April 30, 2005

Peace in Iraq?

Posted by Jeremy Brown

The Washington Post offers yet another disturbing look at the reality of prewar Iraq, before the first Gulf War created the no-fly zones:

BAGHDAD, April 29 -- U.S. investigators have exhumed the remains of 113 people -- all but five of them women, children or teenagers -- from a mass grave in southern Iraq that may hold at least 1,500 victims of Saddam Hussein's campaign against the Kurdish minority in the 1980s, U.S. and Iraqi officials said this week.

[...]

The non-acidic soil at the grave site preserved layers and layers of distinctive Kurdish clothing worn by many of the victims, suggesting that they may have piled on their best clothes expecting to be relocated, investigators said.

Authorities showed reporters some of the remains, including the skull of an older woman with pink dentures and the skeleton of a teenage girl clutching a bag of possessions.

[...]

The grave actually is a series of 18 trenches, which investigators say they believe Iraqi forces dug with front loaders and maintained for systematic executions.

Investigators said that women and children were forced to stand at the edge of the pits, then shot with AK-47 assault rifles. Casings were found near the site, they said.

"They sprayed people with bullets so they fell back" into the graves, Iraq's human rights minister, Bakhtyar Amin, told reporters.

[...]

Most of the children were very young, and 10 were infants, authorities said.
Posted by Jeremy Brown at 09:39 AM | Comments (61)

April 29, 2005

Postcards from Lebanon

Downtown Beirut.jpg

Nejmeh Square in downtown Beirut.


Beirut at Night.jpg

Downtown Beirut at night.


Downtown Art.jpg

Political art in downtown Beirut.


East Beirut.jpg

Christian East Beirut.


West Beirut.jpg

Sunni Muslim West Beirut.


Holiday Inn.jpg

A war-ravaged Holiday Inn still stands.


Me above Mediterranean.jpg

Me above the Mediterranean.


Baalbeck.jpg

The Roman ruins at Baalbeck.


Bekaa Valley Arch and Mosque.jpg

A mosque in the Bekaa Valley.


Druze.jpg

Warm greetings in a Druze village.


Syrian Social Nationalist Party.jpg

Propaganda for the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. (It's supposed to be a spinning Swastika.)


Bcharre.jpg

The streets of Bcharre, the birthplace of Khalil Gibran.


Bcharre from Above 2.jpg

Bcharre from above.


Qadisha Valley.jpg

Qadisha Valley.


Mount Lebanon.jpg

Mount Lebanon.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 02:45 AM | Comments (23)

April 27, 2005

This is Beirut

Posted by Michael J. Totten

Beirut is a bullet-riddled Holiday Inn with 15-foot holes blasted into the side of it towering above elegant new construction downtown.

Beirut is a Starbucks that is identical to the one near my house in Portland, Oregon down to the last nail.

Beirut is the most impeccably polite and charming waiter who has ever served me dinner and wine.

Beirut is a fat man smoking a cigar in the elevator.

Beirut is where everyone calls me "sir" and says "welcome."

Beirut is a taxi driver leaning on his horn and screaming at cars.

Beirut is Eastern.

Beirut is Western.

Beirut is a veiled 50-year old woman in a black head-to-toe chador shuffling past a young scantily-clad jogger plugged into her iPod.

Beirut is a French colonial architectural masterpiece.

Beirut is a row of 1970s eyesore apartment towers.

Beirut is an elegant cobble-stoned street.

Beirut is a leg-breaking hole in the sidewalk.

Beirut is Christian.

Beirut is Muslim.

Beirut is ground zero of a liberal-democratic revolution in the Middle East.

Beirut is religious fanatics with guns on the streets of the southern Hezbollahland suburbs.

Beirut is a tiny woman begging for handouts.

Beirut is a tycoon decked out in gaudy over-sized jewelry behind the wheel of a Mercedes.

Beirut is the muezzin's haunting call to Muslim prayer.

Beirut is the soft peal of church bells.

Beirut is booze, gambling, flirtatious women, and Playboy Magazine sold on the streets.

Beirut is where unmarried - even engaged - men are encouraged to visit prostitutes because it takes the pressure off their girlfriends.

Beirut is the capital of a Middle Eastern country that actually holds elections.

Beirut is where three Lebanese presidents were murdered by the Syrian Baath regime.

Beirut is Christians and Muslims living together in peace.

Beirut is an insurance company manager in an upscale bar with a picture of gun-toting Christian militia leader Bashir Gemayel saved on his cell phone.

Beirut is people who say in public whatever they want.

Beirut is Syrian secret police who listen to everything everyone says.

Beirut is a graveyard of Israelis.

Beirut is a graveyard of Americans.

Beirut is a graveyard of the Syrian empire.

Beirut is, especially, a graveyard of Lebanese.

Beirut is the Paris of the Middle East.

Beirut is the Sarajevo of the Middle East.

Beirut is civilized.

Beirut is wild.

One thing Beirut is not, and has never been: Beirut is not boring.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:23 PM | Comments (86)

April 26, 2005

Where do they go from here?

Posted by Mary Madigan

"Where do we go from here?" Pro-democracy bloggers in the Middle East are asking themselves that question.

arch.memory from Lebanese Blogger Forums says:

So, now that they're gone, where go we go from here? In trying to reflect on the past several pivotal weeks in our history, several issues come to mind. One thing that concerns me is that fissure in Lebanese society that came to the surface after the assassination of Hariri and was perhaps at its climax during the tense days of "counter-demonstrations": namely, the Lebanese Shiites vs. the rest of the Lebanese. Before you jump down my throat, I am a Lebanese Shiite, or as I prefer to put it, I come from a Shiite family, since sect is one of those things that are dictated on us, the Lebanese, upon birth, regardless of faith. In any case, my interest in putting up this call for a discussion came after a comment my brother left to a post on my blog. The post was about an article in Slate magazine online by Elisabeth Eaves entitled "Camping in Beirut—A Revolutionary Act". Here is the comment; I thought it would be a good way to spur discussion:

When I read this article, I felt, well, sad.

I do not know why I am writing this, it does not relate much to the article, but I need to express it somewhere, this feeling that I have of perpetual guilt.

I am a Chiite Lebanese and I support the cause of the camp/revolution that is going on, and I did not take part in them. I was not willing to sacrifice my semester for something I knew was good for my country.

It might not be about sectarianism, and it might bring nothing out (though it has), but, if for anything, it was (and still is) about citizen contribution to the democratic process. That is all.
At Spirit of America's Lebanon Blog, Michael Totten explains why the democratic process is so important:
Some of the tent-city residents have told me their goals are not only national. The goals of some of them (but not all of them) also are global. They truly believe they are resolving the clash of civilizations here in Beirut by proving that Christian and Islamic civilizations can co-exist in peace and in friendship. Lebanon has long been a bridge between East and West. In the future it may play the crucial role of a peace broker.

But it is not going to work if Lebanon cannot become a mature liberal democracy. Dictatorships notoriously use divide-and-rule tactics to pit their enemies against one another. Syria has been playing that game inside Lebanon - and on the world stage - for a long time. Terrorism is only one of the sinister byproducts of that. War is another.

Lebanon's civil war drew in four foreign powers: Syria, Iran, Israel, and the United States. Those four powers are still simmering in a state of cold war today. Naturally enough, the two that are ruled by dictatorships - Syria and Iran - are also state sponsors of terrorism.

The Iranian government, state sponsor of Hizbullah, recently said that Lebanon was "vulnerable" and risked civil war. Of that threat, Raja Abu Hassan, said:
Okay. I think Iran is going too far now! We all know that Hizballah is intimately connected to the Iranian regime. However, we were told over and over again that it was a "national" resistance force fighting to liberate Lebanon from foreign occupation.

