Day By Day

Monday, February 28, 2005

Latest on Lebanon

It appears violence has broken out. Caveman in Beirut reports:

[T]here are reports of violence in Tripoli (Karami's primary base of support) and some other areas in northern Lebanon - the strong points of Syrian support. Many people in Tripoli are very upset that their man was forced to resign - they are walking around in hordes, burning tires, burning cars, and the footage on television (LBC right now) shows quite a chaotic scene. With all the pressure that has been on Syria in the past two weeks, it would make perfect sense that the Syrians may want to create a diversion, and it seems that they may have done just that. What has happened here in just two hours was (1) A second news story has been created, demanding local news time, thereby taking some of the cameras off the protests in the downtown area; and (2) Counterdemonstrations - the thing that the opposition feared most.And if this were not enough - al-Nahar reports that the security convoy of U.S. envoy David Satterfield (former Ambassador to Lebanon) was forced to change the venue in which Satterfield was supposed to meet with Lebanon's top Sunni muslim cleric, Mohammad Rashid Kabbani, when up to 20 unidentified armed men wearing civilian clothes appeared in the area. Al-Jazeera went as far as saying that this was an assassination attempt, and mainstream media may be downplaying the significance of this event.

Read the whole thing here.

Across the Bay adds details:

A supporter of outgoing Prime Minister Omar Karameh died of a gunshot wound late Monday in the Syrian-backed premier's hometown of Tripoli in northern Lebanon, medics and witnesses told AFP. Fadi al-Ahmad, 22, was pronounced dead in a nearby hospital, medics there said. He was fired on inside the compound of Karameh's family home from a nearby rooftop, a statement from the outgoing premier's office said. Police said they had no immediate word on the shooting. The announcement in parliament earlier Monday of Karameh's resignation in the face of mass demonstrations set off protests by some 2,000 of his supporters who fired into the air and set ablaze tyres to block off roads. They also tore down banners strung up by the opposition and broke the windows of two cars parked outside an opposition MP's home.

and this:

[I]n stark contrast to the scenes of joy in the capital and other cities, the mood was one of anger in Karameh's home town of Tripoli. His supporters launched volleys of machine-gun fire into the air, blocked traffic with burning tyres and tore down opposition banners."With our blood, with our soul, we will defend you o Karameh," they shouted, along with slogans insulting leading opposition figure, the Druze MP Walid Jumblatt and voicing their backing for Syria.

Read the whole thing here.

Long May it Wave [hat tip to Orrin Judd] Posted by Hello

Aha! Journalistic Integrity and Iraq

Katie Grant, writing in the Scotsman, faces a moment of truth:
THE thought is heretical, but I’m having it all the same. Iraq, notwithstanding future setbacks that will undoubtedly occasionally spin it off course, is slowly turning into a good-news story....

Slowly? It seems to be going pretty damn fast.... Oh! I get it. She's referring to the glacial pace at which truth is illuminating the minds of the British press corps.
While horror there is in plenty, horror is not the whole story. According to the quirkily named Bartle Bull, writing in this month’s Prospect magazine, it is not even half the story; it is simply the only story in which most of the western press corps is interested.

The good news in Bartle Bull’s piece is that, since the elections, "Iraq is not about America any more". Bull recounts his experiences on 30 January, the day Iraqis turned out in their millions to vote on their country’s future, missing out none of the violence, but also telling other stories, for example of the moment when the "floodgates burst", as he puts it, and the roads were thronged with brave voters; and how the streets, empty of traffic, were turned, after the polls closed, into temporary football pitches full of impromptu games. One Iraqi girl described the day to Bull as "orgasmic".


Ah, I see! If the US were part of the story, it would have to be negative. Taking the US out of the equation allows the press to inject a positive spin.

But even without the US in the stories it was hard for British reporters to sustain a positive slant. The strain was killing them, but then:
There was a brief flicker of hope for the press pack when a British Hercules aircraft crashed, killing nine RAF personnel and one soldier.

At once the British media made it the main story of the day....

The crash gave commentators what they wanted: an excuse to downplay the success of the first democratic elections in which many Iraqis had ever taken part, and imply that they were a failure.

Well, Katie, now that you are telling the truth, why not go all the way?

The truth is that hatred for George Bush and all he stands for is so entrenched in the eyes of bien pensant western commentators, that using the word "success" about Iraq would choke them. If word ever slips out..., it comes hedged with such portentous and lugubrious caveats that it sounds more like a distasteful disease....

There, now, that felt good didn't it? Confession is good for the soul.

Read the whole thing here.

I'm Not Sure How to Take This


WASHINGTON - New intelligence indicates that Osama bin Laden is enlisting Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, his top operative in Iraq, to plan potential attacks on the United States, U.S. officials said Monday.

Al-Zarqawi has been involved in attacks in the Middle East but has not been known to have set his sights on U.S. soil.

The Homeland Security Department issued a classified bulletin to officials over the weekend about the intelligence, which spokesman Brian Roehrkasse described as "credible but not specific." The intelligence was obtained over the past several weeks, officials said.

I think this indicates that Bin Laden is giving up on Iraq and is trying to return to the headlines after months of marginalization. His one and great success, the one that made him a hero to jihadists everywhere, was a successful strike at the "far enemy" [the American homeland]. If that's the case, we are winning and winning big. She Who Shall Not Be Named, however, finds the report terrifying.

Protests Bring Down Govt., Generate Greenhouse Gas

Check out Scott Ott over at Scrappleface for his take on the Lebanese revolution:
(2005-02-28) -- As the Prime Minister of Lebanon announced the resignation of his government, the United Nations warned that crowds of protestors in Beirut have generated "dangerously high levels of carbon dioxide -- a deadly greenhouse gas."
Jackson Diehl has a wonderful summary of the effects of Bush's freedom imperative:

A Mideast Makeover?
Popular Protests Spur Changes From
By Jackson Diehl
Monday, February 28, 2005

As thousands of Arabs demonstrated for freedom and democracy in Beirut and Cairo last week, and the desperate dictators of Syria and Egypt squirmed under domestic and international pressure, it was hard not to wonder whether the regional transformation that the Bush administration hoped would be touched off by its invasion of Iraq is, however tentatively, beginning to happen.

Those who have declared the war an irretrievable catastrophe have been gloating for at least a year over the supposed puncturing of what they portray as President Bush's fanciful illusion that democracy would take root in Iraq and spread through the region. They may yet be proved right. But how, then, to explain the tens of thousands who marched through Beirut last Monday carrying red and white roses and scarves -- the colors of what they call the "independence intifada" -- and calling for "freedom, independence and sovereignty" from neighboring Syria? Or the hundreds of Egyptian protesters who gathered that same day at Cairo University, in defiance of thousands of police officers, to chant the slogan of "kifaya," or "enough," at 76-year-old President Hosni Mubarak?
These are autocrats whose regimes had remained unaltered, and unchallenged, for decades. There has been no political ferment in Damascus since the 1960s, or in Cairo since the 1950s. Now, within weeks of Iraq's elections, Mubarak and Assad are tacking with panicked haste between bold acts of repression, which invite an international backlash, and big promises of reform -- which also may backfire, if they prove to be empty. They could yet survive; but quite clearly, the Arab autocrats don't regard the Bush dream of democratic dominoes as fanciful.
Virtually no one in Washington expected such a snowballing of events following Iraq's elections. Not many yet believe that they will lead to real democracy in Egypt, Lebanon or Syria anytime soon. But it is a fact of history that the collapse of a rotted political order usually happens quickly, and takes most of the experts by surprise. In early 1989 I surveyed a panoply of West German analysts about the chances that the then-incipient and barely noticed unrest in Eastern Europe could lead to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. None thought it possible; most laughed at me for asking the question.

If a Middle East transformation begins to gather momentum, it probably will be more messy, and the results more ambiguous, than those European revolutions. It also won't be entirely Bush's creation: The tinder for ignition has been gathering around the stagnant and corrupt autocracies of the Middle East for years. Still, less than two years after Saddam Hussein was deposed, the fact is that Arabs are marching for freedom and shouting slogans against tyrants in the streets of Beirut and Cairo -- and regimes that have endured for decades are visibly tottering. Those who claimed that U.S. intervention could never produce such events have reason to reconsider.

Read the whole thing here.

And the Beat Goes On -- Lebanon Updates; Has the Revolution Begun?

The Scotsman reports:

Defying a ban on protests, more than 20,000 people demonstrated against Syrian interference in Lebanon today and demanded the resignation of the nation’s pro-Damascus government.

Inside the Beirut parliament building, opposition MPs made the same call, with one accusing the government of negligence in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
In Martyr’s Square, 200 yards from parliament, the demonstrators waved hundreds of Lebanese flags, clambered on to the plinth of the martyrs’ statue, and prayed in front of candles at the flower-covered grave of Hariri, which lies at the edge of the piazza.

