January 31, 2005

"Elections don’t make democracies."

I've been reading Riverbend's blog for at least a year, and over the last 4 months her posting has been sporadic due to electricity and phone problems (and the general malaise that seems to come from living in a war). In a recent post she directed readers to another Iraqi who seems to be doing fine in the bandwidth department. Imad Khadduri over at Free Iraq chooses cynicism over malaise, posting links to jihadist websites and dark political cartoons. Not all of his links are so sketchy though.

Frontpage Interview's guest today is Edwin Black, the award-winning New York Times bestselling author of IBM and the Holocaust, The Transfer Agreement, and War Against the Weak. His latest book is Banking on Baghdad: Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict. (excerpts of interview follow)
Black: The people of Iraq do not want democracy. They have a 7,000-year head start on the West. If the people of Iraq wanted democracy, they don't need a permission slip from New York or London... I assure you, when the people of this region hear the word "democracy" they hear a code word for "you people want to take our oil."

FP: What can the United States start doing to increase its own legitimacy and win the war of ideas in the Middle East?

Black: Nothing. It is not our policy in Iraq the people resent, it is our very presence. It does not matter how many bridges we rebuild or schoolhouses we repaint... The reality is: we will never succeed in the Middle East until we get off of oil.

FP: You may be right, there are so many depressing and impossible realities here. But surely we can't just sit back and not try to instill some kind of democratization in that region. And surely there are many Iraqis who want nothing to do with dictatorship and want freedom. Despite the obstacles, we have to try to bring democracy to Iraq and the rest of the region. It is a key strategy in our war with radical Islamism. History teaches that the way to fight our totalitarian enemies best is to try to spread liberty and democracy as much as we can. No? If not, what alternatives are there?

Black: We will never succeed in Iraq. No one has ever succeeded in Iraq. Not all people on earth are destined for Starbucks and the American societal makeover... The people must yearn to be free. Elections don't make democracies. Democracies make elections. Compare the situation in Iraq with that in the Ukraine where the masses gathered in the squares day after day in the snow and the rain to rally for proper elections... We can help. We do help. But we cannot impose democracy from afar...

FP: ... Are you suggesting that we withdraw?... The key here is that we are not in Iraq now to just save Iraq; we are there because we are in a war with radical Islam. And we have no choice but to win. Do you not agree that withdrawal in this case is the greatest of evils?

Black: ...Neither world terrorism nor the Jihad were in Iraq until we created the power vacuum and opened the door. Under Saddam, no one was allowed to achieve any element of power base or rival his authority- not the Shiites, not al Qaeda, no one. But now they have rushed in. We are creating the world's next Chechen-style murder battalions... Understand, we are in an unwinnable struggle with an implacable enemy that knows no limit to their historic barbarism. That said, we must understand that while we cannot run, and while we can survive in Iraq, we will never succeed in Iraq. We must declare a war on oil addiction, and launch an international Manhattan Project to move the world to alternatives such hydrogen, solar, wind. We could do it for $5 billion in 5 years- or a month's war expense in Iraq. Then we rob the region of its arch-importance. Then we edge out of Iraq as the Israelis are doing in Gaza, as we did a generation earlier in Viet Nam. That will end the war in Iraq but the legacy of world terrorism, the new Mongol-style onslaught, shall be with us for generations.

There's a lot more stupid questions and informative answers but I wanted to leave room for an offering courtesy of National Lampoon.

January 30, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa
Broadway The Hard Way (1988)
When The Lie's So Big

They got lies so big
They don't make a noise
They tell 'em so well
Like a secret disease
That makes you go numb

With a big ol' lie
And a flag and a pie
And a mom and a bible
Most folks are just liable
To buy any line
Any place, any time

When the lie's so big
As in Robertson's case,
(That sinister face
Behind all the Jesus hurrah)

Could result in the end
To a worrisome trend
In which every American
Not "born again"
Could be punished in cruel and unusual ways
By this treacherous cretin
Who tells everyone
That he's Jesus' best friend

When the lies get so big
And the fog gets so thick
And the facts disappear
The Republican Trick
Can be played out again
People, please tell me when
We'll be rid of these men!

Just who do they really
Suppose that they are?
And how do they manage to travel as far
As they seem to have come?
Were we really that dumb?

People, wake up
Figure it out
Religious fanatics
Around and about
The Court House, The State House,
The Congress, The White House

Criminal saints
With a "Heavenly Mission" --
A nation enraptured
By pure superstition

Do you believe in the Invisible Army?
(Yes, indeed!)

When the lie's so big
And the fog so thick
And the facts kept forgotten
Then the Republican Trick
(Ketchup is a vegetable!)
Can be played out again
People, please tell me when
We'll be rid of these men!

January 25, 2005

Sen. Robert Byrd (D, WVa)

If you drive through the cities and small towns here in West Virginia you cannot help but see the name Byrd wherever you look. Schools, roads, government offices, industrial parks, the good senator has been bringing home the bacon for more than 30 years.