Today, Mr. Khatami warned that "the possibility exists of an escalation of differences and degeneration into a civil war." hmmm... Who is he to say that there is a possibility for civil war in Lebanon???

One commenter on Raja's site said:
Hizbullah will never issue any statement requesting an apology from the Iranian President. At the time that the last Syrian tank is leaving our country, the last thing we want to hear is a threat. We are just tired of this sort of talk. As a "foreign" country, Iran should just stick to the diplomatic talk that all foreign countries have been releasing about Lebanon which is namely hoping that elections take place on time and that they wish us the best of luck!

On another note, Raja, I read an article from Al-Mustaqbal, that analyzed Hizbullah's latest moves: supporting Mrad as opposed to Mikati (when Mikati is supposedly part of a Syrian-Arab-International deal to move things forward), giving Ghazaleh a gift (Israeli weapon) during his farewell visit to Nasrallah, and announcing to the heads of the security apparatus (especially El-Sayyid)that they will provide them with security.

The author, Naseer Al-Ass'ad, was baffled that Hizbullah is outright taking sides and despite the moving forward that we've witnessed this past week, they are still leaning towards the "losing" side. The author questioned whether Hizbullah is worried that it will be next and that the disarmament issue will be put on the negotiating table. Whatever their motives, such moves will be counter-productive for Hizbullah as Lebanon heads towards a post-syrian era after the elections.

Another recited a list of Hizbollah-related propaganda with more than a hint of irony:

No Raja, are you telling me that Hizbullah is more than the national resitance, that Hizbullah, which according to them, has never and will never turn its arms on other lebanese? that they are merely an armed milita heavily influenced by a foreign power with an islamist agenda by its very nature, unpalatable to the majority of lebanese. Well it is clear, you must be a zionist imperialist for casting aspersions on " a source of pride for the islamic and arab world", To borrow a phrase from a few good men, " We want hizbullah on that wall, We need them on that wall" and if we disagree we are zionist imperialists rooting for american hegemony, and we are all going to hell! Maybe now I won't have to keep reading about their social services etc...
Tony from Across the Bay mentions that the myth/propaganda of Hizbullah's never using its weapons against other Lebanese is historically false. He says: "I'm not sure how people forget Hizbullah's wars with its Shiite rival Amal, and even with the PSP)and remains false today (with often-deadly clashes with Amal going on on a regular basis)."

In response to Raja's comments on the Iranian threat, one commenter said:

80% of iranians are just itching to hang these clerics and they are warning us about differences in our country.
According to Wretchard of the Belmont Club, indirect warfare has put two terror-supporting states, Syria and Iran, on the defensive. The Mullahs are welcoming ex-Baathists into their fold.

The Persian Journal believes that that billionaire Mullahs are hoping that this Arab-Iranian alliance will benefit them, not politicially but also financially. Unfortunately for the Mullahs, things aren't working out as planned.

More news here and here

Posted by Mary Madigan at 06:04 PM | Comments (43)

April 25, 2005

Lebanon and Syria in the News

Posted by Jeremy Brown

It would seem that the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon is or will in a few hours be complete. That should be the big news in tomorrow's papers. It will be interesting to see whether that's anything like the case.

Here's a quick sampling of a few bits and pieces I've seen so far:

I searched the front page of The New York Times for the words Lebanon and Syria. Here's the only headline that turned up (it was indeed in international news):

Ex-Officials Say Bolton Inflated Syrian Danger

I'm not boosting Bolton, mind you, just saying.

Here's something -- just for yuks -- from the Pacifica website:

Lebanon is now free of all Syrian troops. Mohammed Shublaq has more from Beirut about the mixed reactions.

I'll grant both of these websites the fact that tomorrow happens across the Atlantic before it happens here. Indeed, The Guardian, much to its credit, has this to say in today's web edition:

Faced with mass demonstrations in Beirut and international calls for a speedy withdrawal, Syria had little option but to pull its forces out. Anxious to save face, Damascus has sought to portray its withdrawal as implementation of the 1989 Taif accord that ended the Lebanese civil war. Today's ceremony is likely to provide Syria with more face-saving spin and may also distract some attention from a UN report, due to be delivered today by Kofi Annan, on the extent of Syrian compliance with resolution 1559.

That report has a just discernibly unsympathetic point of view toward Syria. And that's: "OK." Good for the Guardian.

Iran is not thrilled with the Syrian withdrawal (emphasis mine):

Iranian President Mohamed Khatami warned in a meeting with visiting Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt yesterday that Lebanon was “vulnerable” and risked civil war, the Isna news agency reported. “The possibility exists of an aggravation of divisions which could tranform into a civil war,”

And when it comes to the possibility of an aggravation of divisions and of civil war, Iran is not content to just wag a finger of warning -- they plan to help in any way they can:

Iran's Ambassador to Lebanon Massoud Edrissi Monday underlined the need for continuation of Iran's all-out support for Lebanese terrorist group Hezbullah to cope with the current crucial situation in Lebanon.

Which brings me back to Pacifica's promise of 'mixed reactions' which suddenly seems to be a rather apt choice of words.

Do I have a point? Yes. Please be sure you're reading here this week.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 09:47 PM | Comments (78)

April 24, 2005

Goodbye, Syria

Posted by Michael J. Totten

Yesterday I took a much-needed day off (my first since I got here) and cruised over Mount Lebanon to the Bekaa Valley to look at the Roman ruins at Baalbeck. As my tour bus approached the city our guide pointed out a small garrison of Syrian troops off to the right. Soldiers huddled around tents in the rain below a gigantic portrait of their goon-in-chief Bashar Assad. "Don't take pictures of them," she said. "It will cause trouble."

I decided to take some pictures anyway. To hell with them. What were they going to do? Shoot down a tourist bus as their final act in the country?

I raised my camera to the window. The soldiers looked like miserable dogs that had been kicked in the ribs with steel-toed boots. The popular uprising in Lebanon had totally thrashed and demoralized them. Every one of them stared into the windows of the bus as we drove past. Many saw my camera and stared at me personally. I decided then that I would follow the tour lady's advice and not take a picture. There was no way I was going to sneak in a photo without them knowing it. So I pointed my camera down and lowered it into my lap.

I did feel slightly intimidated. As individuals many of these men may be exemplary human beings. But the Syrian military is a monstrous thing that should probably not be messed with by anyone who isn't very well-armed.

That's the extent of my personal contact with the Syrian Baath regime. It sure isn't much. It's practically nothing at all - and thank Heaven for that. But it's just enough that I read the following article with a wee bit more satisfaction than I would have otherwise.
BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Syrian troops burned documents and dismantled military posts in their final hours in Lebanon Sunday, before deploying toward the border and effectively ending 29 years of military presence in the country.

A few score Syrian troops will remain in Lebanon for a farewell ceremony Tuesday that the Lebanese Army plans to hold in a town close to the Syrian border.

In Damascus, the Syrian capital, a government official said: "Within the next few hours, all the troops will be out of Lebanon."

"What will be left are those who will take part in the official farewell" on Tuesday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In the border town of Anjar, home of Syria's chief of military intelligence in Lebanon, Syrian officials appeared to be going about their business as usual Sunday.

But at the Deir el-Ahmar base, Syria's last major garrison in the Bekaa Valley, 15 tanks rolled on to flatbed trucks, ready for the drive home, witnesses told The Associated Press. Soldiers burned papers, knocked down walls and loaded ammunition on to trucks.

Syrian troops had already vacated at least 10 positions in the northern part of the Bekaa Valley on Saturday. Dozens of trucks carrying hundreds of soldiers and at least 150 armored vehicles, towing artillery pieces and rocket launchers, crossed the border into Syria, witnesses said.

"Tomorrow everything will be over," a Lebanese military officer said Saturday.
Buh bye.

