The Belgravia Dispatch by GREGORY DJEREJIAN


5/30/2004  

Attack in Saudi

Given today's terror attack in Saudi Arabia this excellent Economist article which analyzes nightmare scenarios--vis-a-vis major terror attacks on oil production facilities in the Kingdom--is particularly timely.

This last attack will likely merely have a relatively slight impact on oil futures mostly born of psychological factors--as oil supplies themselves don't look to be disrupted (and further OPEC output increases look to be coming on tap).

But clearly, this was a pretty well coordinated (and bold) attack that showcases, just in case we needed a reminder, that Saudi Arabia is facing critical challenges on the security front that are likely to get worse before they get better.

posted by Gregory| 5/30/2004 12:51:00 PM


5/28/2004  

In-House Matters

I'm keenly aware my blogging has been, as lawyers are wont to say, de minimis of late.

I was going to put up a post about how this blog might have to move more towards an Innocents Abroad model (in terms of frequency of posting--that fine blog tends to post new material at a more stately pace than many, B.D. included).

But while I have a demanding day job (typically 10-12 hours a day as GC of a financial services company) I, like others around the blogosphere, appear to be a blogaholic of sorts.

So despite the long work hours (and very frequent travel) I will often try to fit in a blog post at least daily. And I'm reticent to stop doing so now.

That said, I don't want to "post just to post." While I am aware that "freshness" is important in this medium--I am wary of sacrificing quality content merely for the sake of putting something new up daily.

All this to say, for the time being, I plan to continue to post whenever I feel I have the requisite time to say something that I believe merits being read (read, that is, by more than just myself and a few assorted high school buddies!)--interspersed with the obligatory news updates that I typically accompany with short quips and such.

Finally, I should note I am moving off blogspot. While it has been working better of late (though I gather my site was down for a while recently), I neverthless want to try out MT, put in a search function, check out new font colors/sizes, maybe occasionally open up comments, organize my archives by topics, and so on.

So I've got someone working on a blog redesign. Go check it out.

Feedback from friends has been uneven. Some say the map logo is lame and that it looks boring. Some really like it. So, if you can spare a second, give me your feedback too.

I'm either going to simply export the current blog (with a few subtle font/color changes) to MT so that the basic look remains the same.

Or I will move to some variant of the blog redesign I've linked above. So please help me decide which way to go!

Back with substantive posts soon. And thanks in advance for any feedback.

posted by Gregory| 5/28/2004 07:48:00 PM


5/25/2004  

On the Road

I'm traveling on a deal--limited to no blogging until next week.

posted by Gregory| 5/25/2004 10:31:00 PM


5/24/2004  

Moore, Cannes and Tarantino

No documentary has won at Cannes since 1956.

That's, pretty much, half a century (48 years, to be exact).

Was Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 so amazingly compelling artistically that it just had to win this year (in what was a pretty strong field)?

Or were Tarantino and Co. simply letting the world know they really don't like the smell of Bush much?

You know, I've always considered Tarantino a major (if uneven) talent. Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs were both excellent (Kill Bill less so, especially in terms of the complexity of the plot).

But he hasn't done himself (or the Cannes Film Festival) any favors this past week with his naked grandstanding. And his denials that political factors weighed in the jury's decision-making ring pretty hollow.

UPDATE: Jury member and Scottish actress Tilda Swinton, defending the decision:

"I do think it's possible to see that this film is not about Bush, America, or Iraq, but about the system, in a very precise way. It's about the dialectic between film-makers, the media, and the audience."

When at something of a loss or just simply B.S-ing, prattle on about the "system" and "dialectics." The movie-going masses will be impressed by all the cool neo-Marxist jargon. And such uber-deep think also strikes just the right Cannes note-a handy antithesis to the moronic barbarians in Hollywood.


posted by Gregory| 5/24/2004 10:40:00 AM
 

The Crude Angle

Well, at least it's not 1973 all over again.

posted by Gregory| 5/24/2004 10:39:00 AM


5/22/2004  

Book Reviewer Selection Watch

Couldn't the NYT find someone better than John Dean to review Joe Wilson's book?

The laughably naked Wilson-cheerleading effort gets started right out of the gates with this opening sentence: "This is a riveting and all-engaging book."

