Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Deal With the Insurgents

This guy who served in the Indian Army fighting rebels in Kashmir makes a good point with respect to the US in Iraq:

"I joined the insurgents only because of you," the young Kashmiri man told me, sobbing, "because of the way you humiliated me, they way you tormented me. To regain my honor, I picked up the gun." It was one of my more shocking encounters during my two and a half years of counterinsurgency duties as an Indian Army officer in Kashmir. Shocking, because it was the antithesis of everything I had worked toward. The self-awareness that inevitably dawns on all soldiers in a combat zone came upon me: I was not a part of the solution; I was the problem, or at least part of the problem.
That sounds familiar. But then:
Almost four years have passed since I left the Kashmir Valley. Although the conflict gets less public attention, civilians, soldiers and militants still die every day. Despite the seemingly endless daily toll, a few months ago the commander of India's Northern Army at the time, Lt. Gen. Hari Prasad, had the confidence to declare that "normalcy is round the corner."

That also sounds familiar. Dangerously so. And then:
True, the level of violence in Kashmir has decreased and this augurs well for peace in the valley. But the Indian Army has not, and can never, quash the insurgency. On the contrary, one of the first lessons taught to all soldiers deploying in Kashmir is that an insurgency can never be militarily defeated. It can only be managed until a political solution is found — a lesson that the Bush administration would do well to remember.

The problem here is that the Iraqi insurgency is not just about fighting the occupiers. In Iraq, the insurgents are also fighting against their own government, in an effort to precipitate civil war, or at the very least, perpetual chaos that prevents the formation of a meaningful civil structure in which Sunnis are officially the weak minority. That extra twist keeps our Indian friend's advice from being fully applicable. Holding down the insurgency until a "political solution" is found won't be enough, because even if and when such a solution is realized, the moment the US steps back, the chaos will start again, probably in earnest. It's a no-win situation, with the only fully applicable lesson from prior world events being: once you step in dogcrap, it takes a lot of time and effort to get it off your shoe. Even then, the smell lingers.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Poll Roundup

Looking mad ugly for the commander-in-chief:

Cook 40%
Fox 39%
Gallup 38%
L.A. Times 38%
Qunnipiac 36%
CBS 34%

L.A. Times 30%/64%

Gallup 47%
CBS 43%

Gallup 35%
CBS 36%

FOX 48%/34%
Gallup 53%/39%
Democracy Corp 48%/40%

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Forget Democracy?

This guy gives us something to think about. I think he pretty much nails it when he talks about how democracy at gunpoint is a bogus concept. That's why Iraq is a disaster right now.

The lesson to take away is that where it involves other despotic regimes in the Middle East] region -- none of which is nearly as despotic as Hussein's -- the last thing we should do is actively precipitate their demise. The more organically they evolve and dissolve, the less likely it is that blood will flow.

I take exception, though, to his suggestion that an effective tyranny is more moral than an ineffective democracy.
"[B]efore the names of Just and Unjust can have place, there must be some coercive power," Thomas Hobbes wrote in "Leviathan." Without something or somebody to monopolize the use of force and decide right from wrong, no man is safe from another and there can be no freedom for anyone. Physical security remains the primary human freedom. And so the fact that a state is despotic does not necessarily make it immoral. That is the essential fact of the Middle East that those intent on enforcing democracy abroad forget.

The morality comes not through the efficiency and efficacy of the system in question; the morality comes through the sentiment and philosophy of the system. Democracy, as a system, is always more moral than tyranny, because the former system is about -- at least in theory -- empowering the individual, whereas the latter is about disempowering the individual. Now, democracy is sometimes practiced in an immoral way -- witness the United States, for example. But that is not to say that the concept of democracy is in those cases immoral, but rather the practicioners are.

We'll Get To It One Day...

This is so annoying. The state government here in New York can't agree on anything. It usually takes them until late Spring to pass the annual budget. And now they've applied their childish bickering ways to the process of modernizing our voting equipment. I can't believe that six years after the Florida 2000 fiasco, I'm still going to be voting on creaky, rickety lever machines that are almost as old as my mom. (How old is that? Let's just say that I am in my late-30's.)

ALBANY, March 1 — The Justice Department sued New York State on Wednesday for failing to overhaul its election system and replace its aging voting machines. It is the first lawsuit the federal government has filed to force a state to comply with the voting guidelines enacted by Congress after the 2000 election debacle.

The new federal guidelines were designed to prevent the kind of electoral chaos that marred the 2000 presidential election in Florida, and to make casting ballots easier for disabled voters. But New York State's efforts to modernize its election system
have fallen far behind the rest of the nation, delayed by Albany's chronic gridlock and partisan bickering.

New York was supposed to create a statewide database of registered voters by Jan. 1 to make it easier to register and to detect fraud. It has not even come close to doing so, the lawsuit contends.

Those fools better not make me have to go up to Albany and crack some skulls. I take my vote very seriously, and I don't appreciate it being used as a political football!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Say It ain't So

This is absolutely incredible. Mind-boggling. Clearly there is something going on underneath that I don't know about, because on the surface, this is breath-takingly disrespectful.

Legendary entertainer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte on Tuesday explained his absence from Coretta Scott King's funeral. Belafonte told reporters before a speech at Case Western Reserve University that President Bush influenced the King family to disinvite him from the funeral in suburban Atlanta on Feb. 7.

Belafonte, known to be a friend of Martin Luther King Jr., said he was told about the decision the day before the funeral, at which he had been scheduled to speak.

