Saturday, September 29, 2007

“Shoot on sight” orders part of Burma’s ethnic cleansing campaign

While the world’s attention is on the protests in Burma’s cities against military rule a government campaign to wipe out the country’s ethnic minorities has been underway in the countryside in the northern and eastern provinces of Myanmar. Satellite images assembled by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) confirm reports by human rights activists that entire villages have been destroyed within the past few years. According to Witness, a human rights organization,
… in eastern Burma, a 45-year catastrophe has reached one of its worst moments, as the country's military junta escalates its attacks against the area's ethnic minorities. The government's efforts to assert control over ethnic border areas have emptied over 3,000 villages in a decade, an average of almost one village each day over the past ten years. The forces of Burma's military junta, the State Peace & Development Council (SPDC), are mortaring villages, looting and burning homes to the ground, and destroying crops in an effort to obliterate the livelihoods of rural communities. Burmese soldiers are ordered to shoot civilians on sight.

Over 500,000 displaced people live in constant insecurity in eastern Burma, and over 30,000 more have been displaced because of this most recent offensive. Those who are captured by the Burmese army face forced labor, conscription, torture, rape and even execution. The rest are unable to return to their homes for fear of stepping on landmines laid after their escape. Instead, the displaced live in makeshift camps in the jungle, enduring some of the worst health conditions in any world crisis today.
The Karen people, an ethnic group with ancestral ties to Tibet, have been particularly targeted by the Burmese military. Thousands of Karen have been forced to flee their homes to refugee camps in Thailand or hide in the jungle as seen in this video from the Washington Post and this video below.

Burma: Shoot On Sight

This is about the Burmese government's campaign to eliminate the Karen ethnic minority in eastern Burma.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Václav Havel on the international reaction to the Burma crisis

Václav Havel in yesterday’s Guardian:
On a daily basis, at a great many international and scholarly conferences all over the world, we can hear learned debates about human rights and emotional proclamations in their defense. So how is it possible that the international community remains incapable of responding effectively to dissuade Burma's military rulers from escalating the force that they have begun to unleash in Rangoon and its Buddhist temples?

For dozens of years, the international community has been arguing over how it should reform the United Nations so that it can better secure civic and human dignity in the face of conflicts such as those now taking place in Burma or Darfur, Sudan. It is not the innocent victims of repression who are losing their dignity, but rather the international community, whose failure to act means watching helplessly as the victims are consigned to their fate.

The world's dictators, of course, know exactly what to make of the international community's failure of will and inability to coordinate effective measures. How else can they explain it than as a complete confirmation of the status quo and of their own ability to act with impunity?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Will the Burmese suffer the same fate at the hands of the military as 20 years ago?

Joshua Kurlantzick has this observation in the New Republic:
For days, thousands of average Burmese and respected Buddhist monks parade through the streets of Burmese cities, calling for democracy and picking up supporters as they march. The protests have a kind of festive atmosphere. Crowds of young men in baseball caps and elderly Burmese in traditional sarongs cheer the monks from the rooftops and wave hand-lettered banners in Burmese and English. As the demonstrators walk, sometimes linking arms, the feared Burmese troops, who have run the country since the 1960s, stand aside, letting them pass.

This scene could describe Burma today, where a major protest movement against the military junta appears to be gathering force, culminating in this week's 100,000-strong demonstrations in Rangoon, Burma's largest city. But they also could describe Burma of two decades ago, when even larger demonstrations rocked the country during the summer of 1988. Unfortunately, today's protests are reminiscent in another way as well. In the late 1980s, many average Burmese took heart from foreign media interest in their struggle, and thought foreign countries would come to their aid. But outside powers did little, and after weeks of just watching the protests the army cracked down. Are contemporary Burmese soon to suffer the same fate?
The protests in 1988 over the mismanagement of the government and economy did lead to democratic elections in 1990. The National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won 60% of the vote and 80% of the seats in parliament. The military backed National Unity Party won on 2% of the seats in parliament. The military annulled the results of the election and the military dictatorship re-imposed its iron rule. There was little notice around the world.

