Syria spins out of control

As the U.N. Security Council meets today to discuss how to halt Syria's descent into civil war, the available statistics show a country more violent than ever -- and increasingly defined by armed conflict.

In mid-November, I charted the rising bloodshed in Syria and found that the country was on pace for its deadliest month yet. Since then, the United Nations has admitted that it can no longer keep track of the country's death. However, the Violations Documenting Center in Syria (VDC), which is affiliated with local activist groups, has continued to keep track of the body count -- and the picture isn't pretty.

The past three months have easily been Syria's bloodiest, resulting in 3,029 deaths. By way of comparison, roughly 3,100 people were killed during the first six months of the revolt -- meaning that violence in the country has doubled since then. And it's only getting worse: 829 Syrians were killed in November, 1,049 were killed in December, and 1,151 were killed in January.

The statistics also bear out the view that the revolt increasingly resembles a guerilla war. According to the VDC's statistics, 312 soldiers were killed in January -- 27 percent of the total death toll, the highest proportion during the entire conflict. By contrast, in December, military members only accounted for 18 percent of the deaths. It is unclear whether the VDC counts the deaths of defected Syrian soldiers as civilian or military, so the actual percentage of combatants killed in Syria could be even higher.

This February also marks the 30th anniversary of the Hama Massacre, when President Hafez al-Assad initiated a brutal crackdown in the western Syrian city in order to put down a rebellion. Since then, Syrians, historians and policymakers have wondered how a regime could be allowed to virtually destroy a city while the international community sat and watched.

The low-end casualty estimates for Hama stand at around 7,000 people. According to the VDC, a total of 7,054 Syrians have been killed in the past year. Three decades later, it seems, we have our answer.



In honor of Saul Alinsky day, Hillary Clinton's dark Alinskyite past

Happy Saul Alinsky Day everyone! The famed community organizer and writer would be 103 today and his legacy is still with us ... in the rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates.

Newt Gingrich, in particular, has probably done more to popularize the Rules for Radicals author in the last couple of months than Alinsky's own supporters have in the 40 years since he died.  Gingrich has summed up his own campaign as "American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky." (Some commentators have pointed out that of all the candidates in the race, Gingrich's own establishment-baiting tactics may actually be the most Alinskyite.)

But Obama isn't the first Democrat to be hit with the Alinskyite charge. In fact, the "Alinskyite" charge was basically invented to attack his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, while she was first lady -- a charge that centered around her 1969 Wellesley College thesis on Alinsky. It didn't really help that in 1993, under pressure from the White House, Wellesley adopted a rule under which "The senior thesis of every Wellesley alumna is available in the college archives for anyone to read -- except for those written by either a "president or first lady of the United States," a rule that in Wellesley's 140-year history would only apply to one person. As's Bill Dedman wrote in 2007, the secrecy turned the thesis into something of a Holy Grail for Clinton's critics:

David Brock, in his 1996 biography, "The Seduction of Hillary Rodham," called her "Alinsky's daughter."

Barbara Olson, the conservative lawyer and commentator, used an Alinsky quote to open every chapter of her 1999 book, "Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton." Olson, who died in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, had charged in her book that the thesis was locked away because Clinton "does not want the American people to know the extent to which she internalized and assimilated the beliefs and methods of Saul Alinsky."

Bill O'Reilly waved a few pages on Fox TV in 2003, chiding Wellesley for hiding Clinton's analysis of a "far left" activist.

Peggy Noonan, the former Reagan speechwriter writing in The Wall Street Journal in 2005, decried the continued suppression of "the Rosetta Stone of Hillary studies."

These days, Clinton's Alinsky thesis is available online. While it may not quite be consistent with the middle-of-the-road Democratic policies Clinton went on to adopt, it's bound to be a bit disappointing for anyone for evidence of Clinton's subversive views. As Dedman writes, while Clinton admired Alinsky for putting progressive principals into practice:

In the end, she judged that Alinsky's “power/conflict model is rendered inapplicable by existing social conflicts” — overriding national issues such as racial tension and segregation. Alinsky had no success in forming an effective national movement, she said, referring dismissively to “the anachronistic nature of small autonomous conflict.”

Clinton turned down a job offer from Alinsky after college, deciding instead to go to law school. 

Student writings, including Gingrich's, are useful for tracing a politician's intellectual development. Trying to cover up the thesis was, in retrospect, an absurdly self-defeating move by the Clintons. But it's not exactly the Rosetta Stone of anything.

On the other hand, all the hype is doing wonders for Alinsky's sales. Rules for Radicals, written in 1971 is now at #11 on Amazon's politics bestsellers list, two spots ahead of longtime Alinsky interpreter Glenn Beck's new book. (For what it's worth, some Tea Party activists have also taken inspiration from Alinsky's organizing tactics.)

If a new generation of American college students soon find themselves in thrall to Alinsky's ideas, just as Obama and Clinton were generations before, Newt Gingrich probably deserves the lion's share of the credit.