Soon later:

"For those interested in the most vicious hatchet job inside the Beltway since my colleague in Richard Nixon's White House, the dirty trickster Charles W. Colson, copped a plea for defaming Daniel Ellsberg and his lawyer, that headline-grabbing story unfolds in the second half of the book."

Looks to be a judicious, even-keeled review, huh?

posted by Gregory| 5/22/2004 07:34:00 PM


5/21/2004  

Read It and Weep

I spent two years of my life with the International Rescue Committee in the former Yugoslavia.

My main responsibility was to interview refugees and act as their advocates to secure them refugee status in the United States.

During this time, I interviewed hundreds of people who had suffered immensely. Young women raped by Bosnian Serb paramilitaries in Sarajevo, a Bosnian Muslim man who had escaped Srebrenica, another man from the Prijedor area who had lost his mother, father and all of his seven siblings to a massacre.

I would, as best I could, write up these horrors and console myself thinking that these wonderfully resilient human beings would at least have a chance to start anew in the United States--which, of course, appeared a utopian beacon of liberty to these so brutalized individuals.

Which brings me to Abu Ghraib and this very disturbing story in today's Washingon Post.

Go read the article. Take a good look too at the new pictures that haven't yet been aired. Then begin to read over these sworn statements from former Abu Ghraib detainees.

The original documents (in PDF format) are hauntingly real with their grainy quality and ink blotches. The actual sworn statement forms starkly stare back at us in all their routineness and bureaucratic blandness--with information about who translated the document, who verified the translation, who made up the prisoner interrogation team.

For me, as I read over these gut-wrenching sworn statements, my mind flashes back to the reporting forms I used to fill out to chronicle horrors that had taken place in Bosnia. Not, of course, because Bosnian Serb genocidal rampages can be equated with what went on in Abu Ghraib. But simply given the astonishing fact that individuals in U.S. captivity would be filling out reports that, in form at least if not in substance, would so vividly remind me of the forms I used to prove political persecution of refugees back in the mid-90s.

Put differently, never in my wildest imaginings--while working in the Balkans in the mid-90s--did I think that, someday, I might see sworn statements detailing American abuses of the scope and nature of Abu Ghraib.

So perhaps I'm something of a sucker, but even after having followed this Abu Ghraib story for weeks now, I still feel like I was punched in the gut all over again.

To be sure, investigations are underway.

Yes, we are not perfect and never claimed to be.

Yes, we are showing that a democracy polices itself (too slowly, in my view, with worrisome whiffs of too much buck-passing, ass-covering, avoidance of taking real responsibility--as opposed to merely stating that one assumes responsibility-what, finally, does responsibility mean then?).

You know, we are all doubtless very busy. We lead rushed, hurried lives. We likely don't wish to stop and spend a couple hours poring through these gruesome accounts of abuse and torture.

But do go read just this one sworn statment.

Then ask yourself, how did we let this happen?

What, exactly, was the "systems" failure that allowed such grotesqueries to take place--even after ICRC reports had been issued to U.S. military authorities?

How was it that such conduct was not deemed to rise to the level that POTUS was not briefed contemporaneously?

To what extent were such policies, for instance, to blame?

No, dear readers, this is a failure of leadership--not merely the work of a few 'bad apples' on a frat-like hazing frolic that got a tad out of hand.

Not to mention that such abuses and/or tortures almost certainly occurred in locales beyond Abu Ghraib.

The Rummy Angle

Don Rumsfeld has had a fine run in both the public and private sectors for many long years.

I was happy we had such a strong Secretary of Defense in the aftermath of 9/11. Gosh, I remember feeling in downtown New York a few days after the attacks--thank God Gore lost the election! We have a strong national security team at the helm!

But Rumsfeld, like many strong talents, has come undone by his hubris. His aggressive insouciance regarding Geneva Conventions fostered a culture of treating detainees in a manner which was, to use his words, "un-American".

Further, even without seeing the photographs, the textual description of the acts that had taken place merited airing to POTUS immediately. That this didn't happen, to me, indicates that Rummy didn't take all this seriously enough.

