The Lowe Down

Category: War on Terror (51)

Chan Lowe: War with Syria


Thank you, Cheney, Rummy, Condi, Wolfie and the rest of the hubristic cabal that felt they alone held the solution to the geopolitical puzzle. Thank you, George W. Bush — who couldn’t find the Middle East on a map before September of 2001 — for giving them the keys to the car.

The Iraq debacle looms over any discussion about what to do in Syria, since we’re still recovering from the burns received from the last time we placed our hand on the hot Middle East stove.

Iraq, according to the neoconservative strategists of the Bush administration, was the key to stability in the region. If we toppled Saddam, a grateful Iraqi people would allow us to establish a model Jeffersonian democracy, creating a thirst for freedom among their neighbors. They in turn would overthrow their dictatorships, establish U.S.-friendly governments, and our source of oil would be secure for generations to come. Win-win.

They made a couple of mistakes. First, there is no such thing as an Iraqi people. “Iraq” is a construct whose borders were imposed by Europeans with little concern for the ethnicity, creed or compatibility of the enclosed peoples.

Second, in a “nation” with no democratic traditions, what the locals prize most isn’t freedom, but stability. The former concept is strange and abstract, the latter is very real and concerns daily life in the streets. Saddam Hussein, for all his sins, provided a healthy dose of social order. The daily mayhem in Iraq is taking a back seat to the news about Syria, but there are many Iraqis who believe life was a lot better for them before the Americans came.

It’s no surprise that our leaders are reluctant to involve us in Syria. We hate to stand back while a dictator gases his own people, but we’ve learned the meaning of “mission creep” the hard way. Besides, if we did get rid of Assad, a hostile Islamist faction could well replace him.

The American people would like to be the good guys, but thanks to the misadventures of the past, intervention — even for the most humanitarian of reasons — has become a political third rail.

As British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said in 1938 during the Czechoslovakia crisis:

How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.

For post-Iraq America, that utterance doesn’t sound as craven as it once did.

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Chan Lowe: Patching it up with Pakistan


The part of the world into which we decided to stick our noses operates on a pretty simple principle: Money talks, tribalism rocks. Since we don’t belong to any of their tribes, the best thing we can do is wave a gallery of our own “tribal leaders,” lovingly engraved on our currency, under their noses.

The difference between a tribe and an “investment in loyalty” is that when you mess with a member of somebody else’s tribe, it can start a vendetta that lasts for generations. With the latter, the fealty only endures as long as money keeps coming, so the idea is to collect as much of it as you can before the benefactors throw up their hands, declare victory and eventually pull out, as they always do.

Continue reading "Chan Lowe: Patching it up with Pakistan" »

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Chan Lowe: Gallery of post-9/11/01 editorial cartoons


I have put together a gallery containing some of the editorial cartoons I drew for the Sun Sentinel's opinion page in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, for those interested in revisiting them.

As I dug through my archives, a wave of memories long buried came back in a rush, and made me realize how much has happened since to distract us from those events of a decade ago. I hope viewing these cartoons does the same for you.

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Chan Lowe: The anniversary of 9/11


Ten years seems like a long time, but drawing this anniversary cartoon reminded me of the anger, sadness, mistrust, paranoia and panic of the period immediately following the 9/11 attacks. Remember the anthrax scare, and the run on Cipro? Remember when American flags sprouted on every house and car? Remember when those seeking to curtail the Bill of Rights were using the phrase, “The Constitution was not meant to be a suicide pact?”

Even more poignant was a fleeting moment when all Americans were united, for the first time in our memory, as one nation. No black people, no white people, no brown, red or yellow—just Americans, banded together in the face of a common threat to our way of life. And, in our naivete, we thought the unity would last.

For better or worse, America has moved on from those days, a changed nation.

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Chan Lowe: The Norway tragedy and stereotyping


It’s only human nature, when something occurs that offends our sensibilities, to round up the usual scapegoats. It happened again with the Norway tragedy. Evidently the Norwegians suffer from the same prejudices the rest of us do. They reflexively assumed at first that the perpetrator was a Muslim extremist, and, like the rest of the world, were surprised to find out he was a Christian anti-Islamist.

A corollary to this mindset is the reluctance to apply the word “terrorism” to terrorist acts perpetrated by non-Muslims. You rarely, if ever, hear the phrase, “Oklahoma City terrorism,” while “9/11” and “terrorism” are terms forever conjoined.

Continue reading "Chan Lowe: The Norway tragedy and stereotyping" »

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Chan Lowe: An imaginative way to win the war in Afghanistan


While our defense policy cheeses are making esoteric arguments about whether an anti-terrorism strategy or an anti-insurgency strategy is the best way to “win” in Afghanistan, here’s a little outside-the-box thinking that achieves both goals simultaneously.

We have an almost endless supply of this psychological weapon here in South Florida, and another advantage to deploying it is that we will be able to withdraw from the field knowing that we are leaving a warlike, cantankerous people in a far better mood than when we arrived.

In defense doctrine, that’s called “peace with honor.”

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Chan Lowe: Osama's porn stash


Sometimes, even for the committed jihadist, the charms of temporal life can be tough to resist. You spend almost all your waking hours in grueling training with other guys for your big day, and relaxation consists of some commissar of ideological purity reminding you for the umpteenth time about all those virgins waiting for you upstairs.

That’s all well and good, but how about a little taste now? It’s not like you can take a day off and go to a nightclub. All the women in the compound wear those head-to-toe burqas, and besides, it’s pretty hard to get past the first date. Just imagine the conversation:

“Hi, Handsome. I haven’t seen you around the hideaway before. What do you do for a living?”
“I’m an up-and-coming young suicide bomber. I’m hoping that if I show some initiative and brown-nose the right people, I’ll get noticed sooner and move to the head of the line. Hey, where are you going?”

If nothing else, the big porn score at Abbottabad tells us our enemies are human. Sort of.

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Chan Lowe: With the Pakistanis as friends...


