How To Start A War On The Cheap

 I did this cartoon about the story of Molly Norris a few years ago. Molly quite innocently (and naively) almost started a war by standing up for the 1st amendment. Once unleashed, her drawing turned into a Frankenstein’s monster that threatened her life and the lives of thousands around the globe. You can read the whole ugly story on this rather lengthy Wikipedia entry.

There’s a lot of breast-beating and wild accusations running rampant on the internet today. The Obama administration is being spanked by the right-wing for allowing unwarranted attacks on our embassies and consulates in the mideast, and then apologizing for the offensive movie Innocence of Muslims . Mitt Romney is getting it from the left for suggesting we should come out with guns blazing. We gotta kill somebody. If we accidently hit some innocent goat herders, well, so what? The Arab world will get the message that we mean business. Just a typical day on the campaign trail of tears.

It reminded me of my August 17 post, Are You A Man Or A Mouse (Or A Pussy?) where I told the story of Dan O’Neill’s war on Walt Disney. Dan’s intentions were clear from the beginning: I’m calling you out, Mickey Mouse! Let’s rumble! The only expenses were some art supplies, a publisher willing to distribute a few thousand copies, and maybe a little money to feed the starving artists. Chump change.

Al Qaida runs on a fairly cheap budget as well. Osama Bin Laden started with a few million bucks, mainly to transport twenty malcontents to the U.S., enroll them in flying school, and a per diem to cover food, lodging, and some topless entertainment for their going away party.  He got the war he so desperately wanted.

Information is slowly coming to light about the mysterious producer of the movie that started the latest ruckus. It seems clear to me that this “Sam Bacile” character knew exactly how to incite a religious war, and judging from the production values on Innocence of Muslims, he did it with a bare-bones budget. He managed to snooker some hungry actors with a cover story about a desert adventure, then overdubbed their dialogue with the real script. Once doctored, the finished product was promoted by fellow zealots (like koran-burning Terry Jones) and foisted onto the public via internet in time for the 2012 elections. Let’s see Obama get out of this cliffhanger!

It’s too early to tell how well this scheme will work, but it will no doubt come back on the 1st amendment. There is already a tendency to shackle free expression by labeling it as hate speech, and there will always be those who abuse the right, intentionally or not. It’s already cost the lives of some brave Americans and sent a fleet to the Mediterranean. That’s not chump change.

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45 Responses to How To Start A War On The Cheap

  1. Tom Betterman says:

    Korans may be selling by the cord is some places this winter…

  2. Tom Betterman says:

    “Sam Bacile” = Imbecile, a clever pun from someone clever enough to snooker all the actors.

  3. Tom Odachi says:


    (did you participate?)

  4. Free speech also gives people the ability to lie and distort.

    Multiple news outlets–including that well-known Obama mouthpiece, The Wall Street Journal–reported that the statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was issued BEFORE the Cairo and Libya attacks.

    Yet Romney acts like the statement was made AFTER the attacks–this is probably what Obama means when he said Romney shoots first and aims later–and his cheerleaders at Fox News followed his lead. I happened to click on to Sean Hannity shortly after 9 last night to hear him muttering about “appeasement” and “Chamberlain.”

    The statement issued by the Cairo Embassy was hardly an apology. Like many others the State Department has put out in the past, the statement tried to explain to Muslims that when you allow free speech you have to put up with things you don’t like, such as “Innocense of Muslims.”

    The statement could have added that you also have tolerate alleged news organizations like Fox.

    • rlcrabb says:

      Now it has come to light that “Sam Bacile” is a career con man, previously convicted of fraud and running a meth lab. I don’t know whether this is another episode of Breaking bad or Malcolm in the Middle East.