The demonstrators also demanded the withdrawal of Syria’s 15,000 troops in Lebanon, chanting: “We want no other army in Lebanon except the Lebanese army!”
Hundreds of soldiers and police ringed the square in a bid to enforce the government’s ban on protests. But they made no serious effort to disperse the demonstrators, many of whom had slept in the square. Some soldiers and police even sympathised with the demonstrators, and were seen advising newcomers on how to evade the cordon.

Hundreds of soldiers and police ringed the square in a bid to enforce the government’s ban on protests. But they made no serious effort to disperse the demonstrators, many of whom had slept in the square. Some soldiers and police even sympathised with the demonstrators, and were seen advising newcomers on how to evade the cordon.

When the security forces begin to collaborate with the protesters, the regime is in real trouble.

Meanwhile Assad has not responded in any meaningful way to the demands for withdrawal.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose government dominates its Lebanese neighbour, said in an interview today that a withdrawal from Lebanon required a settlement with Israel.

“Under a technical point of view, the withdrawal can happen by the end of the year,” Assad said. “But under a strategic point of view, it will only happen if we obtain serious guarantees. In one word: peace.”

Syria said last week it would redeploy its troops to eastern Lebanon, closer to its border, but they would not leave Lebanon. By Monday, there was no sign of the redeployment having begun.

So Assad is playing the same old game all reactionary Arab leaders play. He says that nothing can be done until the Israeli/Palestinian problem is cleared up, while at the same time making sure [Syria was behind yesterday's terror bombing in Tel Aviv] that there will be no peace in Palestine. For decades western nations have accepted that excuse for inaction [many in Europe still do], but those days are passing.

One of the great glories of Bush's foreign policy is the fact that he recognized that the really big troubles in the region were not the fault of Israel, but of the Arab governments themselves. He took direct action in Iraq and elsewhere, ignoring demands that he focus on "the Mideast Problem," and that has made all the difference.

Assad is playing it tough. He won't be redeploying troops anytime soon, and when redeployment takes place it will not remove them from Lebanon. As I pointed out in an earlier post, there are lots of signs pointing to the fact that US forces are no longer tied down in Iraq. Look for a redeployment to take place soon..., of American forces; one that will put a lot of them on the Syrian border.

Read the whole thing here.


Rami Khouri has a piece in today's Boston Globe that highlights both the complexity of the situation in Lebanon and it paramount importance for the region. He writes:

THE POST-Hariri assassination dynamic in Lebanon and Syria should be studied closely for what it can tell us about how indigenous forces resist or challenge powerful indigenous governments. The Syrian-Lebanese relationship is now the crucible for testing new forms of American and Western political intervention in the Arab world.
Read the whole thing here.


Publius Pundit is on the case. Things are moving rapidly toward a major confrontation. There is a no-confidence vote scheduled for tomorrow, there are major demonstrations in the streets, the government has ordered a crackdown, but it remains to see if it will be effective. Publius writes:
The no-confidence vote in the government is tomorrow, with thousands of people still protesting, and business, banking, and industrial leaders closing down the country’s economy in order to go out there themselves. It is going to be big, and it could be brutal, but either way, this could be the revolution. [Emphasis mine].
Go to Publius here. Do it, Now!!!! He's got commentary, he's got picture links, he has links to Lebanese blogs. He's your one-stop shopping center for news on the liberation movements throughout the Muslim world.

The Entire Lebanese Government has Resigned!!!
Noon, Feb. 28

More Pictures -- this time from the BBC -- here.

US Welcomes the change of government in Lebanon -- Puts Pressure on Syria:
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The White House welcomed the resignation of pro-Syrian Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karameh saying it should pave the way for elections and a new government that was "truly representative."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan also repeated a call for Syrian troops to leave Lebanon. "We are closely watching developments with great interest," he told reporters.

"The resignation of the Karameh government represents an opportunity for the Lebanese people to have a new government which is truly representative of their country's diversity," McClellan said.

"The new government will have the responsibility to implement free and fair elections that the Lebanese people have clearly demonstrated they desire," McClellan added.

"The process of (forming) a new government should proceed in accordance with the Lebanese constitution and should be free of all foreign interference," the White House spokesman said. "It is time for Syria to fully comply with United Nations Security Council resolution 1559 that means that Syria military forces and intelligence personnel leave the country," he said. "That will help to ensure that elections are free and fair."

Read the whole thing here.

Oscar and the Polls

Zogby polling reports:

The survey finds that 25% of American adults plan to watch the annual awards show, while nearly two-thirds (63%) say they do not plan to. Another one-in-eight (12%) have not decided whether they will watch the Oscars or not. Oscar-viewing habits do have a lot to do with where a respondent lives, and where they line up politically. While four-in-ten (39%) Democrats say they will watch the Oscars, this drops to one-in-eight (13%) among Republicans. Unsurprisingly, political independents split the difference, with 22% planning to view the awards show.


A racial divide has appeared in this year's awards viewership as well, with 39% of African Americans saying they will watch the program and 23% of whites saying the same—at a time when African American Rock is poised to host, and only three years after Halle Berry and Denzel Washington made history as the first African Americans to win Oscars for best actor and actress. There is also an urban-rural divide, with nearly one-third (31%) of residents of large cities planning to watch Sunday night's program, while half as many rural residents (15%) say the same.

The poll asked other questions such as which actors should run for office, who were the best presenters, etc. In each case political and racial divisions were marked. I suspect that there would have been equally true if they had segmented the survey by gender, age group, or sexual preference. It is interesting that Zogby and/or the reporter, chose to report only race, political affiliation, and residential differences.

Read the whole thing here.

All that this shows, of course, is that we are a large and diverse nation in which different people have different tastes. This is something to keep in mind when commentators, as they often do, try to use movies or any form of popular entertainment to illustrate the mind of America. Even the most popular movies are only seen by a relatively small segment of the American population and are ignored by most people. Movies themselves, indeed entire genres, are aimed at specific target audiences and are not intended to be seen by most people. That is why it is always dangerous to generalize from films to the general culture, and why such generalizations should always be taken with several shakers of salt. That won't stop journalists from making such assertions, though.


BBC Reports:

At least 110 people have been killed in a massive car bomb south of Baghdad, local medical officials say. At least 130 others have been wounded in the blast in Hilla, 100km (60 miles) south of the capital.

The car, reportedly driven by a suicide bomber, exploded near a queue of people applying for government jobs.

Iraqi insurgents are waging a violent campaign against US-backed authorities, targeting anyone associated with the government.

A statement from local police said a suicide car bomb "hit a gathering of people who were applying for work in the security services", the Associated Press news agency reported. "Several people" were arrested in connection with the blast, the statement
added, without elaborating further.

Torn limbs, feet and other body parts littered the street after the blast.
Footage showed pools of blood at the scene, with dozens of people helping to put body parts into blankets. Shoes and tattered clothes were piled up in a corner.
[Emphasis mine].

Read the whole thing here.

What can you say in the face of evil like this? Of course the BBC has a rational explanation -- it's part of "a campaign against US backed authorities." But that's yesterday's explanation. It is by now crystal clear that violence will not drive the US out, nor will it provoke civil war, nor will it measurably impede the formation of an effective Iraqi security force.

This is not, in western terms, a rational program of violence. It is tempting to think that this is simply madness -- evil madness -- a mindless striking out to kill, to maim, to destroy, nothing more. But to me it seems more an act of desperation.

Baathist remnants know that a terrible retribution awaits them and their clans if an effective government ever seeks to bring them to justice, so they are desperately doing anything they can, no matter how horrible, to stave off that inevitability or at least to force the new Iraqi government to stay the hand of justice in order to gain peace. These people have nothing to offer the Iraqi people. They are merely fighting to survive as a tribal entity.

This is the problem to which Martin Kramer alluded in an earlier post. Iraq, indeed most of the Middle East, is still a tribal culture in which people will fight and die and kill for the honor of their family and their tribe. Freedom for them means freedom for their collectivity, not for themselves as individuals. They gain honor and achieve a meaningful death by killing themselves in order to protect their tribe.

People like this need not reflect a majority, or even a large minority, sentiment with the Iraqi population. A small, tribal minority can cause major disruption for years.

This is why there will be no quick and easy resolution to the turmoil afflicting Iraq and the entire region.

Cryptozoology Update -- Here Be Monsters

From Tasmania comes the following report:

Tiger riddle grows


MYSTERIOUS photographs at the centre of the latest Tasmanian tiger sightings contain a thylacine, experts agree.Two senior Tasmanian figures who were asked to inspect the photographs last week agree -- the blurry and partially obscured animal shown is unmistakably a thylacine.

The photographs included the distinctive stripes Tasmanian tigers were renowned for, the pair said yesterday.

It now comes down to whether the images, snapped by a digital camera, can be proven to be authentic.

It is claimed the pictures were taken by the Victorian man's brother, described only as a tourist from Germany, who was bushwalking in remote wilderness near Lake St Clair during recent weeks.

That about sums it up for all these cases. A mysterious creature in some far corner of the globe, blurry and partial photographs of uncertain provenance, experts willing to talk to reporters but unwilling to make a firm judgment, leaving open the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the creature actually exists. And so it goes, and so it goes....