(PS - Don't forget to read my own Lebanon coverage over at Spirit of America's Lebanon blog.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 03:00 PM | Comments (21)

April 22, 2005

Change - More Weekend Reading

Posted by Jeremy Brown

"Who does he think he is" I imagine you're asking, "with his 'weekend reading?' Some kind of bigshot?"

Well, no. But I know that there is a certain kind of reading that gets done best during the week, and another kind that you'll want to do on your laptop out on a shady part of the front yard or in the sculpture garden at the museum, or in the safe part of the park in Holyoke. So this is some of the latter...

Neo-Neocon is a great writer whose blog provides another stop on the underground railroad that has been helping people like me along the perilous journey from well behaved pre-9/11 liberal up to the cold North of open-minded, independent thought.

But to be specific, she is coming near the end of a series on Change. (I had an impulse to capitalize that word because change has been like a living creature in our lives these past few years, whether your politics are Left, Right, or somewhere under the fat part of the bell curve).

The latest installment in Neo-Neocon's series is about the Vietnam war and how two famous photos tapped into and transformed how that war was perceived by millions of people:

...The prisoner is young-looking and slight, even boyish, dressed in a checked shirt. He is facing the viewer and we see his face clearly and frontally, wincing, although the shooter is seen only in profile. The Vietcong's hands are tied behind his back, and he seems terribly vulnerable...

That this picture -- and the famously disturbing image of the Vietnamese girl running naked, screaming -- showed the brutality of war is clear. But NN lets us in on the fact that there are stories behind these pictures that we might not know (we have to wait for the next installment).

But before Vietnam is woven in, NN explains the genesis of this series of posts:

When I first started this blog, one of the things I was sure I'd do an awful lot of writing about is what it means to change one's mind on a topic as fundamental and emotional as politics: who does it, why they do it, how they do it. I thought I'd explore the ways in which "changers" differ from those who don't ever change, and the repercussions changers face among friends and family who often consider them to be pariahs. I even thought that, if a bunch of these people ever migrated to my blog, it could function as a sort of combination support group (sorry, it's the therapist in me!) and clearing house on the topic of political changers and what makes them tick.

The best thing to do is pop over to the latest installment so you can see the index of previous posts, then start from the beginning.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 06:29 PM | Comments (25)

April 21, 2005

The End of the World as We Know It

Posted by Mary Madigan

The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed between 20 and 40 million people. It killed more people than World War I. More people died of that flu in a single year than in four years of the Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351. Known as "Spanish Flu" or "La Grippe" the 1918 pandemic was a global disaster.

During the 2001 anthrax scare, after an elderly woman in Connecticut died after having been exposed to “lingering” anthrax spores, I started to worry about my 90+ year old grandmother’s habit of ripping up junk mail. She laughed about that, saying that she had survived the flu of 1918 and she’d survive the anthrax thing.

And she did.

On the other end of the disaster scare spectrum are the Armageddon groupies, people who believe that God, or the earth will use any small excuse to get rid of the majority of the annoying, sinful, wasteful human race. They don’t need a massively fatal flu to launch into their Armageddon dreams. A vague prophecy or an unusually warm winter will suffice.

These Armageddon fans have funded Jerry Jenkins and Timothy LeHaye’s outrageously profitable "Left Behind" industry. Environmentalists’ various end times prophecies fund a series of NGOs. These Armegeddon groupies don’t agree about how the world will end, but they do agree on one thing – the end of the world as we know it is coming, and there’s not much that we can do about it. Oh, we can prepare a little, but, human nature being what it is, we’re doomed.

The funniest example of this attitude was Bill Moyer’s essay Environmental Armageddon, where he raged about how unfair it was that conservatives’ end times scenarios were taking precedence over his end times scenarios.

The least funny example was from 'Critter' Marshall, an activist currently in jail for bombing a Chevy Dealership, who said this about our environmental problems: (NY Times)

..there is no easy solution..for life to survive as we know it, millions of people are going to have to die. It's sad to say that, but it's true. Millions of people are already dying - it's just gonna have to start happening here.
On Winds of Change, 'Cicero' analyzed James Howard Kunstler's predictions that 200 years of modernity will be brought to its knees by an energy crisis. 'Cicero' concluded that “What is truly worrisome is not that there will be an energy crisis in our future; it's that so many of our best and brightest can't positively imagine a future that we can all live in.”

I’ve been wondering about that kind of self-destructive behavior too. As usual, science provides an answer, from Stuart Blackman, a Shakespeare fan and science writer who described the research of Stuart West & collaborators at the University of Edinburgh on the use and results of the tactic of suicide bombing in the E. coli community:

Take bacterial suicide-bombing: Why should an E. coli bacterium go to the bother of blowing itself up to release toxins that kill its closest competitors when it kills itself in the process? Part of the answer is that the spiteful gene can proliferate in the martyr's clonal relatives. But it also requires very intense competition on a local scale to allow sufficient benefit to accrue to those kin. Therefore, spite tends to occur in parasitic species, where host resources are limiting, and where the sphere of competition is confined to the host organism rather than the whole population.
He also asks, “What happens..when mankind perceives that we are outgrowing our host?
Environmentalists would perhaps argue that publicising worst-case scenarios spurs people into action. But the question is: what sort of action will it spur us into? Will it make us more inclined to cooperate to sort out problems, as environmentalists no doubt intend, or will it push us in a different direction - one that is detrimental to our collective survival? Will we be more inclined to use (or refrain from using) resources for selfish (spiteful?) reasons rather than cooperative ones? In which case, is there a self-fulfilling element to those worst-case prophesies?..

..For those sections of the green movement that view humanity as a plague or virus, this might be a welcome prospect. But for those of us who prefer to see Homo sapiens as a remarkable species whose cooperative endeavours have got us through many a tight squeeze in the past, and who are optimistic that, when presented with the best available scientific evidence, we can do the same when faced with the problems that inevitably await us in the future, anything that makes us more like nasty, spiteful, self-destructive Iago is well worth resisting.

The theory that optimism helps us stay alive and healthy has already been proven by history and science many times. We may as well work with it.

Posted by Mary Madigan at 12:51 PM | Comments (78)

April 20, 2005

Providing Cover for Lebanese Democracy

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Though you read the newspaper and watch the news on TV, it shouldn't surprise you to hear that there is a huge pro-democracy movement taking hold in Lebanon. That's what Michael is currently documenting and making common cause with as I write this. History seems to be sowing the soil for this sort of bloodless revolution -- and we have reason to hope that this is what the Cedar Revolution will turn out to be.

It's not easy to apprehend the precise dynamics that make a movement like this possible, but I'm mindful of a comment by one of the democracy activists in Lebanon that was reported recently by Michael:

Later, inside a different tent, a young woman took me aside. And she said: "I must tell you something. If we didn't think we had American support we would never have done this. They would kill us. We need you. It is just a fact."

This resonates profoundly with my sense that, while Lebanese and Iranian democracy activists might not want to see U.S. troops invading or occupying their country, they need to be able rely on the fact that we've got their backs, so to speak. I don't think, prior to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, that American citizens could have made such a claim and expected anyone in the Middle East to believe it.

And there seems to be a sign this week that Syria is wary of violently opposing this democracy movement with its now credible support from the U.S:

BEIRUT -- Lebanon's prime minister formed a new government yesterday, boosting chances that a general election can be held on schedule, in line with demands by the international community and anti-Syria opposition.

But it's important that the protestors don't let up, and they could use our help.

It's outrageous that American news companies are not treating this as a major story, or are reporting it as a minor blip within a fatalistic perception of the hope for democracy in the Middle East.

The Lebanese Broadcasting Company seems to be under the impression that this call for a genuine election in Lebanon and for the the withdrawal of Syria is important enough to expect President Bush to agree to an interview. President Bush seems to think so too:

QUESTION: Thank you for your time, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: My honor, thank you.