  5. Judith Lowry says:

    Okay Bob Crabb,
    What dirt do you have on Little Lulu that would force her her star in your seditious, inflammatory, blasphemous cartoon.
    Sure, she has fallen on hard times, practically no face recognition in this century.
    But, to bring her down so low, you are a total Svengali crossed with a Hitchcock!
    You deserve to spend the rest of eternity doing anaerobics in Gary Larson’s “Sheer Hell”.
    “A friend”

  6. Michael Anderson says:

    Molly’s mistake is that she didn’t strategize how she would respond to her initiative. It’s a terrible tragedy that her initiative made some people want to resort to violence, but it would have been helpful if she had thought it through a little better.

    Likewise the movie Innocence of Muslims, and “Sam Bacile” with his deliberative intention to incite a violent reaction. Well, he got what he wished for. Was that criminal behavior? Probably not. Was it a good strategy? Probably not, unless “Sam” wanted the results to be negative, which then starts to enter the realm of conspiracy.

    Still, the bottom line is that people can say shitty things, but other people’s violent reaction to that is a criminal act and will not be tolerated, and should and will be prosecuted to the full extent of existing law.

  7. Steve Frisch says:

    I am glad that Bob posted the link above to the story of Molly Norris above–which I followed with fascination at the time due to its tongue in cheek defense of artistic and editorial expression–because it affords us the opportunity to reflect on what free speech means in a democratic and pluralistic society versus a theocracy.

    The critique of the Islamic world view made by many–that it can be antithetical to free speech, freedom of region, and many of the other freedoms that we take for granted in much of the non-Islamic world–is entirely valid. That there is a clash of worldviews should be apparent to any reader of history, particularly to readers of the history of the relationship between religion and the state.

    The word “Islam” itself means “submission” and a “Muslim” is one who submits. The same tradition of submission exists in the Christian theology (James 4:7)–and even an atheist like me recognizes that Christianity, while I don’t practice it formally, has been a dominant cultural influence in my world view–but submission takes on a different meaning in much of the “western” world. Submission as a theological diktat has been tempered by counter threads in western culture; the Greek tradition of the “philosopher king”, the rise of Roman civil law, Christianity challenging the ancient world, the Reformation, the rise of the state to counter the power of the Church, the Enlightenment elevating science, and finally the rapid pace of modernity itself, all challenge the idea of “submission” and have led to the rise of the individual, legitimized by most western governing documents, such as our Constitution.

    While the Islamic worldview shared many of the same traditions the “western” worldview did—the Hellenistic influence, the Old Testament, and the rise of science—it never resolved its centuries long clash between the state and church, which led in the west to the Enlightenment philosophy of the predominance of the rights of the individual over the state. More important, the rise of the individual in the Islamic world during the expansion of modernity has not shaken their support for the basic pillars of their religion (confession of faith, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, pilgrimage, and jihad). Because the clash in the Islamic world between the power of the state, the status of the individual, and religion, is unfinished—which we have seen in our lifetimes as the rise of Bathism, Islamic socialism and recently the ‘Arab spring’– in most states a fusion of religion and state power, or a theocracy, ruled by Sharia, or Islamic law, exists in practice. In a theocracy a direct challenge to the state religion by an individual is virtually impossible. When such a challenge occurs in another state it is assumed to be sanctioned by or tolerated by that state.

    So when we talk about free speech in the west, we are essentially talking about a right and a definition that is rarely understood in the Islamic world. Thus when challenged with events like the last week, in the west we see it as a challenge to free speech, while in the Islamic world they see it as a threat to their religion. Does that mean that a parody of the prophet is hate speech—absolutely not—but as you said, it may not be wise, and the consequences of such a depiction needs to be considered.

    In this case I truly believe that free speech, much as I despise and reject the content of the message in that speech, must prevail. We cannot nor should we ever retreat from the individual liberties we have developed as a result of 5000 years of western thought. There is a difference between calling stupid speech stupid (such as using the term “raghead” which could be considered very offensive and hateful to many) and banning speech. Denounce, yes; ban, no.

    • Excellent, you might consider reposting to Rebane.

