Saturday, January 29, 2005

Through the glass, darkly 

"Who will be the first politician brave enough to declare publicly that the United States is a declining power and that America's leaders must urgently discuss what to do about it?"
So asks Slate's Fred Kaplan, commenting on the recently released intelligence report "Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project." To use the Declinists' favorite analogy, America today seems to me to be in a similar position to that of the Roman Empire at the height of its power, around mid-second century AD. I know that things tend to move much faster nowadays, but I would nevertheless venture a guess that we still have some time to go before the Declinists can crouch on the overturned pillars of the Empire and ponder on how right they were. Seeing that the Declinist school has been much in vogue since the early 1980s, if not earlier, possibly only the youngest among them might finally reach their Promised Land of desolation, otherwise fondly known as the "true multipolarity".

Writing of the public reaction to the NIC's report, Kaplan notes that "only a few stories or columns have taken note of its central conclusion:
'The likely emergence of China and India ... as new major global players—similar to the advent of a united Germany in the 19th century and a powerful United States in the early 20th century—will transform the geopolitical landscape with impacts potentially as dramatic as those in the previous two centuries.'
"In this new world, [Kaplan continues] a mere 15 years away, the United States will remain 'an important shaper of the international order'—probably the single most powerful country—but its 'relative power position' will have 'eroded.' The new 'arriviste powers'—not only China and India, but also Brazil, Indonesia, and perhaps others—will accelerate this erosion by pursuing 'strategies designed to exclude or isolate the United States' in order to 'force or cajole' us into playing by their rules."

As the NIC is engaging in prognostication it would be illogical to say that their conclusions (however tentative) are wrong; but they certainly ring a bit false. Intelligence bodies, which most of the time work with raw figures, all too often substitute math for a broad-ranging analysis. Yet number lie; not only because they are often false or at least spun in misleading ways, but most often because they can't - and don't - tell the whole story.

Thus, in the above example, the NIC throws down on the table a whole list of countries that are big - by virtue of their territory or the population size, or both - and seems to assume that size will necessarily translate into real power. To anyone familiar with Indonesia or Brazil to posit that these two states might as early as 15 years from now pose a challenge to the United States (even if in combination with others) might seem a wildly extravagant claim. China and India are in a much better position to eventually end the "unipolar moment", but both countries still face tremendous challenges in translating their considerable human and natural resources into sustainable and significant international reach.

The NIC seems to be equally off mark in another area:
" 'U.S. preoccupation with the war on terrorism is largely irrelevant to the security concerns of most Asians,' the report states. The authors don't dismiss the importance of the terror war—far from it. But they do write that a 'key question' for the future of America's power and influence is whether U.S. policy-makers 'can offer Asian states an appealing vision of regional security and order that will rival and perhaps exceed that offered by China.' If not, 'U.S. disengagement from what matters to U.S. Asian allies would increase the likelihood that they will climb on Beijing's bandwagon and allow China to create its own regional security that excludes the United States'."
Which is fine as far as it goes, but it ignores the fact that there is hardly a country in Asia which doesn't see China as a possible serious future threat. Which is why, in turn, most of the countries in the region are happy to see the distant United States stay engaged in Asia as the counter-balance to any hegemonic aspirations on the part of the ever-so-proximate China. Hence, if "U.S. preoccupation with the war on terrorism is largely irrelevant to the security concerns of most Asians," it's because it's China herself which is the main regional security concern. Even then, to say that the war on terror is largely irrelevant to most Asians is to forget that the Philippines, Thailand, India and, yes, even China, have their own internal problems with radical Islam, as do the largely moderate Muslim regional players such as Indonesia or Malaysia. There's more to Asia than Japan and the Korean peninsula.

Kaplan ends by endorsing the NIC assessment that in Asia "present and future leaders are agnostic on the issue of democracy and are more interested in developing what they perceive to be the most effective model of governance." Even that sentiment seems to be somewhat of a throwback to the Cold War era when a number of strongmen, both of the pro- and the anti-Western variety have kept democracy at bay throughout the region by invoking the smokescreen of "Confucian values". Confucian values or no Confucian values, democracy has been on the march throughout Asia over the last few decades, too, as evident in Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Indonesia to name just a few local examples. The leaders might be interested in "effective models of governance" as is indeed their prerogative, but their people have clearly shown that they, in turn, are interested in having a strong political voice.

Intentionally or not, one gets the impression that for much of the intelligence community the declinist talk is a prophecy - of the self-fulfilling kind.


Zogby's words of wisdom 

Zogby International has conducted an opinion poll in Iraq for Abu Dhabi television. Among the results:
"About 76 per cent of Sunnis say they 'definitely will not vote' in tomorrow's elections... Only nine per cent of Sunnis say they will cast ballots. Conversely, 80 per cent of Shiites, Iraq's majority group, and 57 per cent of Kurds say they will 'likely' or 'definitely' vote...

"The poll showed that 82 per cent of Sunnis and 69 per cent of Shiites want US forces to withdraw 'either immediately or after an elected government is in place'.

"Of Iraq's religious and ethnic groups, only Kurds believe the United States will 'help' Iraq over the next five years, while 49 per cent of Shiites and 64 per cent of Sunnis say the United States will 'hurt' their country."
Comments James Zogby: "There are deep divisions that exist - divisions that are so deep and pronounced that this election, instead of bringing people together, may very well tear them apart." Which leaves us exactly... where? If the election will tear people of Iraq apart, instead of bringing them together, then what of the alternative, which is not holding the election? Wouldn't that cause even greater problems when all the polls clearly show that the great majority want to vote? And if there is no election, what should happen to Iraq in the meantime, as whole nations cannot be put in a medically-induced coma until their internal situation stabilizes.

The only alternative to allowing the people of Iraq to exercise their democratic rights is to return them to a Saddamite status quo where the population is held in check by the sheer brute force and terror by a small ethnically-based minority. I can understand that the realists, with their worship of stability, would long for the return of the olden days (in fact, many of the same people who like to see the Middle East kept stable by the grip of local strongmen, have not that consistently tried to prevent the demise of the "stable" Soviet Union and Yugoslavia), but the sight of so many idealists, mostly on the left, assuming the Kissingerian mantle is truly disconcerting.

Most people in most places want to have a say in who their rulers are. There is only so much the outsiders can do to help stifle that democratic sentiment for the sake of maintaining stability, however well intentioned. Sometimes the transition to democracy happens to be relatively painless and bloodless; often it is not. Deciding which is worse - prolonged oppression or relatively short burst of violence leading to liberation - is an immensly difficult proposition. In the end, the only people who can answer that question are the same people who have and will continue to bear most of the burden of sacrifice - the Iraqi people themselves.


Our choices in Iraq 

I'm currently reading James C Bennett's "The Anglosphere Challenge" and on page 34 I chanced upon this observation:
"When civil society reaches a certain degree of complexity, democracy typically emerges. Absent that civil society, importing the mechanisms of democracy - the forms and rituals - results only in creating one more set of spoils for families and groups to fight over at the expense of the rest of society."
It's a fair argument and it has been frequently made by both left-wing and right-wing realists of what they consider to be starry-eyed schemes to export democracy to far corners of the world. The critics rightly point out that the most successful democracies (mostly the Western ones) are those where the democratic system emerges after a long period of organic growth. For democracy to succeed, the mental foundations have to be constructed well in advance of the coming of the democratic institutions. Democracy, after all, is more than just filling out a ballot paper every three years; it's a collection of habits, sentiments and behaviors, such as tolerance, trust, accountability, responsibility or social solidarity.

Most recently we have seen such organic democratic development taking place in Asian countries such as Taiwan and South Korea, where decades of growth of middle class and civil society eventually resulted in a democratic push and liberalization. The Middle East, on the other hand, and in particular now Iraq, present a far bigger challenge. Hence the foreboding chorus of opinion so vocal today that democracy in Iraq won't take root, that the country is not ready, that it has no democratic traditions and therefore little to sustain democracy at least throughout the near future.

