Friday, December 31, 2004

Best of 2004

OK, I almost wasn't going to do it, but what the heck--here is my 2004 round-up/best of post. (Note no list is in any particular order. I just like them.)

Best/Favorite Books of 2004

GOEST, by Cole Swensen. National Book Award finalist, this poetry collection is intense and beautiful. Explores the white spaces, the invisible, and the “living windows.” (For more, click here.)

DOOR IN THE MOUTAIN: NEW AND COLLECTED POEMS, 1965-2003, by Jean Valentine; National Book Award Winner. Not a totally fair choice, since I read many of these poems in previous years, but one of my favorite poets. And it is great to have them all in one place.

UP TO SPEED, by Rae Armantrout, tight, concise, edgy, and wholly original. Armantrout is one of our best poets, and a new book from her is always reason to celebrate. Plus, who can resist a book that exposes the narcissistic pleasures of writing:

In order to write
you must fall in love

with your own thought
every time.

(Bloggers beware.)

GOLDBEATER’S SKIN, by G.C. Waldrep (really a 2003 book, but I read it this year, I really liked it, and I am making the rules.) Post-modern Amish poetry? Yes. Waldrep, who has a Ph.D. in American History, converted to the Amish faith and lived in an Amish community from 1990 to 1995. He began his writing career as a teenager, publishing two volumes on the cemeteries of Halifax County, MA. His poetry is rich, intelligent and full of verbal and imaginative acrobatics; Robert Penn Warren meets Wallace Stevens.

Winner of the Colorado Prize. For an interview, click here.

THE DEVIL’S HIGWAY, by Luis Alberto Urrea; Winner of the 2004 Lannan Foundation LiteraryAward for Nonfiction, a searing account of 26 Mexican immigrants who crossed the border into Arizona via a 110-degree desert, only 12 survived.

Best Manuscripts I Read in 2004 That Will be Published in 2005

THE HA-HA, by Dave King (Jan. 2005); A beautiful debut novel that explores the silent world of Howard Kapostash, a Vietnam vet who due to injuries received in the first few days in country cannot speak, read, or write. Howard has settled into a decent, routine life that is shattered when he must care for a young boy—an amazing story that explores the nature of relationships and language told with luminous clarity.

THE HISTORIAN, by Elizabeth Kostova (June 2005). Imagine Arturo Perez-Reverte and John LeCarre teaming up to write a book about Dracula alive and well in the 20th century. A great romp through history, dusty archives, Turkey, France, and 1950’s Eastern Europe.

DRAMA CITY, by George Pelecanos (March 2005). Pelecanos is our best writer of crime fiction, and one of our best writers in any genre. Pelecanos combines great stories, great characters, and great dialogue, with an intense examination of good and evil. Any book by him is worth reading.

(Disclosure: I work for the publisher of these books. That doesn’t mean they aren’t great books, just that when it comes to fiction I get to combine work with pleasure, but it also limits everything else I want to read.)

Books From 2004 That I Really Want To Read But Haven’t Got To Yet

SNOW, by Orhan Pamuk. A great writer – should definitely be a candidate for the Nobel.

THE SELF-DISMEMBERED MAN, by Guillaume Apollinaire, trans. By Donald Revell. The great surrealist, who died on Armistice Day, exposes the horror and contradictions of the birth of the Modern in this collection of his later poems.

Best Jazz CDs

STRANGE LIBERATIONS, Dave Douglas. Beautiful and witty. At times reminiscent of Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way, yet original and innovative. (More here.)

SUSPENDED NIGHT, Tomasz Stanko Quartet. New Europe does jazz right. Polish trumpeter Stanko has produced a powerful, lyrically intense gem.

CHANGING PLACES, Tord Gustaven Trio. A 2003 release, but on Amazon it is currently the #2 CD in Chile, and I bought it this year, so I am counting it. Norwegian pianists Gustaven’s most recent release is beautiful and haunting. Bill Evans would approve.

CELESTIAL MECHANIX: BLUE SERIES MASTERMIX. DJ Spooky works his magic on tracks from Mathew Shipp’s innovative Blue Series. Postmodern jazz meets hip-hop electronica.
MYLAB, Mylab. Eclectic wonder. If you took jazz, funk, pop, electronica, samples, amazing musicians and threw them in an aural mixer, you would get Mylab – the future of jazz.

Best Discovery/DVD Release

FREEKS AND GEEKS (THE COMPLETE SERIES). Maybe the best TV series ever. Poignant and funny. Wonderful writing, amazing acting, convincing characters. A very sensitive and accurate portrait of high school in the 80’s. Only 18 episodes where aired on NBC in 1999, insuring this series status as a cult classic.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Tragedy and the Failure of Words

After such terrible tragedies as the recent tsunamis, I find myself turning to literature by Holocaust survivors. The work by these writers, like few other bodies of work, explores the nature of the human spirit in the darkest of times. From those writers, I have learned that humanity can somehow survive almost anything. As a grad student at American University, I was always impressed that Czech writer, filmmaker and Holocaust survivor Arnost Lustig (click here for an interview) was often the most cheerful person in the literature department. Not all Holocaust victims maintained such an optimistic outlook, but in their writings I find a framework for dealing with and understanding the horrors that people suffer. Though my ability to make sense of the recent catastrophe is of little consequence, what people really need now is our help not words. But maybe this poem by Paul Celan will help someone:


They dug and they dug, so their day
went by for them, their night. And they did not praise God,
who, so they heard, wanted all this,
who, so they heard, knew all this.

They dug and heard nothing more;
they did not grow wise, invented no song,
thought up for themselves no language.
They dug.

There came a stillness, and there came a storm,
and all the oceans came.
I dig, you dig, and the worms dig too,
and that singing out there says: They dig.

O one, o none, o no one, o you:
Where did the way lead when it lead nowhere?
O you did and I did, and I dig towards you,
and on our finger the ring awakes.

--Paul Celan, tr. Michael Hamburger (Against Forgetting, ed. by Carolyn Forche, p. 382)

However, I doubt this will provide much solace for so many like this man:

"My son is crying for his mother," said Bejkhajorn Saithong, 39, searching for his wife at a wrecked hotel on the beach. Body parts jutted from the wreckage.

"I think this is her," he said. "I recognize her hand, but I'm not sure."

Monday, December 27, 2004

More Help for Tsunami Victims

A group of bloggers has set up a blog with updates on relief efforts and options for donations.

Help Tsunami Victims

Here are some links to relief efforts.

Helping Afghani Children Learn

A former Peace Corp worker and Iranian hostage, is working, in conjunction with Teachers College of Columbia University, with Afghanis to create new text books for the education-starved children of Afghanistan:

"One of our tenets is social justice," added Margaret Jo Shepherd, professor emeritus at the college, also working in Kabul. "The aim of Teachers College is to help poor people and immigrants, and educating Afghans so they can make a difference."….Children have returned to school in huge numbers since the repressive Taliban government ended three years ago, highlighting gaping deficiencies in the educational system…..The contribution of Teachers College is a small but important part of a multimillion-dollar international drive to revive the education system in Afghanistan. Financed by the United Nations Children's Fund, the Teachers College group is rewriting the curriculum and all primary school textbooks, including language textbooks in four local languages, while introducing a style of teaching new to Afghan teachers and students that encourages student participation.
However, there is still a lot to be done:

But the team has been slowed by a lack of money. It currently relies on Unicef for a $1 million budget, a minute proportion of the $150 million being spent by the United States on education programs here in the past year. An additional $60 million is expected from other donors over several years.

Many children are behind in their schooling after years of war and Taliban repression, and 40 percent of children - 63 percent of all girls - still do not go to school. Even more debilitating for the system, 80 percent of the 105,000 registered teachers have no formal training. About 40,000 more teachers are needed.

Some children interviewed in villages said they spent only two hours a day in class, and teachers are so poorly paid that they are often absent, working at a second job, students and teachers say.