      • Steve Frisch says:

        You and I both know the nuance would be lost, I would be attacked as an atheist, GG would weigh in to divert himself from his inner demons, and prudence would be recast as Islamic apologetics. The historical perspective above does not fit the global Jihad/Christian war to the death frame.

    • Greg Goodknight says:

      It does appear that Steven Frisch agrees with Mitt Romney’s “first shot” on this one.

      • Steve Frisch says:

        What I counseled was what foreign policy experts on both sides of the aisle counseled; waiting until more information was in before making statements that might interfere with the administrations ability to respond to a crises. That is particularly important when one is a Presidential candidate a few short weeks before an election and foreign intermediaries might be able to use your words, or the political situation, to their advantage. I am also distressed that many Americans respond to events like this with immediate anti-Islamic statements. I wonder how that makes the Libyan security forces who were battling protesters along with the Marines feel? Also, I must note that we saw several spontaneous demonstrations of support for the American forces from the Arab street in benghazi immediately after the event.

        So Greg, I do not agree with Mr. Romney: he made his initial statement after the US embassy in Cairo released its statement to try to calm the situation, and before the demonstrators pieced the walls in Cairo and Benghazi.

        But if your question is do I support the use of force to protect an American embassy, and the streets surrounding it, to secure US personnel and protect our allies, the answer is yes, 100%.

        • Todd Juvinall says:

          Shocking, you war monger! LOL! Oops, that’s us on the right, sorry, I forgot.

        • Greg Goodknight says:

          “So Greg, I do not agree with Mr. Romney: he made his initial statement after the US embassy in Cairo released its statement to try to calm the situation, and before the demonstrators pieced the walls in Cairo and Benghazi.”

          Romney’s statement was one of supporting the 1st amendment. Clear, wasn’t it?

          Sorry for misinterpreting your nusances, Steve… so it’s OK in your book to throw the 1st amendment under the bus if it’s devoid of any real meaning and intended to calm the mob outside an embassy on foreign soil?

          Look at the bright side… since the ‘movie’ ‘director’ is apparently a Coptic Christian born in Egypt, we’ll probably now have the Muslim Brotherhood ruly party calling for his repatriation for some ol’ fashioned Sharia justice.

          • SR Jones says:

            How does this statement: “The Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” be construed as “support for the 1st amendment”?

          • Greg Goodknight says:

            SR, it’s been awhile since we had a long chat.

            Let’s look at what the embassy wrote:
            “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims—as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions”

            Now, what part of the constitution leads one to believe a diplomat on foreign soil is empowered to “condemn” speech emanating from southern California? We now know the author of it is a Coptic Christian originally from Egypt, a persecuted minority group that makes up about 10% of the population.

            The embassy was off base, and, even worse, the statement didn’t have the desired effect on the locals. It might have even made things worse.

        • Steve Frisch says:

          Romney had not one word of the 1st amendment in his response. And if I did not make myself clear just because a citizen of our Republic (and it ‘Mr. Bacili’ a citizen of our republic?) has a first amendment right does not mean the administration has to stand up for every Yahoo who yells fire in a crowded theater. His statement is here…exactly what ‘values’ is this vague statement standing up for?

          I suggest you go listen to it again….and read this analysis

          and get back to us!

  8. TD Pittsford says:

    The problem is that them Muslims got no sense of humor…or irony for that matter. They accuse all non-Muslims as being intolerant of Islamic practices while they can’t bear any of us depicting Allah, or God forbid (pun intended) that rasty old pedophile, Mohamed, in ink. Can you imagine how many cartoonists are despicable infidels because they drew a picture of God sitting in his chair of judgment and saying, “I’m sorry Mr. Cheney, but if we couldn’t let Nixon in, we sure can’t let you.” According to the Koran, we should all march on Colorado and stone Trey Parker and Matt Stone to death (that is if they aren’t already stoned). If this $5 million dollar inflamed a bunch of Muslims, let’s send them a few hundred copies of “Team America”. That ought to incense them enough that they’ll all explode, thus solving a MAJOR problem on the planet.

