Sunday, January 30, 2005

Brave Iraqis & the Illiberal Left

The Iraqi people were amazing today. The reaction of some on the illiberal left (which does not make up all the left) is appalling:

Compare this from Iraqi blogger The Mesopotamian:

I bow in respect and awe to the men and women of our people who, armed only with faith and hope are going to the polls under the very real threats of being blown to pieces. These are the real braves; not the miserable creatures of hate who are attacking one of the noblest things that has ever happened to us. Have you ever seen anything like this? Iraq will be O.K. with so many brave people, it will certainly O.K.; I can say no more just now; I am just filled with pride and moved beyond words. People are turning up not only under the present threat to polling stations but also under future threats to themselves and their families; yet they are coming, and keep coming. Behold the Iraqi people; now you know their true metal. We shall never forget the meanness of these bas…s. After this is over there will be no let up, they must be wiped out. It is our duty and the duty of every decent human to make sure this vermin is no more and that no more innocent decent people are victimized.

With this from lefty blogger Oliver Willis:

When our newfound champions of democracyTM twist themselves into pretzel knots to explain the next homicidal despot they prop up (newsflash: we don't have a very good track record with this, as a nation, but especially on the right).

Or compare this from Democracy in Iraq:

What a day it has been. I am very tired, but I am at peace, something I havn't felt in this regard before. I am happy to report that I found very few people during my post-voting trip through Baghdad who had not voted. I even got a few to "convert" and go out and vote. When confronted with the fact that staying away from voting was futile, some who had opposed the election relented, and went and made their mark.

With this from popular lefty blogger Mathew Yglesias:

Looks reasonably successful so far, no mass casualties, turnout low only in a few trouble spots. It's time to prepare for three weeks of gloating from the hawks before they realize that nothing has really changed and they return to previous hawk practice of not mentioning Iraq. The interesting thing to watch, I think, will be whether or not Shiite political unity starts to break down now that the elections are behind us.

It is amazing that when the so-called “reality”-based community is confronted with the reality of millions of Iraqi people voting they simply declare nothing really happened. Or they try to twist the events to their version of reality. Like Juan Cole who claims, “This thing was more like a referendum than an election.” By the way Juan, a referendum is determined by popular vote, so either way an historic event for Iraq. So why try to diminish it?

The “reality”-based community misunderstood what the US electorate wanted and they have failed to understand what the Iraqis wanted. It seems they are so determined to get Bush that they are willing to sacrifice the good that can come from this election. Some on the illiberal left just can’t wait for things to fall apart and Iraq to erupt in a civil war, just so they can say to Bush, “We told you so.” If they were really champions of liberalism and democracy, they would be congratulating the brave Iraqis who voted, and then be willing to work with them, and yes, work with the Bushies, to make sure the self-determination that Iraqis displayed today becomes an everyday reality. But instead on this rather historic day the Democratic leadership is talking “exit strategies.”

It would be foolish to think the road ahead for Iraqis will be easy. There is still much to accomplish: counting and finalizing the vote, choosing a president and prime minister, writing a constitution, stopping the terrorists, continuing to rebuild. But this election is a major accomplishment for the Iraqis.

  • It empowers the Iraqis to move forward.
  • It sends a signal to the terrorists that the majority of Iraqis don’t agree with their anti-democracy violence and instead want democracy and freedom.
  • It is a stepping stone to establishing a democratic government in Iraq.

This is not a time to gloat, nor is it a time to whine. It is time to support the Iraqi people.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Travel Notes: New Orleans & I-10 between Houston and New Orleans

I was traveling for work all last week and had no time for blogging. However, I did jot down a few impression using old fashion pen and paper.

New Orleans

Walking Bourbon Street at night, I think of Baudelaire. It must be the old world charm and the aura of fin-de- siècle (or should that be post-fin-de-siècle) decadence—the revelers draped in beads, the Girls-Gone-Wild wannabes, the leering middle-aged men, the strip clubs, the bars blaring 20-year old rock music. But this is American decadence – exuberant, loud, and vociferous, not a dark 19th-century European opium den.

