Tuesday, April 20, 2004

One could legitimately suggest that knowing if Bush was right or wrong to invade Iraq is irrelevant to deciding what to do now, but I strongly disagree. Those who feel it was a reasonable mistake might consistently feel that way, but those who feel there was something fundamentally wrong with the way the decision was made will probably agree with me that we must face the collective emotional or cognitive faults that lead to a wrong decision in order to make right ones in the future.

A few days ago I posted some of my attempts to understand people who feel Bush did the right thing in Iraq. Of course many of them have already done their best to explain it to us, but since the explanations given have seemed to many others besides me to be not merely flawed but obviously flawed, I took some time to think about things that might seem almost too obvious to mention to some of our adversaries, but only partially relevent to others. If I did my job well enough, at least some conservatives should have been thinking that if I understood all that I should agree with them on Iraq - and some liberals should have been thinking I was secretly a conservative troll. Any liberals who think so are mistaken - just as any conservatives who confuse believing we may be headed for disaster if we don't change course with hoping for disaster are mistaken. Of course, a few Americans actually do hope the occupation fails bloodily - but I haven't heard about any Iraqi-Americans in this group, no matter how they felt about the original invasion.

I'm still convinced not merely that the invasion of Iraq in the way we did it was a mistake, but that until we define the incompletely articulated emotions and beliefs behind that mistake, we will make other mistakes. First, there are two propositions we must not confuse.

1. Our enemies (and even perhaps some of our friends) mistake civilized forbearance for weakness.

2. Our enemies only attack us because they mistake the civilized forbearance we have displayed in the past for weakness, and as soon as they know that the strength they see is matched by a willingness to use it, they will stop attacking us - with bloodshed on both sides less in the long run than it would have been if we reacted more violently.

Many people seem to talk as if evidence for proposition one is the same as evidence for proposition two. Oddly enough, it doesn't work that way. Look at Israel. Some may mistake civilzed behavior for weakness - but this does not in itself prove uncivilized behavior is more effective even against the uncivilized.

The phrase Pax Romana - Roman Peace - is in some ways a misnomer. It wasn't merely a question of demonstrating that their army could not be beaten (when Rome was at it's peak) and that they were not afraid to use it, and then nobody attacked them or their allies. On occasion the Romans destroyed cities and massacred civilians. To be sure, this was not the automatic penalty for resisting Roman conquest. Terrorism and enthnic cleansing only befell repeat offenders, or those whose startegic position seemed to be a genuine threat to Rome.

What about Japan and Germany, whom the United States occupied and rebuilt after world war II? We could not have done it without the firebombing of Dresden, and the fact that the war had provided ample opportunity for all patriots who wished to die for their country to do so. There are many unique circumstances associated with that rebuilding - but none to contradict my main point, that history provides no comfort to those who believe we can stop the violence in Iraq by demonstrating we are not a 'paper tiger' without an actual huge slaughter of civilians.

Am I advocating despair over Iraq - or saying we should shed oceans of blood? Neither one. I believe we can still triumph in Iraq - but the first step is thinking about why we were willing to believe it would be so easy - and why the slide into a mindless escalation of violence is so easy. And no blaming Bush - a bad president is inevitable sooner or later, if mistakes have been made we need to think about what the rest of us do to hold him in check - and what principles guide us.

I discussed several posts ago some of the reasons why the idea of peace through strength - the idea that people will stop attacking us if we show we're have both irresistable strength and the willingness to use it - is very intuitive. I could have added chimpanzee politics as well. But what works for individual primates under certain circumstances simply doesn't work for nations under current circumstances.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Hopefully a civil war is not going to start in Pakistan at the end of the year. They definitely have WMD, and whoever controls the military controls them. He's wavered a couple of times on this issue. This is from the Daily Times of Pakistan.

Musharraf will step down as Army chief, says Rashid

ISLAMABAD: Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Thursday reiterated that President Gen Pervez Musharraf would step down as army chief at the end of the year as promised.

“He will stand by his commitment according to the 17th Amendment, by which he said he would hold only one portfolio,” Mr Ahmed said.

Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, promised to retire as head of the army by the end of 2004, paving the way for him to stay on as a civilian president. But when asked in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) whether he would heed calls from supporters to stay on in uniform, Musharraf said: “We have to wait and see.”

Musharraf made a deal in late December with a coalition of hardline religious parties — the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, or MMA — to amend Pakistan’s constitution to give him extraordinary powers, including the right to dissolve parliament and sack the prime minister. .

In return, Musharraf agreed to the religious coalition’s main demand: that he resign as Army chief, which is the source of most of his power, by December 31, 2004. But in the BBC interview, Musharraf accused the MMA coalition of reneging on an agreement to support him in a vote of confidence in January and the creation of a new National Security Council, approved by Parliament this week.

“I am certainly cheesed off with the MMA’s attitudes after the agreements that we have reached with them,” the president said. “They are going back on their word.” Recently, Defence Minister Rao Sikandar Iqbal called for Musharraf to stay on as army chief, saying if he steps down it could cause political instability.

A surprisingly realistic take on Donald Trump's 'reality' show from Fox news:

In the episode where Bill and Kwame get haircuts, they are seen at dinner — supposedly on the same night — with longer hair. And in the last episode, Bill and Kwame were sipping champagne on the roof of a New York City building — one shot had Bill holding his glass in his left hand and in the next cut he's got it in his right. Also last week there was a clear audio edit when Kwame mentioned that in the real world he would never hire Omarosa. The word Omarosa was noticeably louder than the rest of the words in the sentence — the audio dissolve was lacking at best, and it proves how the show's producers can edit it to look and sound any way they want it to.

Some reality television. But I'm nit-picking. We all know reality TV is a misnomer. The show is still HUGE and I'm a big fan. Hooked I tell ya! Hooked.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Should being liberal mean being angry at the right, or should it mean being more willing to ask why not merely conservatives but many moderates think those who opposed the invasion of Iraq crazy for being so angry at Bush? Do we believe in thinking hard to see if we could do anything better in dealing with our opponents - or merely with the enemies of our country? I propose to ask again why they hate us - why pro war people hate people who opposed the war. Most of them will say that they don't, except perhaps for a few of us on the fringe. Most however, in addition to disagreeing with us, will also say there is something fundamentally wrong with our way of thinking. Indeed many have tried to say what it is - yet somehow our premises may seem so obvious to us that what they say may not make it past what we expect to hear. This is an attempt by one liberal to ask 'why they hate us' - partly because if we can't even understand conservatives, how can we hope to understand Arabs? Just as we always remind conservatives that attempting to understand what is going through peoples heads is in no way agreeing with them, I don't in fact agree with these arguments, but I'm trying to begin to understand and help others understand why things that seem so obvious to us make no impression when explained to 'them'.

Asking 'Why they hate us', is now a cliche. Oddly enough, the most serious thought I've seen on this topic comes from a conservative, but I've seen him repeatedly express disdain for the question itself, whatever role it may have played in his thoughts. Is asking why they hate us merely self destructive, or is it part of what is best in America?

In a review of a Michael Moore production, Steven says, You know, I don't recall a lot of people asking, "Why do they hate us?" But I sure remember a hell of a lot of people saying, "Ask yourselves why they hate us." It was a stupid question then, and it's a stupid question now, because it always implied, "If they hate us, shouldn't we hate ourselves?" And sure enough, if the prerelease quotes are accurate, it sounds true enough in the case he is discussing. I wonder if that's what being a liberal really means.

For many conservatives, it is axiomatic that what Bush has done has made the United States not weaker but stronger, not more vulnerable but less so. To be sure, they feel that Bush's claim that Iraq had WMD was reasonable at the time - but they also seem to believe that even if some other nations suspect he lied, even if he really had lied, the end result will not be that we are hated and distrusted and attacked more, but that instead they will have more respect for us and be less likely to attack us. If we seriously believe being liberal means accepting that understanding why they hate us is the key to defeating them for various values of 'they' and 'us', it would behoove us to get as far inside the heads of these Bushophiles as possible.