All this is true - Iraqi middle class is small, civil society almost non-existent (albeit slowly rebuilding) after decades of oppression, the country riven by ethnic, religious and tribal divisions, its citizenry suffering from what I have earlier described as the Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder.

So why insist on trying to sow a democratic seed on such a seemingly infertile soil? Because we have no time and therefore no choice.

We cannot afford to sit back for hundreds of years and watch if liberal democracy will grow as it did throughout the English-speaking world. We cannot even afford to wait a few decades to see if the accelerated Asian model takes root in Iraq. Thirty years of rule by benevolent despots who promote economic growth and development - even if it made sense - is simply not an option here. The only alternatives are the return to the pre-September 11 Middle Eastern status quo or a bold attempt at democracy.

I support the election not because I think they will solve Iraq's problems, certainly not in short or even medium term, or because I think that a fully developed liberal democracy will suddenly spring up on the shores of Tigris and Euphrates after people put their votes in the ballot boxes for the first time in half a century.

I support the election because I believe that an attempt at building democracy, however imperfect, flawed and disappointing is not only the best option - it's our only real option.


Friday, January 28, 2005

Lend a helping hand 

Many readers have been asking me about some projects and initiatives that they, their communities and their churches can get behind to help our troops as well as the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. As you can imagine, three years on, there are many such groups and actions which fit the bill and I wouldn't even try to mention them all, but here's a few, large and small, to get you started.

Spirit of America - is "a nonprofit, non-political public charity. Our mission is to extend the goodwill of the American people to assist those advancing freedom, democracy and peace abroad." It's probably also the largest organization of this kind currently working in Afghanistan and Iraq to help our soldiers help Iraqi and Afghans. The range of projects is quite impressive, from supporting schools and universities, through providing tools of trade for local men and women, to supporting Iraq's democratic institutions and new media.

Any Soldier - allows you to show your appreciation for the commitment and hard work of our men and women in uniform by sending them a gift package. "Sergeant Brian Horn from LaPlata, Maryland, an Army Infantry Soldier with the 173rd Airborne Brigade was in the Kirkuk area of Iraq when he started the idea of AnySoldier to help care for his soldiers. He agreed to distribute packages that came to him with 'Attn: Any Soldier' in his address to the soldiers who were not getting mail. Brian is no longer in Iraq but Any Soldier Inc. continues with your support."

Operation Dreamseed - "Operating within the values of freedom, democracy, education, and self-betterment, Operation Dreamseed will develop and support education initiatives in the schools and education systems of underdeveloped countries in order to foster and facilitate the access to and process of learning." This initiative links soldiers in Afghanistan with civilians back home who want to help improve education throughout Afghanistan. Here's an article about the Operation.

Khas Uruzgan Sports - "building Afghanistan one game at a time"; The mission: "Provide an organized volleyball and soccer league to the children of the Khas Uruzgun District of Afghanistan in order to promote a fun and safe activity, encourage tribal interaction, and develop future leaders of a democratic Afghanistan." This is a project of A-company, 2-5 Infantry.

Children of Baghdad - "Operation Kids For Kids is a charitable project created by Task Force Thunder to provide American schools and caring citizens a chance to help the children in the Baghdad area. Task Force Thunder is a National Guard Battalion with units from Louisiana, Wisconsin, and New York deployed near the Baghdad International Airport... Help fight the war on terrorism by giving a child in need a chance at a better life."

Angels for Afghanistan -"is a project organized by Utah Military Families whose husbands, wives, sons or daughters are serving in Afghanistan Operation Enduring Freedom. Hearing reports from their family members on what life is like for the people of Afghanistan and wanting to be a part of meeting the Afghani people's desperate need, these families organized a gathering project." You can read a newspaper report about the project here.

Mission Afghanistan - is a community relations website for volunteers stationed in Afghanistan. As the website explains, "Through the work the servicemen and women do as part of their military mission, many are seeing a need for humanitarian service and aid as part of the rebuilding of this war-torn country. Although they spend between 12 and 14 hours a day, six days a week in their military occupation, almost 100 volunteers (along with thousands of donors back in the states) are using the only day off they have to help children, schools, orphanages, and homeless nomads receive much needed education and school supplies, medical attention and clothing donated from Stateside family and friends, churches and companies and military units and other groups."

USA Cares - "exists to help servicemembers and their families deployed across America and around the globe. USA Cares provides support with relevant and direct assistance that improves challenging situations and betters the life and well-being of Americans who ask so little, yet give so very much."

Lastly, you can find a much larger list of links to groups and projects at
Iraq Files.

(Hat tip: Agnieszka in Denver for bringing many of these projects to my attention)


You sin, you pay 

And now for something completely different:
"Nip, tuck and ... tax? Lawmakers trying to plump up the bottom line are considering a 'vanity tax' on cosmetic surgery and Botox injections in Washington, Illinois and other states."
Taxing liposuction? What's new, I hear you say; the government has always been attached to our pockets, sucking the fat from our wallets. This current initiative feels like return to the Middle Ages or Renaissance, though (and no, while Renaissance sounds more enlightened and attractive than the Middle Ages, that's not always the case). Sounds familiar?

"Sumptuary laws were enacted in many centuries and countries. In Elizabethan England, these laws attempted to restrict the sumptuousness of dress in order to curb extravagance, protect fortunes, and make clear the necessary and appropriate distinctions between levels of society.

"The principal concern was that money spent on frivolous display would be better spent on the state of more important things, such as horses, critical to a society always in peril of the neighbors."
The method is different but the sentiment remains the same: people can't be trusted to make the "right" choices so let the authorities teach them what's really important. In the olden days horses might have trumped clothes. Nowadays, cosmetic surgery is a no-no and the money should instead be spent on... oh never mind the specifics; whatever it is, the government will do it better than you ever can.

The concept of "sin taxes" (as in taxes on alcohol, tobacco, etc.) is not new, but the current crop of state lawmakers seems to be taking it to a new level. How about "
7 deadly sins taxes"?

Above we already have an example of a "vanity (pride) tax". Gluttony tax will attempt to eliminate junk food from our died. Lust tax will cover the prostitution and porn industries. As far as the busybody left is concerned, greed and envy taxes are already in place; they're called income, company, estate, and capital gains taxes. Curiously, sloth and anger, far from being taxed, tend to be rewarded by the government through welfare system. You're also unlikely to get tax credits or tax cuts for the
seven cardinal virtues. Go figure that.


Friday reading 

For your reading pleasure - or at least a quick perusal - a few links that might be worth checking.

If you're an Iraqi election junkie and can't get enough, for continuous coverage I suggest
Friends of Democracy, a project of the Spirit of America, which gives voice to Iraqi correspondents on the ground in just about every province of the country. Raw reporting from places where mainstream media doesn't always tread. Another good site is run by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and it monitors Iraqi blogs and the media (often Arab-language one), as well as providing their own useful commentary.

Dean Esmay brings you a long essay on
democratic reform. "Some will call it racist and sexist. I call it a damned fine piece of writing."

John Hawkins of Right Wing News puts together the list of
the 125 most popular political sites on the net.

A M Siriano has attended the Inauguration and is writing about it - both in
good humor and seriously.

The House of Wheels asks if
political pressure is behind the flip-flop in the most recent UN Development Programme's Arab Human Development Report.

Logic Times writes that "Seymour Hirsch and Barton Gellman, authors of two recent damaging exposés of US intelligence operations demonstrate their
total ignorance of the common law roots of the First Amendment."

Deep Blog is born - an easy guide and portal to great blogs.

Charles Simmins thinks that private American donations to tsunami aid
will soon reach $1 billion.

Crossroads Arabia notes that Islam has found
a new medium for proselytizing - comic books.

Considerettes observes Hillary Clinton try to find
the common ground on abortion.