Actually, there's something comfortingly old-fashioned about all this.

Read about it here.

Oscar Thoughts

I'm not one of those who looks forward to the Oscars. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy movies and like talking about movies with people who are knowledgable about movies [and today that includes just about everyone]. but in the week leading up to the Academy Awards, movie talk is dominated by gossipy little tidbits about actors and directors and wild speculation about who is up and who is down, and stuff like that bores me to tears.

Saturday night She Who Shall Not Be Named and I went to a party. It was a good time -- good food, good people, good conversation -- but it was also the night before the Oscars and everyone knew I used to teach university film courses and several had attended one of the little talks I occasionally give to groups about classic films, so... everyone wanted to talk to me about the Oscars [basically, who did I think would win and why].

I was uncomfortable being put on the spot like that. The reason? I was as clueless as anyone in the place. We all watch the same mass media and had heard the same gossip. All of the movie people I know are indies or documentarians, or have been out of the business for a long time and when we talk we don't discuss the Oscars. In other words I have no special knowledge to impart.

Fortunately, after a minute or two of listening to me dispense conventional wisdom [Well, Miramax is really good at boosting their pictures, but a reaction might have set in, and Scorsese hasn't won, etc.], the questioner would invariably begin to spin out his or her own opinion at length and I could relax and simply nod and make encouraging noises. Often another person would join in and I would be completely off the hook and could just stand there and watch them go at each other.

Anyway, for what it's worth, I predicted that Scorsese and Eastwood would split the big awards [Marty would get "best director" and Clint would get "best picture" -- half right, half wrong]. I was right about Jamie Foxx and Hilary Swank. I missed Morgan Freeman and sorta got Cate Blanchett [I thought she would win, but didn't think she should]. All in all, a typical Oscar prediction record.

I thought "The Aviator" was a wonderful film. There were at least half a dozen scenes in it that were simply brilliant. Technically speaking Scorsese is odds and away Hollywood's greatest living director and "The Aviator" shows why. But the film had a weak narrative and was not well cast [Leonardo just didn't have the chops for the role. Compare, for instance, his portrayal of mental deterioration with Russell Crowe's work in "Beautiful Mind" and you'll see what I mean]. Someone referred to it as a "coffee table book" of a movie, and that is right on the money. There was no strong narrative to link together the brilliant set pieces and American audiences insist on a strong narrative.

Successful American movie makers are first and foremost storytellers, and Americans like a story to have emotional impact. They like to have their buttons pushed. Emotional involvement was lacking in "The Aviator." It was a cold, technically brilliant, film that left audiences unsatisfied at the end. It did very well in Europe, winning lots of awards, but it just was not suited for an American audience.

By contrast Eastwood's merely competent work in "Million Dollar Baby" was perfectly suited for an American audience. It had a strong narrative, a "punch in the gut" ending, and related to a contemporary issue about which people have strong opinions. Of course it won over Scorsese's technically superior work.

Jamie Foxx is a class act and is emerging as one of our greatest actors. His work in Ray was right on. What is perhaps most impressive is that musicians who worked with Ray Charles were unanimous in their praise for Foxx's portrayal. And I had been blown away by his earlier work in "Collateral." The award was well deserved.

So was Morgan Freeman's. This wasn't his best performance, but his lifetime body of work is so good that he deserves an award for anything he is in.

I didn't like Cate Blanchett's parody of Kate Hepburn. It was too over the top. It lacked the sympathetic nuances that, for instance, Martin Short brings to his impersonations. Still, Cate is a major figure and deserves some award for something. It might as well be this one.

And what can you say about Hilary Swank? She is a force of nature. A kid her age dominating scenes with Clint and Morgan. Wow! And a great personal story. She's the complete package.

My favorite movie of the year? Don't have one. Most entertaining by far was "The Incredibles;" Most important, "Hotel Rwanda." The most memorable scene; Xiang Xiyi's drum dance in "House of Flying Daggers." Most disturbing scene; the puppet sex in "Team America."

Aw, Hell! That's more than enough. I intend to do some serious writing about movies in the coming months. Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Bill Gates on Education

At the National Governors Association Meeting Bill Gates delivered a scathing indictment of American secondary education.

"Training the workforce of tomorrow with today's high schools is like trying to teach kids about today's computers on a 50-year-old mainframe," said Gates, whose $27-billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made education one of its priorities.

"Everyone who understands the importance of education, everyone who believes in equal opportunity, everyone who has been elected to uphold the obligations of public office should be ashamed that we are breaking our promises of a free education for millions of students," added Gates, to strong applause.

Read the whole thing here.

He's absolutely right. The public education system in this country is a national disgrace and has been so for a long time.

The industrial model for schooling which emerged back in the Progressive Era and is still with us, is completely obsolete and should be done away with. But what would replace it is not clear.

What we need is a national debate on the whole subject of education -- one that would set clear goals stating what we as a society expect our educational institutions to accomplish. Only then will it be possible to restructure those institutions so as to achieve those goals. Right now reform efforts are directionless and therefore futile. The lack of a clear focus, far more than the opposition of entrenched interest groups is the reason that meaningful reform has failed to materialize.

Another Nail in the Baathist Coffin

The Baathist "insurgency" is collapsing and Syria is getting desperate:

By SALAH NASRAWI, Associated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt - Iraqi officials said Sunday that Syrian authorities had captured Saddam Hussein's half-brother and 29 other officials of the deposed dictator's Baath Party in Syria and handed them over to Iraq in an apparent goodwill gesture....

Washington has long accused Syria of harboring and aiding former members of Saddam's toppled Baathist regime suspected of involvement in the deadly insurgency against U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

"The capture appeared to be a goodwill gesture by the Syrians to show that they are cooperating," one Iraqi official told the AP.

Read the whole thing here.

Initial reports had only mentioned Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, who is himself important because he supposedly has been the major figure channeling funds to the Iraqi insurgency. But news of the capture of 29 of his associates is icing on the cake. And as the Baathist element is taken out Zarqawi and his mad minions will be further isolated, fighting on in a land not their own.


It now appears that the Syrian government had nothing to do with the capture of Saddam's half-brother. He was taken by Syrian Kurds and handed over to Iraqi Kurds. There has been no attempt by Assad to curry favor with the US here. It is just tribalism at work again.

The Revolution is Spreading

Robert Mayer at Publius Patriot has extensive coverage of today's elections in Kyrgyzstan. The government is up to the standard tricks, closing the opposition press and reportedly indulging in massive flagrant violations of election regulations, but the public is not remaining passive.

Some fragmentary reports -- There's this:
A sudden upsurge of civic activism has brought thousands out into the streets in Kyrgyzstan. Parliamentary elections are on 27 February, demonstrators are demanding the reinstatement of candidates pulled from races, and the specter of recent revolutionary political change in Georgia and Ukraine looms large across the former Soviet Union.

and this:
[A]nxious Kyrgyz citizens do not fear their government enough to play the passive, supplicant role expected by a president who apparently sees himself as a benign father-figure.

There's even a song of freedom:

“The wave has risen. The thunder has awoken.The time has come, a time for celebration of the victory of good over evil….”

That’s the campaign song of KelKel, a youthful political movement that is making waves in Kyrgyzstan. Loosely translated, KelKel means “new epoch” in Kyrgyz and the group — using adapted lyrics to a popular movie tune — is appealing to youth across the country to vote....

Mayer writes that despite all the excitement, these parliamentary elections will not be decisive. The big clash will be coming up in October when presidential elections will take place. The democratic opposition is just getting organized now. But it is clear that something important is taking shape in Central Asia.

Mayer also reports on today's parliamentary elections in Tajikistan. Just follow his links.

This is a terrific site. Bookmark it and check it out frequently. I know I will.

Bumpity Bump

Earlier I had posted about Mubarak's reaction to the Bush freedom initiative and saw it as a potential speed bump on the road to democracy in the Middle East. Yesterday it seemed that Mubarak was beginning to back down in the fact of American pressure, promising to hold multi-party elections. Now, reform seems a bit less likely. Jeff Jarvis links to several Egyptian bloggers who for the most part feel that Mubarak's concessions were forced from him and are not to be taken seriously. Some quotes:

Mubarak's decision today came after immense pressure from the US and the current earthquakes (the purple revolution in Iraq and the Hariri revolution in Lebanon) that shook the region days ago. However, I credit US pressure as the number one reason. Condoleezza Rice cancelled a trip to Egypt scheduled for next week because of the arrest of Ayman Nour and Mubarak's failure to "change". Well, it seems that Bush turned out to be bloody serious about this democracy in the Middle East thing. It also seems that Bushie will in fact make it to the history books that my grandchildren will be reading at school 50 years from today.

Now Mubarak is simply under too much external pressure (the wet cat in his lap) from the United Bush of America to get his act together and fast, and there was no avoiding it. After all if Mubarak is really giving in to the demands of "his people" then he must have just replaced the batteries in his hearing aid. The public have been screaming for reform, and the opposition only grew recent ballz when they felt the external pressure.

