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Between the Lines

August 30, 2003

'Table of brotherhood' built a generation at a time

Posted by Lucy Mohl


One of our favorite bloggers,
Billmon, is a former Washington State resident who writes on a range of topics (and yet, as one of his many fans points out, still manages to keep a day job). Given this week's focus on the history of the March on Washington, 40 years ago this week, Billmon's personal post about his experience with race bears sharing with a wider audience:

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.


— Martin Luther King, Speech to the March on Washington, August 28, 1963


I have an unpleasant confession to make. I am a Southerner. Born in the south of southern parents, with Confederate veterans and slaveowners on both sides of the family tree. For all I know, there may even be a few Klansman hanging in the lower branches as well -- by their necks, I hope.


I'm also, in some deep subterranean sense, a racist -- for one cannot grow up in the world of my childhood and not be marked by its imprint. Believe me, I know: I've spent my entire life trying to get away from it.


Intellectually, I believe in racial justice as feverently as I believe in anything. I would rather have my tongue cut out than utter a racist thought, much less a slur or insult. I support just about every item on the traditional civil rights agenda -- affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act, you name it -- even though I'm not entirely comfortable with race-based solutions. As a privileged white American, I don't think I have the right to tell black Americans the playing field is level enough, especially when I know that it isn't.


I'm even open to conservative solutions, such as tuition vouchers, that are popular with black parents -- though I disagree with them philosophically. Again, I don't think I have the right to tell someone who lives in the ghetto what's right for their children.


But that's just politics. On a personal level, I know there is still a deep divide between me and anyone who happens to have a dark skin.


Of course, when you think of it that way, you realize just how insane it is -- that a tiny piece of code in a billion-molecule strand of DNA could make such an enormous difference in how we think and feel about our fellow human beings. Which is why racist societies (like the one I grew up in) make such a point of indoctrinating their children. They have to be carefully taught, as the old Rodgers and Hammerstein song put it.


And so we were -- by experience, if nothing else. It seems bizarre, here in the 21st century, to recall a time when people with different skins were required to drink from different water fountains, but one of my most powerful childhood memories is of my mother jerking me away from a fountain in mid-drink, because I'd happened to pick the wrong one in a department store.


I was too young to read the "Colored" sign, you see.


And Mom was the liberal in the family. She was the one who cringed every time Dad started flinging the "n" word around. But even she couldn't handle her 4-year old son putting his lilly white lips next to a spout where black lips had recently been. Not in public. Not with other white lips around to spread the story.


We heard the "n" word a lot in that summer of 1963. Dad and Granddad would sit with their bourbon and branch water -- in the downstairs rec room, by the fireplace with the crossed sabers and the Confederate flag hanging above it, and curse the civil right "agitators" who were invading Washington. And I would listen, through one ear, as I watched Bonanza or The Wonderful World of Disney. I didn't understand much of what they were saying, but I caught enough of it to realize that something scary was happening, something involving the "n"s, who were also scary. And in a vague, kids' kind of way, I was scared, too.


Lots of things happened after that -- the riots and the war and the assassinations. The '60s blew up my family just as thoroughly as it blew up segregation. My parents divorced; I moved away from the South -- first to California, then back East, then to Washington State. And I ended up a very different person than the one my Dixie Daddy had hoped to raise.


But maybe not that different, after all. True, I've lived in racially diverse neighborhoods most of my adult life. I've had black neighbors, black co-workers, black nurses -- even, for a time, a black doctor. No worries. But I can't honestly say I've ever had any black friends. And I can't honestly say I've ever really tried. At some basic psychological level, black people are still the Other for me, and probably always will be.


There is, however, one thing I've always sworn to myself: The world of my childhood dies with me. My children are going to grow up free -- or as free as I can possibly make them -- of the taint of racism. That's going to be my own personal victory over the bastards who gave America slavery and segregation, including the ones in my own family.


And last night, I got a glimpse of that victory.


I took my 8-year-old daughter to my son's new middle school for Orientation Night, and after the obligatory pep talk and teacher introductions we all went downstairs to the cafeteria for sandwiches and cookies. Standing in line, my daughter ran into a friend from her school, who was there with her older brother.


Naturally, they began to chat, and giggle and make funny faces -- the usual little girl stuff. Pretty soon, they were doing the bump. Then the handslapping game. Like I've seen my daughter do with a dozen other little girls a thousand times before. But this particular friend was particularly cute, particularly sweet -- and particularly black.


After we got our sandwiches, I sat down at one of the rickety cafeteria tables with my son, and my daughter went and sat down next to her friend. And we all started eating. And that's when it hit me. I was literally watching a dream come true:


I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood ...


OK, so it was the surburbs of Pennsylvania instead of red hills of Georgia. And the great-great-great-granddaughters of former slaves and former slave owners instead of their sons. But Martin Luther King's dream was big enough to include them all. And last night, I got to see my own little piece of it come true.


