Saturday, March 26, 2005

Tsunami - three months on 

On December 26, the largest natural disaster in living memory struck South Asia. The waves of tsunami have receded a long time, as has the world's interest, moving back to the Middle East and other more exciting hot-spots. Three months on, it's a good time to revisit the ravaged areas and see what has been happening with the region out of the media spotlight (I hate to be picky, but there is no such thing as "three month anniversary" - the Latin "anno" root in anniversary signifies an elapse of a period of a year).

The toll: Click here for a useful summary of the what's happening in each of the affected countries: the toll, the money received, the aid effort.

The latest figures on death toll stand at 273,000 with almost 110,000 still missing and therefore presumed dead. The exact number and the fate of individuals might never be known: "More than 300,000 people are dead or missing in 11 Indian Ocean countries, but the count is hobbled by confusion, politics and the magnitude of the disaster. Thousands are believed to have been washed out to sea or bulldozed into mass graves." There are at least 24 mass graves in Aceh, and an unknown number of other "unofficial" burial sites.

For the old joke news story "World ends. Women and minorities hardest hit", it seems that sometimes it happens in real life, too, at least according to an Oxfam study, which showed that in villages surveyed a lot more women than men perished in the inundation. "Many women across the region died because they stayed to look for their children and other relatives; men more often than women can swim (and) men more often than women can climb trees," the study explains, also adding that when the disaster struck on Sunday, many men were away from the coast on errands, while women stayed behind in villages.

The aid: Overall, $5.4 billion has been donated or pledged (see the list for breakdown of that figure by country and agency).

As could be expected, stories of wastage, tardiness and inertia abound, and the blame game continues. The recipient countries are complaining that very little of what has been promised has actually been delivered. According to the World Bank, there is currently a shortfall of some $4 billion between money promised and money delivered for reconstruction.

The donor countries, on the other hand, point the finger at the recipients. For example, this from Japan:
"Only a fraction of Japan's 24.6 billion yen in aid to Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives has been used to help them recover from the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster, according to the Foreign Ministry.

"The aid was handed over on Jan. 19. Since then, only Sri Lanka has dipped into the funds by spending 4.5 million yen to buy nine used trucks to clean septic tanks.

"Officials speculated the funds had not been used because the governments of those countries had limited experience in dealing with an influx of emergency aid following such an unprecedented natural disaster."
In fairness, many recipients want the money for longer-term reconstruction projects, hence the delay is understandable as more thorough planning and preparations take place.

Former Clinton official and now an UN envoy Erskine Bowles defends the aid effort: "I think isolated is the key word. I think anytime you have disaster affecting this many people that you would have some isolated incidents of money not ending up where it was intended to. It's in this intermediate period, in this recovery period as it starts, where you always have the most problems. This should be expected. There will be many glitches, many problems that have to be mitigated."

Women's groups, meanwhile, are claiming that sexual harassment and rape are common in camps for displaced persons.

Indonesia seems unhappy about the aid effort: "A senior Indonesian government minister was reported as warning that the international reconstruction effort promised to the devastated Aceh province was being jeopardised by a lack of coordination and the absence of an agreed plan... The chairman of Indonesia's National Planning Agency, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, called on major donor nations to put more of their aid money through the Indonesian budget instead of keeping their donations separate... Dr Indrawati made her comments in a speech delivered on her behalf in Paris during which she said the desire of donors to plan their own programs quickly was overwhelming the Indonesian government."

Still, Indonesia hasn't been making it any easier on those trying to help: "The Indonesian government originally set a target of 26 March - three months after the Indian Ocean tsunami - for the withdrawal of all foreign aid agencies which are not contributing to long-term reconstruction." While the deadline has been extended by a month, new, tight regulations on aid delivery are about to be introduced by the Indonesian authorities and many agencies are already out, including the UN High Commission for Refugees. Australian army is leaving, too. Many observers suspect that Indonesia's main concern is the very presence of too many foreigners in the separatist province of Aceh rather than any problems with the mechanics of aid delivery.

The politics: Conflicting opinions as to whether the US humanitarian effort has won some hearts and minds across the region:
"This month former US presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, after a tour of tsunami-hit countries, said they had seen a 'dramatic' improvement in attitudes towards their country, particularly in Muslim-dominated Indonesia...

" 'I believe the perception of Muslims on America's image has improved, particularly in Aceh,' said Kusnanto Anggoro, a political analyst with the private Centre for Strategic and International Studies...

" 'I don't think people's perception has improved,' said Din Syamsuddin, the secretary general of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, the nation's highest Islamic authority. 'If anything, Indonesians are now more suspicious with America following the recent involvement of a large deployment of US troops in Aceh and their generosity,' he told AFP."
You just can't win, can you? - if you actually manage to work out the logic of the last statement.
"In other Indian Ocean countries hit by the tsunami, Washington's tight focus on Indonesia may represent an opportunity lost elsewhere. Up to 1,500 US Marines were deployed for five weeks to Sri Lanka, where the tsunami killed 31,000 people and left more than one million homeless, but they arrived long after India sent ships, helicopters and engineers.

"Observers say their participation merged with the larger multinational military effort on the island and if anything left many disappointed for their failure to show interest in helping resolve a long-running rebellion by ethnic Tamil Tiger guerrillas."
Can't win, again.

And "in India an almost ebullient pride in the country's refusal of foreign assistance ensured there was little room for the United States to extend its charm offensive."

Silver linings? Two scares that in the end did not eventuate: no outbreaks of disease were reported in the aftermath of the disaster, and India's Centre for Research in Medical Entomology is ruling out any water-borne epidemics in the near future, as the tsunami had an unexpected side effect of washing away mosquito habitats in areas that normally suffer from malaria and Dengue Fever.

Also, the United Nations' World Food Program reports that much feared starvation and malnutrition among the survivors have been prevented.

