Wednesday, December 27, 2006


someone writes about the plight of Iraqi civilians, regardless if it's gleaned from recently published books. Christian Caryl of the NY Review of Books reviews the Iraqi female blogger Riverbend's two books -- Baghdad Burning I and II, Anthony Shadid's Night Draws Near and Nir Rosen's In the Belly of the Green Bird and their overwhelming concern for the people of Iraq. As Caryl notes, Riverbend is particularly astute at uncovering the many tragic contradicitons of the U.S. Iraq adventure.
She is a passionate opponent of the occupation, and her writing sparks with rage and indignation. An avid consumer of the press and the Internet, she is well aware of the range of American attitudes about the war; she has her own.[1] When she hears that US forces in Iraq are fighting "terrorists," she notes that the American-installed Iraqi government includes several prominent members of the Islamist Dawa Party, which was behind a string of bombings that killed Iraqi civilians in the 1980s.[2] When she hears that Washington aspires to implant democracy in Iraq, she responds by showing how her rights as a woman are being steadily curtailed by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism sponsored by the very same political parties that the Americans have brought to power. And when the talk turns to "collateral damage," she asserts that "American long-term memory is exclusive to American traumas. The rest of the world should simply 'put the past behind,' 'move forward,' 'be pragmatic,' and 'get over it.'"

A harsh verdict, to be sure, but perhaps it needs to be heard. The underlying irony of all this should be obvious. The writer of these words is a young female computer programmer (now twenty-seven), whose resourceful English (acquired during a long stay abroad in her childhood) would put many Americans to shame. Her familiarity with American culture and principles repeatedly comes to the fore; indeed, it is her intense awareness of American political discourse and reporting that infuses her writing. If any Iraqi can be receptive to America's grand democratic design for Iraq, surely it ought to be someone like her. And yet, as her book dramatically demonstrates, she and her occupiers may temporarily inhabit the same country, but they continue to live in different worlds.
Yet while most Iraqis do indeed hate the occupation, there is a fear that an American withdrawal will, in the words of a Shiite matron, result in
"massacres... between the tribes, between the parties and between the Sunnis and Shiites, of course.'" She hastens to add that "no one who loves their country accepts an occupation. Everybody wants freedom."
And this is why Iraq is such a tragedy of the Bush Administration's making. The U.S. is truly damned if we do and damned if we don't regarding withdrawal. I should clarify this by stating that we are more damned if we do withdraw and Iraq becomes the next killing field of ethnic and religious cleansing. Can there be any doubt the U.S., along with the fanatics and jihadists, would be responsible for this gruesome situation? Is there any doubt that if we do withdraw and genocide does occur that the U.S. will not be deploying another mass of troops to stop and contain the situation?

The fierce proponents of withdrawal never answer these questions. I do think withdrawal is inevitable, but it cannot be immediate. If so, American troops will once again be between civilization's two rivers but the blood will be knee deep rather than the slim slick it is now.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Civil War Watch

The Pentagon released a report describing the escalating violence endemic to Iraq. Here's what the NYTs reports:
A Pentagon assessment of security conditions in Iraq concluded Monday that attacks against American and Iraqi targets had surged this summer and autumn to their highest level, and called violence by Shiite militants the most significant threat in Baghdad.

The report, which covers the period from early August to early November, found an average of almost 960 attacks against Americans and Iraqis every week, the highest level recorded since the Pentagon began issuing the quarterly reports in 2005, with the biggest surge in attacks against American-led forces. That was an increase of 22 percent from the level for early May to early August, the report said.

While most attacks were directed at American forces, most deaths and injuries were suffered by the Iraqi military and civilians.

The report is the most comprehensive public assessment of the American-led operation to secure Baghdad, which began in early August. About 17,000 American combat troops are currently involved in the beefed-up security operation.

According to the Pentagon assessment, the operation initially had some success in reducing killings as militants concentrated on eluding capture and hiding their weapons. But sectarian death squads soon adapted, resuming their killings in regions of the capital that were not initially targets of the overstretched American and Iraqi troops.

Shiite militias, the Pentagon report said, also received help from allies among the Iraqi police. “Shia death squads leveraged support from some elements of the Iraqi Police Service and the National Police who facilitated freedom of movement and provided advance warning of upcoming operations,” the report said.
The report goes on to describe Shiite death squads as more dangerous and violent than either insurgents or terrorist foreign fighters. This trend is frightening and portends increased ethnic cleansing, if not genocide, if the United States suddenly pulls out of Iraq leaving a vacuum of security.

