Saturday, September 25, 2004

Separate Ways

The global war on terrorism has created an unusual sense of solidarity between Americans and Russians. Russia has received hard blows from terrorists who killed hundreds of children in Beslan, brought down airliners, and threaten the fabric of society. While Russia's war against Chechen separatists is unique from America's battles, fighting terrorism has connected the two countries with much mutual sympathy. In spite of newfound concordance we should be mindful that Russia is on a much different course than America, sailing a different sea.

President Bush told the UN last week that, "This young century will be liberty's century. By promoting liberty abroad, we will build a safer world." President Putin delivered his own version of the speech addressing his nation on September 13th: "The fight against terrorism demands a deep reshaping of our policies... One of the main, most important issues is the weakness of state executive powers."

William Schneider of the American Enterprise Institute highlights the divergent paths and goals that distinguish Russia and America---Putin's Power Grab:
...Putin made breathtaking moves to centralize power in Russia and cut off support for his opponents. Russia's governors will no longer be elected. Putin will appoint them. And in elections for parliament, Russians will no longer be able to vote for candidates, only parties. That way, fewer Putin critics will get in.

[Putin's power grab] would appear to be a direct challenge to the Bush Doctrine. Bush might have responded by repeating what he said in 2003 to the National Endowment for Democracy: "In the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty." What Bush did say was more cautious: "I'm . . . concerned about the decisions that are being made in Russia that could undermine democracy in Russia."

...Under pressure to offer his own response, Bush said the next day, "As governments fight the enemies of democracy, they must uphold the principles of democracy."

The Russians, for their part, were dismissive of U.S. criticism. "The processes that are under way in Russia are our internal affair," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. "And it is at least strange that, while talking about a certain 'pulling back' on some of the democratic reforms in Russia, as [Powell] put it, he tried to assert yet again the notion that democracy can only be copied from someone's model." Lavrov added, "We, for our part, do not comment on the U.S. system of presidential elections." Ouch.

What is happening in Russia may be the most ominous development in the world this year. Think of it this way: In the past, which has presented a greater threat to the United States--a corrupt dictatorship in Iraq, or a corrupt dictatorship in Russia?
Russia oversees a vast empire, even in its post-Soviet incarnation. Within her borders are many ethnicities yearning for national identity. If Chechnya’s bid for independence were to be won by a terror strategy, Russia would face an era of national dissolution. An independent Chechnya would be a signal that barbaric terrorism like the Beslan infanticide wins sovereignty for Jihad. Russia’s backyard is the frontier between the Christian West and Muslim East; the mountains of the Caucuses are one of many battlegrounds to stave-off Islamic expansion. While the enemy might be the same---Islamofascist terrorists---what America and Russia each seek, aside from preventing terrorism, is entirely different.

Russia’s war in Chechnya is wholly apart from our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Chechnya’s terrorism is unforgivable, but it doesn’t change the fact that Putin came to power because he subjected the Chechens to a special ruthlessness---people who might have legitimate demands for limited autonomy. We should not believe that Putin and the United States are fighting for the same cause. Putin seeks to supplant Chechen self-rule with Russian imperialism; Bush seeks the liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the establishment of democracy where none has existed before. While there are congruencies between our nations in the fight to contain global Islamic fascism, the goals of each nation are divergent.

Russian democracy, if it can be called that at this point, is thin and brittle. Russia’s reflex to terrorist catastrophes will reopen familiar doors to autocracy. We are seeing this now. At this early stage towards autocracy, Russia and America remain conditional allies, but evolution will reveal a growing distance in the goals of each nation, which have divergent, competitive interests. Russia is paving the way for socialism with a nationalist spine, as is China---a National Socialist revival. Europe is attempting socialism with a transnationalist spine, whose digits are yet disjointed and disharmonious. America is divided between its socialist edifice and the Jeffersonian foundation it was built upon. The vast world of moderate Muslims are on the fence, saying little and waiting to see which Western alternative succeeds, as their insane but brave Islamic radical fringe teases the West towards an unknown destiny.