This is the dark heart of America – the hucksters, the shysters, the con artist, the fools easily parted with their money, the openness and vice that comes with freedom. It’s all here along the sidewalks, under the iron-work balconies, in the smoky clubs and on the sleazy stages, in the stories that could be told by the bartenders, the cops, bouncers, stripers, musicians, and the middle-aged women (accountants, school teachers, housewives) dancing and drinking hurricanes.

This, like New York City, is the most American of cities. All of our contradictions are so obvious here, even celebrated: the exuberant, hyper-capitalist decadence, genteel southern hospitality, faith and religion (witness Mardi Gras); the mix of European and African culture: Creole, Cajun, Zydeco; poor and rich, black and white – all of these are on view in this crescent-shaped bowl that hovers just below sea level. It’s not Cleveland or St. Louis or L.A. that captures our cultural gumbo, our uniqueness, but New Orleans and New York – even the names mix the old world with the promise of the new.

These are not Baudelaire’s cities. They are Walt Whitman’s.

I-10 Between Houston and New Orleans

At first, boring. The ubiquitous Burger Kings, McDonalds& Subways. Then…

A flock of white egrets rise above the Sabine River.

Casinos and Cajun food at truck stops.

I-10 rising above the Atchafalaya Basin.

At night, heading east from the Texas/Louisiana border, I pass through the eerie greenish-orangish glow of the refineries and chemical plants--swirling steam lit by hundreds of lights—a man-made nebula swirling in the stars.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Philip Levine on NPR

Stuck in Saturday traffic here in Houston, I caught a nice NPR profile of poet Philip Levine. Levine talks about breath, jazz, and elegy. Plus he reads with a beautiful Charlie Parker piece playing in the background. Give it a listen.

Iran's Greatest Hope: Women & Gen X?

It may be women who save Iran. Noble Peace Prize-winner Shirin Ebadi is standing up to the Mullahs (see post below), and now, according to the Financial Times, the popular Mehr-Banoo classical music group is made up of 6 women and 4 men:

But the presence of female performers, wearing yellow scarves and long black shirts and trousers, outnumbering the men in the band, poses a direct challenge to Iran's hardliners, who would like to see greater restrictions on women.

The FT adds:

Many young women ignore the loose dresses recommended by the religious establishment and instead wear tight trousers, covered with short overcoats or flimsy cotton shirts. Their headscarves slip backwards to reveal as much hair as possible, and they wear heavy make-up.

Last summer, a Tehran police chief announced during a crackdown on women for non-observance of hijab that the arrest of "100 street supermodels" would resolve the problem. But this proved not to be the case, as many women responded with defiance.

The FT finds challenges coming not just from women but from Iran’s youth as well:

But despite their growing political strength, the conservatives face a challenge in the social arena. Their main source of support comes from the traditional sections of Iranian society. But there is widespread dissatisfaction with the regime among Iranians under 35 years old, who make up about 70 per cent of the population of 70m.

Many are highly educated and with access to internet and satellite TV, making attempts at censorship futile.

"The mental gap between the rulers and young people is now between 100 and 150 years," said Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, a former vice-president who resigned in protest at parliament's conservative shift.

Maybe Iran’s MTV-generation will be able to really rock the vote. Is their anything we can do to help?

Shirin Ebadi, Torture, and Bad PR

Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi last week became the attorney for “Ruzbeh Mir-Ebrahimi, the latest target of the Iranian government's high-profile prosecution of webloggers and journalists.” Now, the Revolutionary Court of Iran has summoned her to appear for questioning. But Shirin has challenged the legality of that court order. The State Department did take notice:

Louis Fintor, a State Department spokesman, said the department was monitoring the case, which appeared to be part of a broader campaign by Tehran.

"The continued harassment and arrest of proponents of moderation, pluralism, and political reform -- as evidenced not only by this incident, but also by the recent Iranian decision to close several reform newspapers -- are in violation of international standards of human rights," Fintor said.

Not suprisingly, Iranian President Khatami, siting Abu Ghraib, rejected the United State’s legitimacy in questioning Iranian human rights abuses:

"Now they must respond to the crimes committed in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and their relentless killing of people in all parts of the world in the name of freedom and democracy and the support they provide to the brutalities and atrocities committed against the Palestinian people," he said.