But there have been changes around the world in communications. Today the internet makes specialized online journals such as Burma Digest or Irrawaddy are available to the general public around the world. And it’s not only journals but blogs such as Ko Htike, Justice and Injustice, Mogok Media and MoeMaKa Media – online web logs by ordinary citizens who, at no small risk to themselves, publish photographs and tell stories of what is going on inside this bizarre police state the regular media do not have access to. There are even videos available on YouTube by activists and ordinary citizens. According to Der Spiegel:
When the junta murdered more than 3,000 pro-democracy activists in 1988, it hardly registered outside the country at first. Now the mass protests are being closely followed. Aung Zaw, editor of Irrawaddy, a news magazine for expatriate Burmese in Thailand, told AP: "The world doesn't know where Burma is. Now they see images about the situation and want to know more. That's a huge difference from 1988." The hundreds of bloggers and people sending information are risking severe punishment. Anyone who has a computer and does not use the state Internet provider can be imprisoned for up to 15 years. But the bloggers seem to have managed to circumvent the censorship with relative ease.
So the real question is will contemporary Burmese suffer the same fate as their brethren 20 years ago now that the world community has been given fair notice?

Authorities crack down on pro-democracy demonstrators in Burma

Scenes at Shwe Dagon Pagoda East gate in Burma yesterday.

Monday, September 24, 2007

It’s all about Doug

Douglas Wilder’s most recent antics on Friday only confirm Richmond’s mayor has a narcissistic personality – i.e., he sees the city as simply a reflection of himself and his uses (and abuses) of his office. He is absolutely unable to put the community’s interests above his personal needs wield power.

This is Michael Williams on Mayor Wilder’s attempted extrajudicial eviction of the administrative offices of the city’s school system from City Hall on Friday night:
… no one is saying the school administration, the School Board and the City Council are blameless in this sorry state of affairs. But Wilder, who has an almost pathological need to bully, has consistently eschewed collaboration in favor of over-the-top confrontation. It's a mystifying approach to governance, given the considerable charms at his disposal.It's also a strange tactic for a mayor purportedly concerned about saving taxpayers money. His feuding with the school system has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal and consulting fees, not to mention an estimated $250,000 to $450,000 thrown away as a result of Friday's abortive eviction.

The mayor has insisted on treating 900 E. Broad St. as part of his real estate portfolio, not unlike his riverfront home in Charles City County. But City Hall is the people's building, owned by Richmond taxpayers. Police should not be used to shield the public and media from public business.

Friday night's chaos should strip the bark off an administration that has expended too much energy marshaling authority and too little advancing a coherent agenda. Or as George Orwell wrote, "Power is not a means, it is an end.
The post-Wilder era cannot come too soon for Richmond.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Iranian authorities cracking down on youth disenchanted with repressive government

The state media in Iran has published these photographs and others as a warning to young people what is in store for them if they engage in dissent.

This from Iran Focus (including photographs here and here):
Iranian authorities have stepped up arrests of young people in the city of Karaj, west of the capital Tehran, as part of a nationwide “plan to eradicate corruption”.

Dissidents charge that Tehran’s clerical rulers are fiercely cracking down on youths disenchanted with the government’s repressive policies rather than on “trouble-makers”.
(Hat tip to Harry’s Place.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

President Bush’s good week (?)

Andrew Sullivan on the President's week so far and his anticipated address to the nation tonight:
No doubt the president has had a good week (although his short-term success may lead to an abyss for the GOP next year). Despite the explicit failure of the surge on the terms that Bush laid out in January - political reconciliation at the center - it will continue until its natural, cyclical death next spring. Somehow, with the help of his propaganda outlets, the president has managed to get enough headlines out there about a "drawdown" of troops that the Republican revolt is stilled. His imperviousness to empirical reality allows him to gamble the country's military, reputation and vast amounts of money yet one more time - at an untold cost in lives. And yet he has won again - the system unable to resist a president in wartime whose goal now is ensuring that he can pin defeat and chaos in Iraq on his successor or the opposition party, or, if failure in Iraq deepens further, widen the war to Iran in order to scramble the debate one more time.