Morale among teachers is low, and is not helped by the fact that some have been teaching for their third year in tents or in the open.

Despite millions of dollars put into building schools over the last two years, the international effort has only touched on the damage done in 25 years of war. Eighty percent of the country's 7,000 schools were damaged or destroyed, and 3,400 schools are still waiting to be rebuilt, according to the Ministry of Education.

The country needs 8,000 more schools on top of that, Unicef's senior program coordinator in Afghanistan, Reza Hossaini, estimated.

This is one area where everyone should be able to find common ground. There may be larger geopolitical issues involved, but in this case what really matters are the children of Afghanistan. There must be thousands of projects like this in Afghanistan and Iraq that could be rallying points for folks on the left and right.

To help the children of Afghanistan, click here.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

China, Sudan, & the Limits of the UN

In a previous post I expressed skepticism about the UN’s ability to manage conflicts and international crises, and unfortunately the situation in Sudan highlights the problems. Today’s Washington Post features an article detailing China’s involvement in Sudan. China is a major investor in Sudan’s oil industry, and is the primary supplier of arms to Sudan. Here are some key points:

China's transformation from an insular, agrarian society into a key force in the global economy has spawned a voracious appetite for raw materials, sending its companies to distant points of the globe in pursuit -- sometimes to lands shunned by the rest of the world as rogue states. China's relationship with Sudan has become particularly deep, demonstrating that China's commercial relations are intensifying human rights concerns outside its borders while beginning to clash with U.S. policies and interests.

Sudan is China's largest overseas oil project. China is Sudan's largest supplier of arms, according to a former Sudan government minister. Chinese-made tanks, fighter planes, bombers, helicopters, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades have intensified Sudan's two-decade-old north-south civil war. A cease-fire is in effect and a peace agreement is expected to be signed by year-end. But the fighting in Sudan's Darfur region rages on, as government-backed Arab militias push African tribes off their land.

From its seat on the United Nations Security Council, China has been Sudan's chief diplomatic ally. In recent months, the council has neared votes on a series of resolutions aimed at pressuring Sudan's predominantly Arab government to protect the African tribes under attack in Darfur and stop support for militias by threatening to sanction its oil sales. China has threatened to veto such actions while watering down the threat of oil sanctions.

Ultimately, it may be peace that presents the Chinese firm with its greatest challenge. Under the terms of an agreement still being negotiated, oil contracts are supposed to remain secure. But three commanders of the southern Sudan rebel group said in an interviews that the SPLA will seek to punish China once the rebels gain a formal decision-making role in the government.

With China having veto power on the Security Council and strong ties to Khartoum, I seriously doubt the UN will be able to accomplish much in Sudan. Yesterday, Kofi Annan refused to visit Sudan, admitted that the UN’s approach had failed, and wanted to go back to the Security Council and reassess the situation. How many people have to die while the UN reassess what is clearly a major humanitarian crisis? In addition, what does Annan expect to accomplish when China, France, and Russia (also click here and here and here and here) have economic ties to the current Sudanese government. Theoretically, these countries, especially China, could use their ties to influence the government in Khartoum, but they could have done that already. And considering China’s record on human rights, I doubt this is a high priority in Beijing.

One of the many complaints leveled against the US is that it is pursuing its own interest, but so are all of the other countries on the UN Security Council, not to mention all 191 countries in the UN. At least the U.S. has a commitment to human rights and the rule of law within its own borders and often outside its borders—unlike, China or Russia.

With China and Russia having equal power to the democratically-elected governments on the Security Council and more power than the democratically-elected governments in the General Assembly, how effective can the UN be in managing conflicts or promoting democracy, peace, and human rights?

The UN was ineffective in Sudan and Iraq. It will probably be ineffective in Iran. China is becoming a major player in Iran and recently signed a $70 billion oil deal with Tehran (also click here and here). Russian has major economic ties with Iran. They want to build 7 nuclear power plants and they import 12 billion cubic meters of natural gas from. Plus, France has significant economic ties with Tehran. All three countries are on the Security Council, no wonder they are so reluctant to have the Iranian uranium crisis brought there.

In many cases, opening countries up to market forces promotes positive changes. However, that process is long term. In crisis situations like Sudan or Iran, time is of the essence, and with many members of the UN Security Council having strong ties to some of the worst of the worst I am very skeptical of the UN’s ability or willingness to do anything to stop the bloodshed in Sudan or nuclear proliferation in Iran, one of the world’s major supporters of terrorism.

"Voting is a right and that right is yours."

From a poster outside a Palestinian polling place. In a run-up to the Jan. 9th presidential elections, approximately 150,000 Palestinians voted today in 26 municipal elections, the first in 30 years. A modest but positive step:

"Just the crush of people was totally unexpected," said Nasser Awanja, the election official in charge of the station. "Because it has been since 1976 since we have had elections they are really fired up," he said.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Iran Watch, Dec. 22

  • Iran breaks spirit of its agreement with EU-3, and will continue to produce uranium-based materials until end of February.
  • If all of this is legit, an extremely bleak picture of Iran: children trafficked for sex and labor, homeless children in the streets, high drug use. UNICEF does back some of the claims in the article.
  • Worth repeating. Iran to execute two women on morality charges.
  • U.N. approves a US-backed resolution condemning Iran’s human rights violations. The kicker:

    "The measure, which is not legally binding but reflects global opinion, was approved 71-54 with 55 abstentions."

    So more than half the world’s countries either actively opposed the resolution (which will probably have the impact of throwing a spitball at a Mac truck), or didn’t care enough to vote.
  • Association of American Publishers promotes translation and publication of Iranian novels.
  • Iran cuts off natural gas to Turkey. Note Russia imports 12 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Iran.
  • Iranian officials fight over use of $8 billion in oil revenue surplus. With surpluses like this would sanctions work? Will it be used to influence elections in Iraq and support terrorism in Iraq and elsewhere?
  • Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei accuses US and Israel of planning recent terrorist attacks Najaf and Karbala. A sign of hope – he’s cracking up?

No More Wimpy Multilateralism?

In Foreign Policy Javier Solana makes a thoughtful plea for a muscular multilateralism:

The enduring lesson of the war in Iraq is the importance of linking force and legitimacy. Without the use of force, Saddam Hussein would still be in power in Iraq. No one in Europe wishes that. But force alone will not and cannot advance the cause of plural modernity. For that mission, legitimacy is required. And in the international sphere, legitimacy comes through multilateral action. The best way to advance the cause of political and economic freedom in the next century is multilateralism with muscle—rules with teeth.

Of course, the other nations involved have to a) have legitimate internal governments based on the rule of law and a respect for human rights b) be willing to actually use force c) have a self interest in resolving the dispute or be persuaded that pursuing a larger global strategy is in the long run in their self interest.

International agreements and international organizations are a good start. But it is no use agreeing to treaties only to ignore them. It is no use setting up international organizations only to prevent them from functioning. If we want the world to work, we need multilateralism. But if we want multilateralism to work, then the powerful need to put their power behind it. A complex world needs multilateral bodies—but it also needs leadership. In most cases, only the United States can provide the necessary leadership.

Very good points, but how do you convince the US that it should provide this leadership? How do you convince the rest of world that they should follow the US’s lead?

Some economists predict that in fewer than 40 years China will surpass the United States as the world’s largest economy and that, together, Brazil, Russia, India, and China will eclipse the economic might of the current Group of Seven industrialized nations.

Sobering prospects.

I would agree that multilateralism backed by sufficient force and with the power to enforce the rule of law could be a viable alternative in the future. But in the here and now I don’t see other major players (China and Russia, for example) willing to play along by these rules, especially with the US leading the charge. Nor do I see the US willing to reduce its role to make it more palatable for these countries. Nor do I see many of these countries seriously committing to the use of force to enforce such rules. There may be a multilateral approach that involves the democratic countries of the world, perhaps something along the lines of the prenatal UN Democracy Caucus. Giving current global realities, I am skeptical that a large-scale version of this approach will work anytime soon. It may be a worthy goal to work toward, but in the meantime, I think we will have to depend on a small-scale multilateralism that relies on regional alliances working with larger states, and that appeals to internationally accepted standards like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

CPD's Iran Proposal

Thanks to praktike over at Liberals Against Terrorism for posting a link to The Committee on Present Danger’s suggestions on creating a new approach on Iran that combines engagement and isolation.