It rightly angers Americans to know that roughly $3 billion of the money we borrow every year from the Chinese flows down the Pakistani rathole to buy questionable loyalty as we try to prosecute an endless, increasingly pointless war.

When you see such brazenly duplicitous behavior out of people who are supposed to be our allies, you are tempted to just walk away and let them rot in the political cesspool of their own making. Unfortunately, that would be worse than what we’re doing now.

Don’t forget that these two-faced military types are all that stand between Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and some guy with a backpack and a detonator. Yes, they smile with one side of their mouths and make pro-forma gestures toward helping us root out terrorists. With the other side, they curse us for being in the vicinity. They aid our enemies as they reach for our wallets.

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Chan Lowe: Osama's big surprise


“Justice was done.”

I wonder. Sure, it’s fine for us to indulge in a patriotic frenzy, a kind of national end-zone dance over the death of America’s No.1 villain, but along with the jubilation, a couple of sober thoughts: There is a fine line between revenge and justice. To me, true justice would have been for bin Laden to recognize the error of his ways before he was executed, and to realize that in return for his acts, he would be deprived of something valuable to him. Not only that, but that he would have been made to understand that his life’s work had been worthless.

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Chan Lowe: The death of Bin Laden

A big day. More later.

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Chan Lowe: Terror alerts on social media


While I was sitting around waiting for a federal government shutdown to happen or not happen, this little tidbit swam into my consciousness. It’s heartwarming to know that the Department of Homeland Security is being proactive about alerting the masses; it certainly beats the old color-coded system, which was vague and confusing, and whose only useful purpose was to be activated right before elections so we’d vote for Republicans.

It’s also a refreshing change from DHS’ shutting-the-barn-door prevention policy, which is to allow terrorists to come up with daring new ways to harm us, and follow after the fact with the safeguards (Ever since the Shoe Bomber and the Christmas Underwear Bomber, we all have to take off our shoes and have our skivvies electronically scanned before flying. Meanwhile, the bad guys have moved on to something more outlandish…the Belly Button Lint Bomber, for example).

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Chan Lowe: House Muslim hearings


There are two kinds of “American Way.” The one we prefer to dwell upon is the one based on idealistic principles like fairness, equality, and opportunity. The Bill of Rights embodies this kind of American Way. It’s the kind that prompts a tightening of the throat when we hear God Bless America being sung.

The other is the characterization we all too often tend to slide into as a nation: vindictive, xenophobic, paranoid, isolationist, racist, willfully ignorant.

While our better sides define our nationhood by a concept and not by race, ethnicity, religion or culture, our worse sides find that we need an “other” to demonize in order to achieve that warm “e pluribus unum” feeling. There was a time when the “other” was black, and we repressed him. Or he was an Indian, and we massacred him. Or he was a Communist, and we ruined him professionally and personally. Now, our most convenient goat has become the American Muslim.

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Chan Lowe: Junking the color-coded terror alert system


Most of us have almost forgotten about the infamous color code alert system, which was best known not for its effectiveness, but for its tendency to produce fear and confusion.

The original concept was well intentioned. It was dreamed up right after 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security hadn’t even printed up office stationery yet, and there was a need to demonstrate to the public that the government, specifically the Bush Administration, was doing something positive in the area of national protection.

What could be simpler, more visual, and more reassuring than a color code system? It was, in theory, easy to understand, and its graphic nature lent itself to television and Internet coverage.

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Chan Lowe: Scans, pat-downs and self-delusion


We have Umar Farouk Abumutallab to thank for all this. If the would-be terrorist hadn’t tried to turn his Jockey shorts into a Christmas surprise, we wouldn’t be screaming about blue-gloved TSA workers visiting regions that twenty percent of Americans can’t stomach.

It’s the same with the Shoe Bomber’s bungled attempt. Now we have to make sure our socks match before we fly.

When it comes to transportation security, we’re always countering the last brainstorm. While we ought to be imaginative and forward leaning, just like our adversaries, we are reactive⎯which is probably better than nothing, but not good enough by a long shot.

If you subscribe (as I do) to the notion that all of this is window dressing just to get the sheep to feel reasonably safe about flying, you figure it’s highly unlikely that the next terrorist is going to try any methods that have already been attempted. And if, God forbid, he or she is successful, then we’ll never know the technique of choice, anyway.

Continue reading "Chan Lowe: Scans, pat-downs and self-delusion" »

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Chan Lowe: Reject Corner!!!!


I ran the above past my editor, Antonio Fins, last week. His response:

"This one got canned because you needed to see the original one to really
understand it.

The original draft of this cartoon was one Chan sent as a joke. He knew
it would be too offensive to run. This is the cleaner,
made-for-a-family-newspaper version.

But it's too subtle. The only way you'd really get it is if you had seen
the original.

So, it's a no go. Sometimes, when you clean up a joke, it loses its

That's what happens to this one."

What do you think? Do you get it? Let me know.

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Chan Lowe: The Afghanistan morass


I haven’t read Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, yet, but enough has leaked out (all Bob Woodward has to do is belch and it becomes a weeklong media beltway story) to tell us that we’re really stuck.

Wars are always a confluence of pragmatism and politics. A political genius like FDR was able to unite the American people behind our involvement in World War II by laying out a clear purpose. In so doing, he provided the nation with a way of knowing exactly when it had achieved its objective.

It didn’t hurt his case that the Japanese pulled a sneak attack on the Pacific Fleet, or that we were fighting organized nation-states that knew how to officially surrender and cease hostilities when they were beaten.

In other words, in WWII the politics and the resoluteness of national will were not issues that needed tending, so we could turn our focus completely and wholeheartedly to prosecuting the war.

In the case of Afghanistan, we are bogged down building a nation whose “citizens” don’t even think of themselves as “Afghans,” and where the original purpose for invading⎯to root out al-Qaida⎯may no longer even be operative.

Besides, it appears that we’re losing. Americans hate to lose. What they hate even more is sacrificing American lives when they don’t see a clear purpose.