I previously discussed a post on Citizen Smash that provides a good starting point.

I think it's great that Citizen Smash is trying to understand the mindset of people in the Arabian Gulf.

I WAS SITTING in a carpet shop in Dubai when an Arab merchant asked me a startling question. “America is a very powerful country,” he began, “Why do you not finish Saddam?”

The year was 1998, and two US Navy carrier battle groups were on station in the Gulf, flying around-the-clock missions over the southern “no-fly-zone.” I took a moment to collect myself, and then offered the man a fumbling explanation about UN weapons inspectors and international law.

The merchant wasn’t impressed. “Saddam is a very dangerous man. You cannot trust him. Why don’t you finish the war? You do not need United Nations.”

That’s when it hit me: for many Arabs, the Gulf War didn’t end in 1991. They realized that Saddam wasn’t finished, and they believed that he was playing a waiting game, hoping that the Americans and British would ultimately grow weary of “containing” him and go home. Indeed, many Arabs suspected that Saddam had designs on the entire Arabian Peninsula.

They saw our reluctance to “finish the job” as a sign of weakness. But this wasn’t just an isolated incident. They remembered our tepid reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and our helplessness during the Iran hostage crisis. They remembered how we turned tail and ran away after setbacks in Beirut and Mogadishu. They saw how we failed to respond after attacks on the USS Stark and, a few years later, the USS Cole.

In short, they believed we were a paper tiger.

Is this point of view idiosyncratic? Not too long ago I read "The Essential Difference", a book about the differences between brains, especially of men and women. It examined a wide range of sources in the quest to separate the biological from the cultural, and summarized:

It is a shocking statistic that in pre-industrial societies one in three young men is killed in a fight, between men. They tend to be men who feel that their reputation has been disrespected. In order that such "loss of face" does not lead to a loss of status, they stand up for themselves. They send out the signal "Don't f*** with me." And how better to signal that you are a man of action, and not just words, than to kill someone. If you kill someone in a competetive fight, your social status goes rocketing up. Whereas in the developed world a murderer is considered to be a viscious person who should be locked up, in pre-industrial societies a murderer (following the provocation outlined above) is someone who gains respect.

Perhaps there is some oversimplification about other cultures here, and lumping them all together. Yet if you watch boys in a schoolyard, the most popular and respected ones are not the ones who do everything they can to avoid a fight. It really seems there is something deep inside humanity that acts as the pro war people seem to intuitively expect the rest of the world to react.

Of course, most adults have at times been treated rudely by other adults, perhaps enough so that they have felt a punch would improve the other persons disposition. Most of us have learned to control these impulses after generations of cultural evolution in a society with policemen and courts. But the world community has no generally respected nonpartisan court with power to enforce nonviolent international relations, so this is not a good analogy.

Have I switched sides? No. I'm going to leave this up for a few days before posting why I haven't. Even liberals who have thought about these issues may enjoy formulating answers in their minds - and some people who favor what Bush has done may think about the possibility that the inability to conceive the harsh logic of the real world is not the only reason anyone could have for disagreeing with them. I welcome any attempts by conservatives to explain why you REALLY hate opponents of the war - or ahem, not hate but think them far wronger than merely wrong on a group of issues.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Sounds like a neocon?

But the fact is that the present Iranian regime, unpopular at home and, in the words of Mohammad Mohsen Sazegara, a respected political dissident condemned to one year of imprisonment for "activities against the sacred Islamic Republic", has lost all ideological, political, popular, revolutionary and theological legitimacy, is vehemently afraid of the emergence of a democratic Iraq on its troubled borders, and for this reason is using all the strings at its disposal to pull.

Hussein Baqerzadeh, an Iranian human rights activist based in England, comments: "If successful, the American intervention in Iraq would make them even more popular with the bulk of Iranian people, mostly the young generation aspiring for freedom, democracy and secularism, making them more ready for the repetition of the Iraqi scenario for Iran. That explains the fears of the Iranian ayatollahs and why they are fanning violence, bloodshed and chaos in Iraq, doing their best to make the country a quagmire for the United States."