Nor has he shown any genuine contrition, in my view, since this scandal has unfolded. No, I don't want to see him lying prostrate in front of varied Arab potentates (who have done much worse, of course, but, on the other hand, aren't telling us what form of government would work best for us in Washington) begging forgiveness. But I want to see more than a 'boost the morale of our troops' (subtext: I, Don Rumsfeld, ain't going anywhere, folks) lap around Abu Ghraib.

But It's Bigger Than Rummy

There are so many other factors at play in all this, of course, far beyond Rummy.

The utter bestiality and shock of the 9/11 attacks have led to a strong undertow of anti-Arab racism too, I suspect. The better to have un-muzzled and well-fed, well-groomed attack dogs glare terrifyingly at haggard, naked Arab males prostrate before the canines in detention centers.

Yes, de-humanization of the enemy occurs in all conflicts. This is the nature of war. But it is harder, I suspect, to imagine that we would have treated Bosnian Serb detainees, for instance, in such a manner (just like we likely treated the Japanese worse than some Germans during WWII).

We must remember, after all, that the 19 hijackers do not represent all Arabs--just like those U.S. soldiers smiling and flashing the thumbs-up over the corpses of Iraq detainees beaten to death don't represent all Americans.

So, should Rummy resign? Yes, he should.

Will he? Probably not.

Does it really matter at this point? I don't know.

Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!

I guess I was something of a naif.

Many of us have been, I fear, over the past few months.

Remember all the empty cheerleading in the blogosphere of around a year back: "Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!"?

Democracy has proven elusive.

Sexy has been more West Virginia amateur porn with tinges of snuff thrown in.

And the whiskey was some of us drunk on simplistic nostrums of democracy exportation and chest-thumping triumphalism.

Am I being too harsh?

Yes, likely, a little--I'm angry and disturbed.

And, to this day, I believe we were right to unseat Saddam.

And I still believe we can make the Iraq project work. After all, this effort must be measured in years, not week by week.

So yeah, it is and will remain a long, hard slog. We must soldier on, persevere.

But I think we will require some new policymakers at the helm.

Fresh, vigorous, serious policy re-thinks need to pursued by individuals whose reputations are not(rightly) greatly suffering.

This is critical towards remedying the grevious errors that have been committed in Iraq, both tactically and morally, since Saddam was unseated.














posted by Gregory| 5/21/2004 09:56:00 AM


5/20/2004  

Gaddis at the CFR

A must-read Q&A with Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis.

I won't excerpt much here. Do go read the whole thing.

But do note how Gaddis punctures much of the hyperbole surrounding the September 2002 NSS (that it celebrated radical, unilateral preemptive gunslinging with gross abandon):

"It was also interesting for a reason that has been largely forgotten in the wake of Iraq events, and that was the extent to which it was multilateral in character. There was a surprising amount about multilateralism in this document. It was quite clear--the document made it very clear that, if multilateral action is not possible, the United States will proceed unilaterally. And that is what has gotten most of the attention. But the intent was to try to build an international consensus in support of going after both terrorists and tyrants, and to do this on a multilateral basis. That was the original conception. And pre-emption was the novelty that was here, because this was something that had not been visible--it was never absent, but it was not visible in our strategies during the Cold War."

Later, on another topic, a questioner (an old boss!) queries:

QUESTIONER: James Sitrick, Coudert Brothers. You said your problem was not with the grand strategy, but that there seemed to be too little thinking about what to do when the dog caught the car afterwards.

GADDIS: Right.

QUESTIONER: It's my understanding that the State Department spent a couple years thinking about this and reporting on it, but that when President Bush gave control of postwar Iraq to the Defense Department, the State Department studies were rejected and discarded. Is that your understanding?

GADDIS: That is largely my understanding as well. And this is where a lot of my concern at present resides, is with the dominance of the Defense Department over our strategy. Because it seems to me that the track record has not been good in this regard. And I think there are two particular areas of concern that are very much, or ought to be very much, on our minds now. One is the policy on the treatment of prisoners, which goes well beyond what happened in Baghdad, but it's the whole international legal position on the status of prisoners, which is something that comes out of the Defense Department, and is--I think there's every reason for concern because of the precedents and the problems that this is likely to cause us in the future, it seems to me. So I'm extremely worried about that aspect of the situation.

