Archive for October 2006

On Your Knees

October 31, 2006

Amidst all the chatter that constitutes this new phase of American involvement in Iraq very little is heard about the fate of the primarily nameless and faceless Iraqis who want to live in a secular, democratic country (which may be further reason why this is a noble and prudent proposal). Two articles today tried to address the situation from their perspective.

First, writing in Salon, Gary Kamiya summed up the undeniably grim status quo in Iraq as follows:

“In Iraq today, death can come from anywhere, for any reason or no reason. You can be killed because you belonged to the wrong sect, because you were seen talking to an American, because someone wants your car, because you wore shorts, because you were selling ice, because you drove too close to a U.S. checkpoint, because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Kamiya’s assessment, true though it is, comes as part of an essay titled, “Shame” in which he lays the blame for the horror described above on “our folly, our rashness, our stupid self-righteousness, our inexcusable imperial hubris.” (Not a word about those actually sowing the bloody seeds of civil war). Kamiya laments how we “callously ignore the Iraqi victims of a war we started.” In order to rectify this grave wrong Kamiya does not propose we redouble our efforts to support those who want to live in a secular, democratic Iraq. Rather, Kamiya argues that we should “express our shame.”

“I would like to propose a national day of apology. On this day, all Americans, those who supported the war and those who did not, will come together without rancor and apologize to the Iraqi people for what we have done. It will be a day without politics, without anger, maybe even without words. A day simply to say we’re sorry. And to say it, figuratively or literally, on our knees.”

Without imputing Kamiya’s sincerity, this gesture is worse than useless. It is self-flagellating narcissism masquerading as compassion. How would those Iraqis Kamiya eloquently empathises with benefit from a day spent on our knees? Perhaps Kamiya would feel better on his knees, but to paraphrase Joe Biden, shame is not a policy.

Let’s be serious. Over in Slate, Christopher Hitchens draws attention to the plight of these same Iraqis. I was particularly struck by Hitchen’s seeming acceptance of the Peter Galbraith idea, articulated in The End of Iraq, that coalition forces should be redeployed to the Kurdish north while maintaining the ability to answer requests for assistance from the central government and the right to confront al-Qaeda forces without notice. Hitchens, the war’s most indefatigable defender, has been relatively mum about policy proposals going forward, preferring to aim his acidic pen at those who call for immediate withdrawal or continue to harp on the illegality or unjustness of the entire intervention. (Hitchens, like Galbraith, has long been a partisan of Kurdish independence.)

Hitchens is right to point out that as intolerable as the current situation is we should be mindful of the distinction between the status quo and the full-scale Talibanization of Iraq (or sections of Iraq). “And does anyone want to argue that a Talibanized Iraq would not require our attention down the road if we left it behind us?”


“Wannabe Jew”

October 31, 2006

Katherine Harris is getting trounced in her bid to become the next senator from Florida. In the process of getting trounced she has also demonstrated to the world, on many occasions, just how bat-shit insane she really is. The first serious inkling was a few months back when she told a religious audience that, “If you’re not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin.”

Now comes a long profile in The Washington Post in which the creepy Harris delves into her love affair with the Jewish people. But such a characterization, though Harris herself would surely agree with it, would be casting things in a misleading light. Rather, she purports to love Israel (her other great passion is art. One can assume that she has a particular penchant for the sort of cheesy religious art for sale on the streets of Jerusalem and Tsfat).

From the article today:

“Harris does love talking about Israel. She’s proud that Israelis sometimes assume she’s one of them and talk to her in Hebrew. She is a Christian but has called herself a “wannabe” Jew.” She says that when her husband of 10 years, wealthy Swedish businessman Anders Ebbeson, asked her to marry him, she first extracted a promise that they could live in the Holy Land one day. She doesn’t know why she’s always been so fascinated by the country. “I can remember riding my bike to piano lessons and thinking about Israel,” she says. “I thought I was adopted for a while.”

I do not know Harris at all (I know, you are shocked). But I have spent a fair amount of time with people who speak in the same manner that she speaks above about Israel and Jews. In her worldview, Jews are not flesh and blood people but more like actors in a great cosmic drama. They are God’s “chosen people,” which may explain her bizarre desire to be a “wannabe Jew.” Furthermore, I would be willing to guess that she is ardently opposed to Israel ceding any land to her neighbors in pursuit of peace. In this way, I feel warranted saying that she is something like a pro-Israel anti-Semite. She does not care about Jews as Jews (or, more importantly, as people) but only insofar as they bode well for her relationship with her God.