And in case we didn’t think things could get any worse, now we all know--thanks to Bob Woodward--that nobody in our leadership agrees on what to do to extricate ourselves.

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Chan Lowe: Muslims, Gays and ignorance


If you subscribe to the notion--as I do--that people fear what is alien to them and demonize that which they fear, then it would follow that education and exposure are the best antidotes for this poisonous formula.

There is a theory (not original with me) that the reason the coastal states, such as California, Oregon, Washington and those in New England tend to be the most progressive politically is that their port cities were exposed from their inception to commerce from around the world. With commerce came broader intellectual horizons and familiarity with foreign cultures. With familiarity came appreciation and respect.

The interior states, conversely, did not benefit from direct contact with the outside world. They were by nature more insular, grew to maturity in a cultural echo chamber, and as a result are less tolerant today of thoughts and influences unlike their own.

Maybe this is an overly general assessment, but I could not help but think of the above when I heard that Pastor Jones (as of this writing, still a “standby” Quran-burner…evidently there’s a continuing problem with static in the lines between God and His humble servant) bragged that he had not read the very book he intended to destroy. Nor, he claimed, had he ever met a Muslim until yesterday.

When I lived in Oklahoma decades ago, there was a minister very high up in the hierarchy of the Southern Baptist Convention who allowed as how God Almighty did not hear the prayers of a Jew, because those prayers were not routed through Jesus Christ.

Rather than condemn him, some Jewish groups got together and sent him on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel for a couple of weeks. He came back a changed man, and publicly repented his earlier statements.

When we do not feel threatened, we Americans are, at heart, an inclusive people. Maybe that kind of exposure is all we really need to regain familiarity with our true nature.

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Chan Lowe: Burning the Quran


When the Founding Fathers bequeathed upon future generations the perpetual gift of the First Amendment, they probably gave some thought to the downside.

Unlimited free expression, while clearly the cornerstone of a strong democracy when made use of by responsible citizens, also cleared the soapboxes for all manner of speech: seditious, hateful, ugly and divisive.

Evidently, they decided that the positives outweighed the negatives, that a society rendered strong by the exercise of individual freedoms would be better able to withstand recklessness within its ranks without having to resort to dreaded (and self-destructive) censorship.

The fact that the nation has been having a lively debate about the intention by a small church in Gainesville to stage a mass burning of Islam’s most holy scripture is testimony to the Founding Fathers’ wisdom. While the behavior of these people repels us and makes us wince, it is behavior we must endure for the sake of our collective welfare.

Muslims around the world who do not appreciate niceties like our guarantees under the Bill of Rights assume that by allowing the burning to occur, the United States is tacitly condoning the act. All Americans will be tarred by it.

If you have any doubts about that, just think for a moment how many Americans believe that all Muslims are terrorists, based on the acts of a handful of madmen back in 2001, and how many of us have been mailing copies of the Quran to Gainesville to help fuel the flames.

All that “hearts and minds” stuff we’re trying to do in Afghanistan? It’s back to Square One for us. Do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200.

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Chan Lowe: The end of combat operations in Iraq


Tuesday night, President Obama gave just about the only speech that could have been given to properly mark the transition of America’s role in Iraq.

He sounded like the maid stuck with cleaning up a hotel room the morning after it has been rented by a rock band. There really wasn’t much to say about the whole endeavor that was positive, except that our troops did their jobs superlatively. The whole subject is uncomfortable for us, because while our service members did their duty and in many cases made the supreme sacrifice, we’re at a loss to know what they did it for.

We’re at a loss because our leaders violated the sacred pact the civilian leadership has always had with the military: We will ask you to go into harm’s way on behalf of your country, and in return you can have faith that we will only ask you to do so if the cause is worthy, if the mission is clear-cut, and if it has a reasonable chance of success.

We went in because they said there were WMD. Well, there weren’t any. Then it was about democracy, and we “surged” to give the Iraqis time to form a government. They still haven’t formed one. The place is a hair’s-breadth away from anarchy.

We had intentions of building a Western-oriented Arab bulwark in the Middle East. The only thing the Iranians will lack after the last Americans leave is an engraved invitation to invade.

Americans like to win wars, particularly after they’ve spent a trillion borrowed dollars when there are pressing needs at home. With Iraq, there is no surrender at Yorktown, no signing ceremony on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri, just a fizzling-out.

Years from now, after the accursed place recedes into painful memory, it will probably revert to what it was before: a dusty crossroads ruled by whichever warlord among its contentious populace happens to be the most ruthless.

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Chan Lowe: Leaving Iraq


So much for Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn Principle about Iraq: “If you break it, you own it.”

Just because Powell got snookered by the Cheney-Rummy tag team into being a shill for the bankrupt WMD argument doesn’t mean that everything he ever said ought to be disbelieved.

Sadly, even though he’s right on the Pottery Barn thing, it looks like we are leaving the place broken and only partially pasted back together with bubble gum and masking tape, ready to fall apart again at the slightest jarring.

What’s even sadder is that we don’t care anymore. We don’t care after spending a trillion dollars, sacrificing thousands of our best young people, maiming thousands more, and leaving even more thousands with psychological damage. And we can’t even begin to fathom what our altruistic act of political liberation has done to the Iraqi people.

Geopolitically speaking, we’ve removed the only counterbalance the West and the Arab world had to keep Iran in check. Saddam may have been a bad man, but he was doing some pretty effective work in that department. We’re enjoying the fruits of removing him from power now.

Knowing what we know now, was it all worth it? As a nation, we shy away from that question, because the answer might be too painful, and could throw doubt on our core belief in the myth of American exceptionalism; that we are a force for good in the world.

At this point, we just want to wash our hands of the whole mess. The Iraqis can keep the pottery shards, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

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Chan Lowe: The Obama Muslim hoax


Those of us who have heard the story are reminded of the famous Halloween hoax of 1938, when Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre of the Air broadcast a production of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. The radio play, disguised as a series of perfervid news reports, was so realistic that many Americans, actually believing they were under attack from extraterrestrials, packed up what they could and attempted to escape. Wells made a disclaimer at the beginning and the end, but many chose not to hear it.