The King children made the final decision, Belafonte said, but they were "fiercely intimidated by the president's representatives." Belafonte has been a vocal critic of the Bush administration.

I can't believe I missed this little twist (The Black Commentator was on it a couple of weeks ago).

Harry Belafonte was a good friend at least of Martin if not also Coretta. Bush, on the other hand...well let's just say he had zero relationship with the deceased, her family, her friends, her life, her calling, her activities, her philosophy -- you get the point. In fact, it's not even clear why he wanted to attend the funeral to begin with. There was no way he was going to change any minds regarding his attitude towards African Americans, if that's what they were thinking. He's worked hard to build up his reputation in that matter over the last five years. One speech at a funeral couldn't undo that kind of damage.

But for whatever reason, he wanted to be there, and so, apparently, was able to influence the remainder of the guest list. Now the next question is: why in the world would the King family want George Bush there? For the generic honor of having the president speak at your mother's funeral? For that you disinvite a man who has given so much of his life to supporting Coretta and the causes she took as her own? For that you defer to a man who meant NOTHING -- no, make that: LESS THAN NOTHING -- to your mother? Could the children of Martin and Coretta King have so little integrity? Or perhaps there is, as is usually the case with any Bush sleaziness, MONEY involved. Like money that the King Center desperately needs to continue to carry out its mission. Money that could come from, say, a federal grant or new line in the federal budget. Again, could the children of Martin and Coretta King have so little integrity?

Lots of stuff here that is perplexing and/or distressing.

By the way, Happy 79th Birthday, Harry.

"The End of Iraq"

The tragedy rolls on, reaching all corners.

We did not discuss Sunni or Shiite inside this mosque," said the sheik, Abdel Rahman Mahmoud, 74, whose courtyard was strewn with crushed blue glass and charred scraps of paper from the fire that sectarian rioters set last week. "People thought of us as neutral."

Here in the mixed neighborhood of Zayuna, Sunnis, Shiites and Christians live side by side, and residents always felt immune to sectarian violence. So when it exploded last Thursday, so did many dearly held beliefs.

"I used to keep in my mind that Iraq will come back one day," said Shirouq Abayachi, a Zayuna resident who was pondering her country's fate with friends in a social club in central Baghdad on Tuesday. "Now the Iraq I wish to have cannot come back. There is no core left to rebuild."


Iraqis in Zayuna wanted desperately for it not to be true; the phrase "Iraqis are brothers" was on everyone's lips. Once they had glimpsed the underside, many turned away, not wanting to see, but some, like Ms. Abayachi, seemed transfixed.

"Maybe I see the end more clearly now," she said over a lunch of salads and a cocktail. "The end of Iraq."

One way or another, Mr. Bush's adventure was always destined to be remembered as historic. It appears very likely, now, that it will be so-remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

US Troops: We Want Out of Here

A new poll is out on the attitudes of US troops in Iraq toward that war. Interesting findings include:

72% want the US troops out in the next year
85% think the war is retaliation for Saddam's role in 9/11
77% think the war is to stop Saddam fron protecting al Qaeda in Iraq

This is very sad news. It suggests that our troops have completely bought into the thoroughly discredited claims that Saddam had a role in 9/11 and had relationships with al Qaeda. This proves, by extension, that the best way to send an Army into an unjustified war is to keep them ignorant of the facts, the better for them to focus on completing the "mission."

And yet, we see that the troops, having lived this "mission" for the past few years, have decided they've had enough.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Never Forget

Just in time for Black History Month, The Birmingham (Al.) News is publishing never-before-seen photos from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's as it took place in Alabama. The photos had apparently been buried in a closet since the time they were taken, and some intern just happened to stumble across them this month.

The link to the photos is here. Some of the ones I found particularly interesting are below.

Alabama National Guardsmen protecting a bus carrying black and white "Freedom Riders"

The Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth stares down a vigilante looking to block blacks' access to a bus terminal

John Lewis, now a U.S. congressman, in a march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery, protesting for full voting rights. Minutes after this photo was taken, the marchers, including many children, were attacked by state troopers wielding tear gas and clubs.

The mayor of Birmingham upon learning of the bombing of the 16th St. Baptist church, in which 4 little black girls were killed.

One of many instances of peaceful student protesters being attacked with fire hoses in downtown Birmingham.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Pain of Iraqi Life

On top of everything else, they have this:

Three days of a virtually round-the-clock curfew, imposed Friday to quell unprecedented Shiite-Sunni clashes in Iraq, have left families running short of food in Baghdad and three other provinces. Store shelves are going bare and, at some hospitals, officials said patients were dying for lack of medicine and supplies.


"Life is a mess in Iraq now," said Abbas, who was wearing tracksuit pajamas in midafternoon. "It will be worse than before when they lift the curfew. When there is a curfew they hide, and when it is lifted they go to the streets with their car bombs."


"We are having deaths because we don't have the necessary medicine and supplies," said Muhammed Ayash Kubaisi, manager of a hospital in the northerncity of Tikrit.

Curfews are not the answer. The violence will return, even if at lower levels, once the curfew is lifted. And in the meantime, the curfew itself obviously brings its own problems.

One hates to say it, but it may be that the only answer is for the US to get out of the way, let Iraq have its civil war, then be ready to help with the cleanup. Otherwise, the Iraqi government, with US assistance, is doing the equivalent of bandaging an open sore. At some point, the sore becomes a raging infection, one which threatens to kill the patient.