In the "Opinion Journal", Michael Medved
compares and contrasts "Fahrenheit 911" and "The Passion of Christ".


Thursday, January 27, 2005

Good news from the Muslim world, Part 4 

From the past few weeks, a selection of some positive steps and encouraging trends towards greater freedom and democracy throughout the Islamic world.

Region-wide: Not the first - and hopefully many more to come - stirrings of a
reformist spirit in Islam:

"Mohamed Shahrour, a layman who writes extensively about Islam, sits in his Damascus engineering office, arguing that Muslims will untangle their faith from the increasingly gory violence committed in its name only by reappraising their sacred texts.

"First, Shahrour brazenly tackles the Koran. The entire ninth chapter, The Sura of Repentance, he says, describes a failed attempt by Prophet Muhammad to form a state on the Arabian peninsula.

"As the source of most of the verses used to validate extremist attacks, with lines like 'slay the Pagans where you find them,' he believes that chapter should be isolated to its original context.

" 'The state which he built died, but his message is still alive,' says Shahrour, a soft-spoken, 65-year-old Syrian civil engineer. 'So we have to differentiate between the religion and state politics. When you take the political Islam, you see only killing, assassination, poisoning, intrigue, conspiracy and civil war; but Islam as a message is very human, sensible and just'."
Read the whole story of Shahrour and other like-minded intellectuals who have presented their call for reform after a Cairo seminar titled "Islam and Reform".

Afghanistan: For the latest good news from Afghanistan see this separate

Egypt: Great news for
economic integration in the Middle East:

"Israel and Egypt signed a three-way trade deal with the United States yesterday in a move that signalled a further warming of relations between the two neighbours and gave momentum to renewed hopes for peace negotiations in the Middle East.

"The pact will enable Cairo to export some goods free of duty to the US. It was hailed as the most important agreement to be reached by Israel and Egypt since they signed their peace deal 25 years ago.

"Under the agreement seven Qualified Industrial Zones will be set up in Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said, where goods produced using Israeli input can be sold to the US.

"The agreement could create as many as 250,000 jobs in Egypt’s textile sector — the country’s largest area of export — next year, and help to offset the ending next month of beneficial US quotas on the import of textiles. Beyond the trade deal Egypt and Israel believe that the agreement could pave the way for greater co-operation in the search for peace."
The Gulf Region: Signs of increasing openness and debate:

"The absence of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz from the GCC summit, reportedly due to his country's announced reservations over a Bahraini-US free trade agreement, is 'a strong' signal that the old style of 'hiding' inter-GCC problems is being replaced by a newly-emerged way of open discussions and criticism, analysts said yesterday.

"News of the controversy over the Saudi objections to unilateral agreements with the United States would not have been splashed on the front pages of regional newspapers a few years ago, the way they are being done now, said Abdul Nabi Salman, member of the Bahraini Parliament, who writes regularly on Gulf affairs.

" 'It is a strong indicative of the changes in Gulf politics that have been forced upon us by the rapid developments regionally and internationally,' he said of the absence of Saudi Prince Abdullah."
Iran: You can't keep freedom of speech down, even in mullahocracy:

"In September 2001, a young Iranian journalist, Hossein Derakhshan, devised and set up one of the first weblogs in his native language of Farsi. In response to a request from a reader, he created a simple how-to-blog guide in Farsi, thereby setting in motion a community's surreal flight into free speech; online commentaries that the leading Iranian author and blogger, Abbas Maroufi, calls our 'messages in bottles, cast to the winds.'

"With an estimated 75,000 blogs, Farsi is now the fourth most popular language for keeping online journals. A phenomenal figure given that in neighbouring countries such as Iraq there are less than 50 known bloggers.

"The internet has opened a new virtual space for free speech in a country dubbed the 'the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East', by Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF). Through the anonymity and freedom that weblogs can provide, those who once lacked voices are at last speaking up and discussing issues that have never been aired in any other media in the Islamic world. Where else in Iran could someone dare write, as the blogger Faryadehmah did, 'when these mullahs are dethroned ... it will be like the Berlin wall coming down ...'?"
Iraq: For the latest good news from Iraq see this separate post.

Kuwait: A
reformist movement is launched in the Kingdom:

"A group of young political activists has launched the Justice and Development Movement in the country and are calling for political pluralism and the activation of civil institutions and organisations.

"It also called for the country's 42-year-old constitution to be implemented in practice and cautioned against certain influential people who are trying to amend it to serve their vested interests.

"Nasser Yousuf Al Abdali, a founder member of the group, told Gulf News, 'We are looking for a democracy shaped along the lines of Britain and Spain where the royal families play a very important special role but real power lies in the hands of the people'."
Pakistan: Less conservatism in the the conservative tribal areas:

"Zuhra Nafees drinks in the sights and sounds of Peshawar’s riotous marketplace with newfound enthusiasm. A year ago the grate of a burqa separated her from the outside world.

"Now the late twenty something is clad only in the traditional Muslim chador, the long cloth that covers her body from head to toe but leaves her face completely unobscured. 'As our men are no longer stressing that we wear the burqa, so we have now abandoned it,' said Zuhra, who belongs to the Mohmand tribe and lives in the semi-lawless tribal areas in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province."
Palestinians: are more optimistic about their future - and the opposition to violence is growing:

"The death of Yasser Arafat has left most Palestinians optimistic regarding the future and opposed to the continuation of terror attacks on Israel, according to a public opinion poll published Wednesday by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center.

"A majority of 51.8 percent of the Palestinians polled said that they were opposed to 'military operations' against Israeli targets and consider them harmful to Palestinian national interests, compared with 26.9% last June. Only 41.1% of the Palestinians believe that terrorist attacks should continue compared with 65.4% last June.

"According to the poll, a majority of Palestinians, 59.3%, feel optimistic regarding the future in general, compared with 45.3% last June...

"In response to a question about their favored solution, 56.7% said they supported a two-state settlement compared with 44.5% last June."
Palestinians, of course, also had their second election since the mid 1990s, with Mahmoud Abbas being elected president with 62.3 percent of the vote.

"Palestinian leaders called the elections the most transparent in modern Arab history, and international observers said they could be the first truly democratic Arab elections...

"An 800-strong contingent of international observers, organized through the U.S. National Democratic Institute, was on hand for the election, along with 20,000 Palestinian observers.

"Election officials reported about 65 percent turnout among the 1.8 million voters. Earlier they had reported about 35 percent and extended the voting by two hours."
Saudi Arabia: The government is conducting a TV campaign against jihadism:

"Saudi national television aired interviews Saturday with fathers of militants condemning their own sons for launching terrorist attacks as part of a national public relations campaign to undermine support for militants. In a program called A Pause with the Parents shown on state television, emotional accounts were narrated by the fathers of five militants as part of the Saudi royal family's campaign against militants who have carried out several attacks against westerners inside the kingdom and abroad.

" 'I contacted the authorities immediately when I knew he was wanted,' Ahmed Jamaan al-Zahrani said of his son Faris, No. 12 on the list of Saudi Arabia's 26 most wanted terror suspects before he was captured in August. 'He has a wife and children whom he should have been taking care of better than staying in Afghanistan.'

"The father of the former top militant on the list, Abdulaziz Issa Abdul-Mohsin al-Moqrin, who was killed in a June 19 shootout after the al-Qaida cell he led decapitated an American hostage, said he had vowed to take down his son himself.

"The program, viewed via satellite in Dubai, played on Islam's high regard for honouring parents - stressing that disobeying them is almost equated with apostasy. The narrator of the program, Khamees bin Saeed al-Ghamdi, said the 'misery and pain' these parents went through negate militants' claims that they are being true Muslims."
Sudan: "Cellphones, roads, and girls in school. Is this south Sudan?" asks the "Christian Science Monitor" as Sudan slowly reawakens from the long-running nightmare:

"As fear subsides, southern Sudan is reawakening and rebuilding. A Jan. 9 peace deal ended Africa's longest civil war - a conflict between north and south in which 2 million died. The first signs of normalcy are appearing: Children, even girls, are going to school - many for the first. (Only Afghanistan under the Taliban had fewer girls graduate from eighth grade.) Some are starting to see a life beyond the battlefield. And commerce is coming back."