So where's the catch? The catch is tonight. … No sane person can trust the guy's judgment any more, or listen to his excruciating recitation of the terror war creed. His credibility on Iraq is negligible at this point. Could he snatch a temporary pr defeat from temporary pr victory? On the day it became apparent that the latest attempt at an oil law in Iraq has collapsed? On the day when the leader of the sole success story in Iraq is assassinated by an al Qaeda whose ass has apparently been kicked? …

The premise is you’ve got two incompetent governments: one is the United States and the other is Iraq. That's not easy to refute.

Lee Hamilton is a former Indiana Congressman, vice-chair of the 9-11 Commission and co-chair of the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group (a.k.a. the Baker-Hamilton commission). He currently is serving as the director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. George Packer interviewed him over the summer in preparation for an article in the current issue of the New Yorker.

Here are some of Hamilton’s remarks:
On the President’s political strategy:

If I were trying to guess it at this point, what I think he would do is try to fudge it. In effect, he’ll let the surge go forward as long as the military can sustain it. Then he will begin to use language that he’s not used before. I don’t know just what that will be, but it will begin to show that he’s receptive to a goal—not a time line—of getting out. He will qualify that, he’ll condition it, in such a way that he will have plenty of flexibility. His supporters will then be able to come back and say, “O.K., the President is telling us he wants to get out of there.” Thus far, he hasn’t given an inch. He’s still saying victory, victory, victory. He talks about Al Qaeda exclusively. Al Qaeda is only part of the problem there—he makes it all of the problem.

On the endgame in Iraq:

The longer you delay in developing a strategy for a responsible exit, the higher the risk of chaos and catastrophe as you withdraw. This is one of the problems with continuing the surge. If you continue the surge, all the focus of the American government will be on the surge, as it has been since the surge was initiated, and that means you are not doing a lot of other things, including how to responsibly withdraw. We have always had the problem of not understanding the necessity of integrating all the tools of American power. We think of it in terms of military, political, diplomatic—the fact of the matter is, you have to do a lot of things, you have to do them all well, and you have to do them urgently in order to succeed. I don’t really know what the President and his Administration are doing, but I personally know of no evidence that they’re planning a different kind of strategy. And when the President is out there constantly repeating the same thing it makes you wonder whether they are discussing anything else other than that, because he’s not given any indication.

On the possibility that Baker-Hamilton is wrong—that there is no “responsible exit” from Iraq:

It is a deeply pessimistic argument about the ability of the Iraqi government to deal with the problems and, in a sense, a deeply pessimistic assessment about our ability to deal with the problems. The premise is that you’ve got two incompetent governments: one is the United States, and the other is Iraq. And the track record makes that not easy to refute.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Could 2010 look for Iraq like 1975 looked in Vietnam?

Yesterday, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker presented testimony to the Senate regarding the status of the “surge” strategy to stabilize the deteriorating situation in Iraq. The strategy was ordered by the Bush Administration as an alternative to the recommendations of the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group (a.k.a. the ”Baker-Hamilton Commission”) that became public last December. The Iraq Study Group found the Pentagon had under-reported incidents of violence in Iraq during the occupation and recommended the beginning of a pull-out of American troops and an aggressive diplomatic effort to reach political solutions to the conflict both internally and with Iraq’s neighbors.

Following the defeat of Congressional Republicans over the issue of the war in the 2006 election and the conclusions of the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group, the continually optimistic assessments of the Iraq situation by the White House were no longer credible. In an attempt to restore the reputation of the Bush presidency, the administration decided to gamble on an escalation (a.k.a. the “surge”) to undo the damage done by poor planning and incompetent administration of the formal occupation of the country. The reason given was to “buy time” for the political process in Iraq. To date, it appears there has been some limited success by American troops on the military front in certain areas of Iraq but the progress on the political front is practically nil.