Not very eloquent, but you get the point. Mubarak is not to be trusted on this.

Holland Confronts Jihad

At the press conference with Putin last week a European reporter suggested that the US is not a democratic state when compared with Holland. Well..., the Times Magazine today has a great story by Bryan Moynihan on the ways in which Islamic immigration and Jihadi actions have transformed Dutch political culture. It's very interesting and offers a nice comparison with our own recent history. Lots of food for thought here. Check it out.

Framing the Issue

Tom ["Excitable"] Friedman's column today is interesting, not so much for what he says as how he says it. Friedman writes for the NYT and is a three time Pulitzer winner. You don't get any more establishment than that. No matter how much he twists and turns in pursuit of his latest enthusiasm [which changes on nearly a weekly basis] he is in a position to define, rather than reflect, the common wisdom of the journalistic community. That is why it is important to note how he frames a subject.

Friedman first invokes Malcolm Gladwell's concept of a "tipping point" which has entered the popular lexicon as a replacement for the once ubiquitous "paradigm shift." It refers to the point at which people reframe an issue. Friedman then writes that we are seeing three "tipping points" emerge simultaneously; one in Iraq, another in Lebanon, and a third in Israel.

He writes:
Thanks to eight million Iraqis defying "you vote, you die" terrorist threats, Iraq has been reframed from a story about Iraqi "insurgents" trying to liberate their country from American occupiers and their Iraqi "stooges" to a story of the overwhelming Iraqi majority trying to build a democracy, with U.S. help, against the wishes of Iraqi Baathist-fascists and jihadists.
That's the first tipping point. The second:
In Lebanon, the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which Syria is widely suspected of having had a hand in, has reframed that drama. A month ago, Lebanon was the story of a tiny Christian minority trying to resist the Syrian occupation, which had the tacit support of the pro-Syrian Lebanese government and a cadre of Lebanese politicians who had sold their souls to Damascus. After the Hariri murder, Lebanese just snapped. Lebanon became the story of a broad majority of Lebanese Christians, Muslims and Druse no longer willing to remain silent, but instead telling the Syrians, and their Lebanese puppet president, to "go home."
The third:
The Israel-Palestine drama has gone from how Ariel Sharon will use any means possible to sustain Israel's hold on Gaza, which he once said was indispensable for the security of the Jewish state, to being about how Mr. Sharon will use any means possible to evacuate Gaza - with its huge Palestinian population - which he now says is necessary for saving Israel as a Jewish state.
This is not a particularly perceptive account, but note what is missing. Friedman ignores other possible tipping points such as Afghanistan, Ukraine, Lybia, and maybe Egypt that might suggest a much broader phenomenon than he is currently describing, and [most significantly] he at no point in his article mentions the one figure who arguably has brought this broad transformation into existence -- George W. Bush.

In fact, Friedman takes pains to cast each case in a local context. It was the bravery of the Iraqi people in the election, the outrage of the Lebanese at seeing a popular politician killed, and the ability of Sharon to take advantage of Arafat's demise, that brought change to the Middle East.

I am an historian and this is one of our oldest tricks of the trade. If you want to diminish or deny the importance of some general phenomenon or historical agent, narrow your focus to a few carefully chosen examples and then assert that unique local conditions or actors brought about change in each case. This seems to be the direction that liberal commentators are going in their attempt to define the received wisdom about Bush's impact. If successful he will be seen as a guy who was lucky enough to be in office when momentous events took place around the world, sorta the way Reagan has been portrayed by some as a guy who was lucky enough to be around in the era of Gorbachev.

And also note this; Friedman writes:

"For Iraq to be tipped in the right direction, it was necessary to have the election we did...."
See the "we"? And this: "And if we can keep all three tipping points tipped, it will be incredible."
Here Friedman is belatedly hopping onto Bush's bandwagon and in doing so is symbolically bringing along with him all the doubters and doomsayers who rejected and in some cases actively obstructed Bush's freedom initiative. He is attempting to ensure that if things go well, as now seems possible, Bush's critics will be able to claim a share, perhaps even the lion's share, of the glory.

Thus is an issue framed. For an alternative framework, see David Brooks recent article, also in the NYT, "Why Not Here" in which he wrote:

This is the most powerful question in the world today: Why not here? People in Eastern Europe looked at people in Western Europe and asked, Why not here?People in Ukraine looked at people in Georgia and asked, Why not here? People
around the Arab world look at voters in Iraq and ask, Why not here?


this is clearly the question the United States is destined to provoke. For the final thing that we've learned from the papers this week is how thoroughly the Bush agenda is dominating the globe. When Bush meets with Putin, democratization is the center of discussion. When politicians gather in Ramallah, democratization is a central theme. When there's an atrocity in Beirut, the possibility of freedom leaps to people's minds.
Here Bush's use of American power is the crucial historical agent provoking global change. Commentators and historians will contend in coming years seeking to frame the events of this era to their advantage. I hope that Brooks wins the frame fight in the Times, but knowing the state of the journalistic and historical professions today, I doubt it.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Good News If It is True

AP Reports:

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) - Pakistan has "broken the back" of al-Qaida by dismantling its network and arresting hundreds of suspects, a top government official said Saturday.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao's comments came two days after President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Pakistani security forces had destroyed al-Qaida-linked militants' "sanctuaries and communication systems" along the border with Afghanistan.

However, Musharraf said Pakistan, a key ally of the United States in its war on terrorism, still had no clue about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts.

"The remnants of al-Qaida are on the run. Their network is no more in tact. They are scattered and not in a position to even plan attacks," Sherpao said in this northwestern border city. "The al-Qaida leadership is no more effective."

Let's us sincerely hope so.

An Alternate Perspective

Martin Kramer, speaking at a conference at Tel Aviv University, offered a perceptive and much-needed critique of Bush's freedom imperative titled "Mr. Sharansky, ease my doubts."

He starts by asking, "Why Tyranny?" Why should the Middle East be mired in tyranny when other major regions of the world were making great strides toward democracy?

He rejects the anti-imperialist left-wing argument, advanced by Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, and Tariq Ali, that the West, and especially the United States were responsible for installing and maintaining dictatorships throughout the region, observing that tyrannical regimes, far from being dependent upon western support have persisted despite overwhelming western opposition. Instead he offers a complex explanation:
If I had to draw up a list of causes [for the persistence of tyranny], I would start with the patriarchal social order, which venerates strong authority figures and marginalizes women; the primacy of kinship, tribalism, and sectarianism, which blocks the growth of civil society; oil, which concentrates wealth in the hands of rulers and discourages productive work; and bad memories of past attempts at constitutionalism, which ended in failure.

He disputes the idea that tyrannical regimes can be overthrown by an application of economic sanctions or political pressures short of war. He writes:
Regimes do not fall for domestic reasons, whether they are pro-Western or anti Western, whether they trade everything with the West or languish under sanctions. This is because survival does not depend on outside support. It depends on inside support. Some of that is the result of fear, but it is not just fear of the ruler; it is fear of the foreigner, of the neighbor, of the political, social and cultural chaos that might accompany change.

He also disputes the idea that most people throughout the region want "freedom" in the western sense of the word. "Relatively few" people, he writes,
are liberals who want freedom as we would understand it—freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of religion, all belonging to the autonomous individual.

Instead most inhabitants of the Middle East want a different kind of freedom which he calls, "freedom from."

"Their idea of freedom" he writes, "is freedom from oppressive government, not so much for the individual, as for the collective—the kinship group, the tribe, the religious sect."

He explains the consequence of this tribal way of thinking:
You may desire freedom from oppressive government, and still deny your beautiful wife the freedom to drive, or get an education, or go about in public. You may fervently wish not to know government, but still expect blasphemers and adulteresses to be punished by law. You may fight for freedom from oppression for yourself, and not much care if your neighbor is oppressed, especially if he is from a different family, or tribe, or sect.

He does not see any easy way to get from this tribalism to a western style civic culture in which individual rights are enshrined. Islamism certainly does not point in that direction. It would substitute for submission to tyranny a different kind of submission -- to God and God's Law. Islamist regimes are not a way-station to western individualist democracy -- they are its enemies. He points out that Islamism has far greater appeal in the Middle East than does western liberalism.

Kramer therefore rejects the idea that there will be a general liberalization of political cultures throughout the region. He admits that in some few places the conditions would support the growth of liberalism, but for most of the Middle East pressing for democracy could actually inflict harm and strengthen Islamism. Therefore we must not be indiscriminate. We must pick and choose our battles carefully and not expect a general culture shift. Moreover, if we are at war throughout the region, and he thinks we are, we will need to make compromises with tyrannical regimes in order to prevail.

First things first, he warns:
We have to be careful not to undermine [the tyrannies], before we have defeated our greater enemies. After all, we do not want to become unwitting agents of Osama bin Laden, destroying the existing order he failed to destroy, merely to open the route to power for his admirers and fellow travellers.