It's not much, I know: Not when this country remains so distant from the rest of MLK's dream. But it was at least a reminder that the civil rights movement was an enormous triumph for American progressives -- and for me personally. And not all of the fruits of that victory have been stolen by the tides of reaction since then.


Is there enough of Dr. King's dream left in this corrupted, polluted and reactionary America of ours to make it worth fighting for? I don't know. But about the dream itself I have no doubts. It will always be worth fighting for -- for my children's sake, and for my own.

Posted by blog at 11:03 PM


August 27, 2003

Baghdad's newest blogger

By Lucy Mohl

Another blogger shows up from Baghdad, this time a self-proclaimed "girl blog" called Baghdad Burning. Her first entry is a vivid account of April 9, when U.S. forces entered the city:

"April 9 was a day of harried neighbors banging on the door, faces so contorted with anxiety they were almost beyond recognition. 'Do we leave? Do we evacuate?! They sound so close...'

It was a day of shocked, horrified relatives, with dilated pupils and trembling lips, dragging duffel bags, spouses and terrified children needing shelter. All of us needing comfort that no one could give.

It was the day we sat at home, bags packed, fully dressed, listening for the tanks or the missile that would send us flying out of the house and into the streets. We sat calculating the risks of traveling from one end of Baghdad to the other or staying in our area and waiting for the inevitable..."

But what caught my eye, were some of the links she's running along with her posts: BBC News, New York Times, Al-Jazeera....and Dilbert and The Onion. It's enough to make you smile, which should be enough to break your heart.

Posted by tbrown at 12:36 PM


August 26, 2003

Iraq, continued

By Lucy Mohl

On a day when the lead story is a bad statistic — more U.S. service people killed in Iraq since the "end of major combat operations" than during those operations — it is easy to think the troops should come home. But Thomas Friedman in the New York Times makes an impassioned and reasoned argument for reinforcing our commitment to the region, and how dangerously the Bush Whitehouse is playing to the edge.


Iraq today is responsible for publishing some of most compelling regional reporting going on; it's a good sign to see it getting props from the sage of Baghdad, Salam Pax. His own latest post, though, reflects the long and torturous ways in which Iraq is struggling toward any type of independent nationhood.

"... the problem is that people want to read that things are getting better and we are happy, but things are getting better in such a slow pace that it is almost imperceptible, and with the one step we move forward on one front we move back 3 steps on other fronts. People need to know that their kids and loved ones are here for a good reason and this is what they want to hear. Otherwise they send me emails saying that I am being part of the problem. They send me emails telling me that I should help the Americans capture the terrorists and Baathists, as if they walk around in the streets wearing signs. Maybe we Iraqis did expect too much from the American invasion, we did hope there is going to be an easy way. Get rid of Saddam and have the Americans help us rebuild. I don't think like that anymore. I am starting to believe that the chaos we will go thru the next 5 or 10 years is part of the price we will *have* to pay to have our freedom."

Posted by tbrown at 02:11 PM


August 25, 2003

The Dean "Sleepless Summer" campaign: hot or not?

By Lucy Mohl

The Howard Dean phenomenon in the Seattle area has reportedly caught most people off guard, including Howard Dean. "Awestruck" was the word Dean used to describe the size of the crowd that greeted him at Westlake Center Sunday night, estimated by police at about 8,000 and the Dean campaign at 15,000 -- either way, the largest yet on his campaign trail for the Democratic Presidential nomination, and a surprise this early in the game.

That's what the papers -- including the Seattle Times -- largely wrote today. But, hang on, says at least one Republican website, GOPUSA:

The Sleepless Summer Tour will, except for a stopover in San Antonio, Texas, confine itself to Democrat strongholds where turnout can be expected to be high. 15,000 people attended Dean's rally in Seattle, and about 5,000 greeted him in Portland, Oregon, and Falls Church, Virginia, according to his campaign. Smaller groups attended rallies in Idaho and Wisconsin.

You know a campaign is getting interesting when you start taking shots for hitting big numbers. For President and candidate Bush, it's his $2000 a plate fundraising dinners. For Dean, says GOPUSA, it's the opposite:

Simple division reveals that the average contribution to Dean's campaign is under $60, and at times hovers near $50. Dean also primarily derives his support from activists who are involved with his online network. These two facts combined should be a source of concern, not jubilation, for Dean's campaign, because they highlight the fact that Dean's grassroots is almost entirely composed of college students and recent graduates.
It's downright mind-bending to see a GOP website go out of its way to point out that John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Bob Graham have also attacked Bush on issues from the Iraq war, presumably because Dean is punching away on the Bush's policies, and polls are starting to show the marks.

Posted by tbrown at 11:46 AM


August 22, 2003

A bad trend

The bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq continues to have serious repercussions, as the Washington Post reports that aid workers are leaving the country. "The United Nations announced a reduction of about a third of its Baghdad headquarters staff, the International Committee of the Red Cross said that an unspecified number of foreign workers would be withdrawn and other organizations considered changes in personnel or security arrangements."