The problem is there is a civil war going on – actually multiple civil wars between different parties in different parts of the country. The lack of political progress is being excused as the result of an immature democracy following decades of dictatorship. That is certainly true but it is not the only factor in play. The greater problem is the current leadership has a stake in the status quo – i.e., as awful as the violence is it is tolerable because it does not threaten the dominant powers in Iraq. The White House is not willing to acknowledge that. Instead, they continue to seek a military solution to a political problem thus enabling those dominant powers and weakening the political process in the long run. The failure of politics likely dooms Iraq to a greater conflict once U.S. troops withdraw just as is happening in the Basra region with the withdrawal of British troops.

It’s not a pretty picture and is a problem President Bush seems determined to dump in the lap of his successor.

Here is Juan Cole on the future of Iraq:
Could 2010 look for Iraq like 1975 looked in Vietnam? Yes. I just do not see evidence that either the new Iraqi political class or the Iraqi security forces are likely to have the maturity to avoid a conflagration when the US military withdraws.

There are three major wars going on in Iraq: 1) for control of oil-rich Basra, among Shiite militias and tribes; 2) for control of Baghdad and its hinterlands between Sunni Arabs and Shiites; and 3) for control of oil-rich Kirkuk in the north, between Kurds on the one side and Arabs and Turkmen on the other.

Gen. Petraeus believes that the Sunni-Shiite struggle for Baghdad is the central struggle, and that if it cannot be calmed down, nothing can be accomplished. His main energies have been put into reducing violence in Baghdad itself, in which he has succeeded to a limited extent (i.e. getting violence back down to summer, 2006, levels instead of astronomical January 2007 levels).

The successes in Baghdad are ambiguous, not clear-cut. The year 2006 was particularly bloody, so getting to that level is not satisfactory. The reduction in statistics on sectarian violence has not prevented hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arabs from being ethnically cleansed (mainly displaced) from Baghdad, turning it from a city that was 65 percent Shiite and 35 percent Sunni into one that is 75 percent Shiite and rising. The Sunni Arabs of al-Anbar, whether they hate "al-Qaeda" or not, say in interviews that they support the withdrawal of the Sunni Arab Iraqi Accord Front from the al-Maliki government, precisely on the grounds that al-Maliki is entangled with the Shiite militias that are displacing the Sunni Arabs from Baghdad.

Further, Gen. Petraeus has frankly admitted that whatever successes he has had in Baghdad militarily (and he has had some there) have not yet translated into solid political gains in Sunni-Shiite reconciliation. He continues to entertain hopes that they will be so translated, but all he can proffer us in this regard is exactly that, hopes.

Petraeus's perspective ignores the over-all rise in civilian deaths in 2007 compared to 2006, and pays no attention to Shiite-Shiite violence in Basra and Karbala. He also codes the Arab attack on Yazidi Kurds as an "al-Qaeda" act of violence. In fact, it was part of an ethnic struggle for control of land and oil in the Iraqi north that is just as destabilizing, potentially, as is the battle for Baghdad. He points to Iraqi security forces policing provinces such as Muthanna and Nasiriya in the Shiite south. It has to be acknowledged, however, that those provincial security forces are dominated by the Badr Corps militia of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which was trained and may still be being partially funded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. And they are in an ongoing struggle with the Mahdi Army militia, also Shiite but more Iraqi nativist.

My own expectation is that unless Iraqi politicians become far more canny and powerful during the next two years, then when the American forces withdraw, the ethnic and sectarian militias will fight the three wars (Basra, Baghdad, Kirkuk) to a conclusion. It will likely be a bloody war similar to that in Afghanistan in the 1990s. With the Americans not around, it is possible that large militia forces will fight set piece battles.

There is also a danger of the neighbors being drawn into a big proxy fight in Iraq (including the Saudis, the Iranians, the Jordanians, the Syrians and the Turks).

Neither outcome is inevitable. If al-Maliki learns how to cultivate the Sunni Arabs as well as Petraeus has been (and if the Sunni Arabs will accept it from al-Maliki, which is not assured), then he might be able to draw them into his orbit just as King Feisal did in the 1920s. Al-Maliki's government is said to have $10 bn. in oil revenue that it refuses to spend; that could buy some loyalty.