However, in recent years we have been seeing a new side of the old man. First he spoke out against the war, then he wrote a book that called the president "reckless and arrogant" right in the title, now he's opposing the confirmation of Condi, accusing her of being "responsible for some of the most overblown rhetoric that the administration used to scare the American people". As a liberal in a state that went for the prez I approve of Byrd's upholding traditional Democratic values. I appreciate his defiance, even if it is only because he is trying to protect his own power.

What I find interesting is that two civil rights groups are accusing Byrd of opposing "Dr." Rice just because she's black. You see, Byrd joined the Klan back in the 40's and, although he'd renounced it by 1952 when he started his political career, it keeps coming up. I'm not sure if he is still prejudiced against blacks; I've heard he's still a bit of a sexist pig. Regardless of any of that, I doubt he's as bothered by her being a black woman as he is of her being a Bushie. He's really pissed at the Bush administration for appropriating the powers of the Congress. His powers. Checks and balances. It's all in the Constitution. Byrd loves the Constitution. He probably has it memorized. This racisim talk is all bullshit.

The statewide alternative newspaper named him 'Eer (mountaineer) of the year. In the article they quote extensively from Jessie Jackson. “He’s the product of a culture that had a distorted view of the American promise,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson. “But some people are blessed to be able to grow beyond the limits of their culture, and he speaks now with a broader vision.”

Whatever the reasons, however it happened, I'm just glad to have such a learned and influential man on my side.

January 23, 2005

Israel is nobody's bitch

This article in the Jewish newspaper Haaretz provides us with some interesting insights into our friend Israel. Or at least Dick Cheney's view of it.
U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney did indeed say, last Thursday, that Israel "might well decide to act first" to eliminate an Iranian nuclear threat. However, the headlines that claimed Cheney was apprehensive about such a development misunderstood the point he was making. Cheney is not worried about the Israeli context, nor is he warning Israel not to act without coordination with Washington. He is using the possibility of an Israeli operation against Iran to threaten Tehran, while shaking off American responsibility for that kind of escalation. His comment was not a warning to Israel but a means of deterrence against Iran...
One of the concerns, he noted in the interview, is that Israel is liable to act against Iran "without being asked. ... If in fact the Israelis became convinced the Iranians had significant nuclear capability, given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterward."
Now the first part may reflect the opinions of the editorialist Amir Oren, but the last is an actual quote. This is the Vice President of the United States encouraging one sovereign country to attack another sovereign country. Why does he talk like Israel (like Bush) cannot be held accountable. Why do they get a free ride? Why should the rest of the world keep cleaning up Israels diplomatic messes? Screw them! They have the bomb and they want to keep anyone else in the region from getting one. I don't see why anyone other than the UN should give them any help with it. The more the merrier. It's been coming for a long time. The breakup of the Soviet Union allowed quite a bit of nuclear material and technology to disappear. That guy in Pakistan who sold nuclear secrets claims to have stolen them from Europe. Welcome to globalization.

January 22, 2005

Three Card Monty: Hubble

I was reading over at Daily Kos about NASA being told to scrap the Hubble space telescope and, although I had heard about it before I suddenly saw the hand of evil at work. Several people commented regarding the defecit and Social Security needing to be taken care of first. Several also commented that Congress would put up a stiff fight to save Hubble. All the pieces were there, then I read a comment saying we should put a list of adminstration figures in a capsule and send them to Mars. The list did not include Karl Rove.

The shadowy power behind the throne; suddenly the plot was made clear. If Congress gets all excited about Hubble, perhaps they will be too busy to notice the Social Security "reforms" or put up much of a fight. I kind of see it like kicking a puppy in one room so so one will notice the murder going on across the hall. Even the media will fall for it.

Now, you may say that this is just paranoid or delusional. Perhaps it is. Time will tell.

And the answer for the Hubble? Private sponsorship.

Women in Combat or The Return of the Draft

The Center For Military Readiness has discovered that the army has been using women in positions prohibited by Defense Department regulations. Sherrie Gossett of the Conservative Voice has written:
The documents indicate that the Third Infantry Division based at Fort Stewart, Georgia was ignoring a Department of Defense rule exempting female soldiers from support units that "collocate" or mix with land combat troops.

Rummy and Bush are still saying that our military isn't short staffed. Apparently the army thinks differently.

Over at The Talking Dog, someone commenting on Sy Hersh's article about Iran asked "with Buch and what army?" Here is the answer! Old men, women, and the draft.

January 21, 2005

Has the government broken the back of the union?

First, a little background. I have lived in north-central West Virginia for about 30 years. As a student at a local Catholic school I vividly remember learning about the Mine Wars when President Harding ordered National Guard planes to bomb the strikers at Blair Mountain. The unions are a part of my heritage. I have grown up believing that the unions were a positive force for change. Our American unions were brought here by eastern Europeans, who infused the movement with socialist fervor, back around the turn of the last century. Who will revive the fervor? Are strikers still willing to get bombed? The time is now. Workers of the WORLD unite!