In Thailand, the coral reef was not as badly damaged as initially feared.

And in India, the tsunami has dug up some submerged and buried ruins of ancient city. Not only a good news for archaeologists but for the local tourism.

The future: In Thailand, the tourist numbers still way down below normal levels, but definitely on the way up. It's good to know that visitors are providing practical help by opening their wallets.

By December next year, the region is expected to be protected by a hi-tech tsunami early warning system.


Saturday reading 

Mohammed at Iraq the Model passes his personal judgment on the second anniversary of the Operation Iraqi Freedom.

At Powerline, a great tribute to Norman Podhoretz, who also happens to be one of my favorite neocons.

Roger Simon quotes a prediction he hopes will come true.

Stephen Green has found the proof that right-wing bloggers are more generous.

Dean Esmay encourages all Christians to have deep and meaningful conversations with observant Jews - you will be amazed what you will discover.

Greg Djereijan shares Tom Friedman's outrage.

The Belmont Club looks at what the UN could look like.

I haven't blogged or linked to any Schiavo stuff before, but here's an exception; a very good post by Captain Ed.

Pundit Guy has some nice things to say about the Dem Rep Conyers for defending bloggers, and asks whether there is a subtle media bias in reporting about Jeff Weise's rampage.

Bill Roggio continues to look at how we assess success in Iraq.

Joe Katzman looks at the politics behind the Bolton and Wolfowitz appointments.

Jeremy Chrysler alerts us to Sudan Mercy blog: "This site is dedicated to the extraordinary movement of reconciliation and mercy, of Sudanese Christians and the growing network of those working with them, to help them come to the rescue of refugees of Darfur. What is so unusual about this movement, is that the Muslims of Darfur made up half to three-quarters of the army that decimated the Christians of southern Sudan."

Citizen Blogger argues there are good reasons to have a Living Will. Michelle Malkin disagrees.

Quillnews thinks that oil prices would have been even worse had Saddam remained in power.

Fausta argues that Hugo Chavez is becoming the next T-shirt icon.

Seekerblog does a quick test of media bias.

Sgt Bill Epler at Epler Effect talks for the first time about his Iraqi experience.


Negligent or intentional? 

An interim report of the UN investigation of Rafik Hariri's assassination has been released (here's the executive summary and here's a rundown from the Word Unheard) to the predictable reaction of parties concerned. Its authors admit that with their limited investigative powers, which do not include powers to subpoena officials and carry out searches, and with Lebanon's key security personnel still in their positions, there is not much further that the UN can move the investigation. Still, AP notes that the Lebanese government might just have to accept a more in-depth inquiry.

The report does not directly accuse either the Syrian or the Lebanese government of staging the assassination, but it blames them for creating a political climate that might have led to the killing (including a personal threat by Assad Jr. to Hariri).

The report also blames the Lebanese authorities for lax security in the run-up to the assassination and for the lack of commitment in investigating the incident afterwards, which elicited this response from Defense Minister Abdul-Rahim Murad: "Why American forces in Iraq do not uncover the car bombs and the operations against civilians and the American army?" Hey, why bring the Americans into it; it's the UN's conclusions.

Of course, what everyone really wants to find out is not whether Lebanon has lax security (lax security can happen everywhere: see September 11), but whether the Syrian and Lebanese authorities have bumped off the most dangerous opposition figure in Beirut.

Stay tuned.


Friday, March 25, 2005

More than Willing 

A nice perspective from the southern end of the Coalition of the Willing, as 450 Australian infantrymen are preparing to deploy to work with the British and the Japanese forces on securing and reconstructing the southern Iraq:
"Roger Noble, the battle-hardened commander of 450 troops who will leave soon for Iraq, has a problem. 'More of my soldiers want to go than are going. They are pushing at the doors,' he says. "The blokes that are going are as happy as Larry [Australian colloquialism for "very happy"] - they are keen to go and do the job.'

"Why would anybody want to leave Australia for Iraq's desert, an inhospitable place where temperatures can reach 50 degrees, fierce sandstorms turn day into night and terrorists may try to blow you up?

"Lance Corporal Jason Lane says he would have been disappointed if he had not been selected to go because he sees himself as a professional soldier and 'it's what we do... and those who consider themselves professional see going to Iraq as their duty in much the same away as a doctor sees it as his or her duty to treat patients'...

" 'Many people in the defence force consider themselves patriots - there's a strong patriotic element in the defence force today,' he says. 'When I joined in the early 1990s it wasn't so visible. But now there is a sense of pride in what we have achieved in East Timor and Iraq. And people want to be part of that. In sporting analogy it's being on the winning team'...

"Trooper Clint Gordon, 20, says he is thrilled to be going because he set himself a goal years ago to serve his country, just as his great-grandfather did in the First World War and other family members since. 'It's all about being proud to be on an Australian team,' he says. 'I'm wearing the Australian colours and I'm serving my country. It's what I have always wanted to do.'

"Steven Nightingall, 38, made a dramatic lifestyle change four years ago when he quit working as a solicitor in Melbourne and joined the army. Now a lance corporal, he says he would have been disappointed if he had missed Iraq. 'It's like being a professional rugby player - you don't want to sit on the bench,' he says. 'It's good to be going overseas together to do what we are trained to do.'

"Private Benton Hyde, 20, from Wollongong, says he 'can't wait' to go. 'It's what I joined the army for,' he says. 'I've only been a soldier for 12 months but I have worked hard. It's exciting to go over there with your mates to help out the people of another country so they can get back to controlling themselves'."
Thanks, guys!

As an aside, it seems that often more than their governments, and certainly more than their fellow countrymen and women, the soldier of all nations are the ones keenest on staying in Iraq and doing their job. I remember reading report of the Spanish soldiers being angry and ashamed at being withdrawn by their government; I know that the Polish troops are very happy with their deployment, too, and if it was up to the Polish top brass they would be staying in Iraq indefinitely. On the positive side of things: I'd rather stick with the principle of the civilian control of the military and not vice versa.