Likewise, the US, the Europeans and the Arab League could work hard diplomatically to avoid a proxy war among the neighbors, and it might be avoided. I am heartened that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad of Iran seem intent on continuing to dialogue, and to avoid tensions reaching a fever picth between the two countries. If the US had any sense, it would be warmly encouraging this diplomacy, not trying to get the Arabs and Israelis to gang up on Iran.

But in all likelihood, when the Democratic president pulls US troops out in summer of 2009, all hell is going to break loose. …

It is all so unfair, of course, since Bush started and prosecuted this disaster in Iraq, and Bush is refusing to accept responsibility for the failure, pushing it off onto his successor.

But life is unfair.

I'm a severe skeptic on the likelihood of anything that looks like success in Iraq. But I don't think career public servants such as Ryan Crocker and David Petraeus are acting as partisan Republicans in their Iraq efforts. I think they both are sincere, experienced men attempting to retrieve what they can for America from Bush's catastrophe. They may as well try, since the Democrats can't over-rule Bush and get the troops out, anyway. If the troops are there, they may as well at least be deployed intelligently, which is what Gen. Petraeus is doing. I wish them well in their Herculean labors. Because if they fail, I have a sinking feeling that we are all going down with them, including the next Democratic president. And their success is a long shot.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Security is worse since the “surge” according to Iraqis

A new poll of Iraqi citizens show a lack of confidence in the “surge” of U.S. troops and widespread belief that the security of the nation has deteriorated. ABC News, the BBC and Japan’s NHK public broadcasting station conducted the poll. According to the Associated Press, “Forty-seven percent want American forces and their coalition allies to leave the country immediately, the survey showed, 12 percent more than said so in a March poll as the troop increase was beginning. And 57 percent — including nearly all Sunnis and half of Shiites — said they consider attacks on coalition forces acceptable, a slight increase over the past half year.”

This is the BBC’s report:
About 70% of Iraqis believe security has deteriorated in the area covered by the US military "surge" of the past six months, an opinion poll suggests.

The survey by the BBC, ABC News and NHK of more than 2,000 people across Iraq also suggests that nearly 60% see attacks on US-led forces as justified.

This rises to 93% among Sunni Muslims compared to 50% for Shia.

The findings come as the top US commander in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, prepares to address Congress.

He and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker are due to testify about the effects of the surge and the current situation in Iraq.

The poll suggests that the overall mood in Iraq is as negative as it has been since the US-led invasion in 2003, says BBC world affairs correspondent Nick Childs.

The poll was conducted in more than 450 neighbourhoods across all 18 provinces of Iraq in August, and has a margin of error of + or - 2.5%.

It was commissioned jointly by the BBC, ABC and Japan's NHK.

Between 67% and 70% of the Iraqis polled believe the surge has hampered conditions for political dialogue, reconstruction and economic development, according to the August 2007 findings.

Only 29% think things will get better in the next year, compared to 64% two years ago.

The number of people wanting coalition forces to leave immediately rose since February's poll but more than half - 53% - still said they should stay until security improved.

The survey reveals two great divides, our correspondent notes.

First, there is the one between relative optimism registered in November 2005 and the gloom of this year's two polls.

In between, there was the deadly bombing of the Shia mosque in Samarra, which unleashed a bitter and deadly sectarianism.

The other great divide is the one now revealed between the Sunni and Shia communities.

While 88% of Sunnis say things are going badly in their lives, 54% of Shia think they are going well.

The political uses of General Petraeus by President Bush

From the New York Times via the International Herald Tribune:
The military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, is to deliver a report to Congress on Monday that could be the most consequential testimony by a wartime commander in more than a generation. What the United States desperately needs is an honest assessment of the war and a clear strategy for extricating American forces from the hopeless spiral of violence in Iraq.

President George W. Bush, however, seems to be aiming for maximum political advantage - not maximum clarity on Iraq's military and political crises, which cannot be separated from each other. Bush, we fear, isn't looking for the truth, only for ways to confound the public, scare Democrats into dropping their demands for a sound exit strategy, and prolong the war until he leaves office. At times, Petraeus gives the disturbing impression that he, too, is more focused on Washington than the unfolding disaster in Iraq. That serves neither U.S. nor Iraqi interests.