Q: Recently there isn't a day that passes by without you mentioning Lebanon. Why now, this country that was under occupation for almost 30 years, became so important for the United States?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, there's a movement toward freedom around the world. And the Lebanese people have made it clear that they want to be free of Syrian influence, they want there to be free elections. And the United States of America stands squarely with the people of Lebanon.

[...]

Q: I'm sure, Mr. President, you heard what I want to say maybe thousands of times, and maybe from Presidents and Kings that come and see you here in the White House -- some people think that it's not in the best interest of America to have democratic Arab countries --

THE PRESIDENT: Right.

Q: -- because democracy and free elections may help anti-American groups, radical groups to come to power. What do you respond to that?

THE PRESIDENT: I respond to them and say, well, I guess they don't really understand me, and they don't understand my view of freedom, because I think freedom is embedded in everybody's soul... [*] ...I believe that a true free society, one that self-governs, one that listens to the people, will be a peaceful society -- not an angry society, but a peaceful society.

*note that I deleted a religious reference that, you would think, Bush dropped in to ensure that liberal atheists like me will have trouble convincing our friends to listen to what he is really saying. The good news: Lebanon is listening to what he is really saying!

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 08:23 AM | Comments (114)

April 19, 2005

Freedom Vanishes

Posted by Michael J. Totten

The single biggest media disaster in the world right now is the Western reporting from Lebanon.

Callimachus explains what's happening here.

It is impossible for me to describe how infuriating it is for me to read that post while hanging out with, and writing about, the democratic opposition here in Beirut.

All the more reason to help the opposition's new Web site Pulse of Freedom get as much attention as possible. If the media won't report what they have to say, they are just going to have to say it themselves.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 06:07 AM | Comments (42)

April 18, 2005

Arabists vs. the Middle East

Posted by Mary Madigan

In his TNR (registration required) piece, Juan Cole's Bad Blog Efraim Karsh describes the prejudices that influence Cole's Informed Comment:

Cole suffers from many other common Arabist misconceptions that deeply prejudice and compromise his writing. Having done hardly any independent research on the twentieth-century Middle East, Cole's analysis of this era is essentially derivative, echoing the conventional wisdom among Arabists and Orientalists regarding Islamic and Arab history.. Worse, Cole's discussion of U.S. foreign policy frequently veers toward conspiratorial anti-Semitism. This is hardly the "informed" commentary Cole claims it to be.
Orientalism is defined by Edward Said as "the western belief that there could be such a thing as an Islamic society, an Arab mind, an Oriental psyche. According to Said, no one “would dare talk about blacks or Jews using such essentialist cliché."

Said’s works are popular, for the most part, among Islamic fundamentalists and Western academics, whose agree with his views on the “violation of Islam and the Arabs by a predatory West.”

To Said’s fans, Orientalism is synonymous with colonialism and racism. To them, any criticism of Arabs or Islam is racism and aggression. Which is why they can, with a straight face, call critics of the Arab/Islamic tradition of enslaving blacks “racists”.

Cole responded to Karsh’s piece by calling the staff of TNR "colonialists". Reactionaries are so predicable.

What is an Arabist? Lebanese blogger Tony of Across the Bay defines the term:

It's replaying that tired Arab nationalist myth that Arabism protects Christians by providing a secular Arab identity. The flip side of course is that only Arab nationalism is a legitimate narrative in the region. Everything. Everything else is a fitna in the heart of the umma. (Both terms by the way are thoroughly Islamic, not that the stupid Christian Arab nationalists ever noticed!) That's why it's no coincidence that in every case of Arab/Muslim - "ethnic minority" tension, Israel and the West/US is brought in. Why? In the case of Israel, it's because it is the only other nationalism that managed to carve for itself a niche in the dominant Arab surrounding. That's why any other ethnic movement is seen as another potential Israel, and thus is painted with the same brush..

...This move, that lent credence to the historic lie that the region is exclusively "Arab", is at the heart of the problem. It not only led Edward Said, in his critique of reductionism, to reduce the entire Middle East to mean "the Arab world," it also led to an incredibly hostile and condescending attitude towards all non-Arab ethnicities and identities in the region, not only by the Arab nationalist regimes, but by sympathetic Western scholars, among whom Cole is but an example.

When describing Cole’s bias, Karsh of TNR notes the similarities between The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’s obsession with the imagined influence of "world Zionism" (and its corresponding ruthless Zionist cabal) and Cole’s similar obsession with the Jewish/Neocon/Likudnik cabal.

Although Cole claims to provide informed comment on the Middle East, it’s obvious that he does not express the views of the Jews who live there. He also does not express the views of pro-Independence Lebanese, Iraqis, Kurds, Jews, Arab Christians, liberal Arabs or moderate Muslims. Cole, the Arabist, expresses the views of Arab nationalists and their Islamist allies.

Cole expresses his Arabist views through words. Arab nationalists express their views through the use of terrorism, financial incentives and ethnic cleansing.

As Tony from Across the Bay says, Cole is but an example.

Posted by Mary Madigan at 12:12 PM | Comments (157)

April 16, 2005

Staying in Lebanon

I was scheduled to come home early next week, but things are heating up here in the Paris of the Middle East. I am going to stay for a couple more weeks.

Night Shot1.jpg

Night Shot2.jpg

Night Shot3.jpg

Tent City at Night.jpg

I hope you're all reading my Lebanon coverage over at the Spirit of America site. And I hope you're all donating some money. The democracy movement needs every last nickel and dime it can get. Remember, the tent-city is ground zero for the Cedar Revolution. These people quit their jobs and dropped out of school to make it happen. They are not making money, but they desperately need it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 01:45 AM | Comments (25)

April 15, 2005

The Peace and Quiet Movement

Posted by Jeremy Brown

I have written often about the need of people like me -- who were once Left/liberal Latte drinkers (well, espresso in my case) and are now wandering in the rain like King Lear trying to comprehend that everything has fallen apart -- to start letting go of the Cold War concepts of 'Left' and 'Right.'

I keep thinking I've done that. But you'll notice I've described myself as 'Left/liberal.' Part of the problem is: how do you get a handle on what is going on in the world now?

There's a political humorist (among other things) named Jim Hightower who I used to think pretty highly of. These days I can't stand to listen to him or read his stuff. But back before 2001 I remember him saying that the politics of Left/Right was starting to recede into history and that it was being replaced by the simple politics of up vs. down. Class, privelage, access...these were what it was all about. This resonated with me and still does. This is Left wing populism. Where I think he's failed to take his own point is in his continuing practice of portraying the Republican party as the enemy.

So who's the enemy? (Must there even be an enemy? That's for the enemy to decide. The ball's in his court). The enemy is greed, wanton brutality, anti-democratic violence...there are a thousand ways to say it. Totalitarians both Left and Right (I know, I know) are the enemy.

Here in the U.S. there are power pimps in both parties, Republican and Democratic, just as there is a (small) populist wing in each. This is the up/down party line. And it's world wide.

But another manifestation of this is the 'speak out!'/'shut up' divide. This could not have been better exemplified than in Lebanon where hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets, daring to tell Syria to get the hell out. Then the official counter protest designed to shut them the hell up. Then the counter-counter protest...followed by the amazing pro-democracy movement that Michael is narrating first hand as we speak.

This also manifests as the conflict between those who recognize that the world is being transformed by an era of unprecedented transparency (think both big and small: Oil-for-Food, Abu Ghraib, Dan Rather, Enron, even Michael Jackson. If you're counting on getting away with something because no one will find out, you might want to be careful) versus those of the 'see no evil' class.

It's along these lines that I got in the habit of referring to the contemporary anti-war crowd as the 'peace and quiet' movement. The fact that fascists were exterminating people in Afghanistan and Iraq was not a big talking point on the Left -- though it was OK to distribute pamphlets about starving Iraqi children because it was possible to blame that on American Imperialsm -- until the U.S. actually did something to stop it. Then it became fashionable to decry all the suffering. This is like not caring much that your neighbor down the street is beating his wife and kids to death to the extent that you don't know any of the parties involved. That's the Peace and Quiet movement.