Hello, mujahid 

Put this one in the "I know I shouldn't laugh, but..." files. As you know from the previous installments of "Good news from Iraq", "Terror in the Hands of Justice" (what a great name!) is the new reality TV hit in Iraq, showing the true life confessions of captured insurgents and foreign terrorists. Today, I was reading yet another article about the show when I chanced upon this paragraph:
"Television program has discredited the mujaheddin and their professions of religious fervor by showing captured insurgents who said they were homosexuals -- still not a socially acceptable group in much of the Middle East. As a result, the word mujahid 'once worn as a badge of pride by anti-American insurgents has become street slang for homosexuals'."
Now that so many on the left are having second "could Bush be right, after all?" thoughts, there is only one way for the insurgents to win back moral support among the Western progressives: come out (so to speak) announce they're fighting for the same-sex marriage in Iraq.


Happy Easter 

It's Good Friday here already in Brisbane, Australia, so Happy Easter or happy holiday to you all, depending on your preferences. I'm staying close to home for the duration (including Easter Monday, which is a holiday in Australia, too) so normal blogging will continue uniterrupted. Make sure to take a break from feasting and celebrations and visit over the next few days.

By the way, Good Friday in Polish is called Great Friday, which to my mind is a pretty accurate reflection on the significance of what Christians believe happened on that day almost 2000 years ago. I was always mystified, though, by the English name "Good Friday" - as in, what's so good about the crucifixion? I'm sure there's a logical and perfectly acceptable answer to why Good Friday is known as "Good" Friday, and I'm sure that many of you will be able to enlighten me on this point of a cultural gap.

Here's a nice Polish tradition for Easter (I think it's also popular to the east, in Ukraine and Russia) - Pisanki, or boiled eggs painted over in intricate, colorful patterns. It's part of another Polish Catholic tradition, which I don't believe is very prevalent anywhere else, of blessing the food on Easter Saturday, where people take to their local church baskets full of eggs (normal as well as painted), bread, salt, meats and other food to be blessed for the big breakfast on Sunday morning.

Another Polish tradition is Smigus-Dyngus on Easter Monday, where (mostly) young men sprinkle (mostly) young women with water. This ancient Polish precursor of the wet T-shirt competition is generally quite innocent and civilized, but if you're traveling around that time in rural Poland, beware: buckets, hoses and even fire engines are frequently used.


Time for the Wolfowitz Plan 

Another one bites the dust - "Kyrgyzstan government collapses after protest":
"President Askar Akayev's government collapsed Thursday after opposition protesters took over the presidential compound and government offices, throwing computers and air conditioners out of windows in a frenzy of anger over corruption and a disputed election.

"The popular uprising in this impoverished Central Asian nation of 5 million forced Akayev to flee, was breathtaking in its speed and resulted in only a few dozen injured. The government was the third in a former Soviet republic after Georgia and Ukraine to be brought down by people power over the past year and a half."
Overthrowing a government is easy - it merely requires a relatively short burst of manic energy. The much harder part is building on the victory and ensuring that all that effort by the "people power" doesn't go to waste - it's a tough and gruelling and unenviable job.

As Glenn Reynolds writes, "Tim Russo is pessimistic about the outcome, regardless. He doubts that there will be sufficient engagement by Western nations to promote a real democracy. Judging by the limited attention this is getting outside the blogosphere, he may be right."

The European Union is likely to prove useless (but even small contributions count), so once again the job falls on the United States and perhaps some of the close allies like Great Britain and Australia. I really think we need a new Marshall Plan for all the emerging democracies that are popping up around the Eurasian landmass like mushrooms after the American rain. Let's call the Marshall 2.0 version the Wolfowitz Plan. It won't have to be of the same magnitude as the post-World War Two original; although the political, economic, social and moral devastation of decades under communist or Islamic despots in some ways surpasses the devastation of a few years of a global war, we can't - for domestic political reasons - expect the same financial commitment from Washington in 2005 as in 1945 (don't be deceived by the sum of $13 billion, or around $90 billion in today's dollars; that money after the war could do hell of a lot more than $90 can do today). Arguably, neither do we need such a largesse-spreading exercise; the sad story of foreign aid demonstrates that throwing money at a problem is not the solution. We need to understand our limitations, know what we want to achieve, and be smart in how we go about it.

These are the priorities:
You can still expect a great deal of pain, some unavoidable ingratitude and many, many setbacks. As I said, it's not easy - the much under-estimated Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder will be the greatest enemy - but we have little choice. Doing nothing and hoping for the best is no longer a viable foreign policy option.

Update: In a related development:
"The State Department has a plan for avoiding a repeat of the prewar planning mistakes that marred the U.S. occupation and reconstruction of Iraq. But, like many initiatives in Washington, it will require some money.

"When President Bush sent Congress an $82 billion supplemental request last month for emergency funding for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, it included $17 million in start-up funds for a State Department office that would help manage the aftermath of war and stabilize countries torn by civil conflict.

"The Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization would bring together civilian experts in such fields as political administration, law enforcement and economics and give them a seat at the table alongside the military during the planning of U.S. intervention in troubled states, Carlos Pascual, the head of the new office, said yesterday in a briefing with reporters.

"The office, relying in part on relationships with other federal agencies and private-sector groups, would accompany military troops in the field and lay the groundwork for rebuilding countries crumbling under conflict, Pascual said. It also would serve as an early warning system, monitoring a 'watch list' of nations at risk of sliding into the kind of dysfunction that gives rise to terrorism and civil strife."
It's a good idea, as long as it doesn't degenerate into yet another foreign affairs and aid bureaucracy. One of the keys to its effectiveness will be the involvement of not just "civilian experts", but also, as the specific need arises, people who have personal knowledge of the countries in questions, whether by virtue of birth or subsequent contacts. We will not succeed in all the noble tasks unless we can tailor the programs and initiatives to local ethnic, religious and cultural sensibilities. This does not mean compromising our aims, but merely finding the most effective ways of achieving them.


