Saturday, May 22, 2004

Once again, it's easier to talk 

Progress in Middle East diplomacy - sort of:

"Arab leaders meeting in Tunisia Saturday for a summit on political reform and the Arab-Israeli conflict are expected to adopt a resolution condemning attacks against both Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

"If the resolution is passed, it will be the first formal condemnation of Palestinian suicide attacks against Israelis in the Arab world."
But there's a catch:

"In exchange for a declaration condemning attacks on Israelis, Washington will soften its approach to much-needed reform in the Arab world."
So let me get this straight: the Arab League will make a correct moral judgment but only if we don't require them to follow it up with a bit more democracy and freedom for their own people.

I guess, at least it's a start, although I can't help but to think that if it's really a choice between the two, in the longer term it would be better if the Arab states rather chose political and economic reform. With reform will eventually come a realisation that terrorism is wrong. I'm not sure whether pious (but possibly empty) political pronouncements will necessarily lead to political reform.

Meanwhile, BBC reports on the internal quarrels that have marred the preparations for the summit:

"[The Arab League summit] was to be held eight weeks ago, but Tunisia shocked its Arab guests by calling it off at the last minute. An official statement said that some countries were obstructing Tunisia's proposals for Arab political reform, and refusing to allow the word 'democracy' to be mentioned in the final statement. Some analysts say that was a criticism of the conservative Saudis."
Which might be one reason why eight out of 22 members aren't even turning up, including all the gulf states bar Qatar.


Why I’m not an isolationist 

George W Bush has been described as Wilsonian (I think it’s meant to be an insult for a Republican) for his desire to spread democracy and liberal order around the world; neo-conservatives are routinely accused of radicalism. Critics variously advise us to leave others alone, mind our own business, and concentrate on our own patch. Internationalism is deemed respectable only if it’s of a multilateral variety. People who normally can’t be accused of championing isolationists wish that President Bush was.

I don’t know how our latest adventure in the Middle East will end. It might be unrealistic, or culturally insensitive, or even imperialistic to try to impose on other cultures and other peoples democracy, freedoms, human rights, open society and open markets, but I, for one, am glad that we’re trying.

There is an old Polish motto that says “For your freedom and ours.” Many who live in advanced Western societies take their security and prosperity for granted. Poles, who’ve experienced so little of either over the past two centuries, are much more aware of how precious and precarious freedom is. They also understand that freedom is indivisible; that increasing it even in the remotest corner of the world enriches the whole of humanity. And so, for the past 250 years, Polish émigrés and exiles have been involved in many a struggle for independence and liberty around the world – fighting for “your freedom” if they weren’t always able to fight for theirs.

Hence, my American readers might be familiar with the Pulaski Day, named after a Polish general who had died in the American War of Independence. The history buffs among you might even be aware that the Texan artillery at Alamo was in the hands of Polish gunners, exiles from the failed Polish uprising of 1831. The Australian readers might be aware of the fact that Australia’s highest peak, Mt Kosciusko, is named after a general and a freedom-fighter both in his native Poland and in the United States. And the American, British and Australian veterans of World War Two will remember fighting alongside Poles at Narvik, Tobruk, Monte Cassino, Arnhem, on the North Atlantic and in the Battle of Britain.

The point I’m making is this – we in the West all too often take freedom for granted, because we’ve never lived without it. That complacency also creates a temptation to discount the value of freedom for others; to try to spread it around is too hard, too costly, and ultimately not our business.

In the end, however, the costs of lack of freedom are much higher than the costs of promoting it. Yes, it’s hard, it’s expensive – in terms of both blood and resources, it’s very often a thankless task (as the Coalition is discovering in Iraq), and in short term the results are often disappointing. Mistakes are made, good intentions are led astray, human nature intervenes and stuffs things up. But – there’s more freedom in the world today than there’s been at any stage in the past – and it’s very difficult to argue that the world is worse off for it. Nor indeed that the American War of Independence or the Civil War, or World War Two, or the Cold War were not worth fighting for. Retreating into own private shell is not the answer – however easy, or comforting it may be to wash one’s hands of the world’s troubles and say f*** it. That’s why I’m thankful for all those who today continue to fight for “your freedom and ours.”


My 2 cents about 15 seconds 

A light day for blogging today - wife is studying for her MBA and has requisitioned the home computer. Besides, it's weekend, folks; you should be having fun outdoors instead of sitting in front of your PC reading this blog (although I'm happy that you are).

Earlier in the week I wrote about the sense of perspective and context as the antidote to political pessimism that seems to descend upon the right with every setback or unfavourable turn of events. For the purposes of our current situation this means we should remember that both Iraq and the war on terror are only minor chapters in a very long struggle against the enemies of freedom - if we bear that in mind, we won't get so easily depressed and think that the prisoner abuse scandal or the strategic failures in Fallujah are the end of the world. The war will go on.

This morning I read this quote from General John Abizaid (unfortunately it's only available online for "Time" subscribers). Abizaid was talking about patience as the tool that our enemies use: "We think in terms of sound bites of 15 seconds. They think in terms of hundreds of years."

It's because we are citizens of dynamic, democratic societies that our attention span has dramatically shrunk and we increasingly live in an eternal present, unanchored in the past and unencumbered by the considerations of the future. It's because many of our enemies live in traditional, static, often deeply religious societies, that they haven't lost the ability to see their lives and actions as only a small link in a chain that forever stretches back into the past and forward into the future. Bin Laden is still avenging the Crusades and the Spanish Reconquista; meanwhile the West often fights in the latest news cycle, or if we're lucky, electoral cycle.

Yet to fight this war well we have no choice but to match the enemy's perspective. Not by slowing down our own lives, but by regaining the ability to think long term and to see the big picture, no matter how fast we actually choose to live.