I have always been a person obsessed with democracy, but now, my idealism has been blunted and pragmatism reigns supreme in my mind. The only thing that matters now is how the United States, Iraqis themselves, and other international actors act to stop a slide toward ethnic cleansing. As Americans, we hold much responsibility for the state of Iraq. Sure, the simmering hatred between Sunni and Shiite is over a millennia old, but it was the U.S. that destroyed the Baathist state and unleashed these forces. This wouldn't have been a bad thing if the U.S. reconstructed Iraq quickly and had the requisite troop strength to provide security, but as we all know now, the Bush Administration's ignorance and unrealistic democratic positivism undermined these preparations. We are the ones to blame and while history will not be kind to the U.S. for illegally invading and occupying Iraq without U.N. support --thereby undermining broadbased multilateral responsibility -- it will be even harsher if the U.S. leaves and Iraq experiences genocide with an Islamist taint.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Know the Divide

The NYTs Week in Review helps Congressmen and average joes alike understand the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. It's a pretty important detail to know when trying to understand the complex mixture of faith, fanaticism, and foreign policy that goes into making the Middle East the most volatile region in the world today.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Interesting, Very Interesting

Via the NYT's Sunday Magazine:
A team of C.I.A. analysts, however, has devised a new, and possibly potent, way of looking at the problem. The agency’s “Ziggurat of Zealotry” arrays Islamists into a pyramid in the Mesopotamian style, with each ascending level representing a leap in radicalization. At the bottom of the ziggurat are peaceful individuals who concern themselves with what some call the greater jihad, the personal struggle to be a dutiful and pious Muslim. Some of those individuals step up to join groups like Tablighi Jamaat — a missionary organization founded in India — that organize devout Muslims to effect change in their societies. Above that, you find groups with more radical political agendas, typically the overthrow or replacement of governments they regard as repressive and hostile to Islam as they believe it should be practiced. The next step abandons politics for violence exclusively. The top level covers only those who extend this mandate for violence globally and seek to destroy the Western nation-state system.

The ziggurat is said to be the brainchild of Cindy Storer, an analyst at the C.I.A.’s counterterror center, who presented it publicly at the University of Pennsylvania in March. The model usefully implies that recruiters from one level draw almost exclusively from the level directly beneath them. It also implies that radicalization is neither fluid nor inevitable; radical Muslims are not destined to become violent. The task for counterterrorism, then, is to disrupt the “elevators” that pull individuals and resources up the ziggurat without taking steps to incur the ire of lower levels and nudge them upward.
While it is hard for me to understand how any intelligent person with any knowledge of Islam and the myriad ways Muslims practice their faith can believe Muslims are inherently violent, this easy to understand 'ziggurat" may help the black-and-white types to acknowledge gray when thinking about Muslims and violence.

Remember, if you look back to any civilization you will find a historical epoch where violence was the major social currency: the European genocide of the indigenous of the Americas anyone?

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Monday, December 11, 2006

To Lose One's Humanity

Via the NYTs:
Holocaust deniers and skeptics from around the world gathered at a government-sponsored conference here today to discuss their theories about whether six million Jews were indeed killed by the Nazis during World War II and whether gas chambers existed.

In a speech opening the two-day conference, Rasoul Mousavi, head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Institute for Political and International Studies, which organized the event, said it was an opportunity for scholars to discuss the subject “away from Western taboos and the restriction imposed on them in Europe.”

The foreign ministry had said that 67 foreign researchers from 30 countries were scheduled to take part. Among those speaking today are David Duke, the American white-supremacist politician and former Ku Klux Klan leader, and Georges Thiel, a French writer who has been prosecuted in France over his denials of the Holocaust.

Mr. Duke’s remarks late this afternoon are expected to assert that no gas chambers or extermination camps were actually built during the war, on the ground that killing Jews that way would have been much too bothersome and expensive when the Nazis could have used much simpler methods, according to an advance summary of his speech published by the institute.
When conferences such as these are organized, I think it is important to remember what Noam Chomsky wrote about the Holocaust in American Power and the New Mandarins four decades ago:
By entering into the arena of argument and counterargument, of technical feasibility and tactics, of footnotes and citations, by accepting the presumption of legitimacy of debate on certain issues, one has already lost one's humanity

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Crocodile Tears

Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet has died. The tragedy is he died before he stood before the Hague and was found guilty of human rights violations.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Tortured Justice

In an act both just and hypocritical, the U.S. government is charging Charles McArthur Emmanuel with the crime of torture, committed while Emmanuel worked for his war criminal father, Charles Taylor, in Liberia.