The CPD clearly lays out the threat presented by Iran:

The centrality of the threat posed by Iran is clear. In addition to its peace-threatening nuclear program, Iran under Khamenei, continues to be the world’s foremost state supporter of terrorism, offering financial and logistical support to both Shi'a and Sunni terrorist organizations, including Hizballah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Elements of al-Qaida and Ansar al-Islam transit through Iran and find safe haven there. Through these groups Khamenei destabilizes the region, prevents the emergence of an independent and democratic Lebanon and tries to stymie any movement toward peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Khamenei supports Moqtada al-Sadr and others in Iraq who want it to become another theocratic dictatorship under Iranian tutelage. He is seeking regional hegemony, both ideologically and militarily. His growing oil wealth increases his capacity for wreaking havoc on his own people and the region.

Prakite summarizes the CPD proposals (but read the whole report):

  • Offer to reopen our embassy in Tehran
  • Step up cultural, academic and professional exchanges
  • Authorize American non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to operate within Iran
  • Arrange for young Iranian activists to attend civic campaign seminars in the U.S. and elsewhere
  • Engage in interaction between such agencies as the CIA, FBI and the Drug Enforcement
  • Agency with Iranian counterparts on issues such as drugs and terrorism
  • Build a legal case against Khamenei and his associates for their financing of terrorists and human rights violations in order to build pressure for them to "return to the mosque" or face a possible international tribunal
  • Use "smart" sanctions to target assets of Khamenei and his associates
  • Provide up to $10 million a year to fund independent satellite television stations now broadcasting from the U.S. to Iran.

I think this is a step in the right direction and is a good starting point for developing a policy on Iran, which may become the dominant foreign policy issue of the next four years (unless Russia continues on its current backslide). I am skeptical that all of these proposals would work. Does Iran really want us to open an embassy Tehran? Would Iran allow students to attend to interact with activists from other countries? Would Iran really interact with the FBI, CIA, and DEA? And I think the threat of forces has to be sufficient and clearly defined. Nonetheless we need to develop, and develop fast, a policy that isolates the mullahs while supporting pro-democracy forces in Iran, and this a good place to start.

Straightaway Dangerous: Theolonius Monk’s CRISS-CROSS

Thelonious Monk, Criss-Cross
(Monk, piano; Charlie Rouse, tenor saxophone; John Ore, bass; Frankie Dunlop, drums)

Originally released in 1963, Criss-Cross shows Monk at his playful and deconstructive best. Of particular note is Monk’s take on the standard Tea for Two. He breaks the melody down to its essence and rebuilds it with his own quirky harmonies—not Monk’s most radical performance, but it provides real insight into his style and, if you have never heard Monk, it is a great introduction to this innovative jazz master.

Oddly, Monk’s aesthetic approach often reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s. They were both playful and innovative, and they both remained attuned to traditional forms while making them radically unique:

Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
‘Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail –
Assent – and you are sane –
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
And handled with a Chain –

--Emily Dickinson, 1890

Zakaria's Hope

Fareed Zakaria has just published his yearly assessment of the state of reform in the Muslim world, and he finds a few hopeful signs that things are starting to improve:

There are glimmers of reform, even in the Arab world, the place that remains the locus of the problem. Governments are talking about changing their economic and even political systems. Some are doing more than talking. Jordan has begun serious economic reforms. Egypt, which remains the most tragic case of lost potential in the Arab world, could be rousing from its slumber. An energetic new prime minister has appointed a team with strong reformist credentials, including businessmen in the cabinet (a first in Egypt). The reforms they have proposed are bold and far-reaching. Markets are taking note: Egyptian stocks are up 100 percent this year.

Plus there has been a successful election in Afghanistan, and elections coming in Iraq and Palestine. Maybe, just maybe, all this talk of democracy and reform will amount to something. It’s too early to tell, but as Freedom House and Zakaria indicate there is reason for hope.

The Experimenter’s Tale

Was Chaucer the father of the avant-garde? One professor thinks so:

“Chaucer has traditionally been seen as the single poet who determined that, for the next four centuries, we’d be counting syllables,” Quinn said. “My title suggests he broke the rules on purpose, and anticipated change.”

The State of Freedom 2004 (The Post)

Yesterday Freedom House released its annual Freedom In The World report. Here is a round up of the world’s reactions.

Vladimir Putin was cited for maintaining Russia’s tradition of centralizing government control. Putin said, “I think my forebears would be proud that such an esteemed American institution has once again labeled the motherland as ‘not free.’” He said he will use Russia’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council and its position on the UN Commission on Human Rights to further his commitment to Russia’s foreign policy heritage. One of the first items on his agenda is to improve Russia’s relationship with other non-free countries like Iran. He said, “We really want those contracts to build nuclear reactors in Iran.” When asked about Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, Putin responded, “We have many Soviet-era warheads that are not currently in use, but they are not on the table, yet.”

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, while taking a break from signing the 1200 condolence letters he recently found in his inbox, has announced that he will be stepping down to run the Saudi prison system. Rumsfeld said we was appalled that the Saudi’s once again ranked among the worst of the worst when it comes to human rights and civil liberties. He said, “I think my commitment to effective prison management will be a major asset in the Saudis efforts to improve human rights.”

A UN spokesperson praised the Sudanese delegate to the UN Commission on Human Rights for the fine work he has done to help promote human rights in the world and in Sudan, which ranked among the worst of the worst.

After hearing that it was again ranked “not free”, China announced that until it improved its record on human rights and civil liberties it was giving up its seat on the UN Security Council as well as withdrawing from the Commission on Human Rights. Cuba said it would follow China’s lead and would also give up its seat on Human Rights Commission. In a joint statement with China and North Korea, Castro said that all three countries realize that to prove their commitment to the workers of the world they must first treat their own citizens better. He then announced that once they have accomplished this the three nations were eyeing a small uninhabited atoll in the Pacific as the site of the next People’s Revolution.

In all seriousness, Freedom House did show reason for some optimism:

The 2004 survey data reveal positive, albeit modest, trends in the Middle East and North Africa. While no countries in the region changed status, small gains were registered in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Qatar. Egypt's civil liberties score improved because of greater civic activism, particularly by women's advocacy groups. Jordan's civil liberties score improved due to improvements in women's rights and press freedom. Morocco's civil liberties score increased after the country passed one of the most liberal family codes in the Arab world. And Qatar's score improved as a result of gains in academic freedom. Notably, there were no gains in political rights registered in the Middle East and North Africa.

Among the study's other findings:

Of the world's 192 states, 119 are electoral democracies (89 Free and 30 Partly Free), an increase of 2 since 2003. While these states are not all rated Free, all provide considerable political space and media access for opposition movements and allow for elections that meet minimum international standards of ballot secrecy and vote tabulation.

Over the last 15 years, the number of electoral democracies has risen from 69 out of 167 (41 percent) to 119 out of 192 (62 percent). On average during that time frame, an additional 3 states have adopted minimal standards for free and fair elections each year.

Freedom further consolidated in Central Europe. Five of the new EU countries—the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia—achieved the highest possible survey rating: 1 for political rights and 1 for civil liberties.

Here’s to doing what we can to make next year’s report even better.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Limits & Failures of International Governance

Steve in a comment below said (be sure to see The Iconic Midwest’s insightful comment as well):

One of their [the US's] goals has been precisely to destroy the international system that governed the cold war (a system that we ourselves set up) and replace it with an ad hoc system of alliances. This, they thought, was more appropriate to a situation of American Hyper power. Even with all of its many and great deficiencies, I think that the previous system had potentialities for developing into a quasi-cosmopolitan order.