This just proves, once again, that people will swallow anything if they’re scared enough. The year 1938 was a time of uncertainty and fear, just like 2010. The Great Depression had been grinding on for almost a decade, and as if that weren’t enough, Hitler looked poised to take over the world—at least all there was of it on the other side of the Atlantic.

Just substitute radical Islam (to a lot of ignorant people, the term is a redundancy) for the Nazis, and you have a vile-smelling brew of deception simmering on the current stove of state.

It does not help that there are opportunists out there willing to stoke the fires of hatred for their own immediate gain, whether it’s to win an election in a couple of months or to attract more listeners and viewers to their radio and TV shows.

What they are doing by taking advantage of the fears of those who don’t know any better is tearing holes in this nation’s fabric that will take a long time to mend, certainly longer than the span of our lifetimes.

All of us—liberals, progressives, moderates, and conservatives—rallied behind President Bush after 9/11. There were aspects to the man many of us didn’t like, but he was our leader, and we were smart enough and scared enough to know that we needed one, for better or worse.

We need one just as desperately now. Why is it so hard for some of us to accept the man who was duly elected by a majority of the people?

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Chan Lowe: America's anti-Muslim bias


For a nation made up of immigrants and their descendents, America has a shameful record of scapegoating whole groups of its citizens and residents when the going gets tough and fear reigns throughout the land.

American Muslims ought to be saddened, but not surprised, that they are the latest group to be singled out and tarred with a broad brush. Thanks to a handful of extremist nut jobs who happened to call themselves Muslims, the majority of the nation (according to the latest polls) takes umbrage at law-abiding Muslims building a house of worship where they have every constitutional right to do so.

Mosques around the country have been firebombed and defaced with Nazi graffiti in the years since 9/11. A church here in Florida is hosting a "Quran burning" on the anniversary of the tragedy. Even the Anti-Defamation League, in an uncharacteristic move, has ignored its own “slippery slope” philosophy and weighed in against the near-Ground-Zero mosque, so intense are the emotions.

Proof that we reserve special treatment for those “not like us” exists within the span of many Americans’ lifetimes. Japanese-Americans, whether foreign- or American-born, were herded into internment camps during World War II for fear that they might act as a fifth-column if left to roam free.

Also in World War II, the conspicuous valor of the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, composed of Japanese-Americans who swore a loyalty oath to the United States, made them the most decorated unit in American history. Even so, they fought in Europe—not being trusted to pull the trigger against their “own kind” in the Pacific.

Meanwhile, a German-American named Eisenhower (an Anglicized spelling of a word meaning, “iron mine worker”), was promoted to Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe.

No loyalty worries there. Wonder why?

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Chan Lowe: The mosque at Ground Zero


This is such a sensitive topic, with honest feelings on all sides, that it’s easy to appreciate everyone’s point of view.

If we are ever going to move past the controversy (now legally, if not emotionally, resolved for the time being) over the mosque located near Ground Zero, we will have to cut through the blinding fog of hurt, anger and fear engendered by the 9/11 attack.

First, it will take a leap of clear thinking on the part of some of us, but we should not confuse the religion of Islam with the motivations of the 9/11 terrorists. To hold all Muslims responsible for the attack on the twin towers is no different from holding all Roman Catholics responsible for the terrorist acts of the Irish Republican Army in Ulster.

Second, those who will build this mosque are Americans. As Americans, they feel the hurt and anger just as deeply as the rest of us. There is an argument that American Muslims, in addition, feel a sense of betrayal that a belief system they cherish was perverted and used as an excuse for an inexcusable act of violence. We must not forget that there were innocent Muslim victims, as well, in the towers when they were hit.

Maybe it’s best to approach this as a test of our will as a people. We can never prevent all terrorist attacks, but we can prevent a terrorist victory by exercising our own strength of character. Let the mosque be built, and let us embrace it. By doing so, we will show the world that we refuse to give up the principles of freedom upon which this nation was based, even in the face of direct attack.

Other peoples will take notice, and the terrorists, while having achieved a tactical objective nine years ago, will have lost the war.

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Chan Lowe: The leaked Afghanistan papers


This should tell you something about the shifting, treacherous sands we find ourselves in while fighting the longest war in our history: Leaked classified documents reveal to the American public that we’ve been indirectly financing our own enemy, and government types in the know dismiss it as “old news.”

Which is worse…that a website released the information, which is surely damaging to our cause, or that our leaders have learned to accommodate this travesty as part of the cost of doing business with the Pakistanis?

The Bush team thought they were the sharpest guys around. After 9/11, they were going to go in there, shoot ’em up, and show the Rooskies the right way to tame those Afghans. Bring back Osama’s head on a plate.

They should have known they were getting this country embroiled in a part of the world where, if the locals didn’t actually invent intrigue, they certainly refined it to an art form.

There’s a story about a meeting in the Holy Land during the Crusades between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, the local warlord. It’s probably apocryphal, but that doesn’t mean it can’t teach us something:

Richard, in order to demonstrate his military might to Saladin, draws out his huge, heavy double-handed broadsword and, in one blow, smashes a rock to pieces with it.

Saladin smiles, and pulls out a silk handkerchief. He tosses it in the air and unsheathes his scimitar of fine Damascus steel, holding it out cutting-edge up while the kerchief flutters down across the blade, splitting itself in two.

That’s what we’re up against over there.

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Chan Lowe: Afghan corruption

hamid.gifHamid Karzai may be corrupt, but he’s no fool.

He knows it’s just a matter of time before we throw up our hands and pull out of his ungovernable country, so he’s following the time-honored script perfected by past U.S. clients: paying lip service until the last possible minute while secretly getting his affairs in order for his next act.