Thursday, March 24, 2005

Another fiasco in Algiers 

As the "Jerusalem Post" comments, "Arab League summits can hardly disappoint, since expectations are so low to begin with."

Still, with the hopes raised by the recent tumultuous events throughout the region, sadly, it seems the League's summit in Algeria has failed to grasp new opportunities.
Two quotes summarize the proceedings:

Deputy US State Department spokesman Adam Ereli: "I would note that 13 of the 22 heads of state were there, but I would say that the final communique did not have anything noteworthy, one way or the other, to comment on."

Sudan's foreign minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail: "When we look at what will be achieved during this summit versus the ambitions on the Arab street, we find that we are still very much at the beginning of the road."

Note that the "Arab street" is no longer an entity that rises up to protest every instance of American imperialism, but one which now agitates for freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East. How much difference two years can make.

The summit doesn't seem to have tackled any important issue in any meaningful way. On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the gathered leaders rejected the Jordanian proposal to advance the peace process by granting Israel a full diplomatic recognition before any peace deal is finalized. Instead, the League chose to warm up the old Saudi proposal "that offered Israel normalized relations only in exchange for its full withdrawal from those territories, the creation of a Palestinian state and settlement of the Palestinian refugee issue." The last point is an euphemism for the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel; a move that would dramatically change the ethnic composition of Israel and for that reason is unlikely to be ever agreed to by the Israeli side.

Indeed, the Saudi initiative has been rejected by Israel three years ago, but the League's response is to redouble the effort of trying to sell it to policy-makers in the United States and Europe. Ominously, both
Hamas and Islamic Jihad also rejected the plan as "an unreasonable response to Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people."

On Lebanon, the Arab leaders condemned the US economic sanctions against Syria. On Iraq, they called for the end of foreign occupation, but not - as asked by the Iraqi government - for concrete efforts by Iraq's neighbors to stop the infiltration by jihadis.

The highlight - or lowlight - of the summit came with an unscheduled speech by Libya's Khaddafi who called both the Israelis and the Palestinians
"idiots". "The leaders, including Abbas who is making his debut at an Arab summit after he succeeded Yasser Arafat who died in November, broke out into uncontrolled laughter." Guess you had to be there.

No wonder, as
BBC reports, "newspapers across the Arab world express contempt for the proceedings", with London's Al-Quds al-Arabi writing "Almost half the leaders are not attending, and those attending are doing so only to please Algeria. This leads us to conclude that the Arab summit is at a stage which precedes death," and Jordan's Al-Dustur adding "We have seen all this before at previous summits. Why this boring farce? Perhaps we should reiterate the slogan of the Egyptian opposition: enough is enough!"

Overall, it seems like business as usual, a sort of a pre-September 11 make-believe diplomatic reality. The Arab League still doesn't seem to get it. No wonder their own people are taking to the streets, while their establishment keeps offering them stale cakes.


Dean gets religion 

The DNC chairman in January 2005: "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for."

March 2005: "[Dean] said Jesus' directive to 'love thy neighbor' didn't mean one could choose which ones to love."

That, by the way, was Dean telling "a packed house at Vanderbilt University" that to win the South, the Dems have to show respect for the people and values down there.

"[Dean] remarked that Republicans never brought up the scriptural verse saying it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven." All along we thought that the whole "tax the rich" thing was motivated by envy and resentment, but now we know that the Dems simply do so that as many people as possible can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. How charitable of them. Call it Social Security for the Next World. One that won't go
bankrupt in 2041.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The NYT: maybe they should read blogs? 

The "New York Times" reports on an encouraging incident in Baghdad (hat tip: Instapundit):

"Ordinary Iraqis rarely strike back at the insurgents who terrorize their country. But just before noon today, a carpenter named Dhia saw a troop of masked gunmen with grenades coming towards his shop and decided he had had enough.

"As the gunmen emerged from their cars, Dhia and his young relatives shouldered their own AK-47's and opened fire, police and witnesses said. In the fierce gun battle that followed, three of the insurgents were killed, and the rest fled just after the police arrived. Two of Dhia's young nephews and a bystander were injured, the police said."
So far so good, but then the "NYT" makes this point:

"It was the first time that private citizens are known to have retaliated successfully against insurgents. There have been anecdotal reports of residents shooting at attackers after a bombing or assassination. But the gun battle today erupted in full view of half a dozen witnesses, including a Justice Ministry official who lives nearby."

Item 1 - 3 February 2005: "Inhabitants of an Iraqi village killed five insurgents who attacked them for taking part in the country’s historic election... The insurgents launched the raid after earlier warning the inhabitants of Al-Mudhiryah, south of Baghdad, against taking part in Sunday’s vote... Another eight insurgents and three villagers from the same tribe were wounded in the clashes late Wednesday, said the police official. Eight cars belonging to the attackers were set ablaze."

Item 2 - 9 March 2005: "In the violent city of Ramadi, a center of Sunni insurgent activity 60 miles west of Baghdad, the bodies of seven men were found lined up in an unfinished house on the western outskirts of town... Unlike the corpses elsewhere, which were mostly Iraqi police and soldiers, the bodies in Ramadi apparently were foreigners, fighters working for Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings, kidnappings and assassinations. Each of the seven had been shot in the head or torso. The bodies were secretly buried in a local cemetery... 'My cousins are the ones who killed them,' said Jabbar Khalaf Marawi, 42, a former army officer and Communist Party member in Ramadi. Marawi said the slayings were carried out by members of his Dulaimi clan in retaliation for the Oct. 2 killing of a clan leader, Lt. Col. Sulaiman Ahmed Dulaimi, the Iraqi National Guard commander for Ramadi and Fallujah, by al-Zarqawi's group."