I am not sure if Steve is referring directly to the UN here or a larger system that includes the UN. But I am going to focus on the UN. First, the “system” that governed the Cold War was not the UN but primarily a system of nuclear-armed super powers pursuing their own interest while maintaining a tenuous balance based on avoiding mutual shared destruction--a system that also involved some permanent alliances like NATO and the Warsaw Pact, various regional alliances, and other shifting alliances that operated primarily outside UN authority. Thankfully, with the fall of the Soviet Union, this global framework has dissolved.

However, without these competing forces there was not an overarching narrative to help manage post-Cold War conflict, essentially leaving the US, the remaining super power, and the UN to fill the gap. The US, prior to 9/11, did not pursue a robust policy of nation building or conflict resolution, but did not disengage from the world stage, for example the failed Oslo accords & Yugoslavia. During the Cold War, the UN had very limited success at preventing or managing conflict. Since the end of WWII there have been approximately 200 armed conflicts, only two approved by the UN Security Council. The post-Cold War UN has had a dismal record (Rwanda, Somalia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sudan). It is operating under a moral cloud (the oil-for-food scandal, the conduct of Peace Keepers in Congo). And the very body that is charged with enforcing the best thing about the UN—the Universal Declaration of Human Rights--has included several countries with deplorable records on Human Rights (Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, China, Eritrea, Libya, Egypt).

In many respects, the failures of world bodies like the League of Nations and the UN are not surprising. As Steven, has pointed out the US pursues a foreign policy that combines a concern for democracy/liberty as well as securing its own interest. And this bears directly on the crux of geopolitical reality—the US, China, Russia, Indian, France, Saudi Arabia, Germany and all 191 members of the UN are pursuing their own interest, but not all of these countries are concerned about democracy, freedom or human rights within their own borders, let alone truly concerned about them outside their borders. All of these countries will agree to international governance when it serves their interest and ignore it when it doesn’t. Whether under the umbrella of an international organization or outside such a body, the work mostly gets done by shifting alliances of countries whose self-interests intersect and who have the will to act. Until most of the 191 states’ interests are more aligned and they are committed to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law both within their own borders and abroad, I am skeptical, because of historical precedent and the geopolitical reality of competing interests, that an international body like the UN can provide much more than a framework for forming “ad-hoc” alliances, often formed by those who share a regional interest and outside actors who have their own interests and/or a humanitarian concern in resolving the problem.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Iran Watch, Dec. 19

  • Last week’s Economist (a little late on this one, but the info is still very relevant) has a good piece detailing the bleak situation in Iran: suppression of the reform movement, growing unemployment, rising inflation. However, there evaluation of options is pessimistic, and they basically argue for the status quo. I think that might be the worst option of all. A depressing fact for the Iranian people, yet possibly a hopeful sign:

    Only half of Iranians bothered to vote in February's election; not much more than a quarter of those in Tehran, which embraces at least 8m people, turned out. Western diplomats reckon that barely 15% of Iranians still support the ruling order. The low turnout reflected not just apathy and fatalism, which are indeed strong. Many sour and embittered Iranians consciously decided not to go to the polls as a gesture of protest.

With apparently a large majority of Iranian unhappy with the current regime, maybe there is a chance change can be fostered from within.

"A Simple Little American"

In response to my post on the Little American, Steven from Chronicles has written (full comment is here):

We [the U.S.] have a mélange of interests [in the Middle East], one of which is democracy promotion. This is elementary and not surprising. When this is admitted, however, the picture gets more complicated then you are David want to admit. Sometimes, for example David talks as if foreign policy were simply an exercise of charity.

Steven is correct to some extent regarding my recent posts on this subject. I am taking a rather simple and idealistic stand. That does not mean I think that the War on Islamic Fascism or attempts at democratization or reform in the Middle East will be simple. My point is too cut through what seems to have become nothing more than a cacophony of criticism for the sake of criticism (this is a general point and not directed at Steven), return to a core set of values, and develop a viable plan of action that retains those core values. Obviously, we agree, I think, that democracy and freedom are core values, we may share other core values as well. And we may or may not share the same ideas on how to achieve those values. But I am digressing.

One of my problems with the many discussions about Iraq, especially during the presidential campaigns, is they were primarily focused on re-debating whether we should have gone into Iraq or not, but not really discussing what to do on the ground right now, which to some extent is “an exercise in charity” -- meaning that we now need to be engaged in nation building, which includes everything from establishing security to building schools. All of the criticism, rehashing, and snipping are doing little to help the Iraqi people. Not that there isn’t plenty of discussion that is necessary.

But for now I think I will put my money where my fingers are and simply click over and donate some money to the Iraq Democracy Project and Library Books For Iraqi Children. And save the complexities for another day.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Let Freedom Ring...

on your cell phone.

Today’s WSJ runs an inspiring op-ed about new communication technology and its role in the fight for freedom:

In 2004, in Ukraine's Independence Square, they had cell phones.

Using the phones' SMS messaging technology, demonstrators sent messages to meet to 10 or so friends, who'd each SMS the message to 10 more friends, and so on. It's called "smart-mobbing."

Anyone want to guess the third-most used language on the Web, behind English and Chinese? Farsi. Iran now has about 75,000 individual Web logs. That's because a young, Toronto-based Iranian journalist who publishes as Hoder created tools in Farsi to make it possible. Only 10% of the Iranian blogs could be called political; most discuss music, movies, poetry and Iranian or Western culture. "Iran's most interesting political conversations take place in taxis," said Hoder.

Throw out that mimeograph machine and hook up the satellite link.

Thanks to BuzzMachine.

The Passing of a Quiet Light

Minimalist painter Agnes Martin has died. Her paintings were characterized by a Zen-like simplicity that transcended the stark, and sometimes cold, vision of some minimalist art. She will be missed. For a personal appreciation of her influence, read this post over at Althouse.

The Spinning Tower of Curitiba

Revolving apartment building opens in Brazil:

"Lights, air conditioning and the revolving of the apartment can be turned on and off with a remote control or an oral command.

The owner may also change the direction and speed of the revolutions. At low speed, each floor takes an hour to revolve."

This could make cocktail parties very interesting. And don't invite Bill O'Rielly....

The Long Haul, Liberty, and Action

The folks over at Chronicles have been having a lively discussion on the nature of the left and liberty as it relates to the War on Terror. In particular I want to address a post by Steven in which he quotes a long passage from Mickey Kaus.

Kaus remarks:

"a) "Islamist totalitarianism" isn't a state phenomenon the way Communist totalitarianism was (which Beinart acknowledges in passing);

b) Angry Islamists in 2004, unlike angry Communists in 1947, are increasingly empowered by ever-more-available technologies of mass destruction (something Beinart doesn't acknowledge)"

In an excellent follow up to The Fighting Faith that outlines the threats of Islamic Fascism Beinart addresses both concerns:

Is Al Qaeda likely to take power in all the places bin Laden desires? Of course not. But it could do far less and still send the United States into deep crisis. By many accounts, Al Qaeda has long enjoyed substantial support in the Pakistani security services. Were Islamist fanatics to assassinate Pervez Musharraf and ally themselves with the general who succeeded him--in an echo of the military-Islamist alliance that ruled Sudan from 1989 to 1999--Al Qaeda would be within striking distance of a nuclear bomb. Or take Saudi Arabia, where bin Laden is wildly popular. If bin Laden, or his local associates, took control of the Saudi oil supply, the U.S. economy would plunge into depression.

But, even if Al Qaeda never seizes a single government, it still poses a grave threat. By suggesting that Islamist totalitarianism is "thin beer" because, unlike Soviet totalitarianism, it doesn't control states, Drum ironically echoes the neocons, who are so mired in a cold war mindset that they can't grasp terrorism except as an extension of state power.