It isn't. And Safa Haeri of the Asia Times knows more about what is being said in Iran than most neocons - at least the ones that I've heard from. Who is this guy?

Safa Haeri is director of the Paris-based Iran Press Service. A former correspondent for Iranian Television and a founder member of staff of the independent Tehran daily Ayendegan, he is a regular contributor on Middle East affairs for France's L'Express magazine.

He's very aware of the Iranian media:

PARIS - As confrontations between Iraqis opposed to the US-led coalition forces in Iraq continue unabated and spread, the Islamic Republic of Iran is watching the situation with both joy and fear, as expressed by Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the regime's second-in-command after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Talking to worshippers during the Friday prayers in Tehran, the former Iranian president said that the presence of the US in Iraq was a matter of both "opportunity and threat, for this wounded qool, or giant, blessed with all the huge possibilities it possesses, can take very dangerous actions that would cost itself and others direly, but if it is taught a lessen here, neither the United States nor any other superpower would ever think of engaging in military adventures by occupying other nations."

Commenting on the situation in neighboring Iraq, which many describe as President George W Bush's Vietnam, or "Iraq's third war" or "a new intifada in Iraq", the official Iranian news agency IRNA wrote:

"One year after the fall of Saddam Hussein, bewildered Iraqi people are watching American soldiers dressed in astronaut gears and equipped with the latest war technologies roaming in the streets, with this simple question, why have the Americans not been able to satisfy their most basic daily needs, such as electricity, running water, telephone lines and, above all, restore security? Baghdad's international airport is still closed to international traffic, and the Baghdad-Amman highway, Iraq's only lifeline to the outside world, is now controlled by thieves and bandits."

Talk about thin skinned! Think about how many people (including the media) are constantly accusing our media of bias!

Aljazeera has rejected the US military's comments against its coverage of the latest events in Iraq, and considered the accusations as a threat to the media.

US Army chief spokesman, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, on Monday called Aljazeera, and other Arab media outlets the "anti-coalition media" and advised viewers to "change the channel".

Meanwhile, General John Abizaid, the head of US Central Command, singled out Aljazeera as portraying US military action "as purposely targeting civilians, and we absolutely do not do that, and I think everybody knows that."

"They have not been truthful in their reporting. Haven't been accurate," said Abizaid.

Aljazeera denied the allegations. "Aljazeera rejects these accusations and consider them a threat to the right and the mission of the media outlets to cover the reality of what is happening in Iraq during this tough and complicated field circumstances," said Aljazeera in a statement on Tuesday.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

We seem to be seeking a cease fire in Fallujah. Of course we could 'win' if we were willing to pound the place into rubble. I've even heard support for that from several relatives I would not ordinarily consider psychotic. I'm very glad we haven't forgotten that we have not succeeded unless we build a successful prosperous country, and that killing huge numbers of people won't get us any closer to this.

We still need to think about our plans though. A cease fire isn't a peace treaty - so nobody believes we can just let the people who egged on the lynchers of our contractors go about their business. I'm reduced to hoping someone has a secret plan. Someone on our side. If we can't get rid of them now (and I havent got any ideas either) when can we?

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- A U.S. general called on Sunni militants in Fallujah on Saturday to join a bilateral cease-fire. Insurgents struck U.S troops in Baghdad and central Iraq, setting a tank on fire in the capital and engaging in battles that killed 40 Iraqis, a U.S. spokesman said.

Sunni insurgents did not immediately respond to the general's call for Fallujah, where bloody fighting has been raging all week, but a team of Iraqi leaders entered the city to hold talks with local leaders. Marine commanders said they had no orders yet for a full cease-fire.

Friday, April 09, 2004

I was googling for Saudi blogs, and I found a link to one in the comment section of Amish Tech support.

Here's a real Saudi blog - catch it before they close me down

Some of what Alhamedi says is quite daring - I hope he's untracable! Here's a taste.