Abu Ghraid and Palestine are not excuses for ongoing abuses in Iran, but unfortunately they provide convenient rhetorical cover for the Mullahs and other like-minded regimes. Even if one could justify the use of torture, the negative PR impact of such practices should be enough to stop its use. The U.S. should, and usually does hold itself to a higher standard, and does have and up hold higher human rights standards than Iran. But Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, and other recent cases of torture hurt those standards and the way the U.S. is perceived in the world. Granted, those who view us as “the Great Satan” don’t need much ammunition to begin with. But why give them, and others, more. You would think that the Bushies who effectively use the media here, could at the very least figure out that torture equals negative, and damning, press coverage that undermines everything we stand for and everything we are trying accomplish in Iraq and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

Iraq: Poor Planning, Elections, Hope, and Entering Phase V (Post-Election Iraq)

Even Neo-Coninsh intellectual standard barrier, Policy Review, has published a damning piece, by Michael E. O’Hanlon, on the Bushies’ lack of a post-invasion plan:

The problem was simply this: The war plan was seriously flawed and incomplete. Invading another country with the intention of destroying its existing government yet without a serious strategy for providing security thereafter defies logic and falls short of proper professional military standards of competence. It was in fact unconscionable.

Lest there be any doubt about the absence of a plan, one need only consult the Third Infantry Division’s after-action report, which reads: “Higher headquarters did not provide the Third Infantry Division (Mechanized) with a plan for Phase iv. As a result, Third Infantry Division transitioned into Phase iv in the absence of guidance.”

This lack of planning has lead to possible civil war in Iraq, and as Thomas Friedman argues has left us with the “least bad option” – forging ahead with elections on Jan. 30th:

We are already in a civil war in Iraq. That civil war was started by the Sunni Baathists, and their Islamist fascist allies from around the region, the minute the U.S. toppled Saddam. And they started that war not because they felt the Iraqi elections were going to be rigged, but because they knew they weren't going to be rigged.

They started the war not to get their fair share of Iraqi power, but in hopes of retaining their unfair share. Under Saddam, Iraq's Sunni minority, with only 20 percent of the population, ruled everyone. These fascist insurgents have never given politics a chance to work in Iraq because they don't want it to work. That's why they have never issued a list of demands. They don't want people to see what they are really after, which is continued minority rule, Saddamism without Saddam. If that was my politics, I'd be wearing a ski mask over my head, too.

The notion that delaying the elections for a few months would somehow give time for the "Sunni moderates" to persuade the extremists to come around is dead wrong - literally. Any delay would simply embolden the guys with the guns to kill more Iraqi police officers and to intimidate more Sunnis. It could only convince them that with just a little more violence, they could scuttle the whole project of rebuilding Iraq.

There is only one thing that will enable the Sunni moderates in Iraq to win the debate, and that is when the fascist insurgents are forced to confront the fact that their tactics have not only failed to prevent the elections, but have also dug the Sunnis of Iraq into an even deeper hole.

I am not sure Iraq is in a full-scale civil war, yet. The majority of the violence is still confined to 4 out of 18 provinces, the Sunnis make up only 20% of the population, and they are not all part of the terrorist groups now promoting anti-election chaos in Iraq. It is also a good sign that there was not any major retaliation by the Shiites after the assassination of Sistani’s aide. Though continued sectarian violence is almost guaranteed, and is likely to become more Sunni vs. Shiite, and less "insurgents" vs. "occupying army" after the elections.

As for a possible Shia theocracy, Iraqi blogger Decmocracy in Iraq sees this as unlikely: (Also see his interesting post on foreign influences in Iraq, and he calls the Saudis the Beverly Hillbillies of the Arab world.) :

Still the possible election of a large-scale Shia coalition has some people outside of Iraq worried that we will slide towards a theocracy like Iran. I say that it isn't going to happen.

There are many reasons for this. The first being that Iraq is too diverse to be a singular religion theocracy. Since we have so many Shias and Sunnis, it would be impossible to have a theocracy without angering the other group. It would if anything lead to a civil war, but this is very unlikely. Both sides realize that our nation is one of diversity, there are after all smaller religious groups too such as the various Christian groups, where would they be left in a theocracy?