And this cartoon by the Argentine cartoonist, Quino, though I doubt he agrees with my views lately, illustrates this point very nicely (click image for larger version):

quino_demo.gif

Quino, whose real name is Joaquin S. Lavado, is a genius. The cartoon above came from a collection called 'The World of Quino.' It seems to be out of print, but you can buy it used.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 07:29 AM | Comments (63)

April 14, 2005

Hezbollah Blogging

Posted by Michael J. Totten

Lebanon still has some deadly serious problems aside from just the
Syrian dictatorship and the secret police. Hezbollah runs their own
terrorist state-within-a-state in the southern suburbs of Beirut. I
went down there yesterday and blogged about it - with photos - here.

It was, um, creepy to say the least.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 02:55 AM | Comments (24)

April 12, 2005

We have the technology

Posted by Mary Madigan

After 9/11, when it became apparent that oil producing nations in the Middle East just might have had something to do with the attacks, I believed that the best way for American civilians to fight terrorism was to develop alternative sources of energy.

That idea is catching on. Roger Simon is thinking about buying a hybrid.* He says:

I don't care if you define yourself as a "liberal" or a "conservative" (I gave up on that yawner some time ago), you shouldn't want to see the likes of Chavez and the House of Saud and the rest of the petro-scum continue to have leverage on all of us. I think one of the mistakes the administration made in fighting the War on Terror is underestimating the propaganda value alone in getting the public behind energy conservation. Is this area their critics are right.
Glenn Reynolds is also thinking about buying a hybrid – and he’s talking about Green Power. He says:
..everyone keeps telling me that hydrogen cars will be our salvation. The problem is that hydrogen isn't that easy to come by, and requires a lot of electricity to make. And if the electricity comes from big coal- or oil-fired plants, you haven't really done much. Stewart Brand of Whole Earth Catalog fame is predicting a turnabout in attitudes:
Years ago, environmentalists hated cars and wanted to ban them. Then physicist Amory Lovins came along, saw that the automobile was the perfect leverage point for large-scale energy conservation, and set about designing and promoting drastically more efficient cars.

Gas-electric hybrid vehicles are now on the road, performing public good. The United States, Lovins says, can be the Saudi Arabia of nega-watts: Americans are so wasteful of energy that their conservation efforts can have an enormous effect. Single-handedly, Lovins converted the environmental movement from loathing of the auto industry to fruitful engagement with it.

Some Friends of the Earth are beginning to embrace technology – even nuclear technology. From Wired Magazine’s Green vs. Green:
From Greenpeace to the Green Party, some of the most prominent environmental groups today made their reputations in the 1970s as opponents of nuclear power. So it was no wonder that greens were vexed last summer when prime minister Tony Blair proposed a new generation of nuclear power plants for Britain to confront the problem of climate change. But what galled them even more was the response to Blair from Hugh Montefiore, a former Anglican bishop and longtime trustee of Friends of the Earth. Writing in the British journal The Tablet in October, Montefiore committed what colleagues viewed as the ultimate betrayal: "I have now come to the conclusion that the solution [to global warming] is to make more use of nuclear energy." When Montefiore told fellow trustees that he planned to speak out, they made him resign his post.

Montefiore isn't the only dyed-in-the-wool green who has been exiled for advocating nuclear power. Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore left the organization after embracing atomic energy. British biologist James Lovelock, whose Gaia theory was an environmental watchword before he turned pro-nuke, is now persona non grata within the movement. "There are members of my former organization who would agree with me but have not gone public about the matter," Montefiore laments. "If only we had a few more people who would stick their necks out, it would help."

In Wired’s Nuclear Now! authors Peter Schwartz and Spencer Reiss say:
We should be shooting to match France, which gets 77 percent of its electricity from nukes. It's past time for a decisive leap out of the hydrocarbon era, time to send King Coal and, soon after, Big Oil shambling off to their well-deserved final resting places - maybe on a nostalgic old steam locomotive.

Besides, wouldn't it be a blast to barrel down the freeway in a hydrogen Hummer with a clean conscience as your copilot? Or not to feel like a planet killer every time you flick on the A/C? That's how the future could be, if only we would get over our fear of the nuclear bogeyman and forge ahead - for real this time - into the atomic age.

The granola crowd likes to talk about conservation and efficiency, and surely substantial gains can be made in those areas. But energy is not a luxury people can do without, like a gym membership or hair gel. The developed world built its wealth on cheap power - burning firewood, coal, petroleum, and natural gas, with carbon emissions the inevitable byproduct.

Judith Weiss of Kesher Talk has been talking about Thermal depolymerization. She says:
TDP does the same thing the earth does when it turns organic matter into oil, but a lot faster, using standard refinery components and techniques. The technology is not quite competitive - barrel for barrel or ton for ton - with existing energy sources, but if all the secondary costs and benefits (transportation, waste disposal, pollution and disease control, compatibility with existing energy infrastructure, vulnerability to terrorism, etc.) were factored in, it would look more competitive than other energy alternatives:
If we factored in all of the costs, we would also have to factor in the costs of dealing with the Saudi support of terrorism (a net loss of many, many, many billions), and the costs of dealing with other oil-producing terror supporters, as well as regimes like Venuzuela’s Chavez. When compared with the costs of terror and the other uses of this geopolitical weapon, alternate energy sources are priceless.

Outside magazine is promoting the new techno-friendly environmentalism.

In the old days, trying to live with an environmental conscience could be tricky, if not downright unpleasant—filled with hard-to-find organic bulgur salads, tiresome carpools, and scratchy hemp ponchos. But there's good news for greenies everywhere: You no longer have to live like John the Baptist to contribute to a healthier planet. Being kind to the earth has never been more hip, luxe, delicious, and deprivation-free. Simply put, a growing commitment to do no harm is transforming culture and commerce, making it possible to play hard and live well while living responsibly.
What about traditional alternatives like conservation, solar and wind energy? I think we should work on developing many, alternatives, not just a few. If some technologies don’t work in America for one reason or another, they could work somewhere else. America has been protecting the world’s energy needs, not just our own. Any reduction in those needs is a good thing.

As Judith says:

TDP might be commercially feasible now in countries where oil is much more expensive, concerns about livestock waste are more pressing, and economic vulnerability to fluctuating oil prices is greater. Also, in many developing areas with poor infrastructure or transportation, local energy production makes more sense than importing oil or gas or coal. We are in a global economy, and any reduction in reliance on Middle East oil, anywhere, helps everybody.
Sharing these newly developed technologies is profitable for us, profitable for all consumers and bad for oil-producers like Chavez and the Sauds. Talk about a win-win situation.

• We’ve had a Prius since 2001. It's a great car – excellent milage, good handling, and it always impresses the parking lot attendants. As far as acceleration goes, don’t pull out in front of fast-moving trucks, but otherwise, it’s good on the highway.

Posted by Mary Madigan at 09:30 PM | Comments (103)

April 11, 2005

More Flawed Institutions in the News

Posted by Jeremy Brown

This take on flawed institution theory is different from the last. This time Tom Regan in the Christian Science Monitor tells a story whose moral seems to be that all corruption must be expunged from the planet before any steps are taken to expunge any corruption from the planet:

Iraq is becoming 'free fraud' zone

Corruption in Iraq under US-led CPA may dwarf UN oil-for-food scandal.

[...]

[Jeremy Brown reported that Tom Regan of the Christian Science Monitor reported that] Newsweek reported earlier this week that Frank Willis compared Iraq to the "wild west," and that with only $4.1 billion of the $18.7 billion that the US government set aside for the reconstruction of Iraq having been spent, the lack of action on the part of the government means "the corruption will only get worse."