    • Steve Frisch says:

      Yeah…lets throw red meat to a howling mob placing thousands of foreign service personnel and tens of thousands of American citizens working in Muslim countries at risk. I think wisdom and moderation might be a more prudent course.

    • Greg Goodknight says:

      TD, I was listening to the BBC last night and an islamic scholar quoted the Koran as stating something more akin to, “if a conversation turns against Islam, leave the conversation”. Walk away, not kill the folks who are mocking your beliefs.

  9. rl crabb says:

    Yeah, our muslim allies are disabled in the humor department. Most of their cartoons end with the punchline: “Kill the Jews!” They should be more like the Jews if you ask me. Only a Jew could make a movie about “Springtime for Hitler”.

  10. Steve Frisch says:

    Bob, when you have a second please take my comment above off moderation…

  11. Steve Frisch says:

    Through this entire thread the real big picture issue is that the American public has absolutely no idea what alternative to the Obama foreign policy Mr. Romney is proposing. None of this would be an issue–Romney’s statement before the actual fact, McCain’s defense, or Romney’s implication that the President is an apologist–if Romney had a coherent, clearly stated alternative position on American foreign policy in the Middle East.

    In short, Mr. Romney’s stated policies for US engagement in the middle east, or lack thereof, is actually no different than President Obama’s policy. And that is the fatal flaw exposed by jumping into a crises mid-stammer; it is fine to critique, but when the critique possesses no new elements, the critique is bound to fall flat.

    So lets look at Mr. Romney’s stated policy which can be found here:

    “The Greater Middle East is experiencing the most dramatic change since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The protests that have broken out across the Arab world bespeak a generational yearning for a better life and for human dignity, and present an opportunity for profoundly positive change. History may show that the individual who moved the Arab world from autocracy to the path of freedom was not a head of state, but a humble Tunisian street vendor.

    But the ongoing revolution is doubled edged. The region is riven by tensions, and Iran and Islamist extremists are seeking to influence events and expand their control. The future of democratic institutions in the region — and the security of the United States and its allies — hangs in the balance. Mitt Romney believes that the United States cannot be neutral about the outcome.

    To protect our enduring national interests and to promote our ideals, a Romney administration will pursue a strategy of supporting groups and governments across the Middle East to advance the values of representative government, economic opportunity, and human rights, and opposing any extension of Iranian or jihadist influence. The Romney administration will strive to ensure that the Arab Spring is not followed by an Arab Winter.”

    In short, the Romney general statement of policy is EXACTLY the same as the Obama policy. That we must be engaged, that we must support governments and organizations that advance our values, that we must oppose the extension of the jihadist influence; it is exactly the stated and implemented policy of the Obama administration.

    On Egypt, Libya and Tunisia Mr. Romney states: “A Romney administration will support those individuals and groups that are seeking to instill lasting democratic values and build sturdy democratic institutions that will sustain open societies in countries that have been closed for too long. ” How is that different from President Obama’s policy? No where in his foreign policy plank does Mr. Romney actually state HOW he will do this, other than to say he will confer with Congress and align US security and foreign policy agencies and objectives, which is precisely the same policy Obama is advancing.

    On Iran Mr. Romney says he will toughen sanctions, the same as the Obama policy, keep open a credible military option, the same as Obama, support the Iranian opposition, the same as Obama, and support Israeli rights to unilateral action, the same as the Obama policy, and increase coordination with regional allies (read Saudi Arabia and Israel) the same as Obama. As a matter of fact under Obama we have dramatically stiffened sanctions leading to stratospheric inflation in Iran, increased naval strike forces in the Persian Gulf, increased regionally staged rapid deployment forces, and publicly stated that we would coordinate our activities with Israel.

