Archive for April 2007

Halberstam

April 24, 2007

David Halberstam is dead. Killed in a car accident at the age of 73. Over at the Commentary magazine blog Contentions, Gabriel Schoenfeld has a post that dwells on Halberstam’s anguish over the thought of America pulling out of Vietnam.

Quoting Halberstam via Schoenfeld:

[T]hose Vietnamese who committed themselves fully to the United States will suffer the most under a Communist government, while we lucky few with blue passports retire unharmed; it means a drab, lifeless, and controlled society for a people who deserve better. Withdrawal also means that the United States’s prestige will be lowered throughout the world, and it means that the pressure of Communism on the rest of Southeast Asia will intensify. Lastly, withdrawal means that throughout the world the enemies of the West will be encouraged to try insurgencies like the one in Vietnam.

Schoenfeld does not draw the link explicitly, but can anyone read that excerpt and not think of Iraq?

“Brothers in Humanity and in Pursuing Knowledge.”

April 24, 2007

Students at Baghdad’s Technology University know something about the horrors of random violence. Concrete barriers ring the campus to keep suicide bombers out. Students are searched when they enter campus. Cell phones are banned because they can be used to trigger explosives remotely. Across Iraq, more than 200 university professors have been killed in the past few years, and thousands have fled the country.

So when news came to Technology University that a crazed student at Virginia Tech rampaged through the campus killing 32 of his fellow Hokies it is easy to assume that the tragedy would barely register to these besieged Baghdadis.  You would be wrong. Earlier this week students unfurled a giant banner on campus, it read: “We, the students of Technology University, denounce the attack at Virginia Tech. We extend our condolences to the families of the victims who faced a situation as bad as Iraq’s universities do. The sanctity of campuses must be protected around the world.”

And in this moving gesture they remind all of us of the meaning of solidarity.

Kate-tastrophe Watch

April 23, 2007

I have had no need to wax pontifical on current events of late, as I have been engaged in mortal blogbat with my charming and delightful colleague, Kate of The Anterior Commissure. (She named her blog after part of the brain that you’d need to be a neuroscience Phd candidate like her to have a clue about, so you know she’s wicked smaaart.) Kate has been laying the science-blog smackdown on my ignorant behind ever since I aired my objections to the tenor of the public climate change debate. I feel this back and forth is too intriguing (at least the back maybe, not so much the forth) to relegate to a bloggish backwater. So I encourage you to go and see the rhetorical sparks fly.

Bombshell

April 19, 2007

I am a bit late to this item from today’s New York Times (please understand, where I work it has been Virginia Tech massacre around the clock) , but Warren Hoge dropped a bombshell with a leaked confidential UN report – (I wonder if the US leaked it?) – that contains visual evidence that the government of Sudan is flying arms and heavy military equipment into Darfur in violation of Security Council resolutions. It even makes clear that they are painting Sudanese military planes white to disguise them as United Nations or African Union aircraft.

One item in the report tells of a night attack by men wearing Sudanese armed forces uniforms and traveling in 60 Land Cruisers mounted with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns to a village that they burned. The human toll?  A 105-year-old man was burned alive and three girls were abducted, raped and sent home naked. The mind reels at the savagery.

The report was published one day after Sudan announced it was dropping its long-standing objections to a UN plan to bolster the woefully understaffed African Union peacekeeping force. It seems obvious that this evidence was flashed to the thugs in Khartoum and it catalysed a change of mind on this matter. Even so, it would be folly to underestimate the seemingly innate duplicity of the Sudanese regime.

The Limits of Imagination

April 18, 2007

Everyone is rightfully horrified by what transpired on the Virginia Tech campus earlier this week. The shootings there have understandably dominated American media. But please consider that buried underneath the latest revelations about  Cho Seung-Hui a series of bombings tore through Baghdad today killing at least 146 people (predominantly Shiites).

It is crude to compare tragedies. This is not my intention. Rather, my point is that perhaps the horror of Blacksburg allows Americans a new perspective on what is going on in Iraq. We have become numb to the reality over there. I confess that I have. Every morning it seems I arise to the radio telling me another blast has cut through a crowd of civilians, or police recruits, or the parliament (!). It is fatiguing. And it is natural that we empathize more easily with the pained faces in Blacksburg than in Baghdad. But just imagine for a moment if that sort of violence were a daily occurrence.

I can’t.

American Indifference

April 18, 2007

Since Sunday night PBS has treated viewers to a stunning series of documentary films that examine big themes and ideas that define our post-9/11 world. Last night featured a documentary titled “The Case for War” and the premise was that we would go along with Richard Perle as he travelled from Washington to Kabul to Kosovo to London and back again, meeting with his critics and supporters every step along the way.

The film was fascinating, even though Perle was often disappointingly inarticulate (in the role of protagonist) and tone deaf in his responses to grieving mothers and intellectual foes (Pat Buchanan, Richard Holbrooke, Simon Jenkins, among others). Furthermore, his gravely monotone voice, seeming inability to smile, and penguin like appearance all make him a rather unattractive spokesman for his cause. These qualities feed the stereotyped characterization of him as the “Prince of Darkness” (which, if memory serves, is actually a nickname that has stuck to him by mistake. When Perle served as Reagan’s point man on nuclear negotiations with the Soviets he was a frequent presence in the halls of Congress. As it happens, a certain other white-haired, slightly obese, prickly conservative was also known to stalk these halls. Both men carry the nickname “Prince of Darkness,” but I think it originally belonged to Novak — but I digress…).

When I clicked-off my television last night I could only think that Perle had changed few minds over the course of the previous hour (the rather dismissive review from Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times suggests the same.) Chief among my complaints about the film is how the term “neoconservative” is used. Not a minute is spent defining the widely misunderstood word. Granted, to move down this road risks getting the producers stuck in a complex morass that might trigger many viewer’s eyes to roll back into their heads, or simply reach for their remotes, but in such a case I suspect they would have been better off not using the tricky term at all. It obfuscates more than it clarifies.

My other take-away brings me back to familiar stomping grounds. The utterly unpersuasive case Perle musters in the documentary reinforces what Niall Stange in the current issue of The New York Observer calls “The Tragic Death of Enlightened Interventionism.” Stange digs up some excerpts from a speech Tony Blair delivered a few weeks after 9/11.

“The starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor from the deserts of Northern Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan: They too are our cause,” Mr. Blair said. “This is a moment to seize. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.”

Was Blair’s rhetoric a bit grandiose? Sure. Is it depressing that this speech reads to many across the political spectrum as an easily dismissed parody of American (and British) foreign policy? Absolutely. (Just ask Joe Biden)

The World Breathes a Sigh of Relief…

April 17, 2007

LJT is HIV-free.