Drum suggests that Al Qaeda's "power to kill people isn't even remotely in the same league" as the ussr's. But, if you're talking about killing Americans--which Drum is--the fact that Al Qaeda controls no territory makes it more dangerous, as well as less. Yes, the ussr, with its massive nuclear arsenal, had the power to kill more Americans. But, as a government interested in self-preservation, it was also deterred by the threat of U.S. retaliation. And that threat made the ussr cautious about taking American lives.

As September 11 showed, Osama bin Laden is not cautious. The prospect of U.S. retaliation does not faze him--in fact, he welcomes it in the hope that it will spawn more Muslim anger and more recruits.

So, while bin Laden's capacity to kill Americans is clearly inferior to the ussr's, for Al Qaeda--unlike the Kremlin--capacity is the only limiting factor. And the spread of technical knowledge and materials makes the destructive capacity of a small terrorist band far greater than it was even a few years ago.

The fight for national security is the fight for liberal values, not merely in the Muslim world, where fanaticism has already blighted countless lives, but also at home, where threats to American safety almost inevitably spawn threats to American freedom. Totalitarian Islam has already damaged both, and unless defeated, the damage could be exponentially worse. What more do liberals need to know before they make this fight their own?

Kaus also claims:

d) We never did anything as aggressive, in the course of successfully containing communism, as what we've already done in the course of combating Islamic terror (i.e. invading Iraq).

This is historically incorrect. But first, the communist, even though they were extremely brutal to their own people, never did anything as aggressive toward us as the Islamic-fascists, who actually attacked the US, which changes the equation some.

In its fight against communism, the US mounted two large campaigns in Asia, Korea in 1950, and Vietnam in the 1960’s – 1970’s. Korea was loosely under UN authority, but was essentially a US war. And it was in response to North Korean aggression against a South Korea backed and armed by the US. That war resulted in 4,000,000 “military and civilian casualties including, 33,600 American, 16,000 UN allied, 415,000 South Korean, and 520,000 North Korean dead. There were also an estimated 900,000 Chinese casualties. Half of Korea's industry was destroyed and a third of all homes” (Total US dead was 53,000. There were 20,000 noncombat deaths, plus 157,000 wounded.) The result was at best a stalemate, leaving a divided Korea.

In Vietnam the US lost around 58,000 (47,000 in combat) and 307,000 wounded, the South Vietnamese lost 223,000 and suffered 1,169,000 wounded, the North Vietnamese and VC lost 1.1 million and 600,000 wounded, and this does not include civilian deaths, which have been estimated to be as high 4 million. And little or nothing was accomplished.

Clearly, in the fight against communism the US was extremely aggressive on two very bloody occasions, and much more so that in Iraq.

In Iraq, the US and UK have lost approximately 1500 with another 9500 wounded, and according to Iraq Body Count there are approximately 15,000 Iraqis dead. However, as AK has pointed out, this number is probably low. Lancet has estimated 100,000 Iraq dead, and some put the number closer to 300,000. However, compared to Korea and Vietnam at a similar stage, Iraq, despite major mistakes, has been somewhat successful: A brutal dictator has been removed from power, fighting is concentrated primarily in the Sunni Triangle, with much of the country now free of combat, and the first elections are being held soon.

Which brings me to the elections themselves, Dr. Emile at Chronicles has correctly pointed out elections are not equal to democracy. However, I view the elections as just one step in a longer process. And like Dr. Emile, I hope Bush doesn’t just declare victory on Jan. 30th, and walk away. That would be a major mistake.

I have always thought establishing democracy in Iraq would take a long time. Many supporters of the war, including some liberal hawks, were misguided in thinking this would be over quickly. This is partly Bush's fault; whether he truly believed this would be a short term venture or not, he sold it that way. Clearly a country that has never had true elections or a democracy, and that has been brutalized for some 20 years by Saddam’s reign would not be ready for democracy in a few months or even a couple of years. We occupied both Germany and Japan for several years after the WWII before we turned them over to self rule. I am not sure what troop levels will be after the elections. I suspect they will diminish some, but not disappear. And even after the initial elections it will take several years to to completely establish the intuitions and infrastructure of democracy.

Though I am passionate in me beliefs about democracy, freedom, and ending oppression where and when we can, and I not sure I am a believer in as Steven puts it “the radical transformative vision of millennial liberalism”, a process that he is very skeptical of. (I wonder if he is as skeptical of other radical transformative visions?) Primarily because I am not sure exactly what it is. My view was not that we would enter Iraq and democracy would suddenly spring up like some newly planted bluebonnets, but that with a brutal and oppressive dictator gone the Iraqi people themselves, with some assistance from the US and one would have hoped the UN and members of the EU (but they have put embarrassing the US ahead of helping the Iraqi people), would have an opportunity to eventually establish a freer society. The measure of success in Iraq should not be what it looks like on Feb. 1, 2005 but what it looks 5-10 years from now. That is one reasaon I am cautiously optimistic about Iraq. At this stage compared to similar conflicts, we have made a fair amount of progress.

My overall viewpoint is that Islamic-fascism is a real threat, a threat that espouses values antithetical to and seeks to destroy the pluralistic liberalism that we enjoy. Liberals need to embrace this struggle. Though this struggle will require some military action it will not always lead to military action, but unless liberals get on board and offer viable alternatives for countries like Iran, while at the same time doing what we can to help Iraq rebuild and to establish the necessary framework for democracy then failure and/or continued military action in the Middle East will become the norm. Liberals it is time to act, not only for the protection or our own ideas, but to act against totalitarianism and the oppression of other people. Dr. Emile, I know this may sound like the language of “mobilization,” but mobilization is exactly what is needed.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Iran Watch, Dec. 16

  • Iranian reformer, Mohsen Kadivar, speaks out:
    "Without respecting individuality and freedom of choice, human dignity cannot be respected."
  • Good news for dissident voices. Treasury eases ban on publications from Iran, Cuba, and Sudan.
  • Iraq defense minister accuses Iran of supporting terrorists.
  • TNR reports Neocons split on Iran—pessimism unbound.
  • Iran conducts war games. Scariest quote of the day:
    "Simultaneously, some 25,000 volunteers have so far signed up at newly established draft centers for "suicide attacks" against any potential intruders in what is commonly termed 'asymmetrical warfare'".
  • Iran tries to play two of its biggest trade partners, Russia & the EU. Security council anyone?

Workin' It with Nat Adderley

Nat Adderley couldn’t have picked a better name for his 1960 recording, Work Song. This disc is classic straight-ahead, hard-working jazz. Nat, Cannonball’s (of Kind of Blue fame) younger brother, tears it up on coronet. Joined by the incomparable Wes Montgomery on guitar, the work horse Bobby Timmons on piano, Percy Heath on bass, Louis Hayes on drums, and Sam Jones or Ketter Betts on cello or bass, this merry band of workaholics delivers concise linear attacks that remind you of blue neon, an upbeat waitress, scrambled eggs, and tapping work boots. Need a boast after a hard day? Then slide this disc in the player. You won’t regret it, or forget it.

Quote of The Day

"Oh my god I cannot believe it. The book describe exactly what i experience here.Somewhere I read that George Orwell wrote this book against soviet. But I think all dictators read it before making their country." -- Iranian Blogger, Under Underground, discussing Orwell's novel, 1984.

Re: Little Americans

Over at the Chronicles AK and Steven have written lengthy responses to my post on The Little American and a Liberating Vision. Also, see Morgans defense of the liberal hawk position. Here are my responses:

A Liberal Hawk Doesn’t Hide Behind the Bushes

AK is correct that there have been many mistakes made by the Bush administration in Iraq, one of the major ones being their total lack of planning or understanding in regards to “post-war” Iraq. I never bought the open-arms rhetoric of the neocons. I think he is also correct in asking tough questions about what Iraq will look like after elections, and expressing concerns over Iran's possible influence of elections. (Today's New York Time's has a detailed analysis of the Shiite power structure developing in Iraq, which concludes that division’s within the Iranian Shiites, both religious and secular, and the historical mistrust between Iraq and Iran make Hakim’s, whose brother was assassinated by Sadr, consolidation of power among the Shiites and Iran’s ability to influence Iraq far from certain.)