This diversity is also ingrained in Iraq. We have lived our whole lives with other types of people. Not to mention, most of us grew up in a secular system. Saddam was a worthless man, but the Baathists were secular, at least until the end when they began trying to manipulate religions for their own use. Regardless, not only my generation, but that of my parents have grown up in an environment of secularism. I have seen my mothers pictures of her college days and the women were dressed very liberally, this continued in Iraq until the terrorists began spreading like a plague and infesting fear in the people.

So then how can people who are used to secularism accept a theocracy, or even accept a theocracy that is limited ie: one that only appeals to one religious belief? Its very unlikely, I would say impossible.

And from the Washington Post comes another bit of anecdotal hopeful news:

"Without elections, there will be tyranny," said Kadhim Hassan, a 37-year-old writer.
"A country will not find progress without making sacrifices," Mohammed said.

He pointed to the Iran-Iraq war and the battle in 1988 to retake the Faw peninsula on the Persian Gulf. Thousands were lost, he said, "for Saddam's moment of madness. If we lose 100 or 200 people as martyrs in the election, the sacrifice is worth it."

"This is the tax that we have to pay," added Mohammed Thamer, a poet. "We have no other option, no other solution."

"The Americans will leave," Karim said. "They will leave like the other occupiers, whether it's a short period or long."
In the meantime, the three men said, they would remain hopeful.

"I'm optimistic 1,000 percent," Danif exclaimed.

Karim nodded. "I'm twice as optimistic," he said.

Yassin smiled. "I'm optimistic, but I know there will be obstacles and difficulties."

He nodded to the others and said: "It's just the beginning."

And this is key. This is the beginning of a much longer process for the Iraqi people, and one that if it is to be legitimate, must have more Iraqi involvement and much less U.S. involvement. How this is to be accomplished should be the central question of the next few months. A good place to start this discussion is an amazing post by Nadezhda over at the insightful blog Liberals Against Terrorism:

The challenges ahead for the US will be two-fold. To shift the "shot calling" to whatever government in Baghdad emerges after Jan 30. And to reduce the US presence in the cities as much as possible. That means leaving the Sunni triangle to the Sunnis -- other than to harrass their ability to organize the insurgency operations. And reducing the US physical presence in other urban areas as fast as possible.

Complete withdrawal is clearly neither possible nor likely to be demanded by the new government -- they will insist on a timetable for future withdrawal, but they're not suicidal. The US should publicly embrace the notion of a timetable for withdrawal agreed with the new government and engage in publicly visible negotiations over that timetable. BTW, good PR inside Iraq for the Iraqi politicians, good fig-leaf for eventual involvement of other countries who would not be forced to be part of the US-led "multinational coalition", and good for the US, because we could stop playing the denial games for domestic consumption.
Bush's "peace with honor" is that America didn't cut and run but that America is coming home as the job gets done and as the Iraqis want us to depart. As we depart, we will point to some portion of Iraqis being able to start building a future, to a portion of Iraq that is emerging as an independent society, to America's continued commitment, on the basis of mutual respect between two countries to provide financial and, if requested, military support. These are the objectives of Bush's "peace with honor" as it is taking shape. I can embrace those objectives.

So can I. We need to remain focused on what is best for the Iraqi people, because it is both the right thing to do, and, in the long run, will be best for the U.S. as well.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Modern Art Deep In The Heart of Texas: The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

I’ve been traveling the last couple of days and have had little time to surf the blogosphere. However, I did have a couple of hours to visit The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Yes, such a thing does exist, and it is an outstanding museum.

The building itself, completed in 2002 and designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, is a breathtaking work of art—a masterful blend of light, space, glass, water, steel, and concrete. At night, it resembles Japanese paper lanterns reflected in a still pond.

This amazing building houses an impressive collection of over 2,400 works of postwar art. One of my favorites was German artist Anselm Kiefer's lead sculpture, Book with Wings. As a booklover, it is hard not to like an angelic-like book taking flight.

Another interesting piece was Dwelling by young Japanese artist Hiraki Sawa—a whimsical, surreal black-and-white DVD that features a fleet of toy die-cast airplanes flying around a small, sparse apartment.