The dog that didn't bark 

Mamdouh Habib, one of two Australian Guantanamo detainees is returning to Australia with tales of abuse, torture and atrocities. According to his lawyer, Steven Hopper:

"On other occasions they used German shepherd guard dogs and (interrogators) told him they train dogs to sexually assault people.

"Mamdouh has said he wasn't sexually assaulted by these dogs but really we don't know.

"Who would admit to it, particularly an Arab Muslim male?"
What a wonderful tactic; bring out an allegation, get the victim to deny it happened, but keep the issue alive because "really we don't know". But Arab Muslim males have no problems about admitting to all sorts of other embarrassing details. Habib certainly doesn't (Hopper again):

"The Americans used prostitutes as tools in their interrogations.

"They'd say to detainees 'If you co-operate with us, we'll let you at this woman for the night'. And if they wouldn't agree they'd use them in other ways.

"(We believe) one of the prostitutes stood over him naked while he was strapped to the floor and menstruated on him.

"The Americans in their wisdom have taken the heads off the pictures [of his family], enlarged them and superimposed them with the heads of animals and then strung them up all over the walls of the interrogation room.

"As they sat there talking to Mamdouh asking him about his terrorist activities, they held up a picture of [his wife] Maha and said 'It's a shame we had to kill your family, it's a shame you will never see these people again'."
Incidentally, what to Westerners might seem no more than a gross-out, in reality plays on Islamic religious tradition which considers blood (and incidentally, dogs and their saliva) to be unclean (link in PDF).

In the past I blogged very little about the issue of Abu Ghraib and prisoner abuse, and nothing at all about the practice of detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo and elsewhere - partly because I'm not an expert on the legal issues involved, and partly because if I'm not interested in something I'm not going to write about it. But in my mind it comes down to a very simple proposition: in every modern war, captured enemy combatants or people suspected of being enemy combatants are held in indefinite detention (every vaguely civilized modern war, that is, where they aren't actually shot or starved to death at the outset) until the cessation of hostilities or some other time when they can be released without posing a threat (or in case of suspected enemy combatants, when it can be established that they weren't engaged in hostile activities). This is not a matter of law enforcement and it's useless to talk about it in terms of charges or crimes - it's simply a matter of war. While in detention, using certain techniques to interrogate the suspects is allowed (e.g. psychological pressure) while others are a no-no (generally physical torture). If the interrogators or guards engage in torture or abuse for the sake of it, these matters should be (and are being) investigated and dealt with through legal channels. End of story - unless like Mr Hopper, your agenda is to expose "the rise of American fascism."


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Pre-emptying the election day 

"Violence Escalates As Iraq Election Nears," says Keloland TV.

"Violence is increasing in Iraq as next week's election approaches," writes the "Arizona Daily Star".

Not quite.
"The deputy director of operations in Iraq for the US military, Air Force Brigadier General Erv Lessel... confirmed that a dramatic 50 per cent reduction in terrorist activity had been seen over recent days."
Everyone - the Iraqis, the media, the Coalition forces - are expecting a dramatic surge of violence on the election day, as the insurgents and terrorists put all their resources in a concerted effort to derail the poll. But that hasn't happened yet, so let's wait until Sunday with all the "escalations of violence." Lessel himself says:
"We think it's a calm before the storm, and that they are unable to sustain the level of attacks they've had, but that they're saving up for something more spectacular in the coming days."
And as the report continues:
"Security experts say that despite a handful of high-profile attacks, such as Monday's bombing of Dr Allawi's Baghdad party offices, the situation has been relatively calm across the country.

"But they stress that intensive military and counter-terror operations have been under way, and say many intended insurgent strikes have been thwarted.

"US military teams have been active to the north of Baghdad and in the northern city of Mosul, where a large house-to-house operation is being conducted, as well as at the Syrian border town of Tell Afar, a known base for insurgent infiltrators."
It's premature to say (to borrow from Churchill) that this is the end, or the beginning of the end, but let's hope that at least it's the end of the beginning.


New poll from Iraq 

Reader Haider Ajina translates an article from the January 26th edition of the Arabic newspaper "Alsharq Alausat":
"First poll conducted by the Iraqi ministry of planning shows 72.4% Iraqis will vote.

In a Poll of 33,313 Iraqis (in all of Iraq) of ages 18 and older conducted by the Iraqi ministry of planning regarding Iraqis participation in the Iraqi elections taking place the end of this month. The results were as follows.

72.4 % of all of those polled said they would participate in the elections.

97% of Iraqis in Kurdistan said they would participate in the elections.

96% of Iraqis in the southern provinces (mainly Sheeit [Shia] areas) said they would participate in the elections.

33% of Iraqis in the central provinces (Sunni Area) said they would participate in the elections.

10% of Iraqis in central provinces (Sunni Area) said they have not yet made their mind if they were going to vote or not.

62.1% of those polled said that the elections will be neutral and free.

17.8% said elections will not be neutral and free.

11.6% did not answer this question.

66% said that the elections must take place under current circumstances.

53.3% said the security is good in their area.

21.7% said that security was average in their area.

25% said that security was bad in their area."
The die is cast. Those of us in the West nonchalant about democracy and complacent about our freedoms should spare a thought for the millions of Iraqis who on Sunday will be risking death to have a chance to elect their government.


Iraq - is media changing its tune? 

Well, maybe not; maybe it's far too early to even talk about hedging their bets. It has been, after all, almost two years of relentlessly negative coverage, for the past few months concentrating on the coming elections and what a failure they will end up turning into because: 1) of the bad security situation; 2) the Sunnis will not participate; 3) Iraq will become a theocracy; 4) or descend into civil war; or, really, any combination of the above.

But what if it doesn't? What if, despite all the violence and other problems, the solid majority of Iraqis will succeed in electing a stable, legitimate and moderate government? Are senior people around newsrooms starting to scratch their heads? Like swallows, one story - or even three - doesn't make a spring, but, as Rich Lowry writes:
"For the second day in a row, the New York Times has a positive Iraq piece, this one about Sunnis wanting to have a part drafting the constitution. For weeks, administration insiders have been telling me how: 1) the Shiite slate has been amazingly responsible in its actions and statements; 2) there will be plenty of chances to buy reasonable Sunnis into the political process even after the January 30 election. Stunningly, both points have now been reported and given high-profile play in the Times."
Here's the piece in question (hat tip: Instapundit). Then there is a reasonably positive piece from another unlikely source - CNN: "The concept of democracy appears to have taken root in the dusty town of Karma, a predominantly Sunni community of 75,000 people about nine miles (15 kilometers) northeast of Falluja." (hat tip: Dan Foty)

Speaking of good news from Iraq, it would me quite remiss of me not to share with you the good work that California's "North County Times" is doing on the ground. Why is a local newspaper like the "NC Times" able to send to Iraq two staff reporters (the excellent Darrin Mortenson and Hayne Palmour) who are consistently not afraid to report the good as well as the bad news? Why isn't anyone else? Check out the coverage. Or better still, email the editor (editor "at" nctimes "dot" com) and let them know that their effort to maintain balanced reporting is much appreciated.


The more things change... 