Bush is counting on the general to restore credibility to his discredited Iraq policy. He frequently refers to the escalation of American forces last January as Petraeus' strategy - as if it were not his own creation. The situation echoes the way Bush made Colin Powell - another military man with an overly honed sense of a soldier's duty - play frontman at the United Nations in 2003 to make the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Bush cannot once again subcontract his responsibility.

This is his war.

Petraeus has his own credibility problems. He overstepped in 2004 when he published an op-ed article in The Washington Post six weeks before the election. The general - then in charge of training and equipping Iraq's security forces - rhapsodized about "tangible progress" and how the Iraqi forces were "developing steadily," an assessment that has long since proved to be untrue.

And just last week, senior military commanders in Baghdad who work for Petraeus entered the political fray by taking issue - anonymously - with the grim assessment of Iraq's politics and security by non-partisan congressional investigators.
As Congress waited anxiously for Petraeus' testimony, a flurry of well-timed news reports said that he told the White House he could go along with the withdrawal of about 4,000 U.S. troops beginning in January but wanted to maintain increased force levels well into next year - just like Bush. Democrats who once demanded a firm date for the start of a troop pullout immediately started backpedaling.

Withdrawing 4,000 troops and dangling the prospect of additional withdrawals is a token political gesture, not a new strategy. If it proves enough to cow Congress into halting its push for a more robust and concrete exit strategy, that would be political cowardice at its worst.

We hope that Petraeus can resist the political pressure and provide an unvarnished assessment of the military situation in Iraq. He is an important source of information, but he is only one source - and he is not the man who sets American policy. If Bush insists on listening only to those who agree with him, Congress and the public must weigh Petraeus' report against all data, including two new independent evaluations sharply at odds with the Pentagon's claim that things in Iraq are substantially better.

The Government Accountability Office found that the Iraqi government has not met 11 of 18 benchmarks set by Congress and that violence remains high, despite the White House's disingenuous claims of success. And a commission of retired senior military officers determined that Iraq's army will be unable to take over responsibility for internal security in the next 12 to 18 months. That is four years beyond what the Pentagon predicted in 2004. It is too long.

Nothing has changed about Bush's intentions. Waving off the independent reports, he plans to stay the course and make his successor fix his Iraq fiasco. Military progress without political progress is meaningless, and Bush no more has a plan for unifying Iraq now than when he started the war. The United States needs a prudent exit strategy that will withdraw American forces and try to stop Iraq's chaos from spreading.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Ethnic cleansing in Iraq?

Fareed Zakaria on ABC’s World News Tonight:
Gibson: If we go through some sort of a reduction strategy, are we opening things up for some kind of genocide, ethnic cleansing that will go on, and we'll simply have 50,000, 60,000, 70,000 troops standing by and watching this?

Zakaria: No, because one of the dirty little secrets about Iraq is that Iraq has increasingly been ethnically cleansed. It's sad to say, but the American Army has presided over the largest ethnic cleansing in the world since the Balkans.

If you look at Baghdad, it is essentially a very cleansed city. It is, the Shia and Sunni communities have been separated by the river. You look increasingly around the areas that were once intermixed. They're no longer mixed. That explains, by the way, one of the reasons why violence has been reduced & So, it seems unlikely, when people say bad things are going to happen if we leave, bad things have already happened, where were you for the last four years.

It doesn't seem that likely that we're going to end up seeing some kind of massive genocide. The ethnic cleansing has happened.
It should be noted that an estimated 4.2 million Iraqis have been forced from their homes – approximately 2.2 million displaced internally and 2 million fleeing to other countries creating the biggest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948. (And of these 4.2 million, the United States has resettled 719.) Baghadad has essentially become two separate cities divided by a river due to ethinic cleansing during the past year and a half.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

What a way to run a government: American governance and Iraq policy

Timothy Garton Ash on American governance and Iraq policy:
As we approach the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US, and General David Petraeus's report on the "surge" in Iraq, the question being asked here, even by staunch Republicans who share the president's goals, is: why has the Bush administration been so incompetent? Behind that is a larger question about how the American political system as a whole is failing to deliver consistent policy and good governance. In the course of three months spent in the US, I have heard this larger issue raised again and again by people with intimate experience of the ways of Washington.