"The other is what seems to me to be a gap that is developing between the attitudes of the civilian leadership in the Pentagon and the professional military. And we only see glimmers of this, but if you watched the testimony of Wolfowitz the other day, or [the testimony of Major] General [Antonio] Taguba and [Under] secretary [of Defense for Intelligence Stephen] Cambone, you see distance between these two. You see signals being misunderstood. You see a different story. You see the military be a lot more candid about what's going on, and saying there are real problems here. And you see less of a tendency on the part of the civilian leadership in the Pentagon. This is not healthy for the civilian leadership in the Pentagon to be at odds with the military leadership. And these are the two great grounds for concern that I have about the Rumsfeld Pentagon and the way it's being run right now
."

Needless to say, Gaddis has a lot of company on these concerns, B.D. included.





posted by Gregory| 5/20/2004 11:20:00 PM
 

Kerry Watch

Tom Maguire has more on Kerry's policy pronunciamentos of late.

Not suprisingly, they are quite underwhelming in their weaves and bobs.

posted by Gregory| 5/20/2004 12:12:00 PM
 

Boorish New Yorkers on the Loose!

For those of you who don't read the often hilarious Miss Manners-like "Your Problems Solved" column in the Spectator, a classic from a couple issues back (subscription required):

Q. Some mega-rich American bankers bought the house opposite and have outraged the neighbourhood with two solid years of construction work — endless daily noise from a circular mechanical digger gouging out a second basement, thick dust, meaning endless trips to an expensive carwash, endless window-cleaning, blocked street, lost car parking, and rude and aggressive builders — without a hint of an apology at any time. The traditional form here is to send a charming note apologising in advance or wine (relating to height of inconvenience) in retrospect.

How can I show these dreadful vulgar people that they are universally loathed and completely unwelcome while staying within the law? Have you any suggestions for killer insults which would not be actionable (these people are New Yorkers)? [emphasis added]

Name withheld, London Wll

A. As you live in the Notting Hill area you doubtless have a wide circle of friendly neighbours who work in the media, most pertinently people who produce reality television. Simply arrange for the offending neighbours to receive a letter from a production company announcing that they are to be the focus of a forthcoming Neighbours from Hell shockumentary (which is in the very early stages of production) and requesting an interview in which they will have the opportunity to hit back at their critics in the surrounding streets. ‘Please telephone to arrange a suitable time when we can film you outside the property when the diggers are in action.’ Even if you do not see an end to the noise, you will have the satisfaction of having unnerved the offenders and possibly put them to the expense and inconvenience of issuing an injunction. You may even find someone who genuinely wants to make such a documentary. The haves would enjoy feeling outraged as they watched and the have-nots would enjoy for quite different reasons.


Heh.

The bolded language strikes a certain endearing London note...

posted by Gregory| 5/20/2004 11:15:00 AM
 

'Guess the Honeymoon is Over' Watch

How times change, eh?

First U.S. funds are cut off. Then his house is raided.

Is, er, extradition to Jordan next?

posted by Gregory| 5/20/2004 10:56:00 AM
 

Salvage Job

Jim Hoagland, taking in the current Iraq situation, thinks the U.S needs to go to salvage mode in Iraq.

He comes perilously close to pushing the Les Gelb/Peter Galbraith tripartite partition scenario I've blogged about before here and here (have nearly 800 U.S. soldiers, scores of coalition forces and myriad Iraqis died so that we can preside over population transfers to create ethnically homogenous para-states in Iraq?).

But Hoagland is smarter than that, and sees the 'partition' scenario as merely temporary:

"If the only way to achieve this is to accept a temporary, de facto partition of Iraq into three zones of autonomy with differing security responsibilities, so be it.

The United States should not set the partition of Iraq as a formal policy goal. But neither should it go back, even covertly, to supporting territorial integrity enforced by state terrorism wielded by a Sunni strongman.

Formal partition, which would permit an independent Kurdistan, brings too many diplomatic costs and problems with Iran, Turkey and the Arab countries. Moreover, Iraq is a viable unitary state that will achieve its own internal balances of survival over the long haul. The ideal of unitary Iraq must be kept alive.

