree with why Vietnam was fought and how it was managed. They’re free to question and second-guess Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Robert McNamara, or whoever. But the men who fought, bled and died in those steamy jungles didn’t deserve the anti-war protester’s scorn.

The Vietnam soldier fought the communist expansion in Southeast Asia. They won the battles in a war where political considerations denied them victory. Vietnam’s ultimate outcome wasn’t what their efforts earned. There was no justifiable reason for a misguided generation of Mao disciples and slovenly hippies to spit on them and called them “baby-killers.”

Vietnam veterans gave what they had and proved that America wouldn’t sit idly in the face of communist aggression. They fought under restraining rules of engagement against an enemy that knew no rules. And they did so at the behest of a government that tied one hand behind their backs before sending them afield.

Sure, efforts have since been made to recognize and honor the Vietnam veteran’s service and sacrifice. But they deserved a proper homecoming when they returned from Southeast Asia. A little extra recognition now is more than justified.