Bush Reinvents “Progress”

March 20, 2007

CNN has a piece on the 4-year anniversary of the war.

There are some real darling quotes in there. Like this:

“There’s been good progress.”

Am I missing something?

“If American forces were to step back from Baghdad, before it is more secure, a contagion of violence could spill out across the entire country,” Bush said. “In time this violence could engulf the region.”

This is true. But is Bush offering a legitimate option for creating a lasting peace? It seems not.

But, in case all the sectarian violence has you feeling gloomy, we’re going to have a hanging pretty soon. Should be a good one.


Andy Griffith Hates America

January 20, 2007

(This from Elrod’s blog– it was so good I just had to repost it.) It’s short, just 1 minute long.

Of course, over at the Futurist it’s argued that those who oppose the Patriot Act actually want the terrorists to win: “Active opposition to both our overseas activities and the domestic Patriot Act is a good indicator that the person holding these opinions actually does not want America to win the War on Terror. How can someone oppose all these things, and still be on America’s side?”

But the Futurist is wrong- the Patriot Act has garnered opposition from both the left and the right, i.e., not just those of us who “hate America. “


A Dignified Decapitation?

January 15, 2007

Iraq is calling the execution of Saddam Hussein’s half-brother and the former head judge for the Baath party “dignified.”

However, Ridha, a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s office, said:

The only unusual aspect was that Hassan’s head became completely separated from his body by the hangman’s noose, he said. He called it “an act of God.”

“It was not like a very pretty scene,” Ridha said.

The men asked God for forgiveness and begged not to be hanged.

My thesaurus lists “elegant,” “composed,” and “proud” as synonyms for dignified. Maybe I’ll have to start redefining those in my mind too.


Face to Face With an Idiot

January 2, 2007

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I’m am American under the age of 23, yet I’ve never seen a Michael Moore film. Well, tonight I finally broke that streak and popped in Bowling for Columbine. The conclusion: Michael Moore’s only redeeming fact is that he is media- and culture-savvy enough to understand how to connect with young people. That conclusion also carries a scary correlate: the American public, especially it’s young, must be incredibly naive, paranoid, ignorant, disrespectful, hateful, and tasteless. Read the rest of this entry »


He’s Dead.

December 29, 2006

The blogosphere is raging with the news of Saddam Hussein’s death.  A sampling of the fascinating reactions:

CNN says yep, he’s dead, and describes celebrations around the body.

Brian says the death should not be celebrated because the act of invading a country, deposing its leader, and executing him sets a terrible precedent.

Read the rest of this entry »


Chess and Foreign Policy

December 18, 2006

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Garry Kasparov, the Russian chess grandmaster, has become one of the most prominent critics of Vladimir Putin in Russian politics. He publicly praised the recent opposition rally in Moscow. And then Russian federal agents raided Kasparov’s offices for being a voice of dissent, something that seems to be a mark of being someone who matters in Russia. And I guess it’s better than getting shot in the head like Anna Politkovskaya.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Glorious Assault

December 10, 2006

Amphibious assaults on beachfronts are some of the most memorable images from conflicts like World War II. But, if Saving Private Ryan didn’t clue you in on it, they’re also not that pretty.

Here’s a video clip that I saw on Book TV, made by the British Royal Marines.

God Save the Queen!


Addendum: Does this remind anyone else of a certain current military conflict that is also a homophone with “a rock?”


Letter to a Christian Nation

November 29, 2006

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That’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s letter, not Sam Harris’s.

So what would posess the President of Iran to write a letter to the American people? Maybe he knows enough about the American press to realize that he’ll get lots of media coverage. And maybe he’s deluded enough to think that coverage will be positive. Nevertheless, I think it’s worthwhile to read some of his letter and offer a little critique.

“Both our nations are God-fearing, truth loving and justice seeking, and both seek dignity, respect and perfection. Both greatly value and readily embrace the promotion of human ideals such as compassion, empathy, respect for the rights of human beings, securing justice and equity, and defending the innocent and the weak against oppressors and bullies.”

I’m not sure the U.S. is quite as God-fearing these days as Mr. Mahmoud thinks. A poll in 1999 showed that only 63% of Americans believe God is “very important” in their lives. And, as the actions of Ahmadinejad’s regime to lessen the rights of women in Iran have shown (undoing years of work by Iranian liberals), profession of ideals relating to human rights is no substitute for really defending them.

“You know well that the US administration has persistently provided blind and blanket support to the Zionist regime, has emboldened it to continue its crimes, and has prevented the UN Security Council from condemning it.”

True, though I would have worded it a bit different (one can and should criticize Israel, but calling it “the Zionist regime” just turns off your American readers…). Our veto on the UN Security Council has been used more than any other coutntry’s, almost exclusively in protecting Israel from (sometimes legitimate) criticism.

“Who can deny such broken promises and grave injustices towards humanity by the US administration?”

Err.. American conservatives? Oh wait, that’s rhetorical.

“The legitimacy, power and influence of a government do not emanate from its arsenals of tanks, fighter aircrafts, missiles or nuclear weapons. Legitimacy and influence reside in sound logic, quest for justice and compassion and empathy for all humanity. The global position of the United States is in all probability weakened because the administration has continued to resort to force, to conceal the truth, and to mislead the American people about its policies and practices.”