Please believe me when I say I'd like for this to be thoroughly investigated. There's enough Lefty left in me that I don't doubt there are corrupt scumbags in every large corporation who would do this sort of thing (and, of course, in a post-Enron world you no longer have to be Left wing to harbor such cynical notions).

But the message driving this article seems to have less to do with the importance of exposing corruption than with making a case that, while global transparency is a nice idea, the United States is not free enough of sin to cast the first stone (though I'd be a bit surprised if we learn that Haliburton has been giving Saddam kickbacks -- a gold-plated shiv, or a brick of joes, or whatever it is incarcerated mass-murderers covet):

Rep. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, one of five panels probing the oil-for-food program, told CNN the United States was 'complicit in undermining' the UN sanctions on Iraq. 'How is it that you stand on a moral footing to go after the UN when they're responsible for 15 percent maybe of the ill-gotten gains, and we were part and complicit of him getting 85 percent of the money?" Menendez asked.

George W. Bush, to put it another way, has broken up the syndicate. I think this is a good thing. And yes, if he's not willing to expose any corruption that might continue to exist within the U.S. entities now in Iraq then it's the job of the press to expose such corruption.

But the interesting lede that's buried in this story is the fact that there are powerful people in the world whose response to news of U.N. corruption is to express resentment that the fun is over. I find this embarrassing.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 08:15 AM | Comments (73)

April 09, 2005

Actions speak louder..

Posted by Mary Madigan

The Mudville Gazette* posts on reports that a CBS Cameraman has been arrested in Iraq.

The Mudville Gazette links to CNN. CNN's homepage links to a report that the CBS cameraman has been arrested in Iraq as a suspected insurgent. According to the report his camera contained footage of an insurgent attack on American forces, authorities believe he was 'tipped off'.

[CBS's homepage reports that Bob Barker’s Price is Right Million Dollar Spectacular will be featured tonight]

Via CNN:

A CBS stringer has been arrested as a suspected insurgent, U.S. military officials said Friday.

The video cameraman was wounded during a firefight in northeastern Mosul between U.S. troops and insurgents Tuesday.

U.S. military officials said the man's camera held footage of a number of roadside bomb attacks against American troops, and they believe he was tipped off to those attacks…

..In a written statement, the network said the man was referred to the network by a "fixer" in Tikrit "who has had a trusted relationship with CBS News for two years."

"It is common practice in Iraq for Western news organizations to hire local cameramen in places considered too dangerous for Westerners to work effectively," the network said.

"Common practice." Wasn’t it common practice a few years ago for certain Western news agencies to keep bad news about terror-supporting dictators to themselves due to fear of reprisals? It’s not yet clear what this CBS stringer’s involvement was, but one thing is clear – the common practices of western news agencies don't seem to be in the best interests of Iraqi citizens; Iraqi citizens like Hatem Ali Hadi al-Moussawi, Mahdi Sbeih and Samy Moussa, election officials who were dragged from their cars and shot dead by terrorists. An AP photographer snapped surprisingly well-framed, clearly focused photos of the murders. That photograper won a Pulizer Prize for his efforts.

According to the Mudville Gazette, important facts have been “left out” of CBS reports:

CBS original comment on the shooting was buried in another story on Iraq:

A soldier shot an Iraqi freelance reporter and cameraman employed by CBS News, Abdul Amir Younis Hussein, in northeastern Mosul while working. According to what the Pentagon told the CBS News bureau in Washington, Tuesday, Hussein was shot in the hip by a soldier who mistook his camera, which he was using at the time, for a weapon. Hussein is being treated and is expected to make a full recovery.

The original Reuters report:

The cameraman and reporter suffered minor injuries when he was shot while covering a firefight for CBS in Mosul, CBS News said. It asked that the man's name not be reported for his protection.
CBS then promptly released his name in their own report. Reuters again:
The U.S. military said in a statement from Mosul released at the Pentagon that U.S. soldiers had been involved in an engagement with at least one suspected insurgent who was "waving an AK-47 (assault rifle) and inciting a crowd of civilians."

During the incident, "an individual that appeared to have a weapon who was standing near the insurgent was shot and injured. This individual turned out to be a reporter who was pointing a video camera," the military statement said.

Leaving out a fact that could be considered essential:

A US military statement said troops also shot and killed an insurgent who was waving an AK-47 assault rifle and inciting a crowd of civilians at the site of a suicide bombing in eastern Mosul.

That was left out of the CBS report too.

This report from an NBC affiliate attributed to AP adds this: The incident followed a car bombing in Mosul that injured five American soldiers.

According to the Guardian and ABC News International:
[Task Force Freedom, Capt. Mark Walter] said the reporter was detained immediately after the incident, in part because of statements from witnesses to the battle.
Witnesses that were, presumably, Iraqi citizens. The Iraqi people have defied the insurgent/terrorists by turning out by the thousands to protest terrorism, participating in elections, shooting insurgents and spitting on their dead bodies. Many of the insurgents aren’t Iraqis. By their actions, Iraqi citizens have shown that they do not support the terrorists who murder their neighbors and their children.

The phrase the press uses to explain themselves is "values-neutral."

[*Link thanks to dougf]

Posted by Mary Madigan at 09:36 AM | Comments (58)

April 08, 2005

Weekend Reading

Posted by Jeremy Brown

The weekend is a good time to catch up on those stories that the mainstream press is doing a lousy job of covering (meaning, I guess, stories not about the Pope or Michael Jackson). It seems to me that if we do nothing more than brief ourselves on Lebanon and Darfur then, as they say in my tribe, that would be a mitzvah.

You know where to get information and offer help regarding the democracy movement in Lebanon, right? Michael will keep you informed here.

When it comes to getting information on Darfur and Sudan I don't know of a better place than Sudan: The Passion of the Present. There we're reminded that Wednesday marked a disturbing anniversary:

On April 6, 1994, Habayarimana and the president of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, were killed when their plane was shot down. The next day, Rwandan Armed Forces went house to house killing Tutsi and moderate Hutu. Thousands died. In response, the next day the RPF launched an offensive. But the genocide that would last three months had already gained ground. The world powers debated whether or not to call the killings in Rwanda genocide. On April 30, the United Nations agreed on a resolution condemning the killings -- but it conveniently left out the g-word.

Remind you of anything? Read the whole thing.

But of course you won't be of much use to the world if you're reduced to a hopeless shell of despair. My advice is to get informed, decide on something you are willing and able to do about the issues of importance to you, then take care of your own soul.

Here's a story about something like the opposite of genocide -- a story about a tribe in India winning official recognition as descendents of one of the lost tribes of Israel:

The 6,000-strong 'Bnei Menashe' or children of Manasseh tribe spread across Mizoram and Manipur states have been officially recognised by sephardic or oriental chief rabbi Shlomo Amar in Jerusalem.

"We do not have words to express our joy," 48-year-old Peer Tlau, an engineer from Aizawl, told AFP by telephone. "We are now looking for the day when we can migrate to our promised land in Israel."

[...]

Apart from names, the tribals share many practices in common with traditional Jews -- keeping mezuzahs or parchment inscribed with verses of the Torah at the entrance to their homes, the men wearing a kippa during prayers.

And finally, there's a blog I think more people should be reading. If she had a column in the New Yorker, as she should, I'd subscribe again. Anne Cunningham writes brilliant posts and has honed a particular style in which she paints portraits of moments between people, or within people that you will one day think you read in a novel but will not be able to place which. Or maybe she'll write one, but meanwhile the stuff's here for free.

And of course we'll do our best to post some juicy stuff here too.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 07:30 AM | Comments (119)

April 06, 2005

Blogging From Lebanon

The Lebanon blog is live. Most of the posts are mine, but there are a few from Jim Hake as well.