    This is the key problem with Romney jumping in in a crises. He has no policy that is in any substantive way different than the policy that President Obama is already pursuing. Do any of us Americans really believe that there is an alternative to the Obama policy? (The only alternative I see is basically withdrawing from the middle east, with the exception of our support for Israel and Turkey, and replacing western European oil supplies with alternative sources of energy). We have to let the Arab spring play out and try to ensure that the governments that replace the dictators become more democratic and pluralistic, but we do not have the will or the power to directly intervene, so we play around the edges (covert ops, Nato allies, and financial support) and try to direct a positive outcome. We lack the domestic support or the military will to intervene in Syria, so we support the opposition, and put pressure on the Russians to abandon their support for Assad. We do not really want to go to war with Iran, which would be incredibly expensive, costly in lives, and unpopular, so we tighten sanctions and plan behind the scenes with our allies for a military strike should the Iranians approach building a bomb.

    The real problem with Romney the week after he jumped into the conversation about the current crises is that he is wholly unprepared to articulate an alternative, or worse his policy is the same–so jumping in appears to have been purely a political ploy. It has been a week. Here is how this should work–in the crises you are cautious and do not exacerbate the situation or give your enemies political tools to sue against you, as passions cool you articulate your clear differences and alternative policy– now is the time that Romney should be laying out his alternative. Where is it?

    The answer is simple: there is no Romney alternative, thus the issue will be allowed to die, and we will go back to the economy. The real problem here is that Romney is a muddled mess of a candidate, with few clearly articulated policies or positions, and he is leaving the American people with absolutely no idea how he would actually govern. That is why even conservatives and main stream Republicans are now coming out and publicly stating that the Romney campaign, and the policy initiatives that should lead that campaign, is adrift.

    • rl crabb says:

      The right wing pundits are laying all the current problems in the Middle East at the foot of Obama’s Cairo speech, or as they label it, the “apology tour”. I’d say that the gamble was worth a shot, as Obama with his muslim middle name is about the closest thing to “one of them” as they will ever see in the Oval office.
      What president has a better track record? Nixon and the oil embargo? Carter and the hostage crisis? Reagan and the dead marines in Beirut? Bush 41 and the war that kicked the Iraqis out of Kuwait but left Saddam in power and let him use his helicopter gunships to raze any opposition? Clinton bombing the aspirin factory and failing to shoot Bin Laden out of the sky?? After eight years of Bush 43, the roadmap to peace went nowhere. His two wars put a democratic government in Baghdad, but as they become free of American influence, will their friendship last? Everyone knows that the Taliban will return to Kabul within a year of our departure, but we continue to lose blood and treasure to save face.
      Is there any rational answer to the muslim question? There is no middle in mideast politics. Those moderates that do exist are silenced by the mobs and mullahs. It may be that we are headed for that ultimate confrontation with Islam, as the right says, but we will give them every opportunity to act like human beings. In the long run, it’s really up to them to change, not us.

      • Steve Frisch says:

        I could not agree more. No President has a better or worse track record. It is up to them to change, not us. But Bob, I think you clearly laid out the challenge here: there is no solution save protect American interests and citizens, work the edges to push our interests, and wait out the Islamic change. If we intervene we are at war, a set of wars we have proven in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iraq again, have no real outcome. If we walk away the crazies take over, at least for a while. The only option is containment of the threat. But that means we are stuck as the policemen of the ME. Frankly, as far as policy options are concerned, there is not a dimes worth of difference between Romney and Obama.

        • rl crabb says:

          We are quickly running out of cards to play in this game. The Israelis will determine our future course, like it or not. Who can blame them? Say you get into a squabble with your neighbor, and then notice he is erecting a cannon in his backyard pointing at your house. You call the cops, but they say there’s nothing they can do unless he actually fires the thing. Are you going to sit there and wait for that to happen?

          We may not start the war, but like the cops we will be forced to respond when it gets ugly.

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