The Post notes that "Typically, if the United Nations and Red Cross reduce services or personnel in dangerous countries, other aid organizations follow. In Baghdad, foreign relief groups were keeping a low profile. The only reports of a shutdown involved the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Each withdrew its small staff from Iraq Wednesday."

Reuters’ AlertNet -- a service of the news agency that keeps aid workers up-to-date on world events -- notes that even before the truck bombing, relief agencies were calling for better security. "The boundaries between the occupying force and the U.N. and the humanitarian community in Iraq is the most blurred it's ever been, anywhere we've ever worked," a spokesman for Oxfam said.


Posted by Katherine Long at 09:34 AM


August 21, 2003

Will Saddam be next?

The US military continues to successfully hunt down more of Saddam's key people, including his first cousin, Ali Hassan Majid (known as "Chemical Ali" for his use of chemical weapons on the Kurds). The hope is that we're moving ever closer to capturing Saddam himself.

As things started getting worse this week, one couldn't help wondering whether there are parallels between our involvement in Iraq and Vietnam. Here's one answer from a Daily Telegraph columnist, who argues that differences in terrain and organization make Iraq very unlike Vietnam.

"The coalition, as America never did in Vietnam, controls, if imperfectly, the whole operational area. What it faces is not a guerrilla war, but an insurgency, and one supported by only a fraction of the population."

Meanwhile, Iraqi blogger Salam Pax, whose writings are now being picked up on the Web site of the British newspaper The Guardian, ponders the fate of his country:

"people want to read that things are getting better and we are happy, but things are getting better in such a slow pace that it is almost imperceptible, and with the one step we move forward on one front we move back 3 steps on other fronts. People need to know that their kids and loved ones are here for a good reason and this is what they want to hear. Otherwise they send me emails saying that I am being part of the problem. They send me emails telling me that I should help the Americans capture the terrorists and Baathists, as if they walk around in the streets wearing signs. Maybe we Iraqis did expect too much from the American invasion, we did hope there is going to be an easy way. Get rid of Saddam and have the Americans help us rebuild. I don't think like that anymore. I am starting to believe that the chaos we will go thru the next 5 or 10 years is part of the price we will *have* to pay to have our freedom."

This NPR story by Anne Garrels, broadcast this morning, was a particularly sad story. It's about a senior Iraqi official who was assigned to work with UN weapons inspectors, and turned himself in to U.S. troops early in the war. The interview with his German-born wife is particularly poignant; she was near the UN headquarters at the time of the bombing, and no one has seen her since.

Posted by Katherine Long at 11:15 AM


August 20, 2003

Who? And why?

Everyone's still reeling from the two bombings in the Middle East yesterday, both in Israel and Iraq. Many fear that the bus bombing in Jerusalem has derailed the peace process. The Iraq bombing, meanwhile, seems to represent an ominous change for the worse -- not just another attack against us, the occupying force, but a blow to the reconstruction process itself.

Christopher Albritton, the former AP and New York Daily News reporter who's blogging in Iraq now, worries that the violence "could be metastasizing into an anti-Western intifada/Arab nationalist revival. It’s unlikely a small group of former Ba’athists led by Saddam loyalists are leading the resistance now, and it’s pretty obvious that killing Uday and Qusai Hussein was ineffective, seeing as the attacks have increased. Likewise, killing or capturing Saddam Hussein is probably equally ineffective -- this is no longer about him."

The UN bombing "fits into a frightening pattern of escalating violence," says Tony Cordesman, an ABC News special correspondent.

"It has been building up, but it has been a mixture of violent acts of terrorism, of economic sabotage, a focused looting on critical facilities, oil export facilities, attacks on U.S. soldiers and the soldiers of other countries, attacks on friendly Iraqis, intimidation and threats. All of these measures have been brought together; it's not just one pattern."

James Rubin, a former U.S. deputy secretary of state, said yesterday that "the terrorism milieu in Iraq has changed, pointing to increased attacks against civilian targets and fewer large-scale attacks against U.S. soldiers.

"It is my suspicion that the types of attacks in Iraq are either backed or funded by Islamic extremists, Rubin said.

"They are coming from other countries and "see it as a rich place to conduct their bloody business," he said.

"Let's face it, if you are a terrorist in the Middle East and you have a mission to kill Americans, Iraq is now the place you're going to want to go," said Rubin.

And this analysis, from the New York Times (registration required): "There is a growing belief that anti-American fighters, whatever their origin and inspiration, have adopted a coherent strategy not only to kill members of allied forces when possible, but also to spread fear by destroying public offices and utilities."

Who would bomb the UN? DEBKAfile reports that "since late June, Chechen terrorists have been coming to Iraq to join the anti-American offensive," and that "the intake of Arab fighters entering Iraq from Syria is beginning to outnumber the indigenous Iraqi guerrillas fighting in the northern Mosul-Haditha district and the central Ramadi-Fallujah region."