Afghanistan doesn’t have a history of being kind to its leaders when they retire—if they even get the chance to retire⎯and my guess is that Karzai is a keen student of history, specifically of figures like President Nguyen Van Thieu of Vietnam and the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos, who escaped the retribution of their people in planes loaded with looted gold bricks. Keep those engines warmed up, Hamid.

On another topic, I stumbled across this post and cartoon, which I wrote and drew on the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration in January of 2009. What I predicted about our current national mood was so prescient that it surprised even me. I haven’t altered a word of it.

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Chan Lowe: Invasion of the body scanners

Everybody knows someone who, when given a small amount of authority, wields it as though he were Ivan the Terrible taming the Russian serfs. The more petty the authority he carries, the more he flaunts it.

Keep this thought in your mind as you ponder what appears to be the default pastime of federal workers with unlimited and unsupervised access to the Internet.

How did the SEC drones pass their time while Wall Street melted down around them? What did the Minerals Management Service revolving-door petroleum jockeys do when they were supposed to be inspecting offshore wells? That’s right—they surfed porn sites on taxpayer time.

So here you have TSA workers, who—let’s face it—don’t have the most exciting jobs in the world, being handed what amounts to a free pass to view people in the buff.

And let’s add a final titillation factor: Porn is created by people who either get paid, or give their permission for, their bodies to be on display. What thrills Peeping Toms is that looking through a keyhole is a violation of their victims’ privacy. They are stealing something they would never otherwise be given. Do you trust these same people to properly dispose of the images they view with such disrespect?

Add up all these motivators, and you may want to ask for the optional pat-down. At least you’ll know who’s looking at you.

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Chan Lowe: The Times Square incident

tshirt.gifThere really are some things government can do better than the private sector.

When the t-shirt vendor told the authorities about the smoking SUV, it set into motion a chain of events and a meshing of resources and manpower that culminated in the apprehension of the perp before he could skip the country.

The passionate defenders of the Constitution, meanwhile, have had to content themselves with grousing that the would-be bomber⎯an American citizen⎯was read his Constitutional rights upon his arrest instead of just being thrown into a dungeon to rot.

Even that brazen so-called offense isn’t generating the usual ire, since he’s singing like a canary anyway.

He did make it all the way to the plane, which exposed a hole in a no-fly list that seems to be more efficient at preventing innocent people from flying than preventing terrorists from getting on board.

Thanks to the initiative of the vendor (from whom we could all learn something about vigilance) and the exemplary detective work of the authorities, nobody was hurt and we are now gaining valuable information in the war on terror from a live captive.

A result that's pretty hard to complain about, whatever your political bent.

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Chan Lowe: Nuclear proliferation

Remember how comfortable we all felt before 9/11?

We thought we were so safe from a foreign-based terrorist attack. Unlike the Europeans, we were separated by two oceans from all that ugliness. They'd never try it here. We were too well protected. Besides, they wouldn't dare.

Until the terrorists get their hands on a nuclear device--which they surely will someday--the whole idea of loose nukes remains an abstraction to us, as terrorism in general did on 9/10 (and deep down, we didn't think of Oklahoma City as "terrorism" in the strictest sense, because it was home-grown. It was a criminal act , performed by a nut job).

There are more important, immediate things to worry about, like the economy and how Kate Gosselin manages to remain on DWTS week after week, even though she dances like a sack of Idaho potatoes.

Meanwhile, losing sleep over the problem is one of the many things we pay Barack Obama to do for us.

We don't pay him enough.

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Chan Lowe: The new security policy

While the Obama administration, in a nod to the base, is splitting hairs over whether or not its new "intelligence-based" terrorist screening system is profiling, that's what it's beginning to look like.

Physical characteristics, where they're from... if those are going to be the criteria, then let's cut the doublespeak.

It used to be that we could afford the luxury of treating everyone as an equal threat, but with limited resources, and the consequences of a system failure so catastrophic, it may be time to rethink whether it's worth sacrificing Lower Manhattan just to ensure that someone's feelings don't get hurt.

If little old church ladies in tennis shoes had been found to be the preponderant cohort of those who performed terrorist acts, then it would make sense to single them out for special treatment. The innocent little old ladies who were searched unnecessarily would no doubt be grateful that we had focused our efforts on the most likely suspects.

I think many of us, in a perfect world, would wish to preserve the dignity of certain groups, and not ask that they be temporarily humiliated for the sins of a few among them.

In this imperfect world, how many of us are willing to risk our lives and those of our loved ones to defend that principle?

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Chan Lowe: The intelligence failure

dots1.gifYou're probably as tired of the shopworn "connect the dots" cliche as I am.

But that doesn't prevent me from shamelessly expoiting it, anyway.

The Christmas terrorism attempt failed only because of the incompetence of the perpetrator. It was a successful attack, in the classic way acts of terror are successful: It sowed uncertainty.

We learned that no matter how much money and effort we expend on our self-protection, it will never be enough. It isn't that the terrorists tried something new and imaginative that completely hoodwinked us. No, they used the classic 9/11 modus operandi to show us it could still be done with impunity. Hell, just to drive home how flawed our system still is, we were warned in advance.

People are tribal. That's just the way we are. When you have a lot of people working in different agencies with different cultures--ostensibly toward the same goal--they're going to possessively withhold information from one another. At the very least, you won't get the kind of brainstorming cooperation that can often turn out a product greater than the sum of its parts.

The key is to convince these well-meaning, dedicated people that they have to buck their natural human tendencies, and that to succumb to them hurts the nation. Maybe this is a job for a hypnotist.

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Security vs. privacy

privacy.gifThis debate is going to catch fire soon enough...particularly since the latest foiled attack was attempted by a man who smuggled the explosives on board in his underpants.

We have the body-scan technology available now that would represent a new leap in security, but the machines can easily become a symbol in upcoming political discourse for all the ways average people feel government is encroaching on their privacy.

There's an understandable queasiness about having one's privates exposed to a stranger, which is what would be necessary for the scanners to be truly effective. If any areas have to be fuzzed out in a bow to modesty, you might as well junk the whole shebang.