Here's the basic gist from the BBC:
Mr Emmanuel, known as Charles "Chuckie" Taylor, had been arrested in late March in Miami and has pleaded guilty to passport fraud for not declaring his connection to his father.

He was in charge of presidential security when his father was in power in Liberia, and is accused of taking part in the torture of a victim in July 2002.

"The allegations in this case include acts of torture, such as burning flesh with a hot iron, burning flesh with scalding water, and applying electric shocks," a US attorney said in an official statement.

The assistant secretary for immigration and customs enforcement said it was a "clear message the US would not be a safe haven for human rights violators".
Please disregard that last statement from the U.S. assistant secretary for immigration and customs enforcement as many Cuban terrorists walk the streets of Miami everyday.

Is the trial of Emmanuel hypocritical? You betcha, but it is justice, no matter how tortured it may be.

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Finally Some Good News...

Wages for average Americans have outstripped inflation for the first time since the late economic boom of the 1990s. The NYTs explains why:
With energy prices now sharply lower than a few months ago and the improving job market forcing employers to offer higher raises, the buying power of American workers is now rising at the fastest rate since the economic boom of the late 1990s.

The average hourly wage for workers below management level — everyone from school bus drivers to stockbrokers — rose 2.8 percent from October 2005 to October of this year, after being adjusted for inflation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only a year ago, it was falling by 1.5 percent
The question now is how will the Bush Administration spin this good news to their advantage. Will they claim their ill-advised tax cuts are the reason? We shall see.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006


I wanted to take a moment and mourn the death of James Kim, the CNET editor whose body was found yesterday in the Oregon wilderness. I had not followed this story until yesterday when I found out a friend of mine in San Francisco knew and worked with him. According to the SF Gate:
James Kim died in the southern Oregon mountains after what one rescue leader described as a "superhuman'' trek across nearly impassable terrain to try to find help for his family.

The body of the missing San Francisco man was found today, 11 days after his family's car became stuck on a side road in the snow and four days after he ventured off to look for help.

Kim, 35, died after picking his way nearly to the end of a steep, 5-mile canyon that leads down to the Rogue River in the Siskiyou National Forest west of Grants Pass. Wearing tennis shoes, he had to climb around boulders and over fallen trees in an dripping-wet environment where rescuers said they were wet within half an hour.
When news that Kim's body was found floating in Big Windy Creek, two rescue workers discussing his heroics broke down in tears. Josephine County Undersheriff Brian Anderson emoted he was "crushed" when the news broke.

Kim's fortitude and self-sacrifice are awe-inspiring. The world lost a good man when James Kim passed away, someone who put his family before his own life.

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Fearsome Twosome

I'm watching the joint press conference of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair and it's so frustrating to watch P.M. Blair speak and then watch President Bush stumble and bumble his way through his part of the message.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

My Recommendations One Year Ago

With the release of the Iraq Study Group report, I'd like to link to a paper I wrote while getting my Master's in International Security Studies at St. Andrews titled, "What Lessons Can be Drawn From Countering Terrorists in the Iraq War."

While I claim this is no great achievement (the lessons should come easily from historical insight and logic), my paper does not differ much from the recommendations published today. Have a look if you have time.

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Iraq Study Group Recommendations


The Iraq Study Group presented its report to President Bush this morning. According to the NYTs, here are the major advisements.
According to members of the panel, the group concluded that American forces in Iraq should make a major shift in priorities over the next year, largely withdrawing from combat in favor of beefing up the training of Iraq forces. It also called for stepped-up diplomatic efforts — including talks with Iran and Syria — not only to stabilize Iraq but to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, news services reported.

According to The Associated Press, the report describes the current situation in Iraq as “grave and deteriorating” and warns of the risk of a “slide toward catastrophe” both within Iraq and throughout the region.

The Washington Post reported today that the group recommends that Mr. Bush threaten to withhold economic and military support unless the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki meets specific milestones for progress on security and political reconciliation.
The issue now will be whether President Bush will take these recommendations seriously or will he merely skim the report and toss it by the wayside, endangering Iraqi stability and American credibility further than he already has.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006


Human rights criminal and tyrant Gen. Augusto Pinochet suffered a heart attack and underwent the knife to save his life twice. The world will be a better place when the Gen. unceremoniously expires.

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