Everything that's going on right now sounds an awful lot like fourth-generation warfare, which "includes all forms of conflict where the other side refuses to stand up and fight fair," according to the Web site Defense and the National Interest. "What distinguishes 4GW from earlier generations is that typically at least one side is something other than a military force organized and operating under the control of a national government, and one that often transcends national boundaries."

Although it's a few years old, this story in The Atlantic argues that our military is woefully unprepared to tackle an enemy that doesn't fight fair.

We did a pretty good job defeating Saddam's army -- a conventional military force organized and operating under the control of a national government. Now that there is no national government or standing army, our military is doing a good job of chasing down Saddam's former henchmen. But we seem to be unable to control the random acts of violence and terrorism that are tearing the country apart.

Posted by Katherine Long at 10:03 AM


August 19, 2003

The UN is attacked

Yesterday, there was a flurry of news that al Qaeda had released a tape calling on Muslims around the world to come to Iraq and "fight the US-led occupation." Is it only a coincidence that today a car bomb ripped through the UN headquarters in Baghdad?

Fox News reports: "The violence at the U.N. building followed a series of recent purported warnings from Islamic extremists.

"An audiotape that was allegedly made by one such extremist called on Muslims around the world to fight the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq.

"The audiotape, broadcasted on Al-Arabiyah TV, featured the voice of Abdur Rahman al-Najdi, a Saudi-born terrorist sought by the U.S.

"Also a letter, allegedly from Saddam Hussein's deputy, was read on air by the Al-Arabiya satellite T.V. channel in Dubai that vowed Iraqis would avenge the American killings of Saddam's two sons last month."

Another perspective

Here's a site worth watching for Iraqi news: Iraq Today is an English-language newspaper started by a young Iraqi journalist, Hassan Fattah.

Posted by Katherine Long at 11:59 AM


August 18, 2003

We're Number Four

Posted by Katherine Long

A new report out today by the World Markets Research Centre "ranks the US as the country with the fourth-highest risk of terrorism. Another September 11-style attack in the US is highly likely."

Colombia, Israel and Pakistan are in first, second and third place, respectively. (Those seem like no-brainers.)

Just who is this group? WMRC is a private company based in London that analyzes market conditions and key events around the world to help companies "assess risk, make informed decisions and seize business opportunities in their domestic and foreign markets." It's owned by Joe Kasputys, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Insight group of companies.

If they were following Slate's logic, terrorists would do well to avoid messing with the electrical grid.

Fred Kaplan argues that the east coast power blackout demonstrates that a major disruption of the power grid by would-be terrorists would be an ineffective way to strike terror in the heart of America.

"Certainly the blackout dramatizes the fragility of our overloaded, archaic, unevenly managed electrical-transmission system. But it also reveals the system's -- and society's -- resilience.

"We have had, in one swoop, the largest blackout in U.S. history, wiping out electrical power for some 50 million people, including much of the Northeast corridor and the core of the nation's financial network. And yet, less than 24 hours later, most (though by no means all) of the power has been restored. Financial markets were scantly affected, if at all. In New York City, just one person died (of a heart attack, after walking down many flights of stairs in a Midtown skyscraper); the police recorded just three cases of looting, all minor; by Thursday evening, planes were flying in to the area's airports.

"...None of this is to warrant complacency, either about the electrical grid's ability to supply enough continuous power or about its security from terrorists and pranksters...

"If anything, it offers reassurance that society is more durable than many scenarios about terrorism suppose."

Posted by Katherine Long at 11:19 AM


August 15, 2003

If you can read this, it means the power's back on

By Lucy Mohl

The great equalizer event brought out the best in Americans and Canadians (mostly) throughout the night. It's should be easy to understand the pull to take care of the other guy: if we're all in a bad spot -- like a blackout -- together, then we're all sharing the same difficulties. Even the law of the jungle says strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.

But behavior is unpredictable in crises. The New York Times (registration require) remembers the "good" blackout of 1965 (the one where the birth rate shot up nine months later), and the "bad" blackout of 1977, where arson and looting were the order of the night.

In office conversation around The Seattle Times, our feeling was that September 11th sticks in the back of the collective mind, and the images of all those people walking home recalled a nightmare not yet two years old. The city knew what it was to be shell-shocked (registration require), uncertain and afraid, and instinctively took care of itself.

It's unlikely that many people in New York or other parts of the East and Midwest were thinking too much about Iraq as they straggled home, for once able to see the stars at night. But, that's not to say the Iraqis didn't react when they heard the news.

Posted by tbrown at 02:27 PM


August 14, 2003

Al-Qaida's calling card

By Lucy Mohl

Amid headlines that U.S. security agencies have stung, and otherwise pre-empted potential terror attacks, comes a disturbing sign: Al Qaida has apparently (and literally) left a calling card for American forces in Iraq. According to the website Middle East Online, which carries news and photos of the cards left at the scene of a Fallujah firefight on Wednesday:
Senior US officials, both in the military and the civilian coalition struggling to rebuild Iraq, have warned that the extremist foot soldiers and financiers of Osama bin Laden are gravitating here.