That's just after a five minute search. Maybe the "New York Times" should start reading "Good news from Iraq" where I have been reporting on these and similar developments for quite some time now.


Third time lucky 

Persistence pays off (any more hat tips to Dan Foty and he'll have to co-edit this blog):

"A Cuban family that twice tried to reach Florida with vehicles converted into boats has made it to Miami, this time coming overland via Mexico from Costa Rica, the family's lawyer said.

"Luis Grass, his wife, Isora Hernandez, and their 5-year-old son, Angel Luis Grass Hernandez, entered the United States though the Texas-Mexico border on March 12.

"They were held in custody in Brownsville, Texas until Sunday. They traveled to Miami on Monday after being released on parole for humanitarian reasons. They will be allowed to apply for permanent residence in 2006."

Gregory Wald / U.S. Coast Guard via AP file

If you're industrious enough to attempt an ocean crossing to America on a 1951 Chevy pickup converted into a boat, you should be allowed in, and I'm sure you'll make a great and productive citizen of the United States.

We, Poles, were fortunate enough during the 1980s to be able to reach the West without having to cross the border disguised as a shrub (although in the immediate aftermath of the martial law in 1981 some did, crossing the mountains on the Polish-Czechoslovak border, walking through Czechoslovakia, and crossing, again illegally, the Czech-Austrian border). But when living in Italian refugee camps in the late 1980s, I recall listening to Romanians telling stories of their escapes from Ceaucescu's paradise. These people literally had to swim rivers; many were shot at by the Romanian border guards; many had their friends or family members die either from gunshots or from drowning or both. And, of course, how can we forget the Berlin Wall, erected - according to the East German authorities - to keep the West Germans out, where
more than 260 people had died while trying to cross to freedom.

By the way, can anyone remind me why, with all that wonderful health care, high levels of literacy, and the lack of crass American materialism and imperialism, aren't there people swimming back the other way, trying to get into Cuba?


Go Kentucky 

Two days ago I wrote about a story from Agence France-Presse which breathlessly proclaimed "45 people killed in insurgent attacks" only to explain later that 29 out of those 45 people were insurgents themselves.

A major component of that casualty tally was an ambush that went badly wrong for the insurgents, seven miles southeast of Baghdad. Here's the story of how three squads of the Kentucky-based
617th Military Police Company killed 27 insurgents (three more than the original reports indicated) while suffering three Guards wounded. Says Sgt. 1st Class Marshall Ware, platoon sergeant for the squads involved: "From Day 1, there was an emphasis on training. We trained and trained and trained... The Guard is not the same Guard it was two years ago. They're as good as any active duty unit." Hence, Exhibit 1.

Here's also the
ABC news story of the ambush.

As it usually happens, the ambush was video-taped by one of the insurgents. Our special correspondent Dan Foty reports that ABC played more or less the whole tape, which ends with the cameraman being himself shot, chanting "Allah u Akbar" a few times and toppling to the ground.

Here's the
CBS news segment which contains some - but not all - of that footage. In fact, towards the end I can hear the invocation of Allah, but the last few moments aren't shown.

Update: Reader Patrick Chester asks: "Would this count as a 'deliberately-targeted' journalist?"

Eason Jordan, you are now vindicated.



It almost seem unseemly to single out any group in Iraq for special attention as victims of terror, but here's an interesting report from MEMRI about the plight of Iraqi Christians. As Dr Nimrod Raphaeli writes,

"The high level of violence in Iraq has affected every sector of the Iraqi population, and Christians are no exception. They have, however, been specifically targeted by Islamists, who either accuse them of collaborating with the 'invading crusading army' or label them infidels."
While the Muslim communities in the West are thriving, in a sad contrast, the few remaining Christians throughout the Middle East seem to be endangered species.


Here's the roof, but where are the walls? 

While reading a report from the Arab League summit, buried under the Mid East peace process, Syria, Lebanon and democratization, I found this short sentence:

"According to a copy of the final declaration of the Algiers summit due to be released Wednesday, the leaders will agree to set up a pan-Arab parliament."
Not wanting to pre-empt the declaration, and indeed not having yet seen the details of the proposal, it strikes me that it would be far more productive to set up working, democratically elected parliaments in all 22 member states of the League before embarking on a project to construct any trans-national representative bodies in the region. If the new pan-Arab body will merely be an appointed one, then it's pretty useless; if it is to be elected, then it will only serve to further expose the domestic democratic deficit (DDD?) in most of the member states. Imagine residents of Belgium or Italy not being able to vote in national elections but having a right to elect Members of European Parliament.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Going in circles 

The Russian authorities have one more reason to be annoyed with Poland:

"Russia has strongly criticised Warsaw officials for naming a roundabout in the Polish capital after assassinated Chechen rebel leader Djokhar Dudayev.

"A statement by the Russian foreign ministry said the plan by the Warsaw city council 'causes indignation'. It said the move was 'an insult to the memory of the Russian victims of terror attacks... and an effective show of support for international terrorism'."
It has been a conscious Russian policy since September 11 to portray their conflict with Chechen separatists as part of the war on terror, in part to delegitimize by association the Chechens and their national aspirations, and in part to gain Western support for the Russian security policies in this forsaken corner of the Caucasus.

Dudayev, killed in a Russian rocket attack in 1996, was
neither an Islamist nor a terrorist. A former Soviet general, Dudayev was the first democratically elected president of Chechnia who declared independence from Russia in 1991 and three years later led his people in the first war of independence. Two brutal wars and God knows how many dead later (not to mention the Moscow theater siege, Beslan and other terrorist outrages), the situation in Chechnia is much more "nuanced" than it was in the past, yet it bears to remember that - to paraphrase Freud, sometimes a freedom fighter is just a freedom fighter.


They grow up so quickly... 