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This essay can be found on Winds of Change.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Hard Times

The news story of the century continues to evade the front page of the New York Times, yet it persists nonetheless---Khatami: Iran begins uranium enrichment despite IAEA warning:
Khatami says Iran will continue its nuclear programme. Shrugging off a 35-nation ultimatum, Iran revealed on Tuesday that it had started converting tons of raw uranium as part of technology that could be used to make nuclear arms.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors passed a resolution on Saturday specifically demanding that Iran freeze all uranium enrichment -- including conversion -- and expressing alarms of Tehran’s plans to start the process.

Describing his country as a victim of “pressures imposed by the United States,” Iranian Vice President Reza Aghazadeh said that of the more than 40 tons of uranium being mined for enrichment “some (already) has been used.”
President Bush made a stirring speech to the U.N. recently. It was about security, Iraq, and exporting democracy. He said nothing about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran is now a neighbor---Americans flank it on two borders. Iran’s nuclear business is our business. And Europe’s, Israel’s and Russia’s.

The President panegyrized the UN with assuring words:
History will honor the high ideals of this organization. The charter states them with clarity: "To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war," "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights," "to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom."
What is perplexing about these times is how far out we have skated upon thin ice, and yet the comforts of 20th century platitudes and rhetoric still define our official world view. Surely, President Bush is aware of the stakes in Iran and North Korea. He must know the pieces of the nuclear proliferation puzzle better than most. Yet, in spite of boldly blazing into the heart of darkness, we impose upon ourselves a tentative policy in the face of our destruction. At the doorstep of the abyss, we waver. We consult fair-weather friends, taking refuge in the language of diplomacy and consensus, as though we are waiting for the moment to seize upon us. Yet, this is the moment. This is the time---right now.

Preemption in an era of nuclear proliferation may be folly if not acted upon decisively. What realistically can be accomplished, and for how long? At best, preemption buys only time. The nuclear genie has long left the bottle, lurking in many scattered places---too many places to account for. It seems unlikely that a nuclear event can be forestalled indefinitely. So in an era of preemption, we must look at this moment in history as a bridge to another epoch. We live now in that moment between two worlds---the one before 9/11, and the one that will follow the unthinkable. Preemption is a short moment in our history, whose utility will diminish.

Preemption can only be a temporary policy, while it is feasible at all. It may already be dead, in a practical sense. Dithering on the border of Iran, the President proclaims hollow commendation for the UN, an organization he must actually despise. Between ourselves and a terrorist’s nuclear assembly line stands the UN, the EU, our own self-doubt and petty politics. High-minded UN-speak doesn’t gel with preemption, which boils down to defensively saving our bacon through offensive means. There’s nothing fancy about it, nothing that can make it sound digestible to bureaucracies predisposed for averaged policy. It doesn’t fit in the Charter, and never will. Consensus is fine for writing international laws that are easily broken; but it is the antithesis of preemption.

During this period, we should realistically consider how we can prepare ourselves for the hard times that will follow. Preemption’s true opportunity is only the time it secures for planning the next stage of our civilization. Who among us inhabits that world with more than trepidation and despair?

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This post is also at Winds of Change

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


It is literally difficult to look into the face of our enemies. They prefer the shadows to obfuscate their identities, keeping safe their motives and true emotions. Terrorists who behead westerners in Iraq or the infanticidal fanatics of Beslan wrap their faces with ski masks, dark rags and the keffiyeh. Disjointed, monomaniacal armies that seek the West's destruction have in common the uniform of anonymity.

Sometimes terrorists hide by wearing the clothes and faces of those they wish to destroy. Palestinian suicide bombers blend in to get as close as they can to Israelis, before blowing them to bits. They dress as soldiers, or as Orthodox Jews. Some bombers have dressed as party girls, according to one account.

Closer to home, spammers, peer-to-peer file swappers, hackers, gamers and Web surfers largely prefer to go incognito. Many bloggers, including this one, prefer pseudonymous identities. Whole industries are now challenged by nameless warriors enabled by modern means of disruption. There's also anonymous dates, anonymous pornography, anonymous raves, anonymous flash mobs, anonymous chats, anonymous workers, anonymous shopping, anonymous customer support and anonymous poll-taking. Anonymity seems to be a rising star in neoteric culture---a kind of anti-celebrity in an age where celebrity has devolved into self-indulgent meaninglessness. Celebrity once represented the apogee of cultural power; but now the harsh x-ray spotlight only betrays human frailty---fodder for the circling sharks of our tabloid culture, but not the stuff of heroes.