The article details a credible trail to suggest that Ansar al-Islam, a group related to Al Qaida, has infiltrated Iraq from Iran, and has been involved in both Iraqi uprisings against U.S. forces and the bombing of Jordan's Baghdad embassy August 7th, that killed 14 people.

Posted by tbrown at 09:59 AM


August 13, 2003

The best political contest in the U.S. isn't an election

By Lucy Mohl


It's the war of words between Fox News and writer/satirist Al Franken. Fox filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Franken for use of the term "Fair and Balanced" in his latest book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right," claiming the network trademarked the phrase in 1995. Damages are unspecified, possibly because it's tough to find a town square with a good set of stocks these days. The whole brouhaha follows from what had to be the top-rated "Book TV" event ever, when Franken and O'Reilly traded verbal blows at the BookExpo writers' panel in Los Angeles, over the weekend of May 31st. Thanks to www.booktv.org, you can still watch the exchange.

It's an amazing suit, not because of the legal implications, but because it's such an unprecedented blunder on the part of Roger Ailes, the provocateur of perfect pitch. If Franken's not his secret love child, he should be, since Fox & company have just handed him a load free publicity, and a shooting spot up the Amazon best-seller list.

The rest is simply the pure joy following a "¿quién es más macho?" contest; although in a war of words, sorry, Franken's got the advantage. Fox's complaint calls Franken neither a journalist nor a television news personality. He is not a well-respected voice in American politics; rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable. His views lack any serious depth or insight."

Franken's response to the Washington Post: "And by the way, a few months ago, I trademarked the word 'funny.' So when Fox calls me 'unfunny,' they're violating my trademark. I am seriously considering a countersuit."

Posted by tbrown at 12:27 PM


August 12, 2003

Blog Shout-outs

By Lucy Mohl

In the absence of major headline-grabbers --

(Yes, Charles Taylor is finally out of Liberia, replaced by new President Blah. Or, as we would say in this country, Blah Blah Blah. Though it was top of the Seattle Times today, few of the national news sites are playing the potential end of 14 years of violence much above the fold.)

It's strangely affecting, even moving, to see the community of bloggers in times of conflict reaching out to each other.

Salam Pax, the forefather of Iraqi bloggers, the celebrated Baghdad correspondent who kept posting "Where's Raed?" as the world turned, has discovered a soulmate in Turning Tables, written by Moja. And who is Moja, but a U.S. soldier on his second tour of duty. Though he notes, "due to a recent flurry of negative feedback i have taken the liberty of changing or omitting any names or information that i see fit to protect national security and to cover my own ass," Moja provides vivid descriptions of military life, and musings on the military/bureaucratic mind:
"i heard that 3 of the 4 'aces' were down for the count...i find it kind of silly that all of these vicious people who worked the iraqi country around their own wants...all of these carnivores who fed on the differences and lives of so many...have been reduced to a deck of cards...i know the reasons for it...but i wonder how many staff meetings were held to figure out just who would be the 4 of clubs...people with a hell of a lot more rank then me...making very important decisions...but doesn't it sound real news friendly when tom brokaw announces that they've caught 'the jack of diamonds'...a man with an even catchier name like 'machine gun abdula'...are these guys the atrocious leaders of an out of the way country filled with the 2nd largest oil reserve in the world...or are they 1930's american gangsters...baby face uday...maybe they're just a card game...where the stakes are really high...and the odds of winning are a house secret...
no political leadership does what is right simply because what is right is the right thing to do...that reason simply is not entirely worth it to the powers that be...people get real caught up in thinking that there are actually rules in the world scheme...i don't think that's the case...it's all about who comes out on top...at any cost...it pays to be the top dog...because you can make and break the rules...do i think that this is right??? hell no...it's so screwed up that i want to start screaming...

"but instead of going off like a crazy man...i'll take the easy way out...and stuff my face with some chow hall ice cream...finally...we've got ice cream...it's actually more like fluffed vanilla milk...but it is frozen...the little arab guys serving it up have to do it quick because it starts to liquefy immediately upon leaving the freezer...i've watched them throw away half full containers of the stuff because they couldn't serve it all up in time...it's alright though...the army's got a lot of money...about 4 billion a month if i'm not mistakin'...but man is it cold...my mouth isn't even used to it any more...it feels foreign going down my throat..."

It reminds me of Michael Herr's "Dispatches" from the Vietnam era. The same quality is in Salam's postings: writers -- real writers -- caught in a moment where they know there's a game going on, but they're stuck on the board and can only report on what's happening to the pieces.

Posted by Katherine Long at 10:50 AM


August 08, 2003

What did Wolfowitz really mean?