But the deployment of U.S. resources and power in Iraq should increasingly reflect the possibilities of an alliance with the Kurds in the regional war against terrorism, the need for a low-visibility working relationship with the Shiite religious establishment in the south, and the imperatives of reducing violence in the Sunni Triangle for Americans and Iraqis by all available means
."

I've got issues with lots of this--but here is just one: temporary partitions, of course, often have a way of becoming pretty permanent (see Bosnia, Kosovo).

Meanwhile, Richard Cohen has a depressing (and rather damning) piece on Colin Powell:

"In this region, Powell is seen as a much-diminished figure who is more a spokesman for policies he opposes than a policymaker with real clout at the White House. His once immense stature and popularity are gone -- and not without regret. Had he gotten his way -- on Iraq, on the Israeli-Palestinian problem -- U.S. prestige in the Arab world would be far higher. Things may change, but for the moment the antipathy toward America, and Americans, in this region is downright palpable, and Colin Powell is thought not to matter very much at all.

Powell started here with a formal address. "Let me, for a moment, take off my diplomat's suit and put back on the uniform that I proudly wore for 35 years, as a soldier of the American people, as a soldier in the United States Army," he said. Then he described his shock at what he had seen in the photos from Abu Ghraib, the prison where Iraqi detainees were sexually humiliated and physically abused. As someone who met Powell back in his Army days, I found his contrition -- his shame -- moving. This was an awfully proud soldier talking about the institution that had taken a black kid from the streets of New York to the highest levels of the U.S. government. His apology, and it was that, could not have come easily.

Yet his audience was stone cold. What it expected from him is hard to say. But the anger at the United States is so great -- along with the strong feeling that the prison abuses had to be sanctioned at the top -- that no mere apology could suffice. In this part of the world, only a high-level resignation will do: Rumsfeld, obviously, but he, after offering an apology, swiftly visited Abu Ghraib. All over the Arab world, Rumsfeld was seen on television embracing the prison's personnel. One Arab diplomat I talked to could not contain his dismay. The "optics," as he called it, were awful
."

Read the whole thing.

It's a depressing read, isn't it?

Right now, I fear, key administration players don't have the energy, fortitude, ingenuity, policy insights (however you want to put it) to a) tell the public honestly that we may very well be approaching a tipping point in Iraq that requires major corrective action (spare me the going gets rough pre--sovereignty handover and all will be swell post June 30th empty cheerleading) and b) key Adminstration figures do not appear fully cognizant of this reality.

With all due respect to these major Beltway players, I can't help thinking: a) Powell is simply running out the clock; b) Rumsfeld is in damage control mode looking to save his own skin; c) Wolfy's reputation is at a low ebb given how many neo-con hypotheses have proven grossly inaccurate and is fending off myriad assaults and knives being thrust in his back, d) Condi is simply involved in protecting the President as the election nears; e) Cheney/Bush are entering election mode (read: no risky Middle East initiatives and active spin, rather than an honest accounting, re: going forward Iraq policy).

Put differently, we need new blood in elite policymaking circles (McCain? Lugar? Sam Nunn?) [ed. note: Sounds like you want a new team in Washington? Why not simply vote for Kerry?]

If Kerry makes Richard Holbrooke his Secretary of State (I'm a big Dick Holbrooke fan given my time in the Balkans and his efforts in Dayton)--I'd admit to a second thought or two.

But I'd remain hugely concerned about other positions (NSC, Defense, Under and Assistant Secretaries at State/Defense) who, collectively (and despite the Holbrooke bulldozer/rollercoaster show), would likely have us ending up with policies that would prove pretty feckless in general orientation and effect.

Developing, as they say.

posted by Gregory| 5/20/2004 06:25:00 AM
 

The Fox Follies

Up late in London catching Bill O'Reilly's show. Pity I was still up and channel surfing--as I was forced to catch a Congressman Steve King (from Iowa) say that Abu Ghraib simply amounted to "hazing."

Congress (particularly the House) has always been stock-full of used car salesman-like cretins (just some 'bad apples', mind you)--but this is really beyond the pale for a sitting U.S. representative.