Also, there'll be tabloid outlets waving big paydays in the faces of TSA employees bold enough to spirit the video recording of some celeb's body scan out of the airport, the way they stake out hospital employees now. There will have to be strong penalties in place to prevent that.

Personally, I view it like a visit to the doctor to get a prostate exam. To you, it's a mortifying ordeal. To him, it's like checking the oil, he's done so many of them.

Privacy vs. security is a debate we ought to have...but let's not forget that it's better to be embarrassed than dead.

And there's always the train.

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Chan Lowe: The education of Barack Obama

idea.gifIt isn't so much the passage of time that has caused the scales to fall from Barack Obama's eyes; it's the view.

Things look a lot different from behind that big, heavy desk in the Oval Office than they do on the campaign trail.

Out on the stump, you can pretty much say whatever you want, attack whomever you want for whatever policy or character flaw, and the only thing you have to worry about is your continued credibility with your listeners. And oh, how they love it when you throw them a fat chunk of red meat.

Once in that hot seat, though, you're confronted with a kaleidoscope of moving parts never dreamt of in your philosophy, and you have to start worrying about things like what's good for the country, not only your base.

Your base just doesn't get it. They don't understand how the dominoes work over there. If you explained it to them the way it's been explained to you, they wouldn't believe it, anyway. But you can't blow them off, because you need them to bend over and give up something for you on health care.

So you sit there at the intersection of domestic politics and global strategy, trying to thread the needle in a windstorm.

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Obama makes the pitch for the Afghan war

plan.gifRemember that much-maligned line first uttered by Condi Rice when the Bushies were bamboozling congress and the American people into war in Iraq: "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud?"

It turned out--as we now know to our everlasting regret--that Saddam had no WMD, and her cute turn of phrase, while mighty scary, was empty at its core.

This time, though, it's for real. It's now Barack Obama's unenviable job to convince an incredulous public that the old Domino Theory is still valid. If Afghanistan falls to the Taliban and al-Qaida is allowed to thrive there, the infection will spread even deeper into an already rickety Pakistan, and possibly overwhelm its government.

Normally, we'd just allow the warlords and nut jobs in that part of the world to cancel each other out, but we're talking upwards of 80 nuclear weapons here, any one of which in the wrong hands could mean disaster.

Obama's speech will have to be short, sweet and to the point: no "nation-building," no "nurturing democracy," no subtlety. If he's going to sell this thing, we have to come away thinking, "Either we commit, or someday we're all going up in a ball of flame."

Americans aren't good with abstract concepts (think, "deficit spending"). They do, however, understand matters of life and death.

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Chan Lowe: The terror trials II

khaled.gifIf Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and the rest of those guys are so single-minded in their hatred of our country that they want to fall into the trap, then let them.

They can't wait for their opportunity to rant on the world stage...their words faithfully broadcast by Al Jazeera and other sympathetic outlets to all corners of the globe.

Those who have already been radicalized won't be changed at all, while other, cooler heads will notice that the alleged perps are shouting into a microphone provided by their accuser. What other nation would be confident enough in the rightness of its defining spirit to allow those who attacked it to speak their piece in a fair hearing?

It's certainly a lot more than these cowards would ever afford anyone who was in their captivity. Too risky. Might mess up the pageantry.

And a full trial that follows a legal code, and rules of evidence? With defense attorneys provided to the defendants? Are these Americans crazy?

Yes, like a fox.

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The terror trials

terrorcourt.gifThe hypocrisy is delicious.

The same conservatives who passionately promote the sacredness of the constitution--and appointing judges to the federal bench who would interpret it strictly--are now in favor of suspending it out of fear that our constitutional guarantees are nothing but Swiss cheese through which terrorist vermin might escape justice.

You can't have it both ways. Either it is the noblest document ever written, or its freedoms should only be applied to lesser crimes in which the outcome isn't so serious. It saddens me that its vocal supporters have so little faith in its effectiveness.

As for the argument that terrorists make war on America, and therefore have no right to be tried under our system of presuming innocence until proven guilty: I don't recall anybody saying that Timothy McVeigh should be denied a trial by jury. He made war on America the same as these guys--just ask the loved ones of those unlucky enough to be in the Murrah Federal Building that day.

By the way, he was convicted and executed under our supposedly flawed system that bends over backwards to give the accused the benefit of the chill. This is about us and who we are as a nation, not about them. If we try them fairly and openly for all the world to see, then the terrorists have lost.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: The Graveyard of Empires

serpent.gifAmericans have never been much for learning the lessons of history.

Part of it is that America is so different from other nations, founded on principle rather than ethnicity or geography.

A corollary to this is the myth of American exceptionalism, which, loosely translated, means: "Others failed in the past because they did it wrong. When we do things our way, we succeed. Plus, we've got God on our side."

When it comes to Afghanistan, a backwater that has been notoriously hostile to outsiders, "The Graveyard of Empires," we may learn that even our way won't win us the highway.

Take the Brits, for example. If you have any FAQ's about how to run an empire, they're the go-to folks. Anybody who can subjugate the entire Indian subcontinent--several hundred million people--for over a hundred years using nothing more than a few thousand civil servants and soldiers must know what they're doing.

Well, Afghanistan's inhospitable inhabitants and topography broke them, too. Even the Russian Bear lumbered off with a bruised backside.

Do we honestly think that we can cram our Age of Enlightenment ideals down the locals' throats and leave them with a functioning agrarian democracy in the Jeffersonian mold (well, growing opium poppies is a form of agriculture) through military might, just because we happen to be more charming than our predecessors?

It doesn't matter who's sitting in the Oval Office hot seat, be they Democrat or Republican. When it comes to Afghanistan, they're earning every penny of their salary.

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Dick Cheney cries out in the wilderness

We were deep into 2002, probably five or six months after 9/11, before my editor would even entertain the idea of my drawing a cartoon that did not portray George W. Bush in anything but a favorable light.