I'm blogging about the project we're working on with the democratic opposition, what's happening in Lebanon generally, and also what I'm experiencing personally. What I would normally write about here you can find over there. New material will be added regularly, including photos and even video. Comments are also enabled. Check it out, bookmark the page, help spread the word, and don't be afraid to donate a few dollars if you're feeling generous and want to help out.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 09:54 PM | Comments (31)

Lethal passivity

Posted by Mary Madigan

Via Instapundit: Former UN human rights lawyer Kenneth Cain describes Kofi Annan’s “passive capitulation to evil” in his Sunday Observer article, "How many more must die before Kofi quits?"

Before I met him in Liberia, that CAO, Krishna Gowandan, had been knocking around West Africa for years in various UN jobs, always mired in corruption, never disciplined, always promoted and reassigned - a pattern all too familiar at the UN - during which time the head of personnel was Kofi Annan. (Gowandan was eventually indicted by US federal prosecutors in New York for $1.5 million worth of fraudulent kickbacks on UN construction jobs. He has since died.)

What kind of leadership would tolerate this conduct 10 years ago? The answer is: precisely the same leadership that, 10 years later, permitted the oil-for-food scandal and the sex-for-food scandal. Why did it take everyone 10 years to figure this out?

The second searing irony for me is that the American neoconservative right has occupied the moral high ground in critique of Annan, outflanking the left, which sits on indefensible territory in his support. But if prevention of genocide and protection of the vulnerable are not core priorities on the left, then what is?..

I guess only the Left can answer that question. What are their core priorities?

Cain, co-author of the book "Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): A True Story from Hell on Earth describes the contrast between Annan and the people who work for him.

Our book is often criticised by fellow travellers on the left because we hold Annan and the UN accountable. As head of peacekeeping then, and as secretary-general now, Annan's power to effect any change on the ground, our critics remind us, is constrained by the interests of the Security Council (the US and France didn't want to intervene in Rwanda, the French again in Bosnia, and China and Russia now in Darfur). Therefore it's unrealistic to argue that Annan should risk his job by exhorting his Security Council bosses to do the right thing in the face of genocide.

Our response? Annan asks - no, orders - unarmed civilians to risk their lives every day as election observers, human rights monitors, drivers and secretaries in the most dangerous conditions all over the world. They do it, heroically, every day. And, in the service of peace, some pay with their lives; others with their sanity. How can he then not ask of himself the courage to risk his job in the cause of preventing genocide? At the very least, he could go down trying to save lives, as opposed to going down trying to explain why he didn't.

The question is, what are the core priorities of the UN? Cain believes that saving lives and preventing genocides are core priorities, but if that were true, Annan would have been fired a long time ago. In fact, preserving peace and stability is the UN’s goal. The tolerance of genocidal regimes and the massive casualties that result is in line with that goal.

If ensuring worldwide stability and preventing or avoiding involvement in any military action against a sovereign nation requires a passive capitulation to evil, Kofi Annan is more than willing to passively capitulate. He’s doing the job he’s being paid to do - as will the person who replaces him.

Posted by Mary Madigan at 08:44 PM | Comments (50)

April 05, 2005

Help Support Democracy in the Middle East

Posted by Michael J. Totten

Spirit of America Founder Jim Hake and I landed in Beirut, Lebanon in the middle of the night and spent all day Tuesday talking with leaders of the democratic opposition.

What we're doing here is raising money to help the opposition as they oust the Syrian military and intelligence personnel from the country, demand (and hopefully get) an international inquiry into the death of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, and hold truly free and fair elections in May without the interference of a foreign dictatorship.

We're focusing our efforts on the residents of the semi-permanent tent-city that has been built on Martyr's Square, a mere two blocks from Parliament, where the opposition leaders say they will continue to reside until their country is a sovereign liberal democracy. They need food. They need bottled water. They need blankets. And they need the eyes of the world.

You personally can help by donating as little as five dollars. Here is a chance for the American people, rather than the American government or military, to help those who live in a beautiful, diverse, and sophisticated country fight for the freedom and human rights they once had, and that have been taken away by a foreign oppressive power. We can do this ourselves, and we can do it without violence.

Here's the donation page. If you have a blog of your own, please help spread the word. It's for a good cause and it's non-partisan.

On a related note, while I'm here in the country I'm going to be blogging about what's going on. And there's a lot going on. I've already learned - just in one single day - a great deal that I haven't read anything about anywhere in the media. In another day or so the Lebanon blog will be up and running at the Spirit of America site. I'll be sure to give you the link as soon as it's live.

UPDATE: The Lebanon Blog is now live.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 09:36 AM | Comments (23)

Honey or Vinegar in the Middle East?

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Couldn’t we try for something like this?

han-hon-vinaigrette.jpg

Steven A. Cook, writing in Foreign Affairs (I read it in the New York Times), urges the U. S. to use an incentive-based approach to sparking democratic reform in the Middle East, rather than the usual ‘punitive policies’ (by which phrase, in the context of the article, he seems to lump together the current war in Iraq with all previous U. S. military actions and threats of military action in that region).

I don’t know anything much about Cook except that he is a thousand times more qualified to write about the Middle East than I am. And his arguments generally seem extremely reasonable. This, for example, struck me as a pretty good (because it sounds so obvious as to be even a bit banal) way of articulating something that a lot of my Lefty friends have had great difficulty hearing, or that they hear as yet more convoluted nonsense from the far Right wing:

For most of the last five decades, Washington has done little to promote Arab democratization, relying instead on the autocratic leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other countries to help protect vital U.S. interests in the neighborhood.

[...]

On the morning of September 11, 2001, U.S. priorities in the Middle East changed. Suddenly, the Bush administration came to see democratization, which it had previously ranked below security and stability in its list of concerns for the Arab world, as the critical means by which to achieve these other goals. Indeed, the toppling of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon fundamentally shifted the underlying assumption of U.S. Middle East policy. Arab authoritarianism could no longer be viewed as a source of stability; instead, it was the primary threat to it.

That was worthy of a ‘thumbs-up’ post all by itself. But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have something negative to say as well. This gets back to Cook’s reasonableness. Sometimes he’s reasonable to a fault:

The reason that the promotion of civil society, economic development, and sanctions have not led to political reform in the Arab world is that none of them addresses the real obstacles to change in the region: flawed institutions.

It depends, of course, on what countries he’s thinking of when he writes that, but that sounds a tad understated to me. Try these on for size: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of flawed institutions!" “Give me unflawed institutions or give me death!” “Mr. Gorbachev: reform your flawed institutions!” My point is not ideological, just that sometimes a flaw is more than just a flaw.

Washington should therefore focus on coming up with ways to make it easier for democratic politics to emerge. Although this might be easier said than done, with some creative thinking, Washington can figure out how to use its massive financial, military, and diplomatic resources to drive institutional change. The best way to do so would be to move away from negative pressures and toward more positive, incentive-based policies. In the abstract, such policies involve getting others to do what you want by promising them something valuable in return.

I’m not trying to make Cook sound naive. The following sentence seems to be a tip off that what he is writing is something like fiction:

To be realistic, there are limits to what incentive-based policies can achieve...

The key phrase there is 'to be realistic.' I don't think I'm reading too much into that to conclude that being realistic was not otherwise what he was trying to do in this essay. He's brainstorming policy ideals, which is fine by me. But I think 'realistic' is what we need post 9/11. And we need it to run from paragraph one and never stop.

Wouldn't it seem to you, for instance, that if incentive-based policies are indeed the way forward, that this is because of Bush's willingness to lay the groundwork by first facing ugly military necessity, and that you therefore cannot separate one from the other? If Cook had started with that premise in mind he would not have had to interject a special dose of realism into the third to last paragraph.