The Old Europe/New Europe division lives on, Iraq or no Iraq. I read this article by Steven Paulikas of "Newsweek" in hard copy yesterday but Dan Foty has beat me to finding a link (so, a hat tip). It's the best exposition of how the European landscape looks like after the Ukrainian storm. The money quote:
"Officially, Old Europe's leaders have welcomed the changes in Ukraine. Behind the scenes, the rhetoric has been very different. 'I've never seen anything like it,' says a U.S. official just back from Warsaw and Kiev. 'They're really beating up on Poland,' as well as other new members [for their support for the Ukrainian opposition]."
Everyone in Europe remains obsessed with Russia, but the obsession manifests itself in different tactics according to where exactly in Europe you live. Central and Eastern Europe which has been under the Soviet/Russian domination for decades, and in many cases centuries, is terrified of the powerful, expansionist Russian bear. Hence the driving desire to build a stronger, democratic buffer separating Mittleuropa from the Muscovy, using countries like Ukraine and, hopefully in the future, Belarus. Ideally, of course, Poland & Co would also like to see a democratic, stable and peaceful Russia herself, but failing that a Russia surrounded by a cordon sanitaire of democratic, stable and peaceful former Soviet republics will do.

Western Europe, which has never been dominated but merely threatened and menaced by Russia in her Tsarist and communist imperial guises, is more interested in a stable and friendly Russia. For the West, Ukraine is not the buffer, it's the whole of the Eastern and Central Europe. It doesn't matter if the buffer itself is democratic or autocratic, content or sullen; Russia trumps all. If she's happy, then the West is happy, if she burps, the West gets indigestion, too. The New Europe doesn't think much of the West's stability fetish, mostly because historically it was her who had to pay the price for it with her enslavement. The Old Europe is just happy to keep feeding the bear as long as it is with somebody else.

And at the moment, as Paulikas's article clearly illustrates, the Old Europe is mighty annoyed with the New European upstarts for rocking the boat, humiliating, and needlessly antagonizing Russia. There must be many an old European hands in Brussels right now regretting the EU expansion and fondly remembering the good old days of the Coal & Steel Community when only respectable Western European states needed to apply.

If anything, it just goes to show that even if the United States and its foreign policy were to disappear overnight from the face of the Earth, all parts of the world would wake up in the morning still facing the same problems - but no Uncle Sam to blame them on.


The angry left: Moore passes the baton to Turner 

So Michael Moore missed out on Oscar nominations. We should prepare for the howls of outrage from the far left about how the Hollywood sold out to the Bushies and about the "chilling effect" and the "climate of fear" enveloping LA (or it might just be the smog).

"The Passion of Christ" also missed out on the best picture nomination (but picked up three technical ones). Curiously, both "Fahrenheit" and "Passion" were the winners of the recent People's Choice awards. People's yes, the elite's no.

Is Hollywood playing it safe, then? Instead of focusing on the Left's dead-in-the-water God That Failed (To Change The Election Result) and the Son of God who was dead but was resurrected, the Academy instead nominated for the best picture the story of a dead Hollywood legend ("The Aviator"), a dead music star ("Ray"), a dead children's writer ("Finding Neverland"), a (half-)dead boxing trainer ("Million Dollar Baby"), and a dead (at the box office) road movie ("Sideways").

Both the "Fahrenheit" and "Passion" controversies might have been good and profitable for Moore and Gibson respectively, but the entertainment industry has suffered a lot of collateral damage in the process. Hollywood's desire to MoveOn (this time for real) and depoliticize is understandable, if only because who wants to continue to be reminded of the two most spectacular failures in recent movie industry history: the failure of a crusading movie to deliver at the ballot box, and the failure of the movie establishment to get onboard and profit from what had turned out to be one of the highest grossing movies of all time. That di Caprio boy looks really good, doesn't he?

With Moore staying mum, it now fell to the old favorite Ted Turner to carry the Angry Left flag. Drudge reports that Turner charmed the standing room-only opening session of the National Association for Television Programming Executives convention:
"Ted Turner called FOX an arm of the Bush administration and compared FOXNEWS's popularity to Hitler's popular election to run Germany before WWII...

"While FOX may be the largest news network [and has overtaken Turner's CNN], it's not the best, Turner said.

"He followed up by pointing out that Adolf Hitler got the most votes when he was elected to run Germany prior to WWII. He said the network is the propaganda tool for the Bush Administration."
Thank God those Nazis are so versatile. You want to accuse somebody of dictatorial tendencies? Call them Nazis. Somebody you don't like has won an election? Call them Nazis, too. After all, as well all know, the Nazis had (effectively) won the 1933 democratic election in Germany. Hitler, of course, used his election result to then abolish the parliament and democracy and institute a one-party, totalitarian rule, but let's forget about that; we wouldn't want too much accuracy and too many facts to interfere with a versatile and inexhaustible analogy that otherwise works so well.

Update: Blogger Roger L Simon emails: "Arthur, you are generally terrific, but as an actual member of the Academy, I think you are missing the point here. The Passion and Fahrneheit are not good movies and movie makers know that, even better than outsiders. The Passion was popular with true believers. For anyone else, it was just a lot of of S & M. Fahrenheit is the work of a blowhard. Bad art all around. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, as they say."


Rambo to the rescue 

British historian, Sir Max Hastings, agrees with Edward Luttwak that we should carpet-bomb them with DVDs:
"Yet would military failure [in Iraq] represent decisive defeat? Might not America ultimately prevail in Iraq by means in which armed forces play no part? Consider this proposition from Edward Luttwak, the maverick American strategy guru. In a recent speech to a British audience, he suggested that the US began to win the Vietnam war the day after its envoy was humiliatingly evacuated from the roof of the Saigon embassy in April 1975.

"The military conflict was lost -- but, argued Luttwak, the US began to achieve victory culturally and economically. Vietnam may still profess a commitment to communism, but in reality capitalism is taking hold at every level. American values, represented by corporatism and schools of management studies, are gaining sway over Vietnam as surely as they are every other nation possessed of education and aspirations to prosperity.

"Luttwak describes what is happening as the US acquiring a 'virtual empire,' founded upon cultural dominance -- a convincing proposition, certainly in the eyes of Osama bin Laden, who is attempting to mobilize the Muslim world to resist it. Al-Qaida is seeking to combat through terrorism a cultural invasion more effective than stealth bombers and Bradley fighting vehicles. Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg represent influences much harder to repel than a field army...

"I am not arguing that military power is redundant. But recent history suggests that America is less skilful in exploiting armed might to fulfil its national purposes than in wielding economic and cultural power, without a soldier in sight.

"To return to Iraq: even if the insurgents are successful in forcing the US to abandon its armed struggle, they have much less chance of prevailing against Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and their kind, who can sustain an occupation of Iraqi homes effortlessly now that satellite TV is almost universally available.

"I do not think the US armed forces will achieve their military purposes in Iraq. The American soldiers who have become pessimistic about the campaign they are waging are probably right. But in a long historic view, Microsoft and DreamWorks could achieve a dominance of Baghdad and a power over Iraqi society that eludes George Bush and his armored legions."
This is all nice culturotopian stuff, but does it make sense?

The spread of American popular culture around the world is, of course, good for the American (show) business; except, that is, when all those CDs and DVDs get pirated. Sometimes, this cultural invasion also has positive externalities, as when it engenders friendly attitude to the source of the pop cornucopia itself, the United States (as it did, for example, throughout the Soviet empire before 1989, although one could argue that the causation actually went the other way, with people coming to love Mickey Mouse and Rambo because these symbols stood for America which they already loved).

But there are no guarantees that listening to rap, watching Hollywood movies and reading John Grisham will make you fall in love with other "American" ideas such as freedom, democracy or free market. Often it doesn't happen like that at all, hence just as we are familiar with the proverbial anti-globalization protesters clad in designer clothes and living off the bounty of advanced capitalism, so there is nothing unusual about people throughout the world who love American bling-blings but hate America itself - be they jihadis working with their laptops and cell phones, or trendy Europeans complaining about the "American empire" while sipping Coke.

In this context, Hastings' talk about American pop culture "effortlessly sustaining occupation" and "achieving a dominance" of Iraq - or anywhere else for that matter - is somewhat meaningless. The world, after all, is full of countries whose people, whether they like it or not, are hooked on American fashion, music and movies. Does it translate into greater appreciation of the United States overall, and greater support for its actions? Not very often.