Meanwhile, the media continues their obsession with the prisoner abuse scandal, showing that you can keep stretching that 15 seconds for as long as you want if it suits your biases. Weeks into the whole controversy, Google news still lists 1560 news stories on the topic published in the last 24 hours. The next most popular "quagmire" - Chalabi - generated 747 stories.

While you're at it, don't forget to scroll down a bit and share with the rest of us your ideas in our competition "Remake the Middle East." Most have failed in the past, but you might have a solution to the region's many problems (if you don't feel like scrolling down, here's direct link).


Friday, May 21, 2004

Is that why Chalabi is getting screwed? 

The conspiracy theories and counter-theories are already starting:

"American troops and Iraqi police yesterday raided the home and offices of Ahmad Chalabi, once Washington's favourite son, who accused the US of trying to sideline him and cover up a United Nations bribery scandal...

"Mr Chalabi's allies claimed a key motive was to stop him revealing more details of the scandal over the UN's oil-for-food programme...

"Mr Chalabi has seized volumes of Saddam-era documents, but it was not clear whether those were taken.

"Mr Chalabi's friends claimed that Washington was trying to shield the UN from further scandal because it desperately needed the world body's help to devise an 'exit strategy' from Iraq."
I guess we might know more over the next few days. One thing is certain - Chalabi has a lot of enemies, ranging from the left generally, which sees him as a crook and an American stooge, through the UN's man in Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi, all the way to the US State Department and the CIA. You might recall the allegations aired a few weeks ago that Chalabi was leaking sensitive information to Iran. With hindsight it might have been considered a sign that something was up. Now we know.


Doonesburying the dead 

The cartoonist Garry Trudeau is back in the news:

"The names of more than 700 American service members killed in Iraq will appear in a 'Doonesbury' comic strip during the Memorial Day weekend.

"The comic will list chronologically the names of 702 soldiers killed through April 23, said Lee Salem, editor of the Kansas City-based Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes the strip. The names were set in 6-point type to fit in the six panels for publication on Sunday, May 30.

" 'The intent is to recognize those who died,' Salem said."
Seeing that Trudeau’s got at the very least an ambiguous attitude towards the conflict in Iraq, the decision to "recognise" those who died by merely cramming all their names into few comic frames might smack of cynicism. As Mark Steyn recently wrote on the occasion of Ted Koppel’s attempt at "recognising" the fallen:

"Is reminding people of the 'cost of war' really the most important thing a journalist can do? Costs don't exist in a vacuum, but relative to their benefits… [T]he cost of war is a tragedy for the families of the American, British and other coalition forces who've died in the last year. But we owe it to the dead, always, every day, to measure their sacrifice against the mission, its aims, its successes, its setbacks. And, if the cause is still just, then you honor the fallen by pressing on to victory -- and then reading the roll call of the dead."
Otherwise, an unkind soul might suggest a mere listing of the names has all the moral impact of White Pages. Or worse, White Pages with a political agenda.


Your chance to fix the Middle East 

Another small milestone in the world of Chrenk - celebrating 40,000 visits since the blog began on 31 March this year. It's been a great eight weeks. Thank you all for your visits, support, and feedback. For all the recent arrivals, here's a link to a post with a bit more about my background.

To celebrate, a small competition for the readers:


Let's face it - the British and French imperialists have stuffed up the job after the First World War, and most political developments in the region since then have largely served to make the situation even worse.

To our numerous enemies we are already neo-conservative neo-imperialist Orientalist crusaders who want to impose their radical vision on the Middle East and remake the region in our own image. So why not actually pretend for a minute we're God (or a god), and have a think about what to do to make the Orient a bit less of a mess than it is now (or better still, to actually make it work for its long-suffering residents). Think regime changes, think shifting borders, think whatever you want to think. It doesn't have to be realistic, after all, we're not the policy makers. Post your ideas in the comments or email them to me directly. In due course I'll publish the best entries. Who knows, I might even forward them to Paul Wolfowitz.

Just to kick off the discussion, I remembered this old post by Virginia Postrel:

"How about we tell the Palestinians they can have Saudi Arabia if they'll move and leave the Israelis alone? The Palestinians are hard working and entrepreneurial, unlike the Saudis, so they might actually make something of the opportunity afforded by all that oil. And, while their leaders are thugs, it's unlikely they'd be any worse in the terrorism, oppression, and fundamentalism departments. The Palestinians aren't going to get Jerusalem. Maybe they'd settle for Mecca and Medina."
Hey, I said it doesn't have to be realistic. I have some ideas of my own, but for the moment let's just say that the Palestinians will have to end up with some sort of a state of their own, and that the Kurds deserve at least a great deal of autonomy.


When grief clouds judgment 

It's a difficult thing to pick on a grieving person and point out that they are delusional, but sometimes it has to be done. Michael Berg, the father of the beheaded American hostage, Nick Berg, is experiencing a rare new psychological condition: the post-mortem Stockholm Syndrome by proxy. He speaks out on why he blames George Bush more for his son's death than he blames the actual killers:

"I am sure, knowing my son, that somewhere during their association with him these men became aware of what an extraordinary man my son was. I take comfort that when they did the awful thing they did, they weren't quite as in to it as they might have been. I am sure that they came to admire him.

"I am sure that the one who wielded the knife felt Nick's breath on his hand and knew that he had a real human being there. I am sure that the others looked into my son's eyes and got at least a glimmer of what the rest of the world sees. And I am sure that these murderers, for just a brief moment, did not like what they were doing."
This is a sorry stuff. I don't have any better idea than Michael Berg what his son's assassins saw and felt, and what went inside their heads as they held Nick down and slowly cut his head off with a knife, but I'm willing to guess that it wasn't warm and fuzzy feelings about our common humanity. More like, "Die, you American swine." I hope that one day we'll capture al-Zarqawi, and we'll be able to ask him about it. And I'm willing to bet Michael Berg that I'm right.