Posted by Katherine Long

Did Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz really say that Iraq was not involved in the 9-11 attack, as the New Zealand news agency Scoop claims? It's worth taking a close reading of the transcript of his radio interview on the Department of Defense Web site.

"I’m not sure even now that I would say Iraq had something to do with it," Wolfowitz said, a confusing start to a broader answer about terrorism in general.

Read the transcript and decide for yourself.

Halliburton, the company once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, is enjoying the spoils of war, its competitors complain. In a New York Times story today, rivals say the bidding process to rebuild Iraq favors Halliburton. It's all about timing: "In the last month, the (U.S. Army) corps, which is overseeing the reconstruction efforts, has specified a timetable for the work that effectively means that the value of any contract companies other than Halliburton could win would be worth only about $176 million, according to Corps of Engineers documents and executives in the engineering and construction business."

Here's an alternative view of the Indonesian bombing: it was a real failure, a New York Post columnist argues. "The terrorists dream of destroying the United States and bringing down Western civilization, of purifying their own societies and imposing their degenerate version of Islam on all of humankind. So they marshal their resources - and blow up a hotel lobby.

"It doesn't sound as if they're making much progress."

Posted by Katherine Long at 09:20 AM


August 07, 2003

Politics as global entertainment

American pundits are going to have a field day writing about the California gubernatorial race; you can just imagine what the foreign press will do. Journalists around the world are starting to warm up to the fun:

The Independent, UK: "If California were a cow town in the Old West, this would be the moment when hostile posses, gathering from all directions, would finger their weapons and nervously wait for the signal to pounce.

"Imagine the unpopular, ineffectual sheriff - in this case, Governor Gray Davis - holed up in his mansion, abandoned by almost all his townsfolk, pondering his future. And then imagine the bizarre collection of gunslingers vying to run him out of town and take his job - a cast of characters that may yet include a wheelchair-bound pornographer, a dodgy car alarm salesman, a sharp-tongued Greek-American society hostess, her Texas millionaire ex-husband and an Austrian-born action movie star."

Canada.com, on Arnold Schwarzenegger: "Even if he doesn't win, it'll be worth it to hear him say "Gubernatorial."

The Mirror, UK: "America has been gripped by the wacky cast list of candidates for the post once held by former President Ronald Reagan."

SABC News, South Africa: "Californians this morning woke up and a lot of people started doing Austrian accents, saying things like "Vote for me if you want to live," "I'll be back" and "Hasta la vista Gov. Davis." An electric shock seemed to pulse across the state with a sometime energy shortage and laid back reputation: action film star Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to run for governor had people dropping their surfboards in surprise."


Posted by Katherine Long at 03:22 PM


Managing Iraq

Posted by Katherine Long

A wave of fresh violence hit Iraq today, including the bombing of the Jordanian embassy and a fierce gun battle that wounded two American soldiers.

In light of the never-ending cycle of violence in postwar Iraq, it's worth taking a look at a book by co-authored James Dobbins, who was formerly Bush's special envoy to post-Taliban Afghanistan. Slate reviews the book, America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq.

From Slate: "One pertinent lesson Dobbins uncovered is that the key ingredient -- the 'most important determinant,' as he puts it -- of successful democratic nation-building in a country after wartime is not the country's history of Westernization, middle-class values, or experience with democracy, but rather the 'level of effort' made by the foreign nation-builders, as measured in their troops, time, and money."

In other words, the US needs to commit many more troops and resources to Iraq to stabilize the situation, Saddam or no Saddam.

Dobbins' book, Slate says, makes the argument that committing more troops means fewer casualties; he draws this conclusion from studying which postwar occupations have been most successful, going back to the end of World War II.

"'The highest levels of casualties have occurred in the operations with the lowest levels of U.S. troops.' In fact, he adds, 'Only when the number of stabilization troops has been low in comparison to the population' -- such as in Somalia, Afghanistan, and now Iraq -- 'have U.S. forces suffered or inflicted significant casualties.' By contrast, in Germany, Japan, Bosnia, and Kosovo -- where troop levels were high -- Americans suffered no postwar combat deaths."

Posted by Katherine Long at 09:51 AM


August 06, 2003

Preventing terrorism

Even advance knowledge that Indonesian terrorists were targeting the Marriott didn't help prevent Tuesday's tragedy. An Indonesian paper reports that police there "seized documents last month showing that terrorists had planned to target the area around Jakarta's Marriott Hotel that was devastated by a powerful car bomb, and that they had increased security around Marriott thereafter, anticipating an attack."

Then again, maybe Indonesian officials didn't take the warnings seriously enough.

That's no comfort for the future. "Another terrorist attack in Indonesia could be imminent, possibly timed to coincide with today's sentencing of the Bali accused Amrozi or next weekend's national day holiday," Australian officials say.

Gulf War Illness II

What is sickening US soldiers stationed in Iraq -- is it just a normal run of illness in a large population of soldiers? Two soldiers in Iraq died recently from pneumonia. About 100 cases have been diagnosed since March 1. Army officials say they're concerned about the serious cases and deaths despite the small numbers.