Congress, the administration and senior military commanders berate the Iraqi government for failing to meet Washington's political and security "benchmarks". But the long-suffering ordinary people of Iraq are entitled to ask in return how the American government has delivered on its own promises. Take, for example, the benchmark referred to in shorthand by American politicians as "deBa'athification". What this actually means is undeBa'athification: that is, belatedly reversing the decision by the sometime US viceroy Paul Bremer to purge virtually all members of Saddam Hussein's ruling Ba'ath party from the fledgling structures of the new Iraq, thus removing the competent along with the criminal and corrupt. Together with the decision to disband the Iraqi army, this is now regarded - even by many then at the highest levels of the American and British government and army - as among the most fateful mistakes made in the occupation of Iraq.

We can argue about whether these and other mistakes were actually decisive to the outcome, or whether - given its history and the legacy of Saddam's tyranny, exacerbated by years of western sanctions - Iraq was almost bound to collapse into a bloody mess. But there are now only about three people in the world (G Bush, R Cheney, D Rumsfeld) who would not acknowledge that US policy over Iraq was deeply flawed and inconsistent. The question is: why? Next week we will again be considering what the US can tell us about Iraq and its government; we should also consider what Iraq tells us about the US and its government.

Take that decision about deBa'athification and the disbanding of the Iraqi army, for example. First of all, didn't they have anyone versed in Iraqi history and Arab politics, not to mention the history of other occupations, to warn them? If yes, why weren't they listened to? Second of all, how was the decision taken? This has been the subject of some controversy in recent days, as those involved play another favourite Washington game: pass the buck. … What actually seems to have happened is that an initial decision, authorized by the president, to keep the Iraqi army largely intact, was then reversed by Bremer, working with the Pentagon, without any serious consultation with the national security adviser or the secretary of state. The president was informed in advance, but only in one throw-away sentence in a letter which did not spell out clearly the full extent of the intended purge, let alone its possible consequences.

What a way to run a government. With a hands-off president, a weak national security adviser, an overmighty baron at the Pentagon, and a conspiratorial vice president exercising unprecedented power, there was not one consistent Iraq policy but several competing ones, changing over time….
Ash goes on to examine chronic problem of strategic coordination and implementation of policy compounded by the political gridlock of the American system. It is well worth reading and considering. You can find it here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Charges reduced on two of the Jena Six defendants

It was approximately one year ago when school opened in Jena, Louisiana and an incident occurred that sparked a series of escalating conflicts between black and white students. The result left six black students charged with attempted murder and the rural Louisiana community polarized along racial lines.

Last fall black students wanted to sit under the only shade tree in the schoolyard. The problem was the tree was traditionally the gathering place for white students only. Nooses were hung from the tree as a reminder (if not a threat) to the black students of earlier days of lynching in the South. The white students responsible were given an in-school suspension but fights broke out in the coming weeks culminating in six black students charged with attempted murder. Despite the ongoing conflict between blacks and whites, the response of the law enforcement authorities came down only on the black students.

In July, one of the defendants had his charge reduced to aggravated second-degree battery and was convicted by an all white jury when his legal counsel failed to provide a defense. He is now represented by a new team of lawyers but faces up to 22 years in prison if the conviction is upheld.

Yesterday, the prosecution reduced the attempted murder charges on two more defendants. This is from the Associated Press this morning:
Prosecutors on Tuesday reduced the attempted murder charges against two more teenagers among the "Jena Six," a group of black high school students who were arrested following an attack on a white schoolmate.

Five of the teens were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, carrying sentences of up to 80 years in prison. The sixth faces undisclosed juvenile charges.

Civil rights advocates have decried the charges as unfairly harsh.