Increasingly, 21st century power is projected from secret places. The Internet age has created a new kind of community, one where true identity is an option, like a costume party of assumed identities---the oxymoron of public anonymity. Behind the masks lies the safety of anonymity, but also strength. Perhaps anonymity enhances conviction, or perhaps persuasion. Anonymity is powerful because people can unbridle their passions and their true motivations without risk of disillusioning colleagues, friends and family.

Power has often been wielded from the strength of a leader's personality, for good or evil. Personality was often the driving force of great movements throughout history. Leadership from behind the mask risks the creation of cults more than great societies. Events appear to be driven by anonymous players in this age. In a sense, human communities are regrouping, and reforming along different cultural pathways than just ten years ago. Loyalties and interests are not as obviously connected to nation or to traditional identities.

The light that floods from the networks of anonymous communities has recently flooded the dark corners of the news media. Committed bloggers and their legions of empowered readers blew the roof off of Dan Rather's Big Lie. A campaign waged by regular citizens to expose media bias has been achieved at a grassroots level. The Delphi Effect does not require the force of personality; instead, the collective acumen and will of committed people focused on an issue and brought together on the Internet is now driving history's plough. It matters little where these people live, what nationality they are, or even if their names are known.

In contrast to the bright side of the Delphi Effect, the darkness from the network of anonymous communities comes from malevolent cults bent on destruction. For them, it also does not matter if their names are known. They are also committed people focused on an issue. While morally opposite from the bloggers who brought down Mr. Rather's empire of lies, the theater of action has similar aspects: Terrorists are decentralized, largely anonymous, and apply their collective acumen to the task of destroying their enemies, by whatever means. There is no moral equivalence between terrorists and bloggers, but it is worth seeing how both are skating around convention and accepted rules to challenge established authority.

The biggest threat facing the ordered world is a rogue nuclear attack. If carried out effectively, there will be no attribution---no return address on the bomb. The goal of the attacker would be to disrupt and destroy, so keeping the atrocity anonymous would be optimal. Our armies wear uniforms and fly planes with national insignia on them; our enemies strike out from indistinct places---nameless, anonymous and vicious. Perhaps one of the key aspects to asymmetrical warfare is that the rogue half of the equation be anonymous to be as effective as possible. Is there an immutable law at play here, a new meme?

Some questions that relate to anonymity:

1) Was Dan Rather brought down by a grassroots organization of citizens, or a cult? Define the difference.

2) Are anonymous driving forces a new phenomenon? Or are they to be found throughout history? Does the Internet create a new kind of anonymity, more empowered than before?

3) Are cultures created by high-tech networked communities changing our values as citizens of the country we live in? Are our allegiances diverging as a result?

4) Are terrorists, empowered by the age of telecommunications and the Internet, reflecting the same forces that are internally changing western culture? Stripping away the moral contrasts, does that leave us with a new set of rules that affects all of us?

5) Is public anonymity the new fame?

6) How much of your public life is anonymous?

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This essay is also posted at Winds of Change.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Marcus Tacitus is Dead. Long Live Marcus Tacitus.


This solitary blogger has had the good fortune to be invited to make appearances at Winds of Change. I am very grateful; I hope I can keep up something positive.

My nom de blogue, 'Marcus Tacitus' has problems that I was not aware of when I came up with the name. Most of you know that there is another Tacitus, with a worthy blog of his own. At Winds of Change, this might've presented needless confusion, so I have opted to change my name to another Roman personage, Marcus Cicero.

Perhaps you all might just think of my name as Marcus, either way. I hope the confusion abates once this new name settles in.

I am trying to change the configuration of this blog to reflect the new Cicero identity---I am not sure I have the bugs all worked out, but I will get it there. The new email address is

Thank you for your patience and readership. Your many emails have been very inspiring and educational.



formerly Marcus Tacitus