However, the Islamo-fascists pose a major threat not only to the US but to many parts of the world, and to confront that threat we need an aggressive approach that involves force, diplomacy, foreign aid, a serious commitment to a resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian crisis and supporting Moderate Muslims. I think the Bush administration has failed on the last four, and liberals, by not presenting a credible alternative to the Bush Doctrine, have failed step in and take up the slack.

Take Iran, prior to the Iraq invasion there was a growing reform movement and promising signs of liberalization. Here was an opportunity to support those movements, and possibly destabilize the conservative regime in Iran. The Bush administration failed to do this, allowing the Mullahs, while we were focused on Iraq, to quash the reform movements and consolidate power. Bush should have both invaded Iraq while applying nonmilitary pressure in Iran and other autocratic regimes in the Middle East. Since Bush failed to do this, the liberals should have seized the opportunity to force Bush’s hand on democratization in the Middle East. Instead, the liberals were unable to form a coherent unifying vision that embraced democratization while also addressing the real security threats of terrorism, thus conceding the battle to Bush and the neocons. Had the liberals not retreated into neoisolationist rhetoric they might have had some ability to influence Iraq policy and may have laid the groundwork for winning the 2004 elections.

My conception of hawkish liberalism does not mean one embraces the Bush doctrine nor believes that democracy in the Middle East will resemble Western democracy. However, it does understand that force, and the credible threat of force, will be necessary in defeating Islamic-fascism.

Universal Relativism???

“In the background of our discussions about Beinart’s piece is the philosophical question of relativism vs. universalism. Morgan, and David at Electric Refrigerator, take it that the belief in the universality of western values requires the active spreading of those values. Here is where it gets tricky however. For our liberal democratic civilization has other norms besides liberal ones, i.e., the republican belief in self-government and self-determination. The belief that every agent has a certain self-defined bundle of rights often come into conflict with the fact that other civilizations have different notions of the good and quite different self-understandings upon which they collectively determine their political lives. These self-understandings can be the result of a warped polity as in the case of Iraq, but they are also something quite real. Indeed, Wilsonianism was based upon respecting this latter norm much more then the norm of spreading liberal democracy by force....Now relativism is not defined as the believe that there are no valid norms, but pertains to those who are skeptical that the radical transformative vision of millenial liberalism is the enlightened way to go. To question this, is, as David at Electric Refrigerator put it, is to show skepticism towards ‘Freedom’. The logic here is impeccable, unfortunately it is also the same logic that Robespierre used during the terror.” -- Steve @ The Chronicles

To be honest I am not sure exactly what Steve is trying to say here. But if I understand him correctly freedom and self-determination might be valid norms, but not in all civilizations, and if it is a norm you don’t do much about it. This strikes me as being more dangerous than a “transformative vision”. Is the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights only valid for those people who live in countries whose leaders accept that those values are good? Oppression, torture, and government-sponsored murder, and invading other countries could be justified as part of a civilizations/states concept of the good, therefore should we simply allow them to go on? Under this concept is there any way, or any need, to establish international law or intervene in a humanitarian crisis? It is late and I might be totally mischaracterizing Steve, but oppression, murder, and torture are just that. I do not believe that freedom will lead to everyone being little Americans but I do believe that self determination for all people is a good thing, as Nelson Mandela, no little American, said during his trial in 1964:

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunity. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Side Bar on Wilson

Wilson may have talked about his reluctance to use force but his actions proved otherwise. In 1914, to support of the constitutional forces trying to topple dictator Victoriano Huerta, Wilson sent the Navy to occupy the port city of Veracruz. In 1916, he authorized the use of force against Poncho Villa. He also sent troops to Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Finally, after failing to get the warring parties in WWI to negotiate, he mobilized the US and sent troops to Europe, where approx. 126,000 Americans died and 234,000 were wounded. Wilson had one of the most aggressive foreign policies in US History. I’ll end with these two quotes from Wilson.

The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty.

No man can sit down and withhold his hands from the warfare against wrong and get peace from his acquiescence.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Finally, I’d politely question David’s post on the cost of democracy, Iraqi deaths since “liberation,” and the provided link to the alleged deaths of only 15,000 Iraqis
of which I’m a bit dubious. If you hit that link and click: “
» Iraq casualties as of April 15, 2003,” you’ll note that, “Below is the latest information on the casualties of this war. Note, the casualty numbers are likely higher than those shown because only confirmed deaths are included.”

AK over at Chronicles has pointed out a mistake I made regarding a link in one of my previous post. I used this site because the figures quoted where similar to those from the often referenced Iraq Body Count, and I was trying to find a source that verified these numbers. I will note that the Iraq Body Count also refers only to civilian deaths. The number of dead Iraqi seems hard to determine, and probably does exceed the 14,000 to 16,000 reported by IBC.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Iran Watch, Dec. 14th

Here is a round up of some less hawkish options for Iran. Albright and crew argue for allowing Iran to continue civilian nuclear activities. Until there is a different regime in Iran, I think this is a mistake. The current Iranian leadership has made it all too clear that is wants nuclear weapons and that it supports terrorism. I think any nuclear material in their hands would be dangerous. The second article provides excellent background information on the political forces at work in Iran and provides an interesting strategy for dividing theses forces--not sure their approach is enough. The third piece argues that opening Iran economically, similar to the approach in China, is the best way foster change in Iran. In many cases, I think this works, but will it work fast enough in this case?

  • Madeline Albright and seven other foreign ministers weigh in on Iran.
  • Two eminent scholars provide an excellent summary of the political forces at work in on Iran, and how to utilize them:

    The situation calls for a more nuanced policy, one that will complement the fitful negotiations on nuclear policy led by our European allies. The objective should be first to slow down Revolutionary Guards' monopolization of power and, second, to strain their alliance with the religious leadership. A key will be gaining more international support for democracy in Iran, strengthening reformist forces and nongovernmental groups that continue to resist authoritarianism and can drive a wedge between the guards and the mullahs.

    On the other hand, we must get the European countries with extensive commercial ties with Iran to use sticks as well as carrots. They must put pressure on the Revolutionary Guards' considerable business interests in a way that will enlarge fissures between the guards, the clerical elite and the various social groups that are tied to them through patronage.

    Iran may be America's most intractable problem of the post-cold-war era. But in foreign policy it is always easier to deal with a divided opponent than a united one. America and the West must not only recognize the growing political divisions in Iran, but also exploit them.
  • The folks at the excellent blog Chez Nadezhda argue for active engagement with Iran, including free trade via the WTO:

    Today was another missed opportunity: for the 20th year in a row, the U.S. rejected Iran's bid to enter the WTO. The irony, of course, is that the new ideas and rule sets (Westoxification!) that come with WTO accession are what Iran's corrupt, repressive ruling mullahs fear most. They won't be able to handle the rate of rapid social change that will come along.

The Great Blog Roll

My fellow Midwestern compatriot over at The Iconic Midwest is doing his part to help promote emerging blogs with a political bent. If you are new (6 months or less) sign up for The Great Blog Roll. And while you are there be sure to check out his distinctive take on all things red, blue, and political.

Plight of Iranian Women & The Blog of the Day

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan I discovered this fascinating blog by Judith Apter Klinghoffer, a senior research associate in the department of Political Science at Rutgers University, Camden First Kudos to Judith for hanging tough in Camden, NJ -- recently named the most danger city in the U.S., which is not surprising, I have been there a couple of times and I have never seen a city in such bad shape. Her blog offers and interesting discussion of the plight of women and children in Iraq and the nature of totalitarianism. She posted the following quote from an Iranian blogger Pouya:

Women are the silent victims of physical abuse which is being forced on them by the society, family and even themselves.