On Tuesday, charges against Carwin Jones and Theo Shaw were reduced to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy. That same reduction was made earlier for Mychal Bell, who was tried and found guilty and could be sentenced to 22 1/2 years at a hearing Sept. 20.

Also awaiting trial are Robert Bailey Jr. and Bryant Purvis, who still face attempted murder charges, and the unidentified juvenile.

The attack on Justin Barker, 18, came amid tense race relations in Jena, a mostly white town of 3,000 in north-central Louisiana where racial tensions have grown since incidents that started last school year at Jena High. After a black student sat under a tree on the school campus where white students traditionally congregated, three nooses were hung in the tree.

Students accused of placing the nooses were suspended from school for a short period.

The six black students were accused of beating and kicking Barker on Dec. 4. A motive for the attack was never established. Barker was treated at a hospital emergency room and released after about three hours.

Shaw's attorney, George Tucker, said Tuesday that he still doesn't believe his client will get a fair trial in Jena.

Shaw himself has dreams of attending Gramling State University. "Just drop all the charges and let us go on with our lives," the teenager told CNN Tuesday.
Previous posts on this case can be read here and here. CenLamar has a summary of links and sources on the Jena Six up through early August. Today’s London Times has an article about the case here. CNN has an update today on the story here.

The Hillary and Obama race

It's over a year before the Presidential election but the race is on (and has been for too long).

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Labor Day

Labor Day has been celebrated on the first Monday in September in the United States since the 1880s to honor workers. (May 1st – the day most countries around the world celebrate labor – was avoided by American politicians due to the association with the Haymarket riots, part of this country’s struggle for an 8-hour day, in Chicago in 1886.) Traditionally it has been time for labor organizations to exhibit their strength with parades and public events. In recent years it has lost much of its connection with the labor movement and seems more identified with family cook-outs, NASCAR races and Jerry Lewis Telethons.

However, it remains important to remember the struggles of hard-won gains by workers that have raised the standard of living for all Americans. It is also important to remember that those struggles are not over.

Senator Larry Craig and the "breastplate of righteousness"

Christopher Hitchens on Senator Larry Craig and the "breastplate of righteousness":
…. Along with a string of votes to establish "don't ask, don't tell" and to prohibit homosexual marriage, Craig leaves as his political legacy the telling phrase "wide stance", which may or may not join "big tent" and "broad church" as an attempt to make the Republican Party seem more "inclusive" than it really is.

But there's actually a chance—a 38 percent chance, to be more precise—that the senator can cop a plea on the charge of hypocrisy. In his study of men who frequent public restrooms in search of sex, Laud Humphreys discovered that 54 percent were married and living with their wives, 38 percent did not consider themselves homosexual or bisexual, and only 14 per cent identified themselves as openly gay. Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Personal Places, a doctoral thesis which was published in 1970, detailed exactly the pattern—of foot-tapping in code, hand-gestures and other tactics—which has lately been garishly publicized at the Minneapolis-St Paul airport men's room. The word "tearoom" seems to have become archaic, but in all other respects the fidelity to tradition is impressive.

The men interviewed by Humphreys wanted what many men want: a sexual encounter that was quick and easy and didn't involve any wining and dining. Some of the heterosexuals among them had also evolved a tactic for dealing with the cognitive dissonance that was involved. They compensated for their conduct by adopting extreme conservative postures in public. Humphreys, a former Episcopalian priest, came up with the phrase "breastplate of righteousness" to describe this mixture of repression and denial. So it is quite thinkable that when Sen. Craig claims not to be gay, he is telling what he honestly believes to be the truth.

… without overthinking it or attempting too much by way of amateur psychiatry, I think it's safe to assume that many tearoom-traders have a need, which they only imperfectly understand, to get caught. And this may be truest of all of those who are armored with "the breastplate of righteousness." Next time you hear some particularly moralizing speech, set your watch. You won't have to wait long before the man who made it is found, crouched awkwardly yet ecstatically while the cistern drips and the roar of the flush maddens him like wine.
You can read the entire piece here.