In conjunction with the 2005 Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, the museum has set up Red Grooms’, Ruckus Rodeo. Commissioned for a 1976 exhibition, Grooms attended every rodeo performance of the 1975 Fort Worth Livestock Show. After designing this room-size environmental sculpture in his New York studio, Grooms assembled the Ruckus Construction Company, a group of 15 painters, sculptures, carpenters, and engineers and returned to Ft. Worth to assemble the piece. It is a Texas-size, chaotic, colorful, clownish pop-art tribute to the cowboy and his rodeo. Proof that modern art is all-American and a live and well in the Lone Star State. Well worth a visit.

As a side note, at the museum bookstore I picked In Memory of My Feelings: Frank O’Hara and American Art. I am fascinated by the interplay between the New York School poets and the Abstract Expressionists, the rich dialogue between poetry and visual art, so this should be an interesting book.

Well, I have my beautiful de Kooning
to aspire to. I think it has an orange
bed in it, more than the ear can hold.

--Frank O’Hara, Radio

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Liberal Decentralization or a Sensible Centrist Federalism?

With the repubs now consolidating power (NCLB, Anti-Gay Marriage amendment, etc.) and feeding at the federal trough, is it time to rethink Federalism and states rights, once a dirty concept associated with segregationist and Jim Crow? Stanford law prof Richard Thompson Ford (I guess he doesn’t want to be confused with the novelist) thinks so:

A meaningful federalism could maintain fundamental rights and centralized control over activities whose effects cross state boundaries. But it would also let the red states experience more of the consequences of their political ideology and the blue states of theirs. I can't imagine a better way to advertise the virtues of progressive policy.

The whole article is worth reading, and if the Senate’s debates over the Anti-Gay Marriage debate (Hillary talking states rights) are any indication, Federalism may be the wave of the future. De Tocqueville would be proud.

He Pulled Up To The Hydrogen Pump….

It looks like automakers are finally getting serious about hydrogen-fueled cars, and it about time. Hydrogen has the potential to cut pollution and green house gases, and reduce our dependence on oil. However, we are still many years from replacing petroleum-fueled autos, but this is promising:

After a century of dependence on oil-based fuel, the auto industry is finally giving consumers a serious look at a future with little or no gasoline power. The products showing up this week in Detroit have far more corporate support than recent electricity-powered vehicles, and are advanced beyond the demonstration vehicles shown by car companies over the last few years. The fleet of fuel-cell minivans that GM maintains in Washington, for example, has limited range and must be operated by company employees.

By contrast, Honda lets almost anyone drive its FCX. In a recent feature on the automotive research online site, a reviewer described picking up the FCX from a valet-parking attendant.

Hydrogen is still years away from reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil. No one has yet figured out how to generate large amounts of hydrogen without causing as much pollution as internal-combustion engines now create, or how to pay for a nationwide distribution network. And the vehicles are prohibitively expensive; if GM's Sequel were for sale, it would cost as much as a warehouse full of

Still, auto industry executives say their business is on the verge of a fundamental change. "It's a frenzy" to get out front with new technology, said Mary Ann Wright, director of such efforts at Ford. "What you're seeing is a groundswell, not really of industry pushing as much as everybody demanding that we really get serious about these solutions. . . . The market's telling us something -- they're ready for this kind of stuff. The public is aware that we can't continue to consume oil like we do."

People have sent that message in the way car companies understand best: by buying products such as the Toyota Prius, the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Ford Escape Hybrid. Rising fuel prices, instability in the Middle East and concerns about global warming have helped sustain the hybrid phenomenon, and U.S. car buyers have even turned away from the biggest SUVs in favor of smaller models.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Iran Continues Crackdown on Blogs

Hodder discusses the Iran’s must recent attempts to limit free speech by requiring ISP’s to filter out blogging services. More on this subject can be found at the excellent chez Nadezhda.

Idealism, Realism, & What Do We Do Now?

Over at Chronicles Dr. Emile has posted a very intelligent response to my critique of his view as conservative. Here is a excerpt but the whole post is worth reading:

My defense of the left is that it is actually acting far more grown up about terrorism than the liberal hawks are. The liberal arguments in favor of the Iraq campaign put forward by Berman, Hitchens, and Beinart are not wrong-hearted, they're wrong-headed. It simply won't work. You don't democratize a region in this manner, overnight or otherwise. There is a realism and soberness at work on the left that is actually very healthy. Furthermore, one could argue that the left's skepticism about Iraq represents a refutation of its own past fellow travelling with Stalinism, Trotskiism, and other systems of thought, including neoconservativism, which advocate violent revolution and radical destabilizing change as the necessary means to a brighter future. Perhaps by living through the disastrous flirtation with revolutionarism, the left in America learned something that the right never did about the limits of violence as a pursuance of politics by other means. Perhaps this makes the left in America more patriotic than is realized.