Professor Kramer has presented here a powerful and important critique of Bush's freedom imperative, one for which I have heard no detailed or persuasive answer. I don't know if he's right. I certainly hope that he isn't. In the long run I don't think that Islamism can compete with western liberalism, but we must be prepared to experience short-term reversals, perhaps many of them. President Bush has already indicated that he understands this, even if many of his supporters do not and has manifested sufficient courage and steadfastness of purpose to hold his course in the face of adversity. The question is, who will stand with him when the inevitable reverses come? Far too few, I fear.

Another Pretty Snow Picture -- With a Sting!

This blog has recently featured pretty snow pictures, mentions of Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, and Bush's drive to democratize vast regions of the globe. Here's a picture that sorta ties them all together and reminds us of what is ultimately at stake. This is the Kolyma Highway that runs from Magadan to Yakutsk in Siberia. It has been called the "Road of Bones." David Carr of Samizdata explains why:

It was built by political prisoners and slaves, countless numbers of whom were worked, frozen and starved to death in the process. Because the perma-frost makes the ground too hard to effect any burials, the bones of the cadavers were broken up and used as ballast upon which to build the road.

We will never know for sure how many lives were sacrificed to this 'glorious people's project', but by repute, every metre of the road cost one human life. The road is 2000 kilometres long.

Let us never forget. This is the Russian past and this is why it is important that Putin not be allowed to slide back into the habits of the past. Posted by Hello

The World War that Wasn't

In the midst of the current excitement over the Bush Revolution in the Middle East, it is appropriate to take note of the perhaps even more consequential triumph he had in his first term. The Telegraph did a lengthly interview with Colin Powell in which he recalled:
"Everyone was telling me one weekend in 2002 [Jan 12-13] that there'd be war between India and Pakistan, and some in the intelligence community said the war would start that weekend. I said that's not going to happen. They're not nuts: we're talking to them and we'll find a way through this, and we did. Now, there's still Kashmir, but they play soccer matches together."
People forget that just three short years ago the world was poised on the brink of nuclear war and that the Bush diplomatic team, headed by Secretary Powell, resolved the conflict and did so in such a way that both of the antagonists, India and Pakistan, are now committed to resolving their differences peacefully and both are now allied with us in the greater war on terror.

You would think that "stopping World War III," as the Telegraph puts it, would have caught the public imagination, but it didn't. That stupendous accomplishment was overshadowed by Bush's Iraq adventure and all the negative commentary attached to it. I think that the reason was that Iraq fit comfortably into the journalistic stereotype of Bush as a rampaging, careless cowboy, impatient with and unwilling to undertake complex and delicate diplomacy, while resolution of the India/Pakistan standoff was obviously the product of just such diplomatic efforts and so contradicted the stereotype.

Clearly Bush and his team are capable of a wide range of responses. They can engage in sophisticated and nuanced diplomacy when appropriate, or they can forcefully break the shackles of diplomatic convention, or even undertake amazingly effective and controlled military action in situations where that is appropriate. The decision as to what tool to employ at what time and to what end ultimately rests with the President. So far Bush has demonstrated impeccable judgment and has rolled up a series of triumphs -- diplomatic and military that are as impressive as those achieved by any other president in our nation's history. It is time to start giving him and his policy team some credit.

Parenthetically, I wonder if one of those intelligence officials who were predicting imminent nuclear holocaust was Richard Clarke with his hair on fire.

Churchill, the larger context

In several earlier posts I pointed out the dangers of irresponsible behavior in academia. My point was that when such activities reach a sustained high level or become so egregious as they have in the Ward Churchill affair they invite interference from the political community. My call [crudely put] was for academics to grow up and start acting like responsible adults. Instapundit makes a similar point here.

He writes:
[T]he big question is whether it's politically viable for the academy to adopt a generally hostile and dismissive stance toward the larger society.... [I]n fact, and entirely apart from the fate of individual faculty members, state legislatures, boards of trustees, and alumni have a lot of power over universities if they choose to exercise it. They've mostly chosen to let academic administrators, and faculties, run universities without a lot of outside interference. But there's no guarantee that this state of affairs will persist if those outsiders conclude that universities are being run badly.

Tsunami Photos

A Canadian couple, John and Jackie Knill, were vacationing in Thailand when they were engulfed in the Boxing Day tsunami. Their last moments were recorded on their digital camera. The result was a horribly fascinating record of the disaster. Check it out here. [Hat Tip to Instapundit]

The Bump Gets Bigger

In an earlier post I had noted that Egypt was beginning to resist the Bush freedom initiative and wondered if this was just a "road bump" on the way to a more democratic Middle East. Well, the bump just got bigger. The NYT reports:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday abruptly called off a planned trip to several Middle Eastern countries that had been scheduled for next week, a decision that came apparently because of the arrest of a leading Egyptian opposition politician last month....

The linchpin for Ms. Rice's trip had been a planned meeting in Cairo of foreign ministers for the Group of 8 industrial nations and the Arab League to discuss economic aid and democratic change in the Middle East.

But that meeting was postponed by Egypt on Sunday in an early sign of the tensions that have been building even as the Bush administration has praised Egypt for its help in the Israeli-Palestinian mediation after Yasir Arafat's death.

The immediate trigger for the tensions was the arrest on Jan. 28 of Ayman Nour, a member of Egypt's largely powerless Parliament and head of an opposition party called Al Ghad, or Tomorrow. When Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit visited Washington last week, Ms. Rice made her displeasure clear, officials said.

After the meeting, Mr. Gheit protested that Mr. Nour's arrest was an internal Egyptian matter, and Suleiman Awad, the spokesman for President Hosni Mubarak, said he rejected "any foreign interference in Egypt's internal affairs."

What complicates the whole matter is the fact that US diplomats are not free to negotiate some compromise. The administration is under considerable pressure from Congress to hold to a hard line on democratization. The NYT notes:

Some members of Congress then began urging Ms. Rice not to attend the meeting of Arab and Group of 8 nations in Cairo. One of them, Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who is on the Middle East subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, co-sponsored a resolution condemning Egypt for arresting Mr. Nour.

"To attend a conference on democracy in Egypt right now would be the height of irony," [emphasis mine] Mr. Schiff said in an interview on Friday. "The State Department must send the message to Egypt that it is on the wrong track, that we are no longer willing to overlook these things."

Congressman Schiff has a point, and a very good one. Professional diplomats tend to favor sophisticated, nuanced approaches to complex problems -- ones that settle for half-loaves or much less -- but as we have seen in recent weeks, a clear, positive initiative pushed vigorously can at times achieve far more than the nuanced, hesitant approach favored in the diplomatic community. This is such a time. The tide is turning and the sea is changing.

One measure of how much the sea has changed is the fact that Rep. Schiff felt comfortable using the term "ironic" in a pejorative sense.

The WaPo adds some detail, including an explanation of why Rice felt she had to cancel her visits to other countries in the region:
It would have been considered a major diplomatic slight for Rice to travel to other major countries in the Middle East while skipping Egypt. So after returning from President Bush's European tour, Rice made the decision early yesterday to attend only the London conference.

So here is the weakness of formal diplomacy exposed: the conventions of the game require that cancellation of one date on the tour means that the whole thing has to be scuttled. At this point Rice's visible presence in the Middle East would have been an immensely heartening signal to the freedom demonstrators. But it is not to be. Sad!

Read the NYT story here. The WaPo story is here.


Perhaps I wrote too quickly; Mubarak may be caving. AP reports that:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ordered a revision of the country's election laws Saturday and said multiple candidates could run in the nation's presidential elections, a scenario Mubarak has not faced since taking power in 1981....

"The election of a president will be through direct, secret balloting, giving the chance for political parties to run for the presidential elections and providing guarantees that allow more than one candidate for the people to choose among them with their own will," Mubarak said in an address broadcast live on Egyptian television.

Of course this could just be window-dressing.
Opposition figures and reform advocates welcomed Mubarak's announcement, but some feared it may only be a superficial change to appease pressure at home and abroad.
And, of course, free elections might strengthen Islamist groups that are currently proscribed.
The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest and most influential Islamic group, said it would consider putting forward a candidate for the presidency if an amendment is passed. The group will study any changes "and if we find such interest, then we will not hesitate in naming a candidate," group leader Mohammed Mahdi Akef said.

The Brotherhood likely would be the strongest rival for Mubarak in any fully open race in Egypt, but it was not known if the group would be able to run even if the constitution is revised.

On the face of it this seems to be an encouraging development. Of course, much could go wrong, but let's keep hoping. Read about Mubarak's speech and the reaction to it here.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Now This Really Bums Me Out

CNN Reports:

Official says hundreds of U.S. citizens likely died in gulags

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. military service members may have been imprisoned and died in Soviet forced-labor camps during the 20th century, according to a Pentagon report to be released Friday.

Researchers for the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs have been investigating unconfirmed reports of Americans who were held prisoner in the so-called gulags.

"I personally would be comfortable saying that the number [of Americans held in the gulags during the Cold War and Korean War] is in the hundreds," said Norman Kass, executive secretary of the commission's U.S. section.