He’s right about legitimacy- it stems from justice and compassion. But power and influence stem from military, economic, and cultural power, all of which we’ve been happy to employ in our commonly realpolitik international relations. The illusion of American exceptionalism may convince many American citizens that their country’s actions are for the good of the world just as Muslim fanatics in Iran are convinced that forcing their religion on others is really what’s best for them.

“We all condemn terrorism, because its victims are the innocent.”

But Mr. Ahmadinejad, you do a decidely poor job of condemning terrorism.

“What have the Zionists done for the American people that the US administration considers itself obliged to blindly support these infamous aggressors? Is it not because they have imposed themselves on a substantial portion of the banking, financial, cultural and media sectors?”

Uh oh.. Here comes the whole worldwide Jewish conspiracy again. Powerful Jewish lobby? Sure. Overzealous, scary premillenial dispensationalists? Definitely. But worldwide Jewish conspiracy? Definitely not. (My friend Mr. Steinman told me so.)

And to the Democrats:

“Now that you control an important branch of the US Government, you will also be held to account by the people and by history.”

Thanks buddy. Glad you’re watching out for us.

“It is possible to lead the world towards the aspired perfection by adhering to unity, monotheism, morality and spirituality and drawing upon the teachings of the Divine Prophets. Then, the American people, who are God-fearing and followers of Divine religions, will overcome every difficulty.”

I’m not sure if the religious zealots in both our countries would very well in agreeing on which Prophets to follow. Unity and monotheism sound great, but when people can’t decide what to be unified about (look at denominationalism in Christianity and Islam) or which monotheistic God (and which book He wrote) to follow, unity is often another way of saying “my way is the only perfect way.”

Aspiring to perfection gives me mixed feelings. Yes, we should always try to improve, but the illusion that real perfection is possible is dangerous. It reminds me of a quote from the introduction to Francois Bizot’s The Gate, a first-hand account of his captivity in the killing fields of Cambodia. Bizot writes,

“I detest the notion of a new dawn in which Homo sapiens would live in harmony. The hope this Utopia engenders has justified the bloodiest exterminations in history.”

I think there is a middle ground, a way to envision a world that is better- more just, more peaceful, more free, more prosperous, more equal- without knowing that it is possible within one’s lifetime. But we should always strive to move closer to that ideal, even if the ideal may never be realized. Don’t let visions of revolutionary change- religious or not- stand in the way of gradual steps up.

Or, as Paul Farmer says, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”


Iran in Iraq & Iraq in Iran

November 27, 2006

For some time it’s been clear that Iran is more than peripherally involved in the violence in Iraq. The Bush administration has so far refused to talk to Tehran, but now Iraq’s president Jalal Talabani has basically said “if you’re not going to, I will.” That’s right- Talabani has accomplished what Saddam Hussein tried unsuccessfully to do for years: he’s finally arrived in the capital of Iran.

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Of course, it was by slightly different means than what Saddam always intended.

Al-Jazeera has a piece about Talabani’s visit, where he plans to meet with Holocaust-denying, nuclear-weapons-seeking Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and with theocratic ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei . Interestingly, it seems that Khamenei and the many Islamic clerics who control much of Iran’s government serve as a necessary counterbalance to Ahmadinejad. In other words, despite what ole Mahmoud says, don’t expect Iran to nuke Israel any time soon.

An interesting note from the Al-Jazeera piece:

Analysts said Talabani, who speaks Farsi fluently after years of contacts with Iran when in opposition to Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president, could press Iran to stop seeing Iraq as a battleground in its three-decade-old fight with Washington.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times has reported leaks from the Iraq Study Group, which has advocated (not suprisingly) that America talk openly with Iran and Syria. As I noted in Why Both Parties Have it Wrong in Iraq, whether we acknowledge it or not, Iraq’s neighbors already have large stakes in Iraq’s future.

From the NYT:

“Officials said that the draft of the section on diplomatic strategy, which was heavily influenced by Mr. Baker, seemed to reflect his public criticism of the administration for its unwillingness to talk with nations like Iran and Syria.

“But senior administration officials, including Stephen J. Hadley, the president’s national security adviser, have expressed skepticism that either of those nations would go along, especially while Iran is locked in a confrontation with the United States over its nuclear program. ‘Talking isn’t a strategy,’ he said in an interview in October.

“‘The issue is how can we condition the environment so that Iran and Syria will make a 180-degree turn, so that rather than undermining the Iraqi government, they will support it.'”

Apparently James A. Baker III is a big proponent of dialogue with Iran and Syria concerning security in Iraq. Hopefully Robert Gates (the former Iraq Study Group member nominated to replace Rumsfeld) will have similar opinions.

The main complaint against talking with Iran and Syria is that it will merely encourage them in their current paths. But I think we have to accept that Iran and Syria will continue to have strong influence in Iraq and elsewhere in the region whether we like it or not, solely by nature of their proximity. The issue at hand is not what the ideological superior thing to do is (i.e., not talking to states that back terrorists) but what the best method for relieving their potential threat is, and in the long term, how to move the Middle East toward governments that are stable, not overly theocratic, and allow some form of a public input (a difficult balance).

It seems that the only loser in the talks between Iran and Iraq is the United States, as it will give Iran more leverage when we finally do get around to talking to them Thoughts?