Michael Berg goes on:

"George Bush never looked into my son's eyes. George Bush doesn't know my son, and he is the worse for it. George Bush, though a father himself, cannot feel my pain, or that of my family, or of the world that grieves for Nick, because he is a policymaker, and he doesn't have to bear the consequences of his acts...

"Even more than those murderers who took my son's life, I can't stand those who sit and make policies to end lives and break the lives of the still living."
And yes, it gets even worse after that. Read the whole thing.

I didn't know Nick Berg, and most probably neither did anyone else who's reading this blog, so no, I can't grieve for him the way his father, family and friends do. But I can say for certain that naively exculpating Nick's murderers does nothing for his memory.


"Nuanced" back in 1970 

It seems that John Kerry has a long and consistent history of greater consultation with allies and international community:

"The 1970 meeting that current Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry conducted with North Vietnamese communists may have violated several U.S. laws, according to an author and researcher who has studied the issue.

"Kerry met with representatives from 'both delegations' of the Vietnamese peace process in Paris in 1970, according to Kerry's own testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971. But Kerry's meetings with the Vietnamese delegations were in direct violation of laws which forbade private citizens from negotiating with foreign powers, according to researcher and author Jerry Corsi, who began studying the anti-war movement in the early 1970s."
At least this once Kerry's consistent, which is good news for Kerry and bad news for the United States.


The best of the friends of Chrenk 

If you're looking for more interesting stuff to read on this fine, fine Friday, check out these posts:

- the ever-dependable Tim Blair on the "ugly American" Michael Moore. Now, why can't Tim, Mark Steyn and P. J. O'Rourke get into movie-making business? And speaking of Moore, doesn't he look lovely? (via Slattsnews)

- John Kennett, from deep within the Demilitarised Zone, writes about the schizophrenic official reaction in South Korea to redeployment of some American troops to Iraq. And about a North Korean on-line shopping mall. What the...?

- Niner Charlie with his reaction to John Kerry's opportunistic protectionism vis-a-vis Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement. Will Kerry end up calling it a "fraudulent free trade agreement"?

- "Sarin Gas Attack? Big Deal. Where's the Nude Photos?" asks Gnu Hunter.

- Andrew Norton on squaring ideological purity with pragmatic politics in Australian context. Squaring a circle?

- Mark from Colorado continues to pick the most interesting recent perspectives on world events.

- You've heard that Yasser Arafat now has his own website. Iowa Hawk gives you a low-down on what Yasser was actually meant to say.

And God knows, Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds hardly need my recommendation.


Thursday, May 20, 2004

Saving Private Hanks 

At Cannes, Tom Hanks offers a sort of unbiased assessment of the current geo-political situation:

"We're in an extremely tough time, not only in the United States, but around the world. It's a very confusing time. We're up against a type of philosophy that we don't quite understand.

"This is not as it was in World War II. I think then we had a pretty good idea of twin evil empires that were bent on world domination. And that required a different sensitivity in order to go out and volunteer and say, 'We're gonna stop this.'

"We are in a sort of grey area now that defies logic and defies common sense more often than not. But at the same time, on an individual basis, man by man, woman by woman, we have to just welcome (soldiers) home and say thank you for coming back. We thank you for your sacrifice, and God bless you."
As the newspaper reports, "Silence followed the statement." "Wow, that brought the room down," Hanks commented. The uncharitable explanation is that the attendees expected another Michael Moore-style diatribe against America and were stunned into silence by Hanks' unfashionable views. The more charitable explanation is that they simply didn't understand what the heck he was on about. Still, kudos to Hanks for not taking the popular option and shitting on his country for the pleasure of his overseas audience.


John Howard's father a fascist - now everything's clear 

One for Australian political junkies. Lyndon La Rouche's Down Under offshot, Citizens Electoral Council of Australia, has just breathlessly announced that

"At press conferences all over the nation on May 19, Citizens Electoral Council spokesmen released the shocking evidence indicating that Prime Minister John Howard's father had been a member of the 1930s fascist New Guard in Sydney, according to members of his own family, buttressed by evidence unearthed by CEC researchers."
That would of course explain John Howard's fascist policies, such as his staunch support for President Bush.

But what of the shocking evidence? The press release doesn't provide any for those who haven't had the privilege of attending "press conferences all over the nation." The story is hardly news though; labour historian Andrew Moore has already tried to pin that one on the Howard family, but as he admits, without success.

Still, La Roucheites say so, so it must be true.


Hit me baby one more time - I'm Jewish 

It's official: Britney Spears is now a part of the Zionist cospiracy. Arabic journal "Albawaba" wanders "Has Britney gone Jewish???" pondering on the news reports that Miss Spears has taken to the latest New Age fad among the entertainment set, the Kabalah study. There's also the obligatory backhander at the decadent West:

"It is an interesting trend that many successful figures as well as ordinary people have decided to turn to different religions and mystical teachings in order to find some 'pseudo-meaning' in their lives.

"They usually embrace these foreign beliefs without really understanding the true meaning and essence encompassing them. Undoubtedly, this phenomenon is yet another indication of the glitziness, superficiality and shallowness, which characterizes American society, especially in the modern and post-modern era."
I don't know whether Britney's really into Kabalah (just as I'm not sure how much the current Kabalah craze has got to do with genuine Jewish mysticism), but this should make the Fallujah fighters all the more reluctant to drink Pepsi.


Let the blame games begin 

So New York has made it to the shortlist of cities to stage the 2012 Olympic Games, alongside Paris, London, Madrid and Moscow.