The Department of Defense says cases of the illness have been fairly widespread; it's not unusual that more deaths would occur among troops in Iraq because of the large number of American soldiers deployed there.

But the mother of one of the soldiers who died believes her son stumbled across something deadly while clearing rubble in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces.

One Australian newspaper says the American public doesn't know the real death toll in Iraq; the number of dead and wounded American soliders, they claim, is twice as high as the US has reported. (They're counting suicides and the recent outbreak of pneumonia, among other things, to come up with a higher number.)

Watching the peacekeepers

The Nigerian-led Economic Community of West African States -- the peacekeepers now at work in Liberia -- have "gained a reputation for ruthlessness and corruption, looting property, arming local militias and conducting summary executions," MSNBC reports. "Human rights organizations have sharply criticized the group, and the United Nations and the State Department have taken notice."

The group Human Rights Watch is critical of the U.S. government for insisting on including a pargraph in the UN resolution that provides far-reaching immunity for peacekeepers serving in the country.

Posted by Katherine Long at 07:05 AM


August 05, 2003

Indonesia and al Qaeda

Was the suicide bombing attack on an Indonesian hotel another sign that al Qaeda remains alive and well? "Washington said last week that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network was planning new suicide hijackings and bombings in the United States and abroad," Reuters reports "The U.S. embassy held its 4th of July independence celebrations at the Marriott Hotel." (However, most of the dead and wounded in this attack were Indonesians.)

Recently, Indonesian officials have arrested more than 40 suspected Jemaah Islamiah members --a terrorist cell linked to al Qaeda -- who are accused of involvement in last October's Bali bombing.

In Australia, the Sydney Morning Post finds much to be alarmed about with the news of this bombing.

"For starters, it was detonated at a hotel that has security as tight as any in Indonesia to protect its largely Western clientele. It was detonated at 12.50pm, right on peak hour for Jakarta's wealthy set, who usually lunch from 12 or 12.30.

"It was a large bomb. Police have said it was made of high explosive, although they have not yet worked out how much was used. And although there is no evidence of who detonated the bomb, already several people, including Jakarta's Governor, have suggested a suicide bomber was responsible.

"Whoever did this bombing was meticulous and was prepared to attack one of the most high profile and obvious targets in the country."

The Heritage Foundation argues that "underlines the fact that Asia is a vital front in the war on terrorism, and the U.S. must expand security partnerships in the region." There's plenty of background reading on this site.

Liberian history

Jesse Jackson, writing in Chicago's Sun-Times, argues that the US should step in and help Libera.

"In Liberia, all sides are begging the United States to come in and help sustain a cease-fire. And the president already has put 2,500 Marines on ships off the coast. If we don't have enough troops to sustain them, then countries across the world from North Korea to Iran are likely to draw stark conclusions. This is a mission the U.S. military can undertake easily."

The Christian Science Monitor explores our historical links to Liberia.

Posted by Katherine Long at 11:12 AM


August 04, 2003

Beginning of the end in Liberia?

The first wave of West African peacekeepers has arrived in Liberia to cheering crowds.

What will they come up against in Liberia? Quite possibly, young men toting guns and purses. Slate takes a look at why Liberian rebel soldiers put on women's clothes -- wedding dresses, prom dresses, wigs -- before going into battle.

"According to the soldiers themselves, cross-dressing is a military mind game, a tactic that instills fear in their rivals. It also makes the soldiers feel more invincible. This belief is founded on a regional superstition which holds that soldiers can "confuse the enemy's bullets" by assuming two identities simultaneously. Though the accoutrements and garb look bizarre to Western eyes, they are, in a sense, variations on the camouflage uniforms and face paint American soldiers use to bolster their sense of invisibility (and, therefore, immunity) during combat."

Meanwhile, a reporter for the British newspaper The Guardian reports from the front lines that child-soldiers in Liberia often go into battle on a diet of drugs.

Posted by Katherine Long at 07:41 AM


August 01, 2003

U.S. releases "enhanced" photos of Saddam

The U.S. Central Command has released five "digitally enhanced" photos of what Saddam might look like now to help troops -- and perhaps Iraqis interested in that $25 million reward -- identify him. One shows him without his trademark mustache. Check them out here.

Posted by tbrown at 03:33 PM


Valerie Plame update: The CIA may be investigating this fiasco

Joshua Marshall of Talking Points Memo, has an intriguing one-line post on which he has yet to elaborate: “An investigation into the Valerie Plame affair does appear to be underway at the CIA.” Marshall is based in D.C. and does have lots of sources.

Some day, politicians will figure out that it just doesn’t pay to play games with the CIA, as this administration has with the Niger yellowcake brouhaha and with Valerie Plame, their agent who reportedly was outed to columnist Robert Novak by two “senior administration officials.” The CIA has been getting even for a lot longer than Karl Rove and Dick Cheney.