"We're not ready for that yet," I remember him saying. He was probably right, as far as the sentiments of our readers were concerned.

The terror was still fresh, the country had rallied around its president, and unbeknownst to us, Dick Cheney was quietly machinating behind the scenes to exploit our national myopia and expand executive power to unheard-of levels.

It was a failure on the part of the media as much as anyone else, but consumers of news weren't ready yet for hard-nosed reporting, or commenting for that matter, about our leaders.

These are different times, and the man who used to condemn the Bush naysayers as unpatriotic didn't even wait for the inaugural platform to be disassembled before he began loudly trashing the new president. It's his right. Too bad he didn't see it that way when he was on the receiving end.

As for setting himself up as the world's authority on keeping us safe, let's remember that clever locution Cheney and his supporters like to use to justify their excesses: "The terrorists haven't hit us again since 9/11."

As I recall, Dick Cheney had been running this country for almost eight months when the terrorists did hit us on 9/11.

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The CIA revelations

You can “look forward, not back,” as President Obama says he is doing in distancing himself from his “rogue” attorney general, Eric Holder.

This, of course, is an adroit little sidestep. After all, Obama’s the one who nominated the guy. Holder, as a member of Obama’s cabinet, serves at his pleasure. I guess this kind of waffling is what they call “leadership.”

Anyway, an investigation of alleged illegal acts is probably a good thing for the republic. Obama has made it clear that those who were only following orders will not be prosecuted (that argument didn’t fly when it was made with a German accent, but this is the national security of the American homeland we’re talking about now, folks).

That leaves…whom? Probably nobody, because going after the principals of the Bush administration who set the policy would distract everyone from Obama’s priorities, not to mention possibly derail his presidency.

In any case, if we don’t at least examine the excesses of our behavior and do a little public self-reflection, then our already-battered worldwide reputation as a nation of laws will suffer even further.

And the terrorists—while not exactly winning—will have achieved a tactical victory in the battle for hearts and minds.

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Updating the war on terror

Can you remember what was dominating the news back on September 10, 2001?

We were obsessed with Gary Condit and his missing aide, Chandra Levy. The blathering heads were discussing the growing irrelevancy, ineffectiveness and pointlessness of the Bush administration, that he was destined to be a one-term president and that history would shroud him in obscurity. Ah, how we long for those simpler times.

Fast forward eight years, and we're just coming off a another string of juicy political sex scandals and the Michael Jackson beatification. And oh, yeah...most of us are either hurtling into the economic abyss or staring over the edge. That is, unless we work for Goldman, Sachs. In that case, we're looking forward to an average bonus in the $800,000 range. But that's a topic for another cartoon.

Anyway, the War On Terror seems like ancient history compared to the hummingbird flight that is the American national attention span. It's about as remote from our daily concerns as it was...back on September 10, 2001.

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The Afghanistan mess

It just shows you that no matter who is in the White House, our republic--with all its awesome and high-priced might--remains at a disadvantage when it comes to asymmetrical warfare.

What do you do if you're the Taliban, you're armed with rocket-propelled grenades and maybe some old Enfield rifles the British left behind back in the Nineteenth Century, and you're fighting a foe who has precision missiles that can rain down destruction from the sky with no advance notice, obliterating an entire crowd?

You make sure the crowd he obliterates is the wrong one.

Remember, this battle is for hearts and minds, not body counts. You use jiujitsu, turning the aggressor's own bulk and momentum against him. Enough of these little mistakes, and pretty soon the whole country sees you as the heroic defender of innocent women and children.

What are a few thousand more deaths in a country that has suffered so much already, especially if they serve a strategic goal? The locals don't know the Twin Towers from the Doublemint Twins, and when you say "terrorism," they look at all the bodies of their friends and loved ones that need to be buried.

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The torture memos


George W. Bush is a lucky guy. He will never be a tragic figure.

A tragic figure is a man who is brought down by some fatal flaw in his own character, and no matter how roundly George W. Bush and his benighted administration may be condemned by history, he will not be brought down, for there is no anguish. His conscience and his sense of his own rectitude remain unshaken.

George Bush has probably never lain awake one night in his life second-guessing a decision he made. This is the advantage of leading "from the gut," rather than by reason.

Gut leadership is strong, swift, sure. Reasoning is more deliberate, and can easily be read as tentative by an electorate that demands immediate action.

George Bush is probably not lying when he says his administration never approved torture. He may be horribly wrong, but he believes he is telling the truth. He has effectively, and enviably, insulated himself from the consequences of his decisions.

If only the rest of us could.

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The Guantanamo dilemma


It takes somebody who really knows what he's doing the better part of a minute to shoot and reload a musket. Longbows are faster, but they can still only launch one arrow at a time.

You have to wonder if the doctrine of habeas corpus, first developed in English Common Law and later enshrined in ours, would be as unconditional had bad guys in those days cared nothing for their own lives and could get their hands on weapons that were capable of annihilating large swaths of the population.

Much as we revere our rights, we live in a tricky new age. Would you want to be the one who stood on principle and sprang some nutball who later came back with a suitcase nuke and laid waste to one of our cities? All of our civil rights advocates would come down with a sudden case of laryngitis while everybody else screamed for your head.

There is one good thing about lawyers: if you pay a smart one enough, he'll figure out a legal path through any thorn bush. I understand they're hiring some pretty sharp ones right now in the Obama Justice Department.

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The pendulum swings back

One school of thought holds that the Obama Administration should investigate the violations of America's moral code that occurred under President Bush's watch: the torturing, the extraordinary renditions, Abu Ghraib, the whole Guantanamo charade. It would be like South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Punish those responsible (read here Cheney, Rummy, and lesser-known figures) so that those who might ponder these acts in the future would know that they couldn't get away with it. Also, prosecution would reaffirm to ourselves what we stand for as a nation.