"But Paris emerged as the front-runner," reports "New York Times." What a surprise. But I'm sure that the final decision will not be based on petty anti-American politics, but "on an evaluation of 11 technical criteria that included accommodations, infrastructure, security and transportation."

"New York's ranking reflected concerns about its transportation system, the structure of its security force, the plans for the athletes' village and the source of financing. A member of the I.O.C. executive board also expressed concern about whether construction of the proposed $5.5 billion stadium and convention center redevelopment project on Manhattan's West Side will have begun before the vote in July 2005."
And what if it doesn't begin full seven years before the start of the Olympics? Sporting venues in Athens aren't ready yet only weeks before the games are set to start. Are we seeing the beginnings of a desperate search for excuses why not to give it to New York?


No rest for the holy warrior 

Remember Lieutenant General Boykin - the one that the left had so much fun with some months ago when he proclaimed at a Christian group meeting that "God is 'bigger' than Allah, who is a false 'idol', and... the war on terrorism is a fight with Satan"?

Well, now thanks to Sydney Blumenthal (remember Sydney Blumenthal - the one who had spent so much time defending Bill Clinton from the vast right wing conspiracy? (remember Bill Clinton - the one... Sorry back to the story)), who popped up his head in London "Guardian", we know that the prisoner abuse in Iraq can be linked directly to the nefarious influence of the holy warrior himself:

"[He] was at the heart of a secret operation to "Gitmoize" (Guantanamo is known in the US as Gitmo) the Abu Ghraib prison. He had flown to Guantanamo, where he met Major General Geoffrey Miller, in charge of Camp X-Ray. Boykin ordered Miller to fly to Iraq and extend X-Ray methods to the prison system there, on Rumsfeld's orders."
I always knew it was those damned Christians. Blumentahl continues:

"There can be little doubt that [Boykin] envisages the global war on terror as a crusade. With the Geneva conventions apparently suspended, international law is supplanted by biblical law."
Which says what? "Love thy enemy?..." It really says something (but sadly nothing new) that a respected mainstream publication automatically and unquestioningly assumes that the application of "biblical law" to real life situations will result in carnage, torture and mayhem.* I know, I know, there are some abhorrent examples of what happens to defeated peoples in the Old Testament, but that doesn't affect my argument about the media making blank (negative) assumptions. Just about everyone in the mainstream media would argue until they're blue in the face that Islam is a religion of peace that is occasionally perverted and misused by some extremists - why not at least give the same courtesy to Christianity?

When the Boykin-Abu Ghraib story broke a few days ago, some predictable reactions resulted:

"Congressional aides and Arab-American and Muslim groups said any involvement by Lt Gen Boykin could spark new concern among Arabs and Muslims overseas the US war on terrorism is in fact a war on Islam.

" 'This will be taken as proof that what happened at Abu Ghraib (prison) is evidence of a broader culture of dehumanising Arabs and Muslims, based on the American understanding of the innate superiority of Christendom,' said Chris Toensing, editor of Middle East Report, a US-based quarterly magazine."
Still waiting for the news story:

"Congressional aides and Arab-American and Muslim groups said any involvement by Osama bin Laden could spark new concern among Arabs and Muslims overseas that the war of terror against the US policies in the Middle East is in fact a war on Christianity."
* It might shock Blumenthal to discover that international law has got its origins in the work of some very Christian philosphers and legal scholars.


Mr Never Happy 

We could have seen it coming:

"The [Australian] Opposition Leader, Mark Latham, has blamed the sudden sharp increase in petrol prices on the Howard Government's decision to go to war in Iraq.

" 'If the Government hadn't gone into a war in Iraq then of course we might not have the situation today of the very high petrol prices,' the Labor leader said."
Not happy when the oil prices are low (because of all that "blood for oil" stuff), not happy when the oil prices are high. There's just no way of making the left happy. But don't they actually want the high oil prices so it can lessen the Western economies' over-reliance on greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuels?


An open letter to my readers 

Welcome to all the new and returning visitors. Hope you'll have good time browsing through the blog. And I hope you'll keep coming back for more "chrenkin' off".

I wanted to make this point for quite some time, but now with so many of you coming to visit, it's probably the opportune time. The message to my freedom-loving friends around the world is: don't get discouraged.

We live in fast times, whether we want it or not we're slaves to the news cycle, at every turn we get bombarded with information and opinion. We almost participate in the events taking place around us and often we get so caught up in them that the ups become really exhilarating and the downs really depressing. The falling statue of Saddam generates euphoria and an expectation of a quick and happy resolution; the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib sends us into depression and defeatist resignation.

I've written on my blog on numerous occasions before about the absolute need to maintain the perspective and remember the context. And this is the most important example.

The struggle between friends and foes of liberty has in many ways been going on for thousands of years. The political struggle between what we can term as the right and the left is more than two centuries old. The century we have said goodbye to not so long ago was one big bloody struggle between the open, democratic, free societies and their numerous enemies.

So every time you feel down because the resistance in Fallujah is proving to be stronger than we thought, or another photo of a prisoner on a leash becomes a propaganda coup for our foes, do take a minute to come up to the surface and take a few breaths of air. This struggle has gone on for generations before and will continue for many more, perhaps as long as human beings will inhabit this world. There have been many victories and many defeats, many triumphs and retreats, but the war goes on. And if you're still feeling depressed and ready to throw in the towel, do remember how in 1940 Great Britain was the last one left standing, and only barely, on the continent partitioned between two seemingly invincible dictators. Or how in the late 1970s the United States could only count on a dozen friendly votes at the United Nations.

I don't know how the situation will unfold in Iraq and in the Middle East. It might get better or it might get worse, but one way or another it won't be the end. So remember the big picture and don't get too distracted by what only tomorrow will become history's footnotes.


Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The promotion that Pepsi doesn't need 

Product placement gone horribly wrong. Joshua Hammer of "Newsweek" reports on his eight-hour abduction in Fallujah by the anti-American insurgents:

"Fidgeting with a pistol as he sits on a Persian carpet, a young mujahed named Mohammed describes his life as a member of the armed resistance. 'I fought for four straight days without sleep,' he says, recalling the fierce battle with U.S. Marines in Fallujah early last month. 'I was living on bread and Pepsi'."
Couldn't Mohammed find something more wholesome and anti-American to sustain him during his jihad against the occupying infidels? And what will Britney Spears think of being upstaged as the softdrink's chief endorser? And shouldn't Pepsi now change its slogan from "The Choice of a New Generation" to KFC's "Resistance is Useless"? Questions, questions...


KGB: the sequel 

An interesting symposium chaired by Jamie Glazov of FrontPage magazine on "KGB Resurrection". Participating: Ion Mihai Pacepa, the former Romanian spy chief and the most senior intelligence defector to the West (as it happens, I'm reading his memoirs "Red Horizons" right now); James Woolsey, the former director of the CIA; and Vladimir Bukovsky, the famous Soviet-era dissident.

I have to say that my only personal brush with communist state security involved a fat cop telling me and my primary school friends to take our snowball fight somewhere else (we were about 50 yards away from the Communist Party HQ in Krakow and our behaviour was obviously deemed a threat to the state). The Soviet consulate was only another 100 yards in the opposite direction, and during the martial law (1981-3), the nearby tourist hostel had been taken over by the riot police and paramilitary security units as their base of operations in Krakow. So you can say I've had a pretty safe and secure walk to school every day (the school - by the way - was very imaginatively named, to the never-ending amusement of my Australian friends, Primary School Number 1. And no, Pol "Brother Number One" Pot was not an alumni).


Good news from Iraq - bet you didn't know there was any? 

(Update: A very warm thank you to Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds for their support and publicity (and by the looks of it, many many others))

(Update II: You can now find the second installment of "Good news from Iraq" here)

Prisoner abuse, Shia uprising, prisoner abuse, Fallujah, prisoner abuse, lost heart and minds, prisoner abuse... Oh, did I mention prisoner abuse?

The news from Iraq has been consistently bad for two month now, with one "quagmire" after another cheering up the media, the left and the "Arab street", and depressing the hell out of most conservatives.

So, for a change, here's some good news from Iraq that you might have missed (I don't know how that could have happened):

DEMOCRACY TAKES ROOT: Democracy is spreading - from the ground up, as it should: "In the province of Dhi Qar, about 230 miles southeast of Baghdad and a backwater even by Iraq's standards, residents voting as families will have elected city councils in 16 of the 20 biggest cities by next month."

And in Baghdad, "American authorities created nine district councils... with representatives sent by 88 neighborhood advisory councils. The district councils, in turn, sent representatives to the Baghdad City Advisory Council to work with the American administration." "Every day the evidence is a little stronger that the council members understand the benefits of this system, and we even see signs out in the community of it catching on."

Meanwhile, a Western PR firm, with Arab partners, tackles the world's toughest ad campaign - selling democracy to Iraqis accustomed to life under a dictatorship.

HEALTHIER, WEALTHIER AND WISER: "[M]y salary was about 17 US$ before the war. Shortly after the war it was raised to 120 US$. Three months after that, they made it 150 US$. Two months later it became 200$... [and] from the next month... [it] will be around 300 US$" - read the whole extensive piece on salaries, unemployment, and the standard of living. It makes a fascinating living.

And there's also good news for retired government employees, who are finally getting decent pensions. And the 80,000 needy families, who are being taken care of by the Iraqi Minister of Labour and Public Affairs (with 300,000 more by the year's end). According to the Minister, Sami Azara Al Majoon: "We have rehabilitated the orphanages, the centres for the handicapped and special needs institutions in Iraq, as well as the institutions for the deaf and blind. Work is on to accommodate all the homeless and orphaned children and ensure the needs of the handicapped. In addition, we have opened 28 offices for the ministry in different parts of the country to accept applications of Iraqi citizens in search of employment and job training."

Meanwhile, on the education front, "more than five million Iraqi students are back in school and more than 51 million new Ba'ath-free textbooks are in circulation." And Iraqi universities are experiencing a brain drain in reverse, as many of the thousands of academics forced into exile under Saddam are coming back to teach the next generation of students.

And in health, "some 100,000 healthcare professionals working in 240 re-opened hospitals and 1,200 clinics." The health system has to be rebuilt almost from scratch: "[it] was 'already badly run down' due to previous wars, sanctions, drastically reduced spending - some estimates suggest the Iraqi health budget was cut by 90 per cent during the 1990s - as well as an inequitable health treatment policy."

SPIRITS REVIVE: "In a stunning upset victory, the Iraq national football team defeated Saudi Arabia tonight 3 to 1 to earn a trip to the 2004 Olympic Summer games in Athens." It's the first time in Iraq's history that Iraqi football team will compete in the Olympics. Better still, the soccer stadium in Baghdad won't be used by Saddam anymore as an outdoor torture chamber, and Iraqi soccer player know that if they fail in the future they won't be tortured by Uday Hussein.

Other areas of life previously suppressed are experiencing cultural revival - like traditional Kurdish music. "Before, Arab music was the most popular, but now even the latest albums aren't selling... Many more people are buying Kurdish music," says Niyaz Zangana, who runs the popular Zang record store in Arbil.

Not just Kurds, but also Marsh Arabs, whose homeland was destroyed by Saddam as collective punishment for rebellion, are reviving. With the marshes being reflooded and ecosystem restored, the ancient culture is returning to the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

THE RECONSTRUCTION: "Iraqi crude oil sales since last year's U.S.-led invasion hit more than $9 billion... The Coalition Provisional Authority had deposited a total of $9.28 billion in its Development Fund for Iraq."