Anger against women in our society has become a behavior. And therefore men disregard calling this abusive behavior as an act of anger. On the other hand, women themselves have accepted this act as a norm also. That is why they repeatedly try to come up with acceptable reasons to justify this savage behavior.

The Little American and a Liberating Vision

They all seem to share the opinion that traditional American Liberalism is inclined to get itself entangled in foolish interventions because of its simplistic acceptance of a myth of what I called 'the American homunculus'. I.e., the idea is that everyone on planet earth is, in essence, an American. Thus, the primary political/military goal must simply be to strip away the constraints that prevent this true essence from finding its expression. When you do, it is assumed, the 'little American' in everyone will rise to the surface. -- Morgan @ Chronicles

Zizek has encapsulated the underlying ideology of liberal messianism very succinctly: Liberal’s (and American’s in general) believe that inside every person on earth is a ‘little American’ waiting to get out. Because there is a little American waiting to get out of every person, our attempt to ‘remake them’ is really an attempt to bring out what they most truly are. – Steve Levine
@ Chronicles

Over at the Chronicles there have been several discussion to the concept of “the little American” (quotes above). From the context in which this phrase has been used, it seems to be a negative reference to the idea that there is a universal desire for freedom or least to live a life free of oppression. I might be wrong in assuming this, because Morgan clearly states in an earlier post “One can simply point to what does exist. And what does exist in the Middle East right now are many good people who would like to see more Democracy and representation in their governments.” I am a bit confused by what exactly is being meant by “little American.” But regardless of the exact definition it seems to imply a strong hint of skepticism and/or cynicism about establishing democracy in the Middle East, which I think has characterized much of the left/liberal/democrats response to War on Terror and the War in Iraq. I think a good dose of realism about what is currently going on in Iraq is important, but I think it is this negativism, this lack of a positive response or vision for fighting terrorism, for establishing democracy, for promoting a liberal foreign policy that is at the heart of Beinhart’s critique of current liberal policy.

In my own idealistic view, I am not envisioning an Iraqi/Islamic democracy that mirrors Western secular democracy and includes SUV-driving fans of Desperate Housewives, but that is distinctive to Arabic culture and the Islamic religion, and yet recognizes individual freedom. There was a time when the left would have not been so cynical about such ideas. I don’t recall in my idealist college days of the late 80’s the left claiming that we should be cautious about ending apartheid, that such a project should be abandoned because we are assuming black South Africans are “little Americans.” I thought the left believed the that the restrictions of apartheid needed to be stripped away so that black South Africans could be free to realize their own destiny. Why is it so different for Iraq or Iran? There are of course religious and cultural differences that are factors. And there are political differences. South African blacks had both a charismatic leader, Nelson Mandela, to help unify them and a very visible pro-liberation movement within the country.

However, there was a time when the left and liberals were passionate about the ideas of democracy and liberation of oppressed people. How has that turned so quickly (or at least seemed to turn so quickly) to cynicism, skepticism, and isolationism? Is it a new appreciation for the realpoltic approach and an abandonment of idealism? Is it that the we just can’t bear to agree with W. and the neocons?

I am not saying that we abandon realistic assessments of the situation on the ground, but I think what liberals are missing is some of the passion for liberation that once infused its thinking about South Africa and Latin America.

Many of the Iranian dissident sites I have found, as well as many of the Iraqi blogs I have found are not posting articles, and columns from or links to The Nation, David Corn, The Progressive, Mother Jones, or liberal blogs. But are linking to The National Review, Andrew Sullivan, and The Wall Street Journal. This is far from a scientific or scholarly analysis but I find it indicative of liberals failure to engage in a serious dialogue on liberation and democracy. Maybe I am wrong, and if so I would love to be corrected and shown some resources, articles, etc. that are defining an alternative vision.

Let’s face it, we are stuck with Iraq. At this point, especially now that the U.S. elections are over, WMDs and bad intelligence don’t matter much to the situation in Iraq. We can now either chose to pull out, which I think would certainly lead to civil war and a complete collapse of security resulting in a terrorist haven, or stay and do what we can to establish democracy, which at this point means ensuring security, rebuilding Iraq, and establishing the “institutions and infrastructures that support (to quote Morgan at Chronicles)” democracy.

I am no expert on Iran, Iraq, or the Middle East, but my vision of a liberal foreign policy would not only include a military component similar to that laid out by Beinhart, but also include nonmilitary aspects that focus on developing the “institutions and infrastructures” of democracy. Something I think the Bush administration has failed to do.

For Iraq, why not put liberal fund raising skills to work and raise money to create and support democratic institutions in Iraq – money that could help create political parties, news organizations, political journals; that could help rebuild schools, libraries, and universities.

I am not sure whether Spirit of America is liberal or conservative, though given the military bent I would say conservative, but frankly I don’t care. The projects it is supporting—from helping develop Arabic blogging tools to acquiring library books for children—seem like efforts that transcend US political categories and are designed to help Iraqi people. At this point, if we really want to help the Iraqi people, we would focus our energies on similar efforts – these efforts can both be direct or indirect (using the political process and media resources to ensure that aid money earmarked for Iraq is used properly and to encourage the UN and other nations to do more in Iraq).

These suggestions may seem naïve and limited, but they are meant to steer liberal conversation away from harping on the sidelines toward positive action. Considering liberals do not control power in Washington, I think they have to both develop a theory of the use of force applicable to the war on terror and actively engage in nation building efforts in Iraq. This will renew liberals commitment to its anti-toleration, pro-democracy roots.

I see similar opportunities in Iran, which I plan to discuss in an upcoming post.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Sad Plight of Africa's Children

Using the latest, and very depressing, UNICEF reprot on the state of the world’s children as a starting point, Somini Sengupta highlights the plight of Africa’s children.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Egypt Accuses Iran of Planning Terrorists Attacks

Middle East Newsline reports:

“Egyptian officials said Iran has helped plan and finance attacks on both Egypt and Saudi Arabia over the last year. They said an Iranian diplomat planned the strike on a petrochemical facility in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia in May 2004. The attack resulted in the killing of five Western engineers.”

Few Options in Iran?

A sobering review of our options in Iran:

Hamstrung by extensive military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and confronting a country with four times the land mass and three times the population of Iraq, Washington may have no choice but to wait and see what emerges from next week's talks between Tehran and the EU-3.

Becker, Posner, and Preemptive War

Becker and Posner continue their discussion of preemptive war. Here is a comment from Posner that relates to my previous post about the cost of military action:

Readers who doubt that cost-benefit analysis can be applied to matters of life and death, such as war, should consider that lives are on both sides of the balance. If a preventive war that killed 10,000 people could prevent a nuclear attack on the United States that would kill 10 million people, such a war would in my opinion be justified.

Saving Eric Dolphy from Plastics

Imagine my delight and then chagrin when sitting in my hotel room in Amarillo, TX--the heart of the high plains, flat as a mattress, home of cattle auctions and the National Quarter Horse museum--I heard a snippet of 60’s avant-garde jazz coming from the television. I was pretty sure it was Eric Dolphy with Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. I reached for my iPod, dialed up Dolphy and sure enough the phrase I heard was from Hat and Bread the opening cut on the great Out to Lunch. The commercial was for (long pause) The American Plastics Council—how mundane. Was Benjamin Braddock listening after all? And they could have at least sampled Ornette Coleman. He did use a plastic sax.

But this disconcerting moment, does give me an opportunity to write about one of the great all time jazz albums—Dolphy’s Out to Lunch. Eric Dolphy was a hyper-talented, mutli-instrumental reed man (alto sax, flute, bass clarinet, clarinet) who died tragically in 1964 at the age of 36 from undiagnosed diabetes. Had Dolphy lived he may have been as well known as Coltrane and Mingus. He played with both, was influenced by and influenced both, and was as talented as both. As this album, recorded the year he died, witnesses he was at the height of his short career and clearly entering the modern pantheon that included not only Coltrane and Mingus, but Monk and Miles as well.