Read the whole thing here.

I remember vividly one day in 1968 I sat in a room in Bamberg, Germany and started to read Alexander Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich while waiting for some friends. We had planned to go out to our favorite gasthaus in the old town, but by the time they arrived I was transfixed. I begged off the evening and stayed there reading straight through the night. The horror of what Solzhenitsyn described has stayed with me ever since and was only magnified by reading his Gulag Archipelago some years later. This story brought it all back to me. How anyone in the west could idealize or accept such a system, comparable in its horror to the Nazi death camps, was beyond me then, and still is, yet many in academia did so. It is one of the, now many, reasons I could never become a man of the left. Anyone interested in the subject of the gulag should read Anne Applebaum's Pulitzer Prize winning, Gulag: A History.

Everybody Wants to Mess with Rummy's Military

The calls are coming from all quarters. Retired four-stars are on TV constantly calling for "more boots on the ground" which translates as "reverse all the cuts and reforms of the past fifteen years and return the military to the state it was in during our glory days in the First Gulf War." Congressional Democrats call for reinstituting the draft [mostly as a way of trying to embarrass the Bush administration]. Daniel Pipes wants to license privateers. Max Boot wants to recruit soldiers from among illegal immigrants and in foreign lands, offering them American citizenship upon completion of their service, and to form them into a Foreign Legion, modeled on the French Foreign Legion. The Economist wants the US to recruit gays to form something like the Theban Sacred Band in ancient Greece.

Why? Because of the perception that the US Military as currently constituted is stretched too thin and will become ever more so as the nation embarks on an aggressive global strategy. Is this the case? Not really!

As currently constituted the US military is the most devastatingly efficient military organization ever seen anywhere, anytime. And as far as being overstretched: look at the numbers. We have about 2 1/2 million men and women under arms. At its peak, Iraq tied down about 150,000 of them. You do the math.

Sure there were shortages in some areas, but those can mostly be solved by moving troops around within the existing force structure. And there is an impending shortfall in special forces due largely to the fact that well-trained SF troops are leaving the service to take high paying jobs in the private sector and it's not easy to replace them. They will be replaced, it just takes time. Meanwhile there is no technical reason to believe that the US cannot mount full-scale military operations against Syria, Iran, North Korea, or any other foe [though there might be overwhelming political and financial obstacles].

Promiscuous History Bloggery -- The Carnival is Up!

Lotsa good stuff here. Historiography, dying languages, Dresden, Meiji women, privateers, ancient European astronomy, and much, much more. Check it out here, you'll be glad you did.

Dead Sea Scrolls Update

The Toronto Star has a nice article on the most recent controversy over the authorship of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The dominant view that they were produced by a community of Essenes is under attack, yet again; this time by Israeli archaeologists. Lots of interesting stuff. Read it here.


Lynn Swann, Hall of Fame receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is running for governor of Pennsylvania. He has to defeat two other challengers for the Republican nomination and, if successful, will face incumbent governor, Ed "Leadfoot" Rendell, in November. It promises to be an interesting matchup. Swann has no political experience but is bright, articulate, and media savvy. Rendell is also bright, articulate, and politically savvy, but has not had a very successful record as governor. If Swann can make Rendell's record the issue, he has a chance. It's too early to say how this will shape up, but it will be fun to watch.

The Other War on Terror

The media spotlight is focused on Europe and Lebanon for now, but we must remember that the war on terror is a global effort. Wretchard over at Belmont Club has a series of posts on recent developments in the WoT in Southeast Asia and our vulnerability in that region. They're scary and well worth checking out.

Another Morning, Yet Another Snowfall Posted by Hello

Trojan Wars

Saudi Aramco World has a nice article by Graham Chandler on the excavation of Troy [Hissarlik] and the controversies that have surrounded the various digs, including the current dispute between Manfred Korfmann, the current excavator, and his critics, Frank Kolb and Dieter Hertel. It's an interesting piece with some good illustrations and photographs by Ergun Çağatay. Check it out here.

Another Great Takedown

Secretary Rumsfeld may have backed away from his distinction between "Old" and "New" Europe, but the differences are great and were on display yesterday. In Old Europe President Bush may still be an object of derision, but in Slovakia he received a warm welcome. The distinction was starkly drawn in remarks by the Prime Minister of Slovakia, Mikulas Dzurinda. Bill Sammons reports;

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia -- The prime minister of Slovakia yesterday blamed the media for unfairly turning the European public against President Bush by negatively slanting coverage on Iraq....

When, during a press conference, the PM was reminded that public opinion in Europe was overwhelmingly anti-Bush he responded:

by telling the journalists, including one from CNN, that he was "shocked" to see media outlets like CNN and the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) showing "only American soldiers killing people. But nobody was able to show Saddam Hussein, who killed many, many thousands of Iraqi people."

"It was impossible to see a real picture of this regime," he lamented. "And the result is the public is one day strongly against Bush. 'Bush loves war,' he's 'new terrorist,' and so on and so on."

The prime minister predicted that it is "only a question of time when people in Slovakia, in Germany, in European countries, will understand more that this activity were necessary. And the world, without Saddam Hussein, is much more democratic than before."


Mr. Dzurinda, who grew up under communist oppression in the Soviet bloc, said nations such as his were more supportive of Operation Iraqi Freedom because they remembered communism. Slovakia has sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.

"I spent many years under tyranny," he said. "So I completely understand what it means to fight for democracy -- don't take this for granted.

"Maybe this is why I understand better than Chirac or Schroeder," he added, referring to French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, both of whom opposed the Iraq war.

Mr. Dzurinda also faulted Mr. Chirac and Mr. Schroeder for not understanding Mr. Bush's decision to abandon diplomacy and invade Iraq.

"I understand, [with] the president of the United States, that this is impossible to wait forever," he said. "I hope that the German chancellor and French president understand more today than yesterday."

Hoo boy, it doesn't get any more blunt than that, and it is so delicious to see Chirac and Schroeder being talked down to by a man who has first hand experience of a people's desire for freedom.

Getting on the Bandwagon

Kofi Annan, desperately trying to maintain some credibility for the organization he heads, has belatedly issued a stern warning to Syria. The Telegraph reports:

Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, added his voice yesterday to American calls for Syria to pull out of Lebanon. He warned the Syrians in an Arabic television interview that they would face "measures" - presumably some form of sanctions - if they did not pull their army out of Lebanon completely by April....

For the UN... nothing less than a complete withdrawal of the remaining troops and the military intelligence agents who control the country will suffice.

This, of course, is the American position in a nutshell.

Read the whole thing here.

Annan's statement, pitiful as it is, reflects some important developments in world affairs over the past three years:

First, unlike in the runup to the Iraq adventure, Old Europe [read France] is no longer obstructing the US, in fact it is unlikely that it could effectively do so.

Second, the credibility of the UN has been greatly diminished and, despite Annan's pretensions, it can no longer stand as a legitimating agent. Annan's parroting of the American demands is a pathetic indicator of the institution's fall from grace.

And thirdly, the rising tide of enthusiasm for freedom throughout the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Lebanon, has transformed elite perceptions of what is and what is not possible. The enveloping miasma of cynicism is beginning to lift.

President Bush has ushered us into a new world, one filled with great perils and infinite possibilities. However much Chirac and Annan and America's foreign policy elites might want to do so, there is no going back.

Lebanon -- The Bush Revolution Spreads

David Ignatius had a great piece in the WaPo on his recent experiences in Lebanon; they have inspired him. He writes:
BEIRUT -- "Enough!" That's one of the simple slogans you see scrawled on the walls around Rafiq Hariri's grave site here. And it sums up the movement for political change that has suddenly coalesced in Lebanon and is slowly gathering force elsewhere in the Arab world.
This is a movement that transcends mere religious and ethnic distinctions. Ignatius describes the mourners at the grave of martyred former Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri:
A crowd was still gathered at Hariri's resting place well after midnight early yesterday. Thousands of candles -- many bearing Christian icons, others Muslim designs -- flickered in a semicircle around the grave and melted together into a multicolored patina of wax. Mourners have written angry messages in Arabic on a nearby wall denouncing Syria....
He recounts conversations with student demonstrators:
They talk like characters in "Les Miserables," but their revolutionary bravado is the sort of force that can change history. "We have nothing to lose anymore. We want freedom or death," says Indra Hage, a young Lebanese Christian. "We're going to stay here, even if soldiers attack us," says Hadi Abi Almouna, a Druze Muslim. "Freedom needs sacrifices, and we are ready to give them."
And in case you missed the point:
"It is the beginning of a new Arab revolution," argues Samir Franjieh, one of the organizers of the opposition. "It's the first time a whole Arab society is seeking change -- Christians and Muslims, men and women, rich and poor."
As I pointed out in an earlier post the key figure in this opposition is Walid Jumblatt, long an anti-American accommodationist, who has soured on the Syrian occupation and was inspired by what took place in Iraq. Ignatius writes with wonder:
Over the years, I've often heard him [Jamblatt] denouncing the United States and Israel, but these days, in the aftermath of Hariri's death, he's sounding almost like a neoconservative....
He continues:
"It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq," explains Jumblatt. "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world." Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. "The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."
Read the whole thing here.