"Some 20,000 contractors are doing business in the country with relatively few security problems... Most are sharing in the $18.4 billion that has been allocated by the U.S. government to rebuild roads, public utilities, schools, housing and other parts of the Iraq economy."

John Roberts, a contracting officer with the Army Corps of Engineers, says: "Saddam Hussein used power as a reward and punishment... Power's important to us (Americans) because we see power as relating to the people." While the Army Corps of Engineers has been mostly restoring oil infrastructure, it is also "creating and improving ports, airports, roads, bridges, schools and health clinics. The corps has replaced more than 700 electrical towers throughout Iraq, Roberts said. The goal is to restore 6,000 megawatts to the national grid by June 1. About 4,500 megawatts are currently on the national grid."

In fact, overall "about 2,200 different [reconstruction] projects worth around US$2.5 billion were under way, with 18,000 already completed. Targets had been met with oil production, which was back to 2.3 million barrels a day, clean drinking water and power."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce welcomes the establishment of an American Chamber of Commerce in Iraq -- "AmCham for short."

And while the big guys work on the big stuff, a lot of private charity work is going on under the radar, be it donations of toys for Iraqi children, helping with supplies and equipment for Iraqi schools, or this latest appeal: "In response to a request from the U.S. 1st Marine Division, Spirit of America donated 10,000 school supply kits, 3 tons of medical supplies and 2 tons of Frisbees printed with 'Friendship' in English and Arabic. These items will be given to Iraqis by the Marines as gifts of friendship from the American people."

THE SECURITY SITUATION: Fallujah is revolting and al-Sadr is stirring trouble in the Shia south, but the Kurd-controlled areas are going so well that you never hear anything about them: "American soldiers based here don't have to call in air strikes against foreign fighters or exchange gunfire with Baathist loyalists. Nor do they live in mortal fear of deadly IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, along the roadsides. In fact, says one soldier who travels in this area, 'I always see the thumbs up, and little kids offer us candies'."

Speaking of Fallujah, the US-appointed retired major-general, Mohammed Abdul-Latif, seems to be having a calming effect on the locals: "We can make [the US] use their rifles against us or we can make them build our country, it's your choice," he has told "a gathering of more than 40 sheikhs, city council members and imams in an eastern Fallujah suburb... As he spoke, many sheikhs nodded in approval and listened with reverence. Later, they clasped his hands and patted him on the back."

Elsewhere, "Accused of being collaborators with American occupation forces, Iraqi policemen, guards, and soldiers have endured ridicule, threats, and targeted violence that have left hundreds dead over the past year. But there are signs that hard-nosed attitudes toward the country's embattled, US-trained security forces are beginning to soften."

THE REAL PRISONER ABUSE: The story of nine Iraqis sent to Abu Ghraib prison on flimsy charges, tortured, mutilated and filmed for amusement. By Saddam Hussein. The nine men in question had their hands chopped off; now Americans are giving them new ones.

THE MIDDLE EASTERN DOMINOES: "We went to the Arab countries and said, 'Look, you need to come together with a blueprint for Arab reform. If you do not articulate such a blueprint, one may be forced upon you.' We in Jordan are in the clear: We have our plans and are not using regional problems as an excuse. We are moving forward, as are some of the other moderate countries. But the rest of you, 'Wake up!' The Middle East is changing. If you don't get that process going, one will be forced on you." - King Abdullah of Jordan in an interview with "Washington Post".

Had enough? Now back to prisoner abuse, al-Sadr, terrorism, prisoner abuse...


Historic agreement signed; Kerry - "no comment" 

One more reason to keep this guy away from the White House:

"Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is refusing to back the US-Australia trade deal.

"As the deal was due to be officially signed overnight, Senator Kerry has opted to avoid any public pronouncements - unwilling to offend the big US unions that oppose the agreement but fearing he would look like a rampant protectionist if he opposed it.

"A spokeswoman for Senator Kerry said yesterday he was 'still reviewing' the agreement."
...and was likely to keep reviewing it until after the election, when one way or another it will be safer to have a clear opinion.

Mr Kerry, why not just have guts to take a position, even if it's a wrong one?

BY THE WAY: Some three weeks ago, with hardly much notice another study of the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement came out, saying that Australia will benefit $6.1 billion a year as a result of the agreement - that's $2.1 more than Australian Government initially forecasted.


Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The weasels and the war on terror, Part 2 

Must be a pretty weasely day today. This just in:

"Military lawyers have advised German elite soldiers in Afghanistan not to take prisoners to avoid having to turn them over to US forces, Der Spiegel magazine reported."
God, this brings back some bad memories of previous German military adventures. But it's not what you think:

"Germany's special "KSK" forces operating in the Hindukush region, when making a capture, carefully check the captives' identities before then releasing them."
Which makes them pretty f***ing useless in the hunt for terrorists, doesn't it?

But why release them if you can instead invite them in:

"Germany remains a potential target for Islamist extremists with over 30,000 radicals resident in the country, a report by Berlin's domestic security agency warned."
How about some special forces patrols in Hamburg instead of Hindukush? Then again, you don't need special forces to "carefully check the captives' identities before then releasing them" - your local law enforcement agencies can do it instead.


Euro work ethic 

It's official:

"The French government yesterday described the 35-hour working week as a financial disaster that was costing the state billions of pounds and promised to reform the system despite fierce union opposition.