In this case, it is the neocons who are now the true revolutionaries - sort of pseudo-Trotskiists who want it all NOW NOW NOW, and it is the left that has embraced skepticism and realism about the limits of the use of force.

I agree, as I argued earlier, with Dr. Emile that this is a long-term process and that to assume democratization would happen overnight is naïve. As Thomas Friedman argued, (maybe slightly naively but he has a point):

This is not to say that the "liberation" of Iraq's people is impossible. But unlike in Eastern Europe - where a democratic majority was already present and crying to get out, and all we needed to do was remove the wall - in Iraq we first need to create that democratic majority.

That is what these elections are about and why they are so crucial. We don't want the kind of civil war that we have in Iraq now. That is a war of Sunni and Islamist militants against the U.S. and its Iraqi allies, many of whom do not seem comfortable fighting with, and seemingly for, the U.S. America cannot win that war. That is a civil war in which the murderous insurgents appear to be on the side of ending the U.S. "occupation of Iraq" and the U.S. and its allies appear to be about sustaining that

The civil war we want is a democratically elected Iraqi government against the Baathist and Islamist militants. It needs to be clear that these so-called insurgents are not fighting to liberate Iraq from America, but rather to reassert the tyranny of a Sunni-Baathist minority over the majority there. The insurgents are clearly desperate that they not be cast as fighting a democratically elected Iraqi government - which is why they are desperately trying to scuttle the elections. After all, if all they wanted was their fair share of the pie, and nothing more, they would be taking part in the elections.

We cannot liberate Iraq, and never could. Only Iraqis can liberate themselves, by first forging a social contract for sharing power and then having the will to go out and defend that compact against the minorities who will try to resist it. Elections are necessary for that process to unfold, but not sufficient. There has to be the will - Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds - to forge that equitable social contract and then fight for it.

The Bushies were probably blinded by their idealistic zeal and assumed (or at least presented to the public this view) that by simply removing Saddam democracy would take root. A fatal mistake. Unfortunately, we are stuck with it. And it is my view that at this point it matters less why we went into Iraq, but is Iraq salvageable? Because to fail would be much worse. And it is also my view that some on the Left care more about bringing down Bush than trying to doing something positive for Iraq (as characterized by much of the presidential campaigning).

I would also add that I am not sure many on the Left are really comfortable with this discovery of foreign policy realism. Just witness AK's recent post at Chronicles:

The Bushies PRIMARY means of fighting the "War on Terror" is through long-standing allegiances with tyrannies possessing police apparatuses capable of crushing Islamic insurgencies, notably: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Pakistan. The pivotal question Morgan and other Liberal Hawks avoid, while giving nothing but "low marks" to the Bushies, is how this hypocrisy affects America's alleged fostering of democracy in the Middle East.

It seems that a realistic go-slow approach would mean dealing with such regimes, which AK seems uncomfortable doing. I agree that these governments in the long-term need to change, but I am not sure Liberal Hawks or the Bushies thought this would all happen at once. Nobody argued that the day after Saddam fell then Saudi Arabia would also become more democratic. In the end our main goal probably is to protect ourselves and others from Islamic-fascism. A long-term approach would clearly involve encouraging reform in these countries (something that seems to be happening slowly) as well as using what resources we have in locating and destroying the terrorists and their cells. As Dr. Emile commented, this is a very complicated project, but what one we must be engaged in.

Finally, Dr Emile commented:

What I advocate is total war with those who attack America (bin Ladenists, jihad internationale, those planning attacks on civilian targets in Europe, etc., who are not the "core" of the Islamic world).

Dr. Emile, unlike some, takes the threat of terrorism seriously, but just as it is easy to say, “I am for democratization”, it is easy to say, “I am against terrorism.” The challenge is how you accomplish both.