David Ignatius, now back in the US, was on TV yesterday talking about his amazement at what he saw in Iraq and Lebanon. Here is a major figure in Washington's journalist community, long recognized as an expert on the Middle East, who has covered the beat for years. He, in other words, personifies the conventional wisdom of Washington's policy elite, with all its worldly cynicism, negativity, and passion for order and management.

These are the very people who for four years have been telling the public that Bush is naive, impulsive, dangerous... you know the tune. And these are the people who, in league with Democrat leaders, have been trying to impede Bush's policies. But the experience of recent months have finally made Ignatius a believer. He now gets it. He's beginning to discern the contours of what President Bush has set in motion. The Bush Revolution is transforming the way people think and act in Afghanistan and Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, the entire Middle East, even some in Europe... and maybe, just maybe, it will have a lasting effect on the culture of cynicism that prevails inside the Washington beltway. The World will be a better place for what President Bush is doing; perhaps Washington will be too.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The End[s] of Affirmative Action?

Stanley Crouch has a terrific article on the problems immigration poses for the practitioners of identity politics. He cites Richard Goodwin to the effect that the original purpose of affirmative action was as a form of compensation for the descendants of slaves. Buy then identity politics entered the scene and as a consequence American blacks began to deny their American roots, looking instead to Africa and their blackness for a basis upon which to construct their ethnic identity. Now, Crouch notes, a large influx of immigrants from Africa -- authentic African Americans -- threatens that comfortable equation of skin color with historical experience. More and more of the recipients of racial set-asides are immigrants who have little in common with the American black underclass for whom those programs were intended.

Crouch writes:

It will be revealing to see just how soon black Americans begin to realize that their American experience is unique and has little to do with the limited subject of color alone. When black Americans actually throw away sentimentality about Africa and begin to assert their historical identity as Americans and elevate their aspirations along the lines of drive we find common among immigrants, we will see our country improve remarkably.
Wise words:

Read the whole thing here.

This looks promising...

Knight Ridder reports:

Rebellious Palestinian legislators on Wednesday pushed more Yasser Arafat loyalists out of the Cabinet in a compromise struck after the intervention of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The political struggle leading to the deal reflected the restiveness and growing power of the younger guard of legislators. They've long been angry over the unwillingness of leaders who returned from exile with Arafat more than a decade ago to share power with the homegrown generation of Palestinian politicians.

With an election looming in July, legislators are also anxious to show a commitment to a financial and political overhaul of the Palestinian Authority, which has been plagued with corruption. They're particularly worried about the success of the Islamic militant group Hamas in recent local elections, fearing that Hamas candidates may put in a strong showing in July's election as well.

There is a real generational split among the Palestinians and its political consequences are just becoming apparent. If the old guard doesn't take out their guns real progress might be possible.

And the tide just keeps on turning.

OK Christo and Jeanne Claude, try to top this!

BELFAST (Reuters) - In a bizarre celebration of Belfast's industrial heritage, a Northern Ireland artist is planning to tow an iceberg to the city that built the Titanic.

"Technically, it is feasible," [the artist] told AFP. "The plan is to take an iceberg from off the coast of Norway and bring it along the western isles along the old Viking journey towards Belfast," said the painter, who is known for her caustic humor.

Actually she's just conducting a feasibility study.

Read the whole thing here and here.

Smoldering Dung Pile

That smoking pile of sh.t on the outskirts of Lincoln, Nebraska has finally been put out.
MILFORD, Neb. - It took nearly four months, but to the relief of neighbors miles around, a burning manure pile has been extinguished.... The fire was in "a dung pile measuring 100 feet long, 30 feet high and 50 feet wide."

Heat from the decomposing manure deep inside the pile is believed to have eventually ignited the manure.

The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality told [the owner] that his smoldering dung pile violated clean-air laws and it worked with him as tried to extinguish it.

Read about it here.

Man Bites Dog [no really]!

LONDON (Reuters) - A blind man has been arrested in Scotland after witnesses reported he sank his teeth into his guide dog and kicked her across the road, police said on Thursday.

Read about it here.

Iowahawk Strikes Again

The Truth Is Out There

Iowahawk Special Commentary
by "Deep Blog"

Psst... you... citizen investigator... over here. Here, by the permalink.

Okay, stop. Let's hear the countersignal.

Excellent. Now edge closer to the BlogAd shadow. Rove's ears are everwhere, even in TypePad... especially in TypePad. Okay, that's close enough. And no questions, you're here to listen. And learn. Poppy's Rolex is ticking and you need time as much as you need clues.

Read the whole thing here. As usual, it's hilarious.

I Know Just How You Feel....

Ironic Moose speaks for a lot of us when he says:

I want my world back - the one I grew up with. The best I can determine is that somebody stole it sometime during the last ten years when I was dozing. Then they replaced it with this Bizarro world where 13 year old kids with rubber bands are terrorists and sword-wielding lunatics running around beheading little old ladies are "patriots and Minutemen" (thank you again for that wonderful analogy, Moore, you fat bastard).

Come to think of it, Michael Moore is probably part of this Bizarro world too. Michael Jackson unquestionably is.

I've just got this to say: Come back, whomever you are and return the old world. It worked pretty well and I wasn't quite finished with it. There will be no questions
asked and no charges laid. Please.

Nuff sed.

Meanwhile in Lebanon...

Lebanonwire reports two very positive developments:

February 23, 2005

Lebanese business leaders plan strike to demand government resign

BEIRUT, Feb 23 (AFP) - Leaders of Lebanon's banking, industrial and commercial sectors said they would shut down next Monday to demand the country's pro-Syrian government resign and that a "neutral" one replace it.

The strike would coincide with an expected vote of confidence in parliament, two weeks after the murder of former premier Rafiq Hariri in a bomb blast for which the opposition has pinned blame on the government and its Syrian backers."

The economic authorities call for the formation of a new and neutral government which has the people's support, and the trust of the international community and Arab countries," the private sector said in a statement carried by the official news agency ANI.

The statement called for a "total shutout in memory of Rafiq Hariri", the father of Lebanon's post-warreconstruction, on February 28, and backed calls for an international investigation of his assassination.

It was signed by Lebanon's association of banks and industrialists as well as the chambers of commerce and industry."The economic authorities believe that restoration of the democratic regime is an essential condition to establish confidence in the Lebanese economy," the statement said.

Beleaguered Prime Minister Omar Karameh said earlier Wednesday that he was ready to quit in the face of intense pressure to end Syrian domination of his country and find Hariri's killers.

This, of course, is the modern equivalent of that old left-wing standby, the "general strike." Only this is organized by the financial and industrial leaders of the country and, by all accounts, has broad popular backing, spanning religious, ethnic and class divisions. What is perhaps most significant is that the Syria-backed political leadership is also on board.

Will Syria fold in the face of this united opposition? I certainly hope so, but if it doesn't, look for the US to become much more aggressive. As I noted in an earlier post all indications are that the US forces, contrary to the journalistic consensus, are no longer tied down in Iraq. We could quite possibly soon see a concentration of forces on the Syrian border soon.


One of the crucial elements in putting together this solid front was the role of Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Druze. He is organizing the opposition parties into a united front calling for a new, non-Syrian government. At the same time France has joined with the US calling for Syrian withdrawal and threatened US sanctions if troops were not withdrawn.

In the face of this united pressure, both in Lebanon and internationally, Syria seems to be caving.

On Tuesday, [Syrian] Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud dismissed the renewed calls for a Syrian pullout as "nothing new". But after a meeting with the minister, Saudi ambassador Abdulaziz Khoja said Syria was ready to redeploy its forces.
Read about it here.

Things so far seem to be pointing to a peaceful resolution. The tide is flowing stronger and stronger throughout the Middle East. Assad (or people near him) seems to recognize this. Let's hope that peace and freedom will both prevail.


The Guardian is reporting that:

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) - Syria will withdraw troops from mountain and coastal areas in Lebanon in line with a 1989 agreement, Lebanon's defense minister said Thursday amid international pressure following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Lebanese Defense Minister Abdul-Rahim Murad said the troops will be withdrawn to the eastern Bekaa Valley on the Syrian border, but he gave no timeframe.
Lebanese and Syrian military officers have begun meetings to define ``the dates and the way'' the withdrawal will take place, Murad said, adding that the pullback was in line with the Arab-brokered Taif agreement that ended Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.

Let's see now..., the original agreement was signed sixteen years ago, but has not yet been implemented, and now they promise to comply with it but give no timeframe for compliance!
And there are signs that Syria is already beginning to backslide. The Syrian intelligence apparatus in Lebanon will remain in place and the withdrawal of troops will only be partial. The reason given is the need to train Lebanese police and armed forces to take over the job of keeping order [nice thrust at the US]. Of course the appropriate response would be for the US and NATO to offer to train the new Lebanese forces.