A good friend of this blog, Bill Roggio at the Fourth Rail ("History, Politics and the War on Terror") is celebrating his first anniversary - or blogiversary, as we, the sad types in pajamas like to call it. Well done! Make sure you drop in for a visit and wish Bill well for the future.

Which reminds me; my own blogiversary is coming up on March 31. Time flies.


Watching the Euros 

Plenty of good stuff about Europe around the news and around the net (and no, this will not turn into "Good (or Bad) news from Europe" series, I promise).

A few days ago, Chirac, Schroeder, Zapatero and Putin met in Paris for a talk-fest to discuss Iran, Lebanon and the meaning of life.
BBC reports:

"Chirac said the talks had been friendly and the four nations were determined to work together to ensure 'peace and democracy throughout greater Europe'. And he said the four would meet again at an EU-Russia summit to be held in Moscow on 10 May.

"The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says the purpose of these talks was for France to hold out the hand of friendship to Mr Putin and encourage him down the road of political and economic reforms.

"The three EU leaders appear to have taken a softly-softly approach, keeping the criticism muted and playing up the positives, our correspondent adds. They were not as outspoken as US President Bush was when he last met the Russian president and issued a public rebuke to Mr Putin."
Some Russian commentators think Putin's presence not very consequential; with the thawing of the trans-Atlantic relations and a spat between Moscow and Washington, Putin has little room to maneuver and little to offer. Some Polish commentators (link in Polish), on the other hand, are quite suspicious, seeing the meeting as the first attempt to revive, on its 190th anniversary, the Holy Alliance of the Congress of Vienna (or, for something more contemporary, the treaty of Rapallo), to order the continental affairs to their liking and keep the smaller states in their place (hat tips for the three pieces to Agnieszka from Denver).

Also check out
Pete du Pont's piece in the "Opinion Journal": "Europe's Problem--and Ours: Will the EU choose collectivism over individualism? Will we?" (hat tip: Dan Foty).

And Mark Steyn: "Almost every issue facing the EU - from immigration rates to crippling state pension liabilities - has at its heart the same glaringly plain root cause: a huge lack of babies." And on the same topic, George Weigel's "Is Europe Dying? Notes on a Crisis of Civilizational Morale".


Monday, March 21, 2005

New poll from Iraq 

Thanks to our special correspondent and translator Haider Ajina, here's the latest opinion poll of 970 residents of Baghdad, published in the March 21 edition of "Iraquna" newspaper:
"Are you in favor of implementing Islamic Sharia and an Islamic government?
Yes - 12.5%
No - 83.9%
Don’t Know - 3.6%

"Do you support cutting relations with Jordan? [background]
Yes - 85.2%
No - 14.1%
Don’t know - less than 1%

"Do you support what Al-Sadr followers did in Basrah? [background]
Yes - 6.6%
No - 90.4%
Don’t know - 3%"
As Haider comments, "most Iraqis have favored a secular government for some time and are continuing to ask for a secular government. They know what a theocracy is like, they have one next door and it does what it can to destabilize Iraq."


Good news from Islamic world, part 5: the special pro-democracy edition 

I'm having a deja-vu to the 1980s, when as a young lad stuck on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain I watched with some bemusement the safe and comfortable citizens of Western democracies rallying for "peace" and protesting aggressive American policies, while around me people were risking if not life than certainly limb and their future marching for freedom, democracy and human rights.

While throughout major cities of Western world crowds - albeit much diminished since three or two years ago - have turned up over the weekend for anti-democracy rallies to protest the second anniversary of the start of the liberation of Iraq, one region of the world remained strangely unaffected by the "anti-war" and "anti-occupation" fervor: the notorious "Arab street" has failed to join the "European street" and the "American street" in condemning yet again Chimpy Bushhitler and his imperialist policies. The only significant exception throughout the Middle East was Turkey, where rallies in three major cities could only muster several hundred people between them.

Everywhere else, the second anniversary of invasion did not incite much public excitement - possibly because the local residents were too busy rallying against terrorism and theocracy, and for freedom, democracy and human rights. Here's a round-up of the Middle Eastern action over the last few weeks, some of it very familiar, some of it you might have missed:


In late February, "friends and family of webmaster Ali Abdulemam gathered outside the Public Prosecution building, in Manama... to demonstrate against his arrest... The 27-year-old computer engineer with EDS company has been detained for 15 days over comments that appeared on his website Bahrainonline.org, which was shut down by the Information Ministry in 2002.

"However, the website - which has a membership of around 20,000 and gets around 80,000 hits a day - has continued to function using Internet servers outside the country. Yesterday his supporters covered their mouths with tape and staged a silent protest outside the Public Prosecution offices - symbolising their claim that he had been gagged." Abdulemam is accused of "inciting resentment against the government".


Since early December, Cairo has witnessed a series of anti-government demonstrations demanding free and democratic election that would not result in an automatic re-election of President Mubarak to his fifth consecutive term in office. "The rallies, organised by the Egyptian Movement for Change, have coined a slogan —'kefaya' (enough) -- to vent their exasperation with Mubarak and his consecutive administrations."

A few days ago, Egyptian opposition activist Ayman Nour declared to the cheering crowd of about 1,000 supporters that he will stand against Hosni Mubarak in the presidential election later this year. Said Nour: "They [the ruling party] have to apologise for the false elections during the past miserable 50 years... We have never chosen a president before ... Change is coming one day, and that day is soon."

On the second anniversary of the Coalition entry into Iraq, some 300 protesters have gathered in the capital to rally against the occupation. By all accounts, large sections of the crowd have spent most of the time venting their anger at their own government, sporting "No to Mubarak" stickers on their foreheads and chanting the opposition slogan "Enough!"


In the aftermath of the deadly terrorist attack in Hillah, which claimed some 125 lives, two thousand local residents came out onto the streets and protested at the scene of the carnage, chanting "No to terrorism!"