A few years back I spent the day at a very “pro-Israel,” African-American church in Maryland. In conversation with the pastor of the congregation I asked him what will happen to the Jewish people when Christ returns? The pastor was admirably explicit: “His return will afford those Jews who are still alive the chance to correct their mistake and embrace Jesus and take their rightful place as sons and daughters of God.” He assured me evidence of this happening was already underway. He pointed to the fact that there is already money put away by “people” for the construction of a new Temple in Jerusalem (considered a prerequisite for Jesus to return). “So tell me,” he asked as I got up to leave, “when will the Jews rebuild the Temple?”

Luckily, as Darryl Paulson, a political scientist at the University of South Florida so eloquently put it in the Washington Post today, “The only way Bill Nelson could lose this is if he got himself in a drug-induced stupor and ran naked down the main street of his home town.”

Jaw-Dropping Incompetence Department, Part II

October 31, 2006

“Deteriorating security in Iraq and bureaucratic wrangling between the State Department and the Pentagon have undermined the US government’s effort to train provincial governments, according to a report to Congress released yesterday by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.”

– -Report of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, as reported in The Boston Globe.

Jaw-Dropping Incompetence Department

October 30, 2006

“The American military did not even take the elementary step of recording the serial numbers of nearly half a million weapons provided to Iraqis, making it impossible to track or identify any that might be in the wrong hands.”

-Report of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, as reported in the New York Times.

A New Phase

October 30, 2006

“I’m not disparaging new ideas; I’m welcoming new ideas. [But] no one I know has come up with a silver bullet.” The words are from Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, and they strike my ears as a characteristic understatement from an administration that has for so long dismissed constructive criticism in favor of hubris and naive optimism. And yet I believe he is earnest. The unforgiving onslaught of reality has forced the administration (save the incorrigible Cheney) to acknowledge that the status quo is not sustainable and that America is losing in Iraq. (The re-think explains the rising stock of the long-ignored Philip Zelikow at State.) It is clear we are entering a new phase in Iraq.

The most notable characteristic of this new phase is that most senior voices on either side of the aisle are not calling for immediate withdrawal. Even though the Democratic Party may have a “bring ’em home” base, if you look at the statements of potential party nominees in ’08 you do not find much support for such a move. The concept is roundly rejected across the broad center of the American polity. “A pullout is not a plan, it is a reaction,” says potential candidate Joe Biden.

True enough, but hope and faith are not policies either (whatever George W. Bush might think). As such, the voices for change (now that “staying the course” has become something like a dirty phrase in the American lexicon) seem to be congealing around the idea that more pressure should be put on the Iraqi government to crackdown on the militias and, so the thinking goes, thereby calm the sectarian violence that has been ravaging Baghdad. It is undeniable that the Iraqi government under Maliki is failing but the critical question is whether this failure reflects a lack of will or a lack of capability. People far more knowledgeable than I disagree on this matter. I am not shocked to learn that the Shiites and Kurds are using the US military in such a way as to insulate themselves against having to make difficult compromises. As Fareed Zakaria outlines in a very perceptive and informative cover story in the current issue of Newsweek, “While they will occasionally say the right things, as Maliki did in his first week in office, their reluctance to fund projects in Sunni areas, or to investigate death squads, suggests they have little appetite for broader national reconciliation.”

But learning in recent months about the staggering record of incompetence that has been the hallmark of this administration’s Iraq policy, I can’t repress the more than sneaking suspicion that the US government has been grossly negligent in training and equipping an indigenous security force capable of extricating Iraq from the mire of sectarian violence that looks like it will sink this entire enterprise.

Et Tu, Goldstein?

October 27, 2006

The delirious orgy of filching from me continues unabated. Now it has even claimed my partner in thought crime. Yes, it was this humble correspondent who planned to post on the matter of the Sudanese billionaire and his award for democratically deferential and ethically upright African premiers, but EG has officially jacked my thunder with a mere two-word entry. Coming swift on the heels of a lefty-righty tag-team thieving of my policy proposal this is almost too much to bear. I expect such perfidy from these platitudinous plagiarizing pundits but the sudden Judas move from one so close sends me into peevish paroxysms of alliterative anger.

I even had a crazy dope title for my post: “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Betta Government?” Oh, the cruel lash of betrayal! In any event, before I go off to wallow in my misery I should note that this is a jolly good initiative in my view, an effort to promote debate on good governance in Africa and help create a culture of responsible statesmanship to counter the post-colonial tradition of plunder and tyranny.

Intellectual Bitchslap

October 27, 2006

Terry Eagleton, the eminent literary critic, takes to the pages of the London Review of Books (which has been nothing if not delightfully controversial as of late) to resoundingly bitchslap the equally eminent Darwinist, Richard Dawkins, and in the process thoroughly annihilate the premise of his new book, The God Delusion. It is one of the better hatchet jobs I have seen in recent memory. I dare say it would even make Dale Peck proud.