In any case, as I argued
elsewhere, the scary narrative of the overwhelming American cultural dominance around the world is a myth. But just because the reality behind "American cultural imperialism" is far less exciting than the rhetoric, it doesn't mean that the myth is any less powerful. In politics, after all, perception is in many ways more important than reality. And the perception that American pop culture is flooding the world invariably creates hostile counter-reaction, which means that, contrary to Hastings and Luttwak, more Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts might not necessarily translate into more positive American influence worldwide or greater security for America for that matter.

The counter-reaction might range from relatively harmless condescension to outright violence. Bin Laden attacked America on September 11 for a whole range of reasons, but there is no doubt that his jihad has a cultural aspect to it. Islamofascists and other assorted fanatics target America not because there aren't enough Snoop Doggy Dogg videos on local TV, but because there are too many. When fundamentalists speak of the United States as the "Great Satan" they don't mean that Uncle Sam wears horns under the top hat but that the United States is like the Old Testament devil - the Great Seducer, the serpent which tempts people with attractive but ultimately dangerous and soul destroying trinkets.

I'm not arguing against the spread of American popular culture, and neither am I arguing that such spread doesn't have many positive effects. But of itself it's not the solution to American security problems. In the end, despite all the costs, the heartache, and frequent ingratitude and disappointment, exporting freedom is a more worthwhile long-term policy than exporting Mickey Mouse.


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The deeper truth 

Is this the funniest Inauguration moment, as popular culture sensibilities clash with the political considerations at a youth concert?

"[The event] took an unexpected turn when Fuel singer Brett Scallions shouted an obscenity during his band's set.

" 'Welcome to the greatest f---ing country in the world!' Scallions yelled at the youth-oriented show in the D. C. Armory... Scallions then sheepishly added, 'Oops. I wasn't supposed to say that'."
Scallions, of course, meant the ubiquitous "F word", but, sadly, to many others in the entertainment world that Scallions comes from, "f---ing" would be the only acceptable part of that sentence.


Al Zarqawi's rhetoric 

Donald Sensing comments on Al Zarqawi's actions:

"[Zarqawi] is only marginalizing Islamism when he bombs and assassinates Iraqis who support democracy. Increasingly, his claim that such Muslims are really infidels deserving to die is seen as untenable. Mass heresy among millions of Iraqis? Who could possibly have the right credibly to claim that? Not Abu Musab al-Zarqawi nor anyone else. And who will believe it? Not the Iraqis themselves nor millions of their Arab neighbors."
(hat tip: Instapundit) True on one level, but the equation actually makes sense within the context of the last fourteen hundred years of Middle Eastern history. Most Sunnis have traditionally considered Shia to be heretics on theological and doctrinal grounds (the more radical a Sunni Muslim, the more likely he or she will believe that, with the Wahhabi bin Ladenites topping the list: "We demand from the Shiite youth that they return to the book of God and the Sunna of Muhammad" - Al Qaeda spokesman, Al Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Najdi). Now, which group in Iraq is pushing the hardest for the election and is expected to generate the highest turnout? The Shias, of course. So once a heretic, always a heretic, and what Al Zarqawi is really saying is this: my fellow Sunnis - by casting a ballot you will become just like them. This is desperate rhetoric; after all tens, hundreds of millions of Muslims (mostly Sunnis) around the world do vote in elections, apparently with an untroubled conscience. But right now Al Zarqawi is a desperate man.

While to the Western ears weaned on the soothing melody of the Enlightenment and secularism Al Zarqawi's argument seems preposterous, many - too many - both inside and outside of the Iraq will sadly buy it.


Islam and freedom 

A very minor controversy about the choice of words in the Inaugural speech, when the President noted the "edifice of character" is "sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, and the words of the Koran."

In one corner of the ring
David Gelernter of the "Weekly Standard":

"Come off it! Which words? Name one! Is there a single sentence, phrase, idea in the Koran that has made any difference to this nation whatsoever? I'm not knocking the Koran; pluralism is wonderful. The problem is that at this moment, no listener in the whole world could possibly have believed that the president was serious."
In the other corner, James Taranto of the "Opinion Journal":

"It's true enough that Islam has played little or no role in the history of Americanism, but the president meant not to give a history lesson but to shape history.

"America finds itself at war with the exponents of a particular form of Islam, a strain that is, as Gelernter puts it, 'a religion of death, a religion that rejoices in slaughter.' The world has some two billion Muslims, the vast majority of whom are not radicals; and a religious crusade to convert them to Christianity (or Judaism, or atheism) simply is not an option. The only way to defeat the radical Islamists is to establish an accommodation between Islam and democracy--to assimilate the Islamic world into the modern world...

"When President Bush cited the Koran in his speech, he wasn't engaging in ahistorical, feel-good multiculturalism. He was delivering a message to civilized Muslims everywhere: You need not forsake your religion to live in freedom. If instead we were to assume, as Zarqawi does, that democracy and liberty are the exclusive province of Jews, Christians and other 'infidels,' we would thereby condemn the Muslim world to unending tyranny--and ourselves to unending terror."
Indeed, the best way to underline the point that "you need not forsake your religion to live in freedom" is to say something like this: indeed, many millions of Muslims who live in countries like the United States or Australia are living examples that democracy and freedom are not incompatible with Islam. These people live, work, and vote just like their non-Muslim neighbors do, enjoying the same rights and partaking in the same bounty of liberty and prosperity - but they also continue to have faith, pray, fast, give alms and go on the pilgrimage. They are no less Muslim than their brothers and sisters who live in Cairo, Karachi or Jakarta. Their lives are a vocal testimony to the lie Al Zarqawi, bin Laden and their ugly vision.

A caveat, or two, less I be accused of naivete: while a majority of Muslims living in the US or Australia are happy as productive and faithful citizens of their new homes, there is of course a dissident minority who would like to see democratic governments replaced with the rule of sharia. I also purposefully restrict myself to Muslims living within the "new worlds", as the situation in Europe is, for variety, of reasons more complicated.


The UN contemplates Holocaust 

The United Nations General Assembly has held a special session to ponder on the Holocaust and genocide, just a few days before the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz death camp by the Red Army (as the London "Times" notes, it's the first time in the UN's history that the Holocaust has been commemorated by this august body).

Israel's foreign minister Silvan Shalom said that one would never know whether the United Nations, had it existed then, could have prevented the Holocaust. Shalom is an intelligent man and I'm sure that - based on the League of Nation's behavior before the war and the UN's afterward - he knows the answer and was just teasing the gathered.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel thought that we did not learn enough from the experience of the Second World War: "If the world had listened, we may have prevented Darfur, Cambodia, Bosnia and naturally Rwanda... We know that for the dead it is too late. For them, abandoned by God and betrayed by humanity, victory did come much too late."

If the world had listened. If... Coming himself from a family decimated by the Holocaust, Paul Wolfowitz offered the most realistic assessment: "We know that there have been far too many occasions in the six decades since the liberation of the concentration camps when the world ignored inconvenient truths so that it would not have to act or acted too late."

It's not that we don't know what the Holocaust was, or what its lessons are - it's just that whenever next crisis comes by we do too little too late because to act forcefully and in time seems too difficult, too costly and too messy. The problem is not ignorance. Cowardice, "realism", indifference, yes; anything but ignorance.

Still, it's good that the UN is at least discussing the topic in a public forum. When else would we have a chance to hear Germany's foreign minister Joschka Fisher say that Israel can "always rely" on German support because "the security of its citizens will forever remain nonnegotiable fixture of German foreign policy." Or the French foreign minister Michel Barnier engaged in breast-beating: "When the first signs of persecution of the Jews announcing the Shoah occurred, how many stood up? How many spoke out?"