I share his desire to see the royals go. However, what he proposes is not feasible:
1. Our lamp-posts are far too high. We don't have those quaint, 3-meter wrought-iron jobs they have in London Town.
2. Hanging is far too tame for the Saudi populace. You just wouldn't get the "bums on seats" to come and watch. We demand a victim, drugged into stupefaction, kneeling on a huge polythene sheet, a big black executioner, a rolling head and lots of blood. Anything else is not "good box office". Ask the French, they knew all about that.

Personally I don't favor capital punishment. These are my thoughts on how to deal with them.
1. King Fahd is so ga-ga and kept alive on medicines anyway, all you need to do is remove his intravenous Johnny Walker Red Label drip and he'll be gone.
2. Crown Prince Abdullah is a relatively humane man, I'd allow him exile in the South of France.
3. Prince Sultan could still fly in his Saudi Airline passenger jets. There's a vacancy for a "trolley-dolly".
4. Prince Nayif should sample his own penal system. The ladies' prison would be ideal.
5. For the other 4000, they'd have to work for a living, or run a business themselves, but no drugs and no booze. Then they'll slowly starve.
Posted by: Alhamedi / 1:02 PM| Comment (1)

Thursday, April 08, 2004

I can't help thinking that Steven has misunderstood the reason more evidence of atrocities in Iraq hasn't moved liberals towards feeling the invasion was a good idea.

Ask them about people tortured by their own governments and leftists will condemn it. But it's an abstract evil, a nebulous thing hanging outside of the range of perception. Watch what they do rather than listen to what they say and it becomes clear that they don't really care about it.

Leftists pride themselves on their compassion, and criticize "conservatives" for being heartless and brutal. Yet leftist compassion seems extremely selective. Not all pain and death is the same; it seems that what matters most is who causes that pain and death and what their motives were.

The thing is, we already knew about horrors like the use of chemical weapons against Saddam's own people. Revelation is the wrong word. I think Steven would be the first to agree we cannot and should not invade every country with a horrible brutal dictator who does things sickening beyond description. As he emphasized himself when the lack of WMD in Iraq became a topic for discussion, the invasion is only in America's interest (and only humanitarian in the long run) if we build a peaceful and prosperous country which does not deteriorate into civil war in the long run.

That being the case, anything that makes this outcome seems less likely will make most who opposed the war feel confirmed in their judgement - and even make some who supported it doubtful.

Monday, April 05, 2004

It's still hard to find comprehensive news about what is happening right now in Iraq, but here's another piece of the puzzle.

US helicopters fire on Sadr supporters in Baghdad
April 5, 2004 - 11:44PM

US Apache helicopters sprayed fire on the private army of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr during fierce battles today in the western Baghdad district of Al-Showla, witnesses and an AFP correspondent said.

"Two Apaches opened fire on armed members of the Mehdi Army," said Showla resident Abbas Amid.

The fighting erupted when five trucks of US soldiers and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) tried to enter the district and were attacked by Sadr supporters, Amid said.

Coming under fire, the ICDC, a paramilitary force trained by the Americans, turned on the US soldiers and started to shoot at them, according to Amid.

The soldiers fled their vehicles and headed for cover and then began to battle both the Mehdi Army and the ICDC members, he said. Their vehicles were set ablaze.

Heavy gunfire rattled the district and columns of black smoke billowed into the sky.

Burning tyres and tree trunks were used to barricade the neighbourhood, where young men toting clubs and carrying light weapons patrolled the streets.

But 16 US Humvees all-terrain vehicles, backed by two tanks, rolled into Showla, the AFP correspondent said.

I got this from Mark A. R. Kleiman, who says (among other things):

As far as I can tell, there's only one source for this so far, a story from Agence France Press printed in the Sydney Morning Herald. (I picked it up from Atrios, who had it from Billmon,who had it from Unfair Witness.) Can anyone confirm or disconfirm?

Sunday, April 04, 2004

As I write this, about eight American soldiers have died in Iraq, and there is more violence in Shia areas than in the Sunni triangle.

I haven't been able to find any information that I haven't seen in the mainstream media. I did find a new blog while searching, whose outstanding feature is a list of Iraqi blogs. Gives me somewhere new to look.

Iraq Blog Count.

Hoping for better news tomorrow. Good luck digging it out before I do.