...[but] the fact remains that incentives are a critical--and critically underused--tool for effecting reform and spurring democratization in the Arab world... If it is serious about finally spurring progress in the Middle East, the United States needs to focus more explicitly on political targets and embrace a more positive set of means. An incentive-based approach offers a more coherent, less intrusive, and ultimately more promising strategy toward the Arab world. As the attacks of September 11 showed, the old approach is broken. It's time for a fix.

Here’s my problem with all of that reasonable stuff: a nation is not a person. Military coercion and incentive-based approaches are neither mutually exclusive nor necessarily parts of a carrot-and-stick cosmic psych out.
Coercion as it has most recently been used in Afghanistan and Iraq is not a method for winning friends and influencing people; it is the necessary and morally imperative reaction to the horrors and the very real dangers of a poorly contained, worldwide fascist cancer.

And if the United States finds ways to offer incentives to Arab countries that are more successful than oil-for-food (i.e. something better than an orgy of blood-tainted graft) then I think we have to be clear about what this should mean. We would have to be sure that this would help build momentum for a people’s urge toward democratization rather than simply grease the palms of tyrants to get them to sign back on to that bloody pre-9/11 quid pro quo.

The notion of the U. S. deploying honey and vinegar in an effort to shepherd the world forward is, indeed, not realistic. Military action is sometimes the only responsible way for a the U. S. to respond to a crisis. Sometimes it will be morally necessary to pour huge sums of money and resources into a struggling country's economy, as has been needed after the Asian tsunami -- which seems to have helped the view of America in Indonesia, by the way. But using measures like these as conscious tools for manipulating the future of the Middle East -- as if we had that kind of power anyway -- strikes me as the stuff of Nixon and Kissinger. So I see even the most intelligent and well meaning arguments regarding the various permutations of carrot/stick/honey/vinegar as tempting the discourse backward rather than forward.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 07:36 AM | Comments (69)

April 04, 2005

Remembering John Paul II

Posted by Mary Madigan

"I will never forget [the Pope's] words about Europe. 'Europe,' he said, 'must breathe with both its lungs.' "
"I mourn his loss," Gorbachev said. "We knew it was coming to this. What can I say -- it must have been the will of God. He acted really courageously."

- Former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev

"I feel strongly that my brother is in deep grief. We're all very sad, [the Pope] was a great man who contributed a lot to world peace."

- Adnan Agca, brother of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who seriously wounded the pope during a 1981 assassination attempt

No obituary about John Paul II, for example, will omit to mention that he exerted enormous force to change the politics of Poland. Well, good for him, I would say. (He behaved much better on that occasion than he did when welcoming Tariq Aziz, one of Saddam Hussein's most blood-spattered henchmen, to an audience at the Vatican and then for a private visit to Assisi.) But let nobody confuse the undermining of a Stalinist bureaucracy in a majority Catholic nation with the insidious attempt to thwart or bend the law in a secular democracy. And let nobody say that this is no problem.

- Writer Christopher Hitchens

Despite President Bush’s typically unfortunate use of the word "crusade" after 9/11, American policy became notably more sensitive toward Islam. The pope meanwhile made a point of apologizing to the Muslim world for the original Crusades. Shortly after 9/11, John Paul called a day of prayer for peace at the shrine of St. Francis of Assisi which was attended by Muslim and Jewish religious leaders as well as representatives from Christian groups. His simple, somber message was that war and violence solved nothing and that nations would only advance through peace and brotherhood.

- Arab News Editorial

"Pope John Paul had defended the oppressed. We hope this remains the position of the Catholic Church towards our people and our cause and that it will guide its followers to defend the rights of the Palestinian people in confronting the continuous Zionist aggression aimed at Muslims and Christians in their holy land,"

- Hamas

[John Paul was] "a friend of the Jewish people..one of the most important leaders of our generation."

- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

[John Paul was] "a great religious figure who devoted his life to defending the values of peace, freedom, justice and equality for all races and religions, as well as our people's right to independence."

- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

"He meant nothing to me. He was not even as important as a hair on my head"

- Rahman al-Mashari, a 45-year-old engineer from Saudi Arabia, the “birthplace of Islam”

Karol Wojtyla is a saint who made true the meaning of a savior who came to Earth because he loved man. I only saw him once as he whizzed by on his "popemobile" in 1982 as he came to console Argentines over the Falklands War. He was a shining presence. An incredible man who was everywhere at all times. We'll never see the likes of him again. May he bless us from heaven.

- Lorraine Smith Buenos Aires, Argentina

Posted by Mary Madigan at 08:52 AM | Comments (51)

April 02, 2005

Hi all

Posted by Mary Madigan

I just wanted to say hello to everyone and to say thank you again to Michael for the opportunity to guest blog. Wishing him and Spirit of America good luck in Lebanon. Once again, they’re where history is being made.

I just got back from vacation, and I’m just catching up on the news, so here’s a post about some recent driving adventures in Costa Rica.

Getting Lost is half the fun

I’ve always loved road trips. When we moved from New Jersey to California, I used the excuse of "visiting the family back east" to drag my kids on cross-country camping trips every summer.

For some odd reason they’ve forgiven me for this. Long, boring hours stuck in the back of a minivan are thankfully forgotten. They remember the friendly chipmunks in Estes Park, the horses that musically farted as they ran through our campground in Dinosaur National Park. They forget the night we drove through deserted, ghostly Nevada towns, searching desperately for a diner and a gas station.

A few years ago, we visited Thailand and Malaysia. I heard and saw so many bad things about traffic in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur that I decided to let someone else do the driving. Nobody warned me about Costa Rica, though, so during our recent trip there we went ahead and rented a car. The roads in San Jose and the cliffhanging mountain roads on the way to the Arenal Volcano were about as crazy as Bangkok was rumored to be - except for the lack of elephants.

For adventure, whitewater rafting and jungle tours are loads of fun, but they can’t compare to a drive down local roads.

crtruckssm.jpg

Some Tico roadrules:

  • Motorbikes can ride on any section of the road, in any direction.

  • When driving around a blind curve in a no passing zone, always cross over the solid yellow lines to face oncoming traffic. Be prepared to veer over to the shoulder to avoid oncoming traffic. Hope that there is a shoulder.

  • The larger vehicle always has the right of way

  • Potholes can consume a small car. Swerve to avoid them.

    crpotholes.jpg

  • Slow down for cows. They’re offended if you pass them on the right.

  • Roads and streets are not always well marked. And they're in Spanish. What's up with that?

  • No Hay Paso means do not enter. Ceda means yield, and Comidas Tipicas means that there’s some very good fried fish, rice with beans and ceviche at the restaurant around the corner.

  • A yellow ‘pelligro’ means that you’re about to drive or fall off a cliff. (In Malaysia, a sign that reads "!" means the same thing)

  • Sometimes red lights mean "stop", sometimes they mean "oh, go ahead, you've been waiting long enough". (like in Boston)

  • When you drive above the clouds, always slow down to admire the view

    crcloud2sm.jpg

Knowing what I know now, the next time I’m in Thailand, I’ll be sure to rent a car. I've always loved to follow the road less travelled, even if that's just another way of saying that I'm lost.

Posted by Mary Madigan at 07:41 PM | Comments (38)

April 01, 2005

Announcement

This weekend I'm going to Beirut, Lebanon with Spirit of America Founder Jim Hake. On Tuesday we’re kicking off a new project to support the Lebanese people in their fight for independence. I’d love to give you the juicy details right now. But we aren’t quite there yet, so stay tuned.

I’ll be in the Middle East for a couple of weeks. Guest bloggers Mary Madigan and Jeremy Brown will fill in for me here and take care of all your opinionated blather needs. Wouldn’t want to leave ya hanging.

In the meantime, I have to pack and get ready to roll. You’ll hear from me next live from Beirut.

lebanon_revolution.jpg

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 08:57 AM | Comments (21)