The opposition is not buying the Syrian line:

Lebanon's opposition dismissed the Syrian announcement Thursday as vague and said it contained nothing new. ``There is a missing word in the Syrian Foreign Ministry statement, and that word is the 'complete' withdrawal from Lebanon,'' opposition member Samir Franjieh told the Lebanese Al Hayat-LBC television station.
Syria is making threatening noises. It issued a statement that,

warned against ``provocation and incitement from some inside Lebanon and abroad,'' saying such behavior may damage the interests of all parties, particularly Lebanon.

And Lebanese PM, Omar Karami, is trying to hang on to his position. He has agreed to resign, but has given no timeframe. Now he is arguing that,

an immediate pullout of Syrian troops and security services from Lebanon..."In our opinion, it would shake the stability of the country." "Driving Syria out of Lebanon through challenges, provocation and curses cannot leave the country relaxed and stable. (A Syrian withdrawal) can only take place through consensus," he said.
But the Lebanese consensus is already that he and the troops that support him must go. Syria cannot possibly expect to win this showdown -- not with France in opposition to ensure UN action and a US army right next door. They may go kicking and screaming, but they'll go.

Read the whole thing here and here.

Remember how they used to say that Muslim extremists would turn Iraq into "another Lebanon?" Well, it appears that Bush's freedom initiative is turning Lebanon into another Iraq.

The Sky is Falling...Not!

Ralph Peters has a nice column in USA Today on the lastest predictions from the doom mongers and why they, like all their other predictions, will turn out to be "dead wrong." Iraq, he predicts, will not become a second Iran, nor will it descend into civil war.

Read it here.

Now This I Didn't Know...

The press has run several stories on Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, the American kid recently indicted by a grand jury for being involved in an al Qaeda plot to assassinate President Bush. The press accounts describe him as having been valdeictorian of his high school class in Virginia. Well, Charles Johnson over at Little Green Footballs reports that the "High School" was actually a Saudi funded madrassa called the Islamic Saudi Academy and that the kid's father was an employee of the Saudi embassy.

Verrrry interrrrresssssting.

UPDATE: Fox news reports that Sen. Schumer is leading an inquiry into the Islamic Saudi Academy and its activities and that it apparently has been tied to other terrorists. Hmmmm.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Freedom Form Letter

Jan Haugland over at Secular Blasphemer has written a letter to the Iranian ambassador in Norway protesting the incarceration of two Iranian bloggers, Arash Sigarchi and Mojtaba Saminejad. He offers it as a template for any other bloggers who want to write similar letters to Iranian embassies in their countries.

Check it out here.

Another Morning Another Snowfall Posted by Hello

Boys and Girls Together

Today's WaPo reports on a study that finds:

Contradicting both sides in the long-running debate on whether boys or girls have it better in America, the most comprehensive examination of the overall well-being of male and female children has found that the sexes are faring about equally.

Although boys have the advantage in some areas and girls score better in others, they are doing about the same in a broad array of measures assessing essential dimensions of life, such as health, safety, economics and education, the researchers found.

Of course:
The study drew immediate criticism from advocates and researchers on both sides, with many saying it glossed over crucial gaps between the sexes or used criteria that biased the results. But several experts praised the work, saying the findings could bridge the often bitter, polarized debate that occurs whenever the sexes are compared.
Ok, as a framer of public policy, which group of "experts" and "scientists" do you base public policy on? And what happens when the next "study" comes out that shows something completely different from the one you chose? This is one, and only one, of the many reasons why science, and particularly social science, is an inadequate guide to public policy formulation.

The Hong Kong Baby Bust

AFP reports a very interesting story out of Hong Kong:
Hong Kong's deputy leader has urged young couples to get down to business and start producing more babies to reverse a potentially damaging fall in the birth rate.

Chief Secretary Donald Tsang said prospective parents should have at least three children for the good of the southern Chinese autonomous region.

His comments on RTHK radio came after government officials revealed the city's fertility rate was just 0.9 babies for each woman of child-bearing age -- half the 2.1 needed to ensure population growth.

Remember just a few years ago when the doommongers were worried about overpopulation? They represented a "scientific consensus" on future population growth, complete with UN studies and all that. But they were wrong.

So we have yet another example of why "scientific consensus" is an unreliable guide for the crafting of public policy.

Bush and Putin

The Daily Star has a fascinating article on the motives behind Putin's decision last week to help Iran complete its Busheir nuclear power plant. Borrowing a phrase from the American media the arrangement was described as a form of "triangulation" and it was made clear that the signing ceremony had deliberately been scheduled before this week's meeting between Bush and Putin. This, of course, was a sop to Putin's domestic critics who have frequently charged that he has too often acquiesced to the expansion of American influence into areas that traditionally had been part of Russia's sphere of influence. Putin has to make public displays of his independence from Bush and Bush understands this [even if many members of Congress and the American press corps don't] .

What about Iran? Why does it need to develop nuclear energy source when it is sitting upon a huge pile of oil and natural gas? The Star has a good answer for this:

Although the Islamic Republic holds 9 percent of the world's proven crude oil reserves (and 64.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas), nuclear power is seen as an alternate source of electricity generation. Exports of crude oil could then be freed up to pay off the country's $9.9 billion in external debt. Tehran argues that the Gulf reactor at Bushehr will help meet the needs of a population fast approaching 70 million. With median age at 22, the mullahs fear youths with few job prospects could lead a de-facto opposition.

Of course there's no mention of developing nuclear weapons to forestall any American attempt to interfere with Iran's attempts to expand its regional power.

What does Russia get from the deal?
For Moscow, the commercial incentives are strong. Putin is reluctant to alter his economic development plans on the basis of what he sees as unproven allegations. The Kremlin is concerned that Chinese oil companies are profiting from the diplomatic crisis by clinching deals in Iran. According to a January report by Cambridge Energy Research Associates, China's Sinopec has secured 51 percent of Iran's Yadavaran oil-field project. And in September, another Chinese oil major took over operations at Masjid-e Suleiman. Meanwhile, the European offer to supply Tehran with nuclear fuels and civilian technology is a potential slap in the face for Putin.
But what if Bush goes ahead and attacks Iran? Moscow is betting that it won't happen:
In Moscow, a consensus among analysts holds that Bush's threats are not credible. "Iran is not Iraq. There is no possible way the U.S. can carry out the same type of campaign it launched against Saddam Hussein in Iraq," says Gleb Pavlovksy, a Kremlin-connected political strategist. "
And what about those arms sales to Syria?
Russia is struggling to find its strategic fit in the Middle East. One way is by opening new export markets. But to avoid upsetting the regional balance, it will have to tread lightly. This past week, Moscow had to qualify the sale of Strelets surface-to-air missile systems to Syria. A controversy erupted in January over the possible sale of rocket propellers.
Russia claims that since these are merely defensive weapons they would not be of use to terrorists. Americans quite rightly point out that Strelets could easily bring down commercial aircraft.

None of this is written in concrete. Bush is certain to bring up objections to both the Iran and Syria initiatives. How will Putin respond?

"Putin will be as opportunistic as he is allowed to be. It all depends on U.S. persistence and whether Bush can convince the Europeans to hold the line...." The delivery of anti-aircraft systems to Syria does not directly violate UN conventions. But if Putin is unable to calibrate his policies, he may have to alter his portfolio and forsake Iran.
It is interesting to note that the Star article holds that Putin might be more flexible on Iran than on Syria and that everything ultimately depends on the attitude of the Europeans. If they back Bush on the Iran deal, then Putin will abandon it. But if they don't all bets are off.

Verrrrrrry interrresssstinggg.

This is all a context within which Bush and Putin will be negotiating in Bratislava. Writing in yesterday's WaPo the Russian Ambassador to the US, warned that, while there were many areas on which the US and Russia could agree, two areas were of particular concern to Putin. These were:

1) Russian domestic policies where Bush is under pressure to demand democratization from Putin. Here there is a clear warning:
[Putin is engaged in] the very challenging task of strengthening law and order, building democratic institutions and civil society and addressing grave social problems. The road to attaining these goals is a bumpy one. At the same time we are taking steps to accomplish a pressing task: ensuring the stability and integrity of our country. We must deal with complex and comprehensive problems that we inherited. This is something Americans should understand well.
In other words, our recent experience in Iraq should have taught us just how difficult it is to maintain order and stability in a country. Expect no concessions other than rhetorical from Putin on this front.

And 2) on foreign policy, where the US objects to Russian cozyness with Iran and Syria.
It is an open secret that many in Russia are expressing serious concern about American intentions in the post-Soviet space, including in Ukraine, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Notwithstanding these pressures, Putin and the Russian leadership are committed to a close relationship with the United States.

Here there is a warning not to attempt to expand our presence too far in states that were formerly part of the Soviet sphere of interest, but notably, there was no mention of either Iran or Syria. The signal is that Putin may possibly be flexible on these matters, but of course he will want something in return.