There are no easy answers, but I think to accomplish this we need both idealism (a belief that a pluralistic, democratic society is a worthy goal) and a heavy dose of realism. However, I do think that the real threat of terrorism also requires an approach that encourages changes sooner that later. Did we after 9/11 and do we now have time to wait?

Unfortunately the Bush administration has failed on this front as well. While totally focusing on Iraq, I think they failed to mount an aggressive, yet nonviolent, diplomatic campaign to promote democracy elsewhere in the Muslim world. Instead of having the discussions we are having now about Iran, they should have been going on two years ago. Could we have been putting more pressure on the Saudis, Egypt, and Pakistan to reform? Could we have done more to promote, and learn from, such Muslim democracy as Malaysia?

But these questions are now irrelevant. The question is, what do we do now? How do we stabilize Iraq and help foster a democracy there? How do we encourage reform in Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, while at the same time protecting ourselves against current terrorist’s threats?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Tsunami and the Power of TV

We don’t have cable or get good reception at home, so I don’t watch TV. However, I do watch it when I travel. I’m on the road this week (Amarillo, TX – the high plains) and I’m watching tsunami coverage. The images and interviews with survivors are moving and powerful. It is one thing to read them, but actually seeing their faces, the sadness in their eyes, really personalizes and intensifies the tragedy. It reminds me of the faces I met walking through New York City after 9/11, where sadness literally weighed down the air. Yet having experienced that I can’t imagine what these people must being going through. Words fail:

Don’t sign your name
between worlds,

the manifold of meanings

trust the tearstain,
learn to live.

--Paul Celan, Glottal Stop, trans. Nikolai Popov & Heather McHugh, p.108

(ps: I started with the idea of writing a snarky commentary on how bad CNN’s title for its tsunami coverage, Turning the Tide, is, but that quickly seemed pointless and inappropriate.)

Poetry Offers A Little Solace To Tsunami Victim

[India News]: Port Blair, Jan 4 : When Sadhan Neogi feels too depressed about the killer tsunami smashing through his beloved Andaman and Nicobar islands, he turns to verse.

"I was on the beach/Dreaming of my castles/When the sands shifted/The waves rose/Hideous/Crashing on the vessels," Neogi read his Bengali poetry to IANS. "

It is only when I write that I can come to terms with what happened," said Neogi, who works as a part-time mechanic and handyman.

Three of Neogi's dearest friends were killed when tidal waves rose across the shores of the archipelago made up of 572 islands, islets and rocks. "They had gone boating," said Neogi, who speaks little and writes a lot these days. "They never returned." [More]

Monday, January 03, 2005

Hints of Reform in Egypt

The BBC reports on the growing call for reform in Egypt:

A few weeks ago hundreds of activists staged an unprecedented protest in Cairo to declare their opposition to a new term for Mr Mubarak.

Many placed over their mouths stickers saying "Enough".

In October, 26 civil society groups launched a petition demanding constitutional reforms before the expiry of the president's mandate.

They continue to collect signatures, and say they will eventually present the document to parliament.

This challenge comes at a time when "reform" has become a catchword not only for the opposition, but also for the government.

With the United States launching repeated initiatives for reform in the Middle East, all governments in the region feel under pressure to declare a commitment to some kind of change. [Emphasis added.]

"The government can clamp down on us," said human rights activist Ahmed Seif al-Islam.

"But it would pay a heavily political price because it is trying to send a message to the West saying that is carrying out reforms."

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Artie Shaw

Last week, the great clarinetist and bandleader Artie Shaw passed away.

WAMU, one of DC's public radio stations, has a long-running old time/big band jazz program, Hot Jazz Saturday Night. The DJ is very knowlegable and has a huge record collection -- I learned a lot listening to his show. On New Year’s Day, he did a nice tribute to Artie Shaw. To listen, click here.

Healing Iraq Sums Up The Elections

Here is an excellent summary of the Iraqi elections from Zeyad’s excellent blog Healing Iraq.

Changes to Sunni Voter Registration Rules

The Times UK is reporting that the UN officials are relaxing the voter registration rules in Sunni-populated provinces in Iraq:

Carlos Valenzuela said that the population of Anbar province, the western desert region better known as the Sunni Triangle, would be allowed to register and vote on polling day, even though the rest of the country finished registering its voters weeks ago.