Posted by tbrown at 03:10 PM


Scenes from the occupation

Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post has an amazing story that underscores why stabilizing Iraq will be neither easy nor quick. The U.S. is paying informers for tips on where to find Saddam supporters and others who may be attacking our troops. Their fellow Iraqis are killing the informers – or, in this case, forcing an informer’s father to kill him. And we’re offering no protection to those who give us information.

Posted by tbrown at 01:32 PM


Osama is probably in Pakistan – but will we ever find him?

What may prove a crucial chapter in the war on terrorism is quietly being written in Pakistan and Iran.

Osama bin Laden is, by many accounts, being protected by tribal leaders in Pakistan along its porous border with Afghanistan. In a New Yorker article by Jane Mayer, Mansoor Ijaz, an American financier who has family connections to Pakistani intelligence, says bin Laden is “very much alive, and hiding in the tribal areas … He’s essentially being babysat by tribal leaders who have an arm’s-length relationship with the Pakistani government.”

Others interviewed by Mayer say the Pakistani government – supposedly our ally in the war on terrorism – could locate bin Laden if it wanted to, but won’t because he has many supporters within the Pakistani intelligence services and in Western Pakistan, where Islamic fundamentalism is a potent force.

Bin Laden, meanwhile, is said to have linked up again with Mullah Muhammed Omar, the head of the former Taliban government of Afghanistan that the U.S. forced from power when he refused to hand over bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. Omar is married to one of bin Laden's daughters. Bin Laden and his Al Qaida lieutenants are supplying the regrouped Taliban with money and logistical support – and are offering rewards of up to $100,000 each for captured or killed American soldiers.

With the U.S. focus now almost exclusively on Iraq, the capture of bin Laden anytime soon seems unlikely.

In Iran, meanwhile, there are parallel developments that potentially could be as important to the U.S. as capturing bin Laden. The Iranian government, according to press and intelligence reports, has captured Saad bin Laden, Osama bin Laden's son, who has assumed a leadership role; Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the Al Qaida spokesman; and Saif al-Adel, the latest No. 3 who is believed to be in charge of military operations.

“Even more significant,” the Christian Science Monitor reports, “according to one Western intelligence official, Tehran is also holding Al Qaida's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is known as an Islamic fundamentalist intellectual and eloquent speaker for the organization. While some U.S. intelligence sources have expressed doubt that Iran really has Dr. Zawahiri, the European [intelligence] official says Tehran ‘absolutely’ has him.”

The Iranian government has said it is working to complete its investigation of the Al Qaida operatives it holds – it has never said who they are – and probably will deport them to their home countries. The Iranians also have said they will not turn the Al Qaida over directly to the U.S. If they are deported to such places as Egypt (al-Zawahiri’s homeland), Jordan and Saudi Arabia, they might eventually become available to the U.S.

A report this morning says, however, that the U.S. is engaged in secret negotiations with Iran on this point and in return for the Al Qaida operatives might turn over to Iran members of the Mujahadeen al-Khalq, or MEK. The MEK – though it is on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations – has received some support from the U.S. as a potential force for destablizing the fundamentalist Islamic regime in Iran. Now they’re a bargaining chip.

Saddam’s daughters to bury their despised brothers

Back in Iraq, strange days continue. Two of Saddam’s daughters, Raghad and Rana, say they will request that the bodies of their brothers Odai and Qusai be turned over to them for burial. As I wrote in an earlier post, the husbands of Raghad and Rana defected to Jordan in the late 1990s, then were lured back to Iraq, where Odai, engineered their slayings. Reportedly, from that day forward the two women dressed in mourning black and had almost no contact with their brothers or Saddam.

Now Raghad and Rana have accepted asylum in Jordan for themselves and their children, and are prepared to give their brothers a Muslim burial no matter how much they hate them.

3 Israeli children receive organs from a Palestinian child

Every once in a while, a story like this comes along that makes you think
there may be some hope after all for one of the most benighted messes on the planet (link via Head Heeb).

The Valerie Plame Wilson affair continues to perk

Some members of Congress are now demanding an investigation into who the “high administration officials” who reportedly fingered Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA operative were. Blogger Mark Kleiman continues to keep the story alive in the blogosphere with an analysis of the federal law that makes it a crime to divulge the identity of intelligence agents.

Kleiman also has a good post today on DARPA’s short-lived “futures market” on terrorism. It turns out that bidding in this market was going to be limited to 1,000 invited “experts,” which would have allayed fears of manipulation by terrorists.

Two more blogs worth tracking

Winds of Change makes a point of rounding up developments in Central Asia from time to time, as in this post (link via Instapundit).

Eurosavant is a blog by an American, Michael Olson, who lives in Amsterdam. Reputedly, he can read a dozen languages. He scans the European press and rounds up the most interesting stuff (link via Steve Outing at Poynteronline)

Posted by tbrown at 11:43 AM




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