In the latest of the recent series of demonstrations in Baghdad, 2,000 Shia protested outside the Jordanian embassy, angered that the alleged perpetrator of the Hillah suicide attack was a Jordanian national.

In Basra, thousands of local university students were protesting the thuggish behavior of the followers of Muqtada al Sadr and other religious leaders. Raising signs "No to terrorism, No to [Religious] Parties", Basra University is currently on strike, demanding the government provides better security and protection from the self-appointed guardians of public order.


Last week, Iranians were celebrating the New Year's Festival of Fire, an old Persian tradition that the mullahs have been trying their hardest to suppress. Despite, or perhaps because of that, the celebrations around the country turned into anti-government rallies. In Teheran, protesters - going with the fire theme - set alight effigies of mullahs and other leaders while chanting "We need no Sheikh or Mullah, we curse YOU - RUHOLLAH!" and "Referendum, referendum, this is the people's dictum." "In another area of the city people took to setting the French flag on fire while chanting: 'Europe is finished and so are their Mullahs.' OR 'Bush, Bush, where is Bush?' (In Persian this rhymes: Bush, Bush, kush, kush!)."

Celebrations degenerated into violent riots in other cities around the country, including Karaj, Ahvaaz and Mash'had. Other reports talk of demonstrations in most of Iran's provinces and major cities. In the town of Shiraz, the protesters chanted "Bush, you told us to rise up, and so we have. Why don'’t you act?"


In early March, Kuwaiti women and their male supporters protested outside the Kuwaiti parliament, demanding the right to vote. "Holding blue and white signs saying 'Half a democracy is not a democracy' about 700 men and women chanted 'Women's rights, now!' as lawmakers entered the parliament building." Kuwaiti parliament is currently considering extending suffrage to women.


Anywhere between 800,000 and 1.5 million rallying in Beirut for the end of Syrian occupation and free elections. Enough said.

P.S. On the account of my "Good news from..." series I frequently get accused of unjustified optimism or even rampant triumphalism. This misinterprets my intention; I never try to deny or downplay bad news and negative developments (which usually get a pretty good run in the media anyway), merely try to bring together in an accessible form information that is often scattered and otherwise not very accessible. Be that as it may, just to remind you that not all movement throughout the region is now one-way, you can read here about two huge pro-Assad rallies in Syria (hundreds of thousands of people, according to the official news agency) and an anti-Musharraf rally in Pakistan, organised by the Islamist opposition, which attracted tens of thousands of people.

The struggle for freedom is never quick and never easy.


Everyone wants a slice of evil 

Perhaps a case of guilty consciences, but more and more people around the world are volunteering their countries for the inclusion in the next round of the Axis of Evil auditions (from the creators of "American Idol", coming next month to Fox).

Yesterday, we had Laurence Wong, a teacher living in London, who made the following announcement at the Hyde Park anti-war rally: "I want to stop the war, I am from China and we are probably next on (Bush's) list after Syria and Iran."

Today, we have this:

"Thousands of Gujaratis every year seek to migrate to the US but on Sunday their chief minister Narendra Modi virtually declared war on that country saying Uncle Sam was rattled because he 'dared to pass a Bill to prevent religious conversions'.

"Hinting that like Iraq, Gujarat could become a target of the US government, he said the US had a record of building 'a case' against a country for some years and then attacking it."
Before all the inevitable questions like "what the f***?" and "What is Gujarat?", let me explain that it's a state in India. Little did we - the masses of ordinary citizens, ignorant of neocon machinations - know that the road to Gandhinagar leads through Baghdad.


Fool of the day 

Another highlight from the London anti-war rally:

"People poured into the capital from across the country, including 29-year-old human rights author Susanna Akono who traveled in a coach from Kent.

" 'The war on terror is wrong because it is not going to end terrorism when you have people such as Iyad Allawi (Iraq's outgoing prime minister) being put in power,' she said, with an anti-war poster in her hand.

"Akono, who is from Cambodia and is married to a British man, plans to go on a hunger strike from April 14 in protest against the continuing war on terror.

" 'I want to do everything I can to make sure my child has a secure future,' said the pregnant activist."
Starting with starving the unborn.


"Bush, Bush, where is Bush?" 

As I wrote yesterday, on the occasion of the second anniversary of the start of the liberation of Iraq, "I can't find any mention of Iraqis protesting their liberation, and neither can I find any stories about anti-war and anti-occupation rallies anywhere else throughout the Middle East (with exception of several hundred people protesting in Turkey). Perhaps they're all too busy rallying for democracy and against their own governments."

Indeed. In Iran, a few days ago people were celebrating the New Year's Festival of Fire, an old Persian tradition which the Mullahs have tried their best to suppress. Not surprisingly the celebrations across Iran have become a focus of anti-government anger. My favorite paragraph from this extensive report:
"In another area of [Teheran] people took to setting the French flag on fire while chanting: 'Europe is finished and so are their Mullahs.' OR 'Bush, Bush, where is Bush?' (In Persian this rhymes: Bush, Bush, kush, kush!)."
(hat tip: Judith Klinghoffer) While you're at it, check out the week in review at Regime Change Iran blog.


Burying the better news 

Aren't you glad that you read more than the headline

"45 killed in insurgent attacks"
or indeed the opening paragraph

"At least 45 people have been killed in insurgent attacks across Iraq as Washington defended its decision to go to war on the second anniversary of the US-led invasion."
of this Agence France-Presse story. Because when you get to the second paragraph, you read:

"Twenty-four Iraqi insurgents were killed and six coalition soldiers wounded in a firefight in a Baghdad suburb overnight, the US military said."
That is, more than half of the people killed in insurgent attacks were the insurgents themselves. Actually, when you read on, you discover that another five insurgents died in two separate attack, which means that the number is realy 29 out of 45

It's tragic that 15 Iraqis and one American have also died yesterday, but there is a very important implication flowing from all this: terrorism and insurgency rely for their effectiveness and survival on the ability to inflict mass casualties, preferably in a spectacular fashion, while sustaining minimal losses themselves. The arithmetic in Iraq, and everywhere else, is simple: there are hell of a lot more ordinary Iraqis (including Iraqi security forces) out there than there are terrorists. Hence, terrorists cannot afford to be dying at the same, or greater, rate than their target population.