As Reuters writes: "The meeting was first called by the United States and backed by Annan, who polled the 191-member assembly. More than 150 nations agreed to the session, including Islamic nations. But among Muslim nations, only Afghanistan and Jordan's U.N. ambassadors are scheduled to speak to the General Assembly, often accused by Israel of being anti-Semitic."

On January 27, the world will commemorate the Holocaust Day, with main functions being held in Poland, at the site of the Auschwitz camp. If, as a blogger, you want to contribute to the commemoration, get involved in a special
"blog burst" on the topic.

not everyone is happy about the Holocaust Day:

"British Muslims are to boycott this week’s commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz because they claim it is not racially inclusive and does not commemorate the victims of the Palestinian conflict.

"Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, has written to Charles Clarke, the home secretary, saying the body will not attend the event unless it includes the 'holocaust' of the Palestinian intifada.

"He said similar events held in other European countries was an 'inclusive day' that commemorated deaths in Palestine, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, as well as the former Nazi death camps."
(hat tip: Joe Gandelman at Dean's World) Indeed, as a subsequent report notes, the Jordanian ambassador to the UN used the opportunity to address the General Assembly's special meeting to castigate Israel: "What sense can we make of this important commemoration, when we allow through our inaction, year after year, one people to dominate another, to deny the latter many of its most basic rights, and so, with the passage of time, also degrade it as a people."

I guess it partly depends on what your definition of "Holocaust Memorial Day" is. Does it commemorate "the" Holocaust, the extermination of the European Jewry, or does it commemorate other holocausts, as in genocides, such as the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide and many others? I write "partly depends", because even if the Memorial Day is an all-inclusive commemoration, the word "genocide" has been so degraded and devalued as to cease to have any useful meaning. Nowadays, any degree of oppression, real or imagined is considered to be a genocide, which does nothing either for the memory of the victims of real genocides or the credibility of those pushing the new and fashionable grievances.

wrote some time ago about the absurdity of talking about "Palestinian genocide". Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the Middle East conflict - and I, just like any reasonable person, want to see the end to violence and a peaceful resolution - the genocide of the Palestinian people must be the only one in history which has resulted, according to the official Palestinian figures, in the explosion of the exterminated population. Even though some research suggests that the Palestinian authorities are grossly overestimating Palestinian population numbers, arguably for political reasons, while the context of several decades of conflict is not healthy, the Palestinian population figures certainly continue to be.

And so, sadly, sixty years on, we still live in a world where the very terms like "genocide" and "Holocaust" are political and rhetorical footballs and where historical commemorations get invariably marred by present-day politics, all at the same time when the world community keeps repeating the mantra of "never again", knowing full well that never again has already happened many times in the past and will, with a sickening inevitability, happen many times in the future.


Tuesday reading 

The one and only Tim Blair watched the mainstream media discover the latest American atrocity in Iraq.

Boy, Greyhawk - currently serving in Iraq - is really not impressed with the media reporting.

Blackfive notes an overlooked detail of a photo of John Kerry on his recent visit to Iraq.

INDC Journal defends Lawrence Summers.

Proverbs Daily blogs about Beslan and gun control.

Chester gazes into the Iraqi crystal ball trying to decipher Shias' next moves.

In three days' time, we will remember the 60th anniversary of liberation of Auschwitz death camp (if liberation is the right word). Tom Carter remembers. So does Fausta.

Zed discovers the surreal world of terrorist discussion boards.

Amit Varma, meanwhile, discovers some strange goings-on in the Indian blogosphere.

And Carpe Bonum writes that journalists are killing journalists by failing to enforce the code of ethics.


More photoblogging from Afghanistan 

Major John Tammes, Instapundit's and Chrenkoff's photoblogging correspondent from the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan sends in more photos from the base:

Posted by Hello

Honk if you’'re HIG (the HIG – Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin is our main enemy in the area). The 3/116th Infantry chalked this on the back of one of their vehicles going out on a patrol I accompanied. Alas, nobody honked at us. [which hopefully indicated the decline of HIG's presence in the area. That, or lack of other cars, or English language proficiency - AC]

Posted by Hello

Ammo Amnesty Box. Many areas have boxes for troops to drop forgotten rounds of ammunition into. No questions are asked. I was trying to get people to feel a bit better about turning these stray rounds in.


Monday, January 24, 2005

Not just a Nazi but also a Satanist 

"Norwegians Confused by Bush Salute," reports Associated Press. I guess Norwegians - and Europeans generally - are frequently confused by President Bush's actions, so a minor gesture should not be an exception.

This time, it seems that a Texan sign of support for the University of Texas Longhorns team, known as "Hook 'em, 'horns!", got misconstrued as a Satanic "devil's horns" gesture, popularized by heavy metal fans in Scandinavia and elsewhere.

Some people, of course, already know that the President is a Satanist.

Hand gestures have a proud history of being misinterpreted or confused. I recall an anecdote about the turn-coat state security officials in Romania trying to show their democratic credentials to the anti-communist crowds after the overthrow of Ceaucescu by giving the "V for victory" salute popularized by Churchill during the Second World War. Alas, the Securitate men did it with their palms facing towards their bodies; a gesture which generally has the same meaning as "showing the (middle) finger". But fortunately not in Romania.


Who's who of Iraqi political parties and lists 

Politics can be confusing at best of times (political junkies exempted), even more so in a foreign country whose political culture is very different to ours; not to mention all the unfamiliar names. To complicate the matters, many new democracies experience explosion of parties as political energies of people are liberated and can finally find legal outlet. In time, survival of the fittest narrows down the field, but during the transitional phase we have to deal with multitude of what the Poles jokingly used to refer to as "sofa parties" (because their membership could all sit together on one sofa).

On Sunday, January 30, Iraq goes to the polls - a number of sites and blogs is keeping an eye on election developments:
Friends of Democracy offers great grass-roots reporting from Iraqis around the country. In addition, you can check out these blogs: Iraq Election Newswire; Iraqi Election Diatribes; Liberating Iraq; and Truth on Iraq.

Below, to help you make sense of the results, a handy guide to who's who of major parties, lists and politicians participating.


The Islamic Daawa party - one of the two main Shia political parties and the oldest, going back to 1957 (or 1958, according to some reports), when it was first established by a group of Shia Islamic scholars headed by Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al Sadr to counter communist influences. Party spokesman Ibrahim Jaafari, a medical doctor (one of many involved in Iraqi politics, it seems), is one of Iraq's two current vice-presidents. The movement is said to have become much fragmented post-liberation.

The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq - the other influential Shia party, set up in 1982, was based in Iran during Saddam's rule, but subsequently largely lost that patronage as the mullahs in Tehran frown on the Council's cooperation with the Americans. The party's leader is Abdel Aziz Hakim, whose brother and the party's founder, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim, has been killed in a terrorist attack in Najaf in August 2003. Until late 2003, when private militias were banned, the Council had at its disposal a 10,000-strong Badr militia. It has now been renamed Badr Organisation and is still charged with "maintaining security and stability." Hakim has now made a
statement that the American forces should be withdrawn as soon as possible, which might represent a genuine policy or merely pre-election rhetoric.

Both parties are running on the United Iraqi Alliance list, organized behind the scenes by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Besides Daawa and the Supreme Council, the List brings together another 20 political parties, groups and individuals, spanning the whole Shia political spectrum, from moderate to theocratic. The List includes Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC), as well as Sunni (including the Al-Shammar tribe which also has Shia members), Kurdish, Yezidi, and Turkoman groups. Some of the interesting fringe groups on the List include Hizbella Movement in Iraq and the Islamic Master of Martyrs Movement. Muqtada al-Sadr is also said to have an informal association with the List. A prominent member of the List is Dr. Hussein Al-Shahristani, an Iraqi nuclear scientist who was originally touted as the interim prime minister, before the job eventually went to Iyad Allawi. Al-Shaharistani was one of the six prominent figures chosen by Sistani to draw up the List.