If the unions don't like outsourcing, they should go unionize India. Give China's unions some teeth. Introduce Malaysia to the 401k. The insurance industry would love it. The people in Thailand sure deserve employer subsidized health insurance. The American unions have watched their power go down the drain. As manufacturing jobs go, so go the unions' backbones. They're missing their chance if they don't follow.

In short, the global economy will swallow the unions of any individual country. If the unions don't globalize in return they will find themselves without a bargaining chip. Sure, people could get killed. That's why it's called a struggle. In a world full of fanatical extremists, we need to bring back the ongoing quest for economic justice. Economic inequality is the cause of so much violence. Surely this should be the focus of the War On Terror.

In Years of Rice and Salt Kim Stanley Robinson says that Islam is founded on the idea that all people are equal. Maybe some good old fashioned socialist grounded unions would do well...

January 15, 2005

Why America went to war with Iraq

Juan Cole has neatly summarized my feelings regarding the embarassing lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. If I were a Democrat in Congress now I would be jumping up and down and screaming about this. Instead, everyone is trying to pretend it wasn't that important. Bush's justifications for going to war with Iraq have been like 3 card monty. Now you see it, now you don't. Who wants to step up here and put down 87 billion dollars to find the lucky lady. This could be your lucky day! Or you could be serving an indefinite tour an indefinite war.

January 12, 2005

Master And Commander

I don't remember if I've written about my reading yet but Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander lies before me now. It's cheesy, movie-inspired cover mutely reproaching me as I type these words. I know I have to finish it (I don't, really, but I do have to sincerely try). It's just so... tedious. I've never read adventure fiction as bogged down in its own pretention. Ok, Napoleonic War, a bunch of naval talk, I've always liked pirate books but this is just too much. I am reminded of how I saw Mutiny On The Bounty (Mel Gibson's) and thought 'Wow, what a story' and then I wanted to read the book. If you haven't read it I advise that the last half of the book was the trial and contained more British Naval Law than any person should read if they are not in the British Navy. I didn't see the movie in the case of Master And Commander but I've heard the books talked up so much I thought I'd give them a try. I intended to get the first three but the second on was checked out so I just got the first. I'm so relieved. A big stack of books I don't want to read would really depress me.
Especially since farther down in the stack is Years Of Rice And Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson. This is a book I wholeheartedly recommend. I give it my highest approval. I probably read 300 novels a year and this is one of only two books that stand out as timeless classics. If you haven't read it, do. I'm saving it for last to reward me for my virtue finishing Master and Commander, or to console me after my surrender.

January 10, 2005

a danger to himself and others

When I heard on NPR today that a lawyer for US Marine Charles Graner compare his client's piling naked Iraqi prisoners in a pyramid to the stunts performed by cheerleaders I almost choked. While telling my boyfriend about it I looked on Google news for the quote and found this headline on Al-Jazeera: Iraq abuse compared to cheerleader show. None of the headlines from US sources had anything about cheerleaders. Do we think Bin Laden will ignore these flippant remarks? This jackass Marine and his jackass lawyer have endangered not just US troops abroad but all of us civilians back here with their inappropriate sense of humor.

Here's the quote: "Don't cheerleaders all over America form pyramids six to eight times a year. Is that torture?"

If you make them do it naked, with bags over their heads, with foreigners taking pictures of them it is.

Added 1/13/05

I really did not need to read this about Graner's lawyer:
As an assistant U.S. attorney in Houston in 1996, he helped market a device to school districts and law enforcement agencies called the Quadro Tracker. It was advertised as a high-tech divining rod that used chips to activate an antenna that supposedly could track down missing people and discover drugs, weapons or other contraband. More than 1,000 of the devices were sold around the country for as much as $8,000 each.
In reality, the device was simply an antenna attached to an empty plastic box.

January 02, 2005


Reuters reports the Pentagon and CIA asking Congress to approve indefinite, even lifetime, detention of prisoners at Guantanamo. We've got a lot of damn gall to criticize other governments for "disappearing" people. Perhaps it's just the atmosphere in Cuba. Whatever the case, US "Man In Havana" James Cason tried to shame Cuba over 75 political prisoners. If I were Fidel, I'd storm Gitmo, free the 500 "guests of the Americans", and dare Cason or Bush to say one word. In related (if not new) news Gen. Augusto Pinochet will stand trial on murder charges for the disappearance of some other prisoners more than 20 years ago. What comes around, goes around. I see more beheadings in Iraq in 2005. More disappearances too. I do not envy any American who must deal with the rest of the world right now.


The recent earthquake and resulting tsunami have left me stunned. I can hardly bring myself to post now and I only do so to offer this audio link from the PRI program The World.
"My nation is silent right now."