Sunday, March 20, 2005

Life imitates Steyn 

Mark Steyn, in December 2003:
"Wolfowitz is a demonic figure to the anti-war types for little reason other than that his name begins with a big scary animal and ends Jewishly."
A year and a half later, the Daily Show's Jon Stewart outdoes himself:
"Wolfowitz, whose name manages the rare feat of sounding both ferocious and Jewy –- it’s not easy..."
If you missed it, here's the transcript and here's the video.

As Stewart remained his viewers, "Wolfowitz... has no background in economics and is best known as the architect of the War on Iraq. Yet he’s been tapped to replace current World Bank president, James Wolfensohn." Stewart also laughed off President Bush's contention that Wolfowitz is qualified to run the World Bank because he was involved in running a similarly large organization, the Pentagon.

Stewart, being the resident intellectual powerhouse at the Comedy Central, obviously has higher standards than London "Times" which not that long ago came out in favor of U2's singer Bono for the World Bank job: "Bono has international credibility, a keen understanding of development issues and, through his mega-earnings with U2, a handle on money."

Had that come to pass, I'm sure Stewart would have been rolling on the floor with laughter. Then again, maybe not; after all it's Bono, not Bonstein.

Update: Although as Polipundit reminds me, Stewart can be harsh on Bono, too.


Sunday reading 

Bill Roggio makes the case for why China won't invade Taiwan.

Pundit Guy: is Websense blocking Fox News?

Joe Gandelman blogs about the opening of the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.

Lorie at Polipundit has a message to Republican Senators on judicial nominees: don't screw it up.

Polish Immigrant reports that Oregon soldiers coming back from Iraq are talking about all the good things they've achieved in Iraq. And about how the media has let them down ("It seemed like they were trying to screw up the military.").

Bird's Eye View is hosting the new carnival of the vanities.

John Hawkins interviews Henry Copeland form Blogads.

At Peaktalk - democracy in the Middle East; be careful what you wish for.

Chase Me Ladies has some good news from Colombia.

The Word Unheard rounds up Lebanese bloggers. Here's one - Ya Libnan! - which will keep you up to date with all the news (hat tip: Brainster).

Philomathean wonders why new Apolacyptic TV series is being advertised in the "Scientific American".


Just like the Bourbons, they learn nothing and forget nothing 

Today we celebrate the second anniversary of the left failing to learn anything, again.

Around the world, crowds have gathered to protest the continuing war and occupation in Iraq. The protesters demanded the withdrawal of foreign troops and the withdrawal of democracy out of Iraq.

Just kidding. Or maybe not.

Reports the "New York Times" (with a hint of disappointment?):
"Two years after the American-led invasion of Iraq, relatively small crowds of demonstrators - the home guard of the antiwar movement - mobilized yesterday in New York, San Francisco and cities and towns across the nation to condemn the war and demand the withdrawal of allied forces.

"Thousands joined similar protests in European cities. On both sides of the Atlantic, the protests were passionate but largely peaceful, and nowhere near as big as those in February 2003, just before the war, when millions around the world marched to urge President Bush not to attack."
In London, a bit of an anti-war flop: 100,000 or even 250,000 were expected. "With rumours of an attack on Iran in June and the demonstration being a matter of weeks before the general election it would be fantastic to have many hundreds of thousands of people expressing their anti-war sentiment," said the rally's organizer Stop The War Coalition on its website, switching its attention to defending another endangered Middle Eastern tyranny (sorry, a democracy where we give you a wide range of mullah-approved hardliners to vote for).

Never mind; in the end somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 showed up. The highlight of the event must have been a speech by Laurence Wong, a teacher living in London, who was far ahead of the Stop The War Coalition curve: "I want to stop the war, I am from China and we are probably next on (Bush's) list after Syria and Iran."

Strangely quiet was the "Arab Street" - I can't find any mention of Iraqis protesting their liberation, and neither can I find any stories about anti-war and anti-occupation rallies anywhere else throughout the Middle East (with exception of several hundred people protesting in Turkey). Perhaps they're all too busy rallying for democracy and against their own governments.


When bad analogies attack 

So Tina Brown thinks that bloggers are the "new Stasi" (hat tip: Powerline). I don't think it would be too presumptuous of me to assume that when she says bloggers, she means right-wing bloggers, those nasty people responsible for the Swift Boat, Dan Rather and Eason Jordan witch hunts (who has, by contrast the left blogosphere managed to take down? Jeff Gannon?).

I guess that after decades of being on the receiving end of tired Nazi analogies, it's refreshing to be compared to communists. It's also refreshing to know that whether the left uses the brown or the read paint to splash their opponents with, it remains just as historically clueless as it ever was. Whines Brown:
"No matter who you are, someone is ready and willing to rat you out. Even the rats themselves have to look over their shoulders, because some smaller rat is always waiting in the wings... All the timidity this engenders, all this watching your mouth has started to feel positively un-American."
At this moment, tens of thousands of the real victims of the real Stasi - you know, the people who were tortured, imprisoned, or turned into outcasts in a closed society - compassionately nod their head and say, "Yes, Tina, we feel your pain."

In Tina Brown's world of sideshow alley mirror morality the politico-media establishment is the victim. But as Powerline's Deacon observes, it's Brown's own approach that is closer to the spirit of the former East German rulers: we are above criticism.

In reality, it's the communist governments which used to thrive on politicized war heroism, faking documents and killing journalists. Bloggers are just samizdata plus Internet.


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