The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) - the Party, based around the governorates of Dohuk and Arbil, has been led by Massoud Barzani since 1979. The party controls some of the Kurdish paramilitary forces, the famous anti-Saddam pashmergas. Barzani is currently vice-president of Iraq.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) - founded in 1975, it's based around Al Suleymaniyah and the eastern section of the northern, Kurdish Iraq. The Union describes itself as a modern social-democratic party. It is led by Jalal Talabani.

On December 1, both parties announced they will be fielding a joint ticket of candidates under the name of the Kurdish Unity List. The rumor has it that Talabani and Barzani have also arrived at a power-sharing deal, under which Barzani will take the highest position in the Kurdish region's government and Talabani the highest position offered to a Kurd in the democratically elected central Iraqi government. Both parties are strong supporters of a federal system of government, which would give Kurdistan a large degree of internal autonomy. Both Talabani and Barzani are Sunnis.

Another Kurdish list, the Kurdistani Alliance List includes minor left-wing groupings like the Kurdistani National Party, Kurdistani Democratic Party, Kurdistani Islamic Union, Kurdistani Communist Party, Kurdistani Democratic Socialist Party, Kurdistani Democratic National Union, Democratic Baith-Nahrain Party, Chaldean Democratic Union Party, Assyrian National Party, Movement of Kurdistan Oppressed and Farmers, and Kurdistan Laborers Party.

Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party - founded in 2002, the Party is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party, considered by the American, Turkish and Iraqi governments to be a terrorist organisation (PKK has been involved in a protracted and bloody military conflict with Turkish authorities for the past few decades). The Party is headed by Fay'iq Muhammad Ahmad Kubi.


The Iraqi Islamic Party - currently led by Secretary-General Dr. Muhsin Abd-al-Hamid, the party has its origins in 1950s and in the past operated clandestine armed groups against Saddam. It is said to be ideologically similar to the Muslim Brotherhood, but denies official association. The Party initially supported the interim government but is at best ambivalent to the election (even though it has registered a list of candidates). It is widely seen as the champion of continuing Sunni influence in Iraqi affairs. Reader Haider Ajina reports that the Party will participate in the local elections in the Dialah province but will boycott the national poll.

The Iraqi National Movement - is led by former Governing Council member Hathem Mukhlis, claims support in strong anti-American Sunni areas. It is fielding a list of candidates together with the Iraqi Commission For Independent Civil Society Organizations.


The Iraqiyun (Iraqis) List - established by the interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir, this seems to be a rather loose coalition of individuals, including the Defence Minister, Hazim Al-Sha'lan, and the Minister of Industry, Hachim Al-Hassani. Al-Yawir is a civil engineer who studied in Saudi Arabia and at Georgetown University. Himself a Sunni, he is a member of the Shammar tribe, which also includes Shiite clans and is one of the largest tribes in the Persian Gulf region.

The Iraqi List - led by the interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, the List includes, among others, the Iraqi National Accord Movement, Allawi's group founded in 1990 by disgruntled former members of Iraqi military and security forces. Allawi, a Shia doctor, comes from a wealthy family and is well connected within the pre-Saddam establishment. The List also includes Iraqi Democrats Movement, Democratic National Advancement Party, Independent Iraqi Institution, Loyalty Assembly For Iraq and Iraq's Lords Council. The List comprises both Shia and Sunnis, but is Shia dominated, although considered more secular than Sistani's United Iraqi Alliance.


The Iraqi Pro-democracy Party - established by Omar and Mohammed Fadhil, two doctors and two thirds of the team which started the most popular Iraqi blog
Iraq the Model. The Party represents the best, moderate, pro-democracy force in Iraqi politics. website

The Iraqi Communist Party - Iraq's oldest political party, founded in 1934, persecuted under Saddam. Its traditional base support is among more secular, poor urban Shias as well as Kurds. The Party's Mufid Mohammad Jawad al-Jazairi is the minister of culture in the current interim government and the Party's head Hamid Majid Musa is an interim National Assembly member. Musa, a Shia, is an economist by education. The communists will run under the name of the People's Union List.

The Constitutional Monarchy Movement - one of seven opposition groups to have received American support prior to liberation of Iraq. The Movement is headed by Sharif Ali bin al-Husayn, the cousin of the deposed Iraqi king, Faysal II, who was killed in the 1958 coup in Iraq. The group was not represented on the interim Governing Council. Not surprisingly, the Movement's main goal is restoration of the monarchy: "Constitutional monarchy is the one thing that could rescue Iraq from the factional conflicts between the various groups over the question of the position of the head of the state, because the Monarch would not favor one group to the detriment of another, but rather would represent all the people."

The Independent Iraqi Democrats Movement - led by veteran statesman and interim National Assembly member Adnan Pachachi, the group includes Kurdish, Sunni, Shi'a, Christian, Turkoman, and Sabean candidates. Pachachi, now 81, was the member of the Iraqi government overthrown by the Baath Party in 1968. He is a secular Sunni. Some observers expect the Movement to do well among intellectuals and the urban middle class, which is rarely a solid electoral base, even in the West.

The Iraqi National Unity Grouping - led by Nihru Muhammad Abd al-Karim al-Kasanzan al-Husayni, the Grouping strives for a national reconciliation and good relations among the many Iraqi ethnic and political groups. The Grouping supports a federal Kurdistan. The Iraqi Independents Bloc - led by Dr. Ghassan Al-Attiya, has a similar program of national reconciliation.

The National Democratic Party - is fielding 48 candidates, including Naseer Kamel al-Chaderchi, son of a prominent Iraqi monarchist. Some commentators indicate the Party enjoys a degree of support among the educated Sunni middle class.

The People's Union - will field 275 candidates drawn from secular and left-wing Iraqis. Opposed to strong religious influence in politics, needless to say, this group includes many women.

The National Democratic Coalition list - headed by Tawfiq Al-Yassiri, who in the past organised anti-terrorism marches in Baghdad. It also includes current Justice Minister, Dr. Malik Dohan Al-Hassan.

The Independent Democratic Trend list - headed by Aziz Al-Yassiri and includes "a curious mixture of doctors, lawyers, university professors along with tribal Sheikhs, clerics, former ministers and governmental officials."

The Independent Progressive Front list - headed by Abdul-Karim Al-Rubai'i, a tribal leader from Kut. Also includes former Iraqi football players, Karim Saddam and Laith Hussein.

The Watani (National) Coalition list - a motley crew of independents, technocrats and intellectuals, including the former judge Dr. Wathiba Al-Sa'di, the writer Jasim Al-Mutayr, women rights activists Hana Edward and Fawzia Al-Abbasi, and football player Abd Kadhum.

The Democratic Community Movement List - led by Hameed Al-Kifa'i, journalist and former spokesman for the Governing Council.

Then there are smaller lists based around minor ethnic and religious groups:

Iraq's Turkmen Front - includes Turkmen Elee Party, Turkmen National Party, Independent Turkmen Movement, Iraqi Turkmen Justice Party, and Islamic Movement of Iraqi Turkmen.

Democratic Al-Rafidain Coalition - incorporating the National Baith-Nahrain Union and Independent Syriac Assembly Movement, the Coalition represents Assyrian interests.

National Al-Rafidain List - it represent the Christian Assyrian, Chaldean and Armenian minorities from the Assyrian Democratic Movement and Chaldean National Council. The Coalition is headed by Yunadim Ganna, former Governing Council member and National Council member.

More information for the real political junkies:

"Iraq election: Likely candidates"

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:
"Analysis: Campaign Season Under Way In Iraq"

The Daily Star:
"New political landscape emerges in Iraq"

Live from Dallas:
"Announced Iraqi political coalitions"

Healing Iraq blog:
"Election Mania"

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:
"Iraqi Political Groups -- Part II"

Associated Press:
"Main players in Iraq's election"

Associated Press:
"Major political groups fielding candidates in Iraq's election "


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