“They will be given the possibility of registering on the same day, which gives them the possibility of deciding where it is they will be voting,” said Señor Valenzuela. The same conditions will apply for Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, which has been racked by violence recently and where an additional 8,000 US troops have been deployed to secure the elections.

Democratization or what?

It sounds like Dr. Emile over at Chronicles is advocating all out war with Islam (though I suspect he actually making a larger point, but still):

Let's stop pretending that prosecuting a war on terrorism is about doing anybody any favors and patting ourselves on the back about democratizing anything. These fantasies are abject, counterproductive, and dangerous. The policies this philosophy has spawned are not working in the favor of pluralists in Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, etc. It costs nothing and means almost as much to say that "we should support pluralists in the Middle East."

This sounds suspiciously similar to some hardcore conservative hawks I know who basically believe the “moderate Muslim” is a myth and that we should admit that the “War on Terrorism” is to some extent a “War on Arab Muslims.” However, they still think that democratization is a worthy project. I think divorcing the fight against Terrorism/Islamic-Fascism from a larger goal of democratization leads us down a dangerous path. And I think this shows a failure of some (not all) on the Left to articulate a viable plan for the War on Terror or the War in Iraq.

Dr. Emile also states:

On a wider level, there is a direct and totally quicksanding contradiction at the heart of the democratizing strategy in the war on terrorism. Terrorism has little - not nothing, but little - to do with root causes and democracy, it has nothing to do with the "core of the Islamic world"

I would say this is highly debatable, and again sounds like some conservatives who also think that “terrorism” is not about root causes but about an evil ideology that needs to be wiped out. And there is some truth to this ideology theory. But Freedom House has noted:

Freedom House survey data also shed some light on the debate about the relationship between the lack of political rights and civil liberties and the growing threat of international terrorism. According to a Freedom House analysis of global terrorist attacks of a five year period from 1999-2003, 70 percent of all attributable deaths by terrorism were perpetrated by terrorists and terrorist movements originating in Not Free countries. By contrast, only 8 percent of global fatalities from terrorism were perpetrated by terrorists and groupings with origins in the free world. "This suggests that the expansion of democracy and freedom is an important component in the international effort to rid the world of the terrorist scourge," said Adrian Karatnycky, principal analyst of Freedom in the World.

Freedom is hard to quantify, but Freedom House’s index seems to be the only one out there and is a useful tool. They make it clear that even if the root cause of terrorism isn’t lack of democracy, democratic countries are much less likely to produce terrorists. I still contend that democratically elected governments are better for the world’s long term security than totalitarian or theocratic regimes, and are better for the citizens of those countries--that goes for our current “allies” Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The question is how to best achieve this. There are no easy answers. the approaches will vary with each country, nor will the U.S. be involved in every case. But democratization should be our long term goal.

I think the first question we must ask is what countries currently pose the biggest threats. For these countries, like Iran and North Korea, I think we need a more aggressive approach, that doesn’t necessary mean using the military; it could also mean employing an aggressive diplomatic approach or supporting democratizing elements within a country, as was recently done in Ukraine. For other countries, the approach might be more long term, like encouraging market reforms and actively engaging the country at the economic and diplomatic level like China or Saudi Arabia (though I don’t think we are putting enough pressure on the Saudis). As for Iraq, what choice do we have but to help rebuild the country, encourage democracy, and provide security? Would leaving now just ensure that Iraq would slip into chaos and/or become a pawn of Iran?

Shririn Ebadi Announces Candidacy For Iranian Presidency

According IranMania Nobel Peace Prize Laureate has decided to run for president of Iran:

14 groups such as the Council in Defense of Prisoners' Rights along with independent human rights advocates are to form a coalition to back Ebadi's candidacy.

This is while according to Iran's Guardian Council, the controversial term ' Rejal' explicitly mentioned in Iran's constitution in defining the characteristics of the presidential hopefuls refers to the masculinity of the candidates. Thus it is still unknown what strategies Ebadi's supporters are to take to overcome this obstacle.

This could be an interesting development. However, will the Mullah’s really allow her to run? Is there anything the US, EU, or UN do to support her?

(Hat Tip to Judith Apter Klinghoffer)