Featuring Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, the amazing Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Richard Davis on bass, and muscular speedster Tony Williams on drums, Out To Lunch explores the dissonance between tone, rhythm, and melody creating a driving, dynamic lyricism that rivals Pollock or DeKooning at their abstract best. From the opening horn burst on Hat and Bread (a tribute to Monk) that leads to a driving base line, then a melodic interplay between Dolphy on bass clarinet to and Hutherson on vibes to the final notes on Straight Up and Down this album is amazing. I could go on an on but just go out and buy it (or stay home and down load it). And remember when you are fingering the jewel case or cradling your iPod the future of jazz isn’t plastics, but was, and is, Eric Dolphy.

If you want to hear more Dolphy, I highly recommend Dolphy’s Live at the Five Spot, Vol. 1, John Coltrane’s The Complete Live at the Village Vanguard (Dolphy is integral on one the greatest live recordings of all time), and Charles Mingus’s Town Hall Concert 1964 (another great live disc recorded a couple of months before Dolphy died).

To see pictures of Dolphy, click here.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Iraq, War, and the Price of Democracy

There is an ongoing and interesting debate over at the Chronicle on Peter Beinart’s call for a new liberalism. There are several themes being discussed there and elsewhere that I would like to discuss over the course of a few post.

Iraq, War, and the Price of Democracy

In the media and in many liberal/leftist critiques, there is much pessimism about the war in Iraq. There have been many well documented mistakes in Iraq – lack of troop strength, the prison abuse scandal, and much more. However, what I think is lacking from much of this discussion is historical context, in particular a discussion of military history.

For instance, at Shiloh there were 25,000 dead or wounded combined in just two days (more casualties than the U.S. had experienced in all battles combined prior to this battle) there was criticism in the Northern press and descriptions of the horror of 1000’s of dead rotting in the muddy fields of Shiloh. But Lincoln did not stop the war there, even though the loss of life may well have justified it. And that was just the beginning of a long, bloody war (between 600,000 and 700,000 dead alone) that resulted in the end of slavery, the restoration of the Union, and the 14th Amendment, which applies the Bill of Rights and Due Process to the states.

In 21 months of fighting in Iraq there has been about 11,000 US and UK casualties (1500 dead and 9500 wounded) and approximately 15,000 Iraqi dead in 21 months. It is tougher to find figures for Afghanistan but as of 2003 there was about 400 US dead. Yet, in as has been discussed in earlier posts there is reason for optimism: a democratically elected government in Afghanistan--a major accomplishment, movement toward democracy and elections in Iraq, a brutal dictator (an estimated 1 million missing, 283 mass graves found so far) was removed from power.

Looking at another tragic loss of life, there were 42,643 traffic deaths in US in 2003. Would we feel our highways were a failure if everyday the New York Times listed the names of every person who died tragically (and in vain) in a traffic accident the day before, if every night the national news ran footage from the 116 fatalities that on average occur daily on US highways, nightly calling the highways death traps? There is not a daily outcry to stop traffic because of the number of deaths that occur. The prospect sounds basically absurd, and that’s because we have decided that in order to maintain our automobile culture we are willing to accept some deaths.

The fact there were almost as many casualties in one two day battle during the Civil War as there has been in 21 months in Iraq, or that more than 2 times as many people died in 12 months on US highways than have died in Iraq does not justify this war. However, I bring these numbers up because we are constantly being reminded of the death toll in Iraq, which we should be, as if this alone makes the war wrong, misguided, and a failure. But in context of other wars, or even day to day living, the loss of life is tragic but possibly acceptable. These discussions, these death equations, always make me uncomfortable, but I think we have to be brutally honest about these things, whether we like it our not everyday we make decisions about acceptable risk. We have accepted a certain number of deaths in the name of the car. What would be an acceptable level of death for democracy, to stop brutality?

We need to be reminded of the human cost of war. It would be wrong to ignore the brutality of war, the death and destruction wrought on civilians and soldiers. We have to be honest about the costs of military action. But we also have be honest, and ask ourselves what is worth dying and fighting for? I hate to be so simplistic and blunt, but if we are willing to accept 46,000 deaths a year so that we can drive to work, to the mall, to the grocery store in a peaceful and democratic society, how many deaths are we willing to accept, if any, so that others, as well as ourselves, might also enjoy freedom and democracy?

This leads me to two questions: Is democracy really emerging in Iraq? And, are there viable alternatives to military action that can be employed in other countries in the Middle East, an alternative vision or approach that will benefit countries like Iran? The first is a subject open to debate, but I think there is reason for cautious optimism. I plan to discuss the second in future posts.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Iranian Dissidents Unite

An interesting article on Iranian dissidents trying to change their constitution.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Ron Silliman, Quote of the Day, & hyper free market poetry

"The reason The New York Times has never had a comics section is that it already has its book review."

Ron Silliman in a fascinating post about the pathetic coverage of poetry in the New York Times Book Review, the publications irrelevance to poetry, and the development of a radical hyper-poetic online market place, modeled after online computer retailers, such as Dell:

If you can let people know of your books & get them to your web site, selling direct can be a far faster & cheaper way of moving books into the hands of the right readers, the readers who will really care about, say, new possibilities for the post-avant in the American south.

Yushchenko Poisoned

It's been confirmed, Ukraine's Yushchenko was poisoned. The question, who did it?

More Cautious Optimism: A Reply to Dr. Emile

Over at the intellectually challenging Chronicles, Dr. Emile continues his excellent critique of the Liberal Hawks position. Three comments in particular struck me:

The Cold War did not democratize Russia in the end, and there is nothing necessary or inevitable about the result of democratization in the Middle East.

Dr. Emile is correct, Russia is not fully democratized, it is currently in a serious backslide, and one has to question Putin’s commitment to democray. However, I think despite Putin there has been improvement over the former Soviet regime. Also, this anaylysis ignores the Soviet-satelites of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics that are now enjoying freedom, and the Orange-revolution brewing in the Ukraine. The aftermath of the Cold War has not been perfect, but I think the cause of democray was advanced when the Soviet empire collapsed.

Dr. Emile is also correct that democratization in the Middle East is not inevitable. However, there have been elections in Afganistan and we are moving toward elections in Iraq – 156 parties are registered, 85% of Iraqis plan to vote and 65% are optimistic about their future. And, in my opinion, failure in the Middle East is inevitable if we do nothing.

Dr. Emile argues that we should only use force:

[W]hen attacked or when aiding victims of massive atrocities that are taking place now, and only then under the banner of legitimate international organizations like NATO or the dreaded UN.

I do not believe that force can solve many of our international problems, and I believe we should employ force after much judicious consideration. However, I think force, or a legitimate threat of force, is unfortunately necessary in some situations. In addition, if we wait until atrocities are taking place in the here and now, have we waited too long? Had military force been employed early on in Rwanda or the Sudan would genocide been avoided? I think that sometimes our natural reluctance to engage in the brutality of war often leads to even greater loss of life.

Finally, Dr. Emile comments, "I think the current phase of battle is more similar to WWI."

I am not sure I follow this analogy. WWI was essentially a bloody stalemate between colonial empires in which 9,000,000 lost their lives, and resulted in little or no advancement in democracy. Several thousands Americans, Iraqis, and Afghanis have tragically lost their lives, but I will reiterate there have been elections in Afghanistan and we are on the verge of elections in Iraq. There has been a very unfortunate loss of life, but unlike WWI, I don’t think they were in vain.

Cautious Optimism

Andrew Sullivan assesses Iraq.

Monday, December 06, 2004

PoetryLink, Dec. 7

Iran Watch, Dec. 7

  • Human Rights Watch reports torture of Iranian reform advocates.
  • Iranian authorities threaten blogs.
  • Religious intolerance in continues in Iran.
  • President Mohammad Khatami of Iran admits democratic reforms have failed:

Khatami has complained repeatedly that he was powerless to stop hard-liners who blocked reform legislation, detained pro-reform activists and shut down more than 100 liberal publications.