Another school says let's move on, we have far more pressing problems to face down without getting mired in the sins of the past. Besides, it must have worked, because we didn't get hit again after 9/11.

President Obama, as is his wont, would like to split the difference: indulge in a little garbage-picking after we've addressed the immediate stuff. A pragmatic solution, although my gut says we should hold the malfeasance up to the light, and go wherever an investigation takes us. The national guilt we might feel for turning a blind eye to the dilution of our principles might inoculate us against falling prey to such apathy in the future.

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Rummy: Master of the Universe

Here is a story that will leave you thanking your lucky stars that you are blessed to live in a functioning democracy:

I have a friend who lives in Santa Fe, NM. A lot of high-profile people either live there full time or play there part time, folks like Valerie Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson (whom my friend calls "Flake and the Cupcake"). It's a wealthy, yet quiet environment where people who value their privacy are generally left alone.

My friend was walking along Acequia Madre, a street in Santa Fe's tony East Side, about two weeks after Donald Rumsfeld, arguably the most powerful man in the world while he was in office, had been deposed as Secretary of Defense. If you remember, the pressure became so great on President Bush from all sides of the political spectrum that he finally caved and threw Rummy off the fantail.

Anyway, imagine my friend's surprise to see the former Alpha Male of Washington in well-worn jeans, ambling along the street with his dog, smoking his pipe and carrying a pooper scooper.

Eventually, the dog did his business, the erstwhile commander of the most fearsome military force on the planet scooped up the mess, and strolled off back to his home.

Think this could ever happen anywhere else?

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Pakistan fires on U.S. helicopters


After Italy capitulated in World War II and then declared herself to be on the side of the Allies, Winston Churchill famously said, "With the Italians as friends, who needs enemies?"

One has to wonder what kind of foreign aid first allows the Pakistanis to export nuclear technology to our enemies, and then permits them to get huffy about U.S. incursions over a border that they are incapable of policing themselves.

Would the old Soviet Union have tolerated this kind of behavior from a client state? No howski. First, a warning--then Islamabad brulee. Certainly no more military funds.

No wonder the world has lost its respect for America when our puppets are doing all the yanking on the strings.

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Guantanamo Tribunals


We probably won't look back on this post-9/11 period as one of our finest moments as the shining city on the hill. As some people are fond of saying, "The Constitution isn't a suicide pact."

OK, that's true. Let's be honest, then: rather than hold trials with joke rules that stack the deck, let's just hold no trials at all. Here's the rationale: "We're holding the prisoners until the War on Terror is over. Which is never." At least, it goes along with the argument that it's too dangerous to let these people loose without soiling our bedrock document in the process.

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Top Secret plans for invasion of Iran


That we are even discussing this scenario as a real possibility is a testament to Congress' abrogation of its Constitutional role in declaring war, and the President's eagerness to act like the very king the Founding Fathers feared.

Remember the good old days, like 1941, when FDR had to go and make an impassioned case for war before Congress would even go along? And that was after Pearl Harbor, when they actually DID something to us.

I'd love to be a fly on the wall to hear what G.H.W. Bush has to say about how his feckless boy has taken the old man's carefully constructed web of international alliances and understandings, and just blowed 'em all up real good, like a prankster flushing a cherry bomb down the boy's room toilet. Oh, well...that's the next guy's problem.

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Profiling and national security


Okay, this cartoon is about as subtle as a brick. Anytime you invoke the memory of Joseph McCarthy, you will appear heavy-handed. But old Joe lacked subtlety, too, and look how effective he was.

Sometimes, the situation calls for directness, especially if you feel we're poised on the edge of a slippery slope.

Judging from the email I get, McCarthy still has a lot of admirers out there, or he would if they knew who he was. The nation's moved on, though. There are no longer any Communists hiding under the bed. Now, we call 'em Liberals. Those who do remember Sen. McCarthy fondly will take the cartoon at face value, so no harm, no foul.

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The big lie


Yesterday, I heard on National Socialist Radio (a.k.a. NPR), my broadcast news provider of choice, that one in 10 Americans still believes that Barack Obama is a Muslim, despite all the recent brouhaha in the news about his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and his inflammatory comments. I checked with our editorial assistant in charge of handling nutty calls from readers, and she said that there had, in fact, been a down-tick lately in the almost three per day she had been fielding, demanding to know why we didn't do an expose on Sheik B. Hussein Obama's "Secret plan to turn America into an Arab country." (That's a direct quote).

Anyway, this got me thinking about the continuing misapprehension on the part of many of our compatriots that the Saudi terrorists on the 9/11 planes were actually Iraqis. I suddenly realized that with a brain-trust like this, the Bush Administration must think we'll believe just about anything they feed us. Well, almost.

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Bush and Cheney's war


Yesterday, when Vice-President Cheney was asked his reaction to the fact that a majority of Americans thought the Iraq war hadn't been worth it, he answered, "So?"

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Thanks to the many comments that ran in response to my first "Reject Corner" posting, Sun-Sentinel Opinion Czar (and more important, my editor) Tony Fins has decided that it wouldn't realign the Earth's axis if we went ahead and ran the cartoon in the print edition after all. See? You DO make a difference.

Many of your responses, both pro and con, were remarkably thoughtful and intelligent, some even impassioned. My thanks to you for all of them. Herewith, the finished version of the cartoon as it will appear on our Opinion Page on Monday, March 24.

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About the author
Chan LoweCHAN LOWE has been the Sun Sentinel’s first and only editorial cartoonist for the past twenty-six years. Before that, he worked as cartoonist and writer for the Oklahoma City Times and the Shawnee (OK) News-Star.

Chan went to school in New York City, Los Angeles, and the U.K., and graduated from Williams College in 1975 with a degree in Art History. He also spent a year at Stanford University as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.

His work has won numerous awards, including the Green Eyeshade Award and the National Press Foundation Berryman Award. He has also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His cartoons have won multiple first-place awards in all of the Florida state journalism contests, and The Lowe-Down blog, which he began in 2008, has won writing awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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