"In an interview in yesterday's Le Figaro, the finance minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, said that the 35-hour week had lumbered the state with £10 billion a year in additional social charges and that it had demoralised millions of workers."
Even a 35 hour work week is too long for some, with a new study showing that

"One in four Europeans has fallen asleep in the workplace, with the Irish leading the pack but the Dutch able to stifle their yawns best... The poll showed 24 percent of respondents had fallen asleep either at their desk, in a meeting or in the toilet. Thirty-nine percent said they had not fallen asleep at work, but had to make an effort to stay awake."
Speaking of Nicolas Sarkozy, remember his name: he's a free marketeer and a Thatcher enthusiast (how lonely it must be for him in France) who gained popularity as a no-nonsense law and order Interior Minister, got shafted by Chirac into his current portfolio, and intends to run for President in 2007. Oh, and by some accounts, he might actually be pro-American.


Maureen Dowd raves and prophesises doom 

The ever dependable Maureen Dowd, reprinted in today's "Sydney Morning Herald" thinks that "Troy" offers some important parallels and lessons for the Bush Administration (Dowd of course is not the first one):

"Oblivious of the consequences, the impetuous black sheep of a ruling family starts a war triggered by a personal grudge. The father, a respected veteran of his own wars, suppresses his unease and graciously supports his son, even though it will end up destroying his legacy and the world order he envisioned.

"The ferocious battle in the far-off sands spirals out of control, with many brave soldiers killed, with symbols of divinity damaged, with graphic scenes showing physical abuse of the conquered, and with devastatingly surreptitious guerilla tactics."
Ah, so the Trojans are really the Americans, with King Priam as Bush Sr and Paris as Bush Jr. This might come as a surprise to the Yanks who so far haven't noticed 1000 Arab ships landing on their shores bearing invasion force.

But wait, the parallels continue:

"The Greek warriors question their sovereign's reasons for war, knowing that he has taken an incendiary pretext (Paris's stealing Helen from Sparta) to provide emotional acceleration to his real reasons - to settle old scores and forge an empire through war."
So now it's the Greeks who are the Americans. Well then, "Troy" is truly full of lessons for the Bush Administration: all along we've been really fighting with ourselves. Or something... Whatever. That's the beautiful thing about Dowd's history: one event can provide many different lessons - all contradictory and all together meaningless.

Dowd ends her convoluted lesson by comparing Colin Powell to Cassandra. Methinks it's Dowd who fancies herself as the ignored prophetess who's in the end proved correct by the events. Alas, when Troy fell to Greeks, Cassandra was enslaves and taken by Agamemnon himself as a trophy. She ended up getting her head chopped off by Agamemnon's wife.

Now, let's thank God that Laura Bush is not a violent person.


Going high-tech against terror 

God bless one of the weasels for doing their bit in the war on terror:

"In a bid to end repeated criticisms that the world market in illegal travel documents is awash with fake and stolen Belgian passports, the Belgian Foreign Minister on Monday unveiled a brand new passport that he insisted was almost impossible to copy."
Unfortunately the problem with Belgian passports is not so much that they are easy to forge but that they are so easy to steal. Like 19,000 blank passports stolen in 2001, providing al Quaeda with an almost limitless supply of legit travel documents.

The story goes on to say that the new and improved passports will include a special microchip containing biometric information about the document-holder:

"Biometric data can include iris scans, fingerprints and details about the passport holder's face. According to the Foreign Ministry, the biometric chips will make the passports almost impossible to forge, as every document will be uniquely matched to its owner."
Unfortunately, how many countries in the world have the necessary technology at their entry points to "read" the biometric information? Improving security at the Foreign Ministry might have been a better first step in trying to fix the problem.


The label confusion 

Bill Kauffman offers a brave new analysis of the American political spectrum in "The Australian":

"Bush stands at antipodes from the best traditions of American conservatism. So does Kerry, whose differences with Bush on foreign policy are so minor as to be detectable only by, perhaps, the Hubble Space Telescope. In the 2004 presidential race, Nader is the conservative candidate, if by conservative we mean a defender of human-scale communities, traditional liberties and a prudential and peaceful foreign policy.

"Bush is the candidate of the military-industrial complex, Kerry is the choice of Hollywood, and both are raising millions on Wall Street. Nader, by contrast, speaks for Main Street USA."
The "best traditions of American conservatism" that according to Kauffman are now embodied in Nader's candidacy are actually called "populism", a small-town ideology which has traditionally used soft-right rhetoric to defend soft-left objectives. Kauffman would also be well advised to distinguish "conservatism" as an ideology from "conservatism" as a temperament or inclination.

And judging by the polling, Nader doesn't represent Main Street, USA, so much as a Minor Lane, USA.


Monday, May 17, 2004

Shock horror - how media doesn't see the forest for the Iraqi trees 

A few days ago I tried to estimate how much of the Iraqi prisoner abuse is indeed Iraq-specific, and how much of it is a general criminal justice problem common to many different jurisdictions, including the United States itself. Rich Lowry now writes in National Review Online:

"If we insist on having an orgy of self-flagellation about the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib, we might as well gain something from it. That something shouldn't be a change in our interrogation tactics in the war on terror - they don't seem at fault for the perverse acts of a few MPs - but reform of the ongoing scandal that is the U.S. prison system."
The problem seems to be that the media has the attention span and contextual memory of a goldfish (with exception of Vietnam, which three decades on is still neither forgiven nor forgotten). Certain incidents or practices (for example, prisoner abuse in Iraq) are seen in total isolation, with the glare of the spotlight blinding journalists and pundits to the fact that what is happening might not be (and usually isn't) quite unique. This is not to excuse the behaviour in question but to merely point out that things need to be seen in perspective. In the case of Abu Ghraib, to put it in some sort of a context would mean realising that prisoner abuse is not simply an Iraqi problem but a prison problem unfortunately endemic to Baghdad as well as Boston and Bogota.

Michael Novak wrote last year about the tendency by some in the media to count both combat and non-combat related deaths towards the American casualty tally in Iraq. This artificially inflates the total because while combat death obviously only happen in Iraq, American servicemen die of sickness or in accident the world over, wherever they are stationed.

Or take another example - the suicide rate among US troops in Iraq. The Associated Press story from January this year breathlessly reports that:

"U.S. soldiers in Iraq are killing themselves at an unusually high rate, despite the work of special teams sent to help troops deal with combat stress."
You have to scan a lot lower in the story to read the following:

"[T]he military has documented 21 suicides during 2003 among troops involved in the Iraq war. Eighteen of those were Army soldiers... That's a suicide rate for soldiers in Iraq of about 13.5 per 100,000... In 2002, the Army reported an overall suicide rate of 11.1 per 100,000.

"The overall suicide rate nationwide during 2001 was 10.7 per 100,000, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."
"An unusually high rate"? It's only marginally worse than the suicide rate in the Army during peacetime, and indeed than the "civilian" suicide rate.

Now consider the fact that active military service overseas tends to be more stressful than normal life back in the United States. Also consider that US forces in Iraq are composed mostly of young males between the ages of 18 and 35 - the suicide rate for that demographic back in the US is almost 21 per 100,000, which is 7 per 100,000 more than for soldiers in Iraq (the actual figure I got for 2001, for "suicide injury deaths and rates per 100,000; all races, males, ages 20 to 34" on the National Centre for Injury Prevention and Control website calculator was 20.74). So a little bit of context to the story would have showed that in terms of suicide, Iraq is actually safer that Iowa.

But again, that would spoil a good story.


What will the Great Spirit think? 

From the wild frontier of the culture wars:

"Cherokee Nation officials are scrambling to clarify their marriage laws after a lesbian couple obtained an application for marriage.

"Gay-rights activists hoped the tribe's sovereign status would force recognition of gay marriages in Oklahoma, which bans same-sex weddings but honors Cherokee marriage applications. But tribal leaders said they have no intention of allowing such marriages."
We already use many small exotic nations as tax law dodges, why not use small indigenous nations as family law dodges? If successful, this would not have been the first case of using the status of indigenous peoples to circumvent local laws - not with casinos on Indian reservations and all that. Mind you, this could trump Las Vegas; a same-sex marriage ceremony performed by an Elvis impersonator at a gambling house.


Got a job for Chrenkoff? 

Bachelor of Arts, majoring in International Relations

Bachelor of Laws, with Honors Class IIA

Doctor of Philosophy in Law, 100,000-words thesis on freedom of contract and government regulation

Editor of a student magazine at university

Teaching assistant at a law school

Admitted to practice as a lawyer

Extensive experience of working in politics and government

Experienced researcher, speech-writer and adviser - and, as you can see from the blog, I love writing.

Any interesting public or private jobs out there that could use my skills?

If so, email me at a_chrenkoff "at" hotmail "dot" com


From quagmire to quagmire 

Always in search of quagmires, the media was very happy recently to move onto the prisoner abuse, just at the right moment when its previous quagmires (Fallujah and the al-Sadr uprisings) were starting to shown signs of not going as badly for the Coalition forces as the journos were hoping they would.

What's the situation on the ground in Iraq right now? Better, thanks for asking. Belmont Club, as usual, has a much more comprehensive and thoughtful analysis of the situation than mainstream media.

In fact, the last article along the lines of "US casualties continue to mount" is dated 1 May. In April, as we can recall, 136 American soldiers died in action in the worst month of fighting "since the end of the major combat operations." As of 15 of this month the toll is 32 hostile fire deaths. Meanwhile, it's al-Sadr's militiamen who are continuing to take the casualties. This is not to say that quick victories are at hand, or that situation on the ground is good for the Coalition, but progress is being made.

Any suggestions for the next quagmire?


Sunday, May 16, 2004

The abuse excuse 

There are many who are always happy to remind you that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, but I'm yet to hear the same people proclaim with equal relativist conviction that one man's abuse is another man's interrogation techniques.

As the media stampede keeps rushing after Donald Rumsfeld, we are already seeing two separate issues - the gratuitous abuse of prisoners, and the use of special interrogation techniques - being unfortunately blurred together. Contra the media frenzy, there are some important differences between the two. Despite lame excuses about "softening up" prisoners, the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison is just that - abuse, which doesn't have any real purpose except to seemingly satisfy some twisted sado-sexual urges of bored and ill-disciplined prison guards. Despite disingenuous attempts to link it with piling up naked Iraqis, practices such as sleep and sensory deprivation are useful techniques to assist interrogation in some very special and exceptional cases, without having to resort to physical torture.

It's clear that for many commentators any behaviour towards prisoners that falls short of assigning them pro bono legal representation and granting them access to the prison gym and conjugal visits constitutes prisoner abuse. This might or might not be an arguable proposition when your average suburban burglar or pot grower is concerned, but for others logic would suggest that special and exceptional circumstances (the war on terror) create special and exceptional needs (obtaining information of national importance in a speedy way from potentially deadly and fanatical suspects). This all comes back to the different perceptions of the challenges with face and the best ways of dealing with them. For most of the left, the war on terror is still a law enforcement operation - you send in the cops, serve subpoenas, place a wire-tap or two, gather documents, institute proceedings, and after a few years in the court system you might get a convection - or maybe not. In the meantime you can expect another few airliner flying into sky-scrapers, or a dirty bomb going off in a central business district if you are particularly unlucky. For many on the right, on the other hand, the war on terror is just that - a war, which means that the situation cannot be adequately and speedily enough dealt with while using the same methods and procedures as one would in peacetime.

Over the next few days expect hear and read a lot more on these topics, so do remember, even if media will forget: prisoner abuse is wrong; special interrogation techniques might or might not be - it's certainly open to debate where to draw the line; but the two are not the same.


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