Or are freshmen fraternity initiates being sodomized and attacked by dogs at places like Iowa State these days?

UPDATE: A reader writes in:

Dear Mr. Djerejian,

"Just happened to catch your reference to Iowa congressman Steve King in your 5-20 blog titled "The Fox Follies."

You are absolutely right about King, who currently represents the district in which I live (I did NOT vote for this ignorant bigot). This man is not only an embarrassment to Iowa, but to this country.

....I actively campaigned [o]n behalf of King's opponent (Paul Shomshor) in 2002. Paul... lost, as did most other Democrats in Iowa. Instead, Iowa's 5th district elected a college drop-out (Steve King) to congress, who makes "used car salesman-like cretins" (your words), look like ethics professors.

Steve King does have trouble when it comes to speaking; he is too busy picking straw from his teeth. Ironic that he'd refer to the Abu Ghraib prison abuse as "college hazing," when he doesn't even understand the concept of higher learning. In short, we have representing us an ethnocentric racist
."

[ed: note: I've witheld name and other parts of the email that might identify the reader-- though I wasn't requested to]
Onawa, Iowa





posted by Gregory| 5/20/2004 12:05:00 AM


5/19/2004  

More Money is Staying at Home

Booming stock markets? Rapidly rising real estate prices? Major tourist influxes?

In the Middle East?

Read the whole thing. Call this one of the silver linings (at least for the Dubais and Beiruts) in the larger picture of worsening relations between the U.S. and the Arab world:

"Many Arab investors, meanwhile, are keeping part of the funds they usually invest abroad inside the region, fuelling a surge in stock markets and real estate prices.

They are also changing their travel habits, switching away from the US and Europe to countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Dubai....

...before people thought the West and the US loved us and all that has changed. People feel their investments abroad are not as welcome and they want to keep some percentage of the money inside. That's why stock markets are doing well."

According to Mr Azzam, the Saudi stock exchange is up 36 per cent this year, despite a growing terrorist threat.

In Qatar, the stock market gained 46 per cent in the same period and Lebanon's exchange was up 22 per cent
."

Still, the good news might be fleeting--much of it driven by momentum investing with myriad structural deficiencies left unaddressed:

"Stock markets and real estate markets are doing well but that's momentum investing. It is not a great new opportunity," says Mr Abed.

The need to create new opportunities is more crucial than ever. But governments are reluctant to embark on the needed structural changes, including reforming bloated public sectors. "Governments are so big and costly they cannot do much more even if they have the money. They have to downsize," says Mr Abed.

"Unless we tackle governance and accountability we're not addressing the real issue."

The dilemma facing Arab governments is not only that more than 4m young people come on to the job market every year, but that many of them are educated and have high expectations.

"Governments are stuck," says Mr Nabli, of the World Bank. "They're captured by vested interests that don't want change and labour markets are very tense, so governments are afraid of making moves for change, including privatisation, trade reform and public sector reform. They're afraid it will get out of hand [politically]."

But as time goes by, he says: "What you're doing is simply building up problems
."

Indeed.

Time to Define Democratization Down

Given that it doesn't look like there will be a run on translated copies of the Federalist Papers in Iraq anytime soon--it might make sense for our democratization initiatives in the region to focus more on economic reforms.

Especially when a vast majority of Arabs in the region smell double standards in our application of democracy tenets.

Israel, our favored democratic ally in the region, has been (if mistakingly) lobbing missiles or tank shells into crowds of demonstrators in refugee camps.

And, if this was a wedding party (an inquiry is underway), you'll forgive some Arabs--in places like the Iraqi-Syrian border or the teeming slums of Rafah--for thinking that democracy means killing (when not torturing) Arabs.

So don't be surprised if they are not all rushing to sign on the dotted line...

Back to economic reforms. Think of focusing on such reforms as the flip side of the Russia model with glasnost allowing for conditions of a sustainable perestroika to take root, ie. the Chinese model with economic reforms occuring before implementation of political reforms.

Another reason for Washington to take a closer look at the "Barcelona Process"--a Euro-initiative that, despite Romano Prodi's involvement, might be worth more attention in the Beltway.

What Needs to be Done; But Won't Be

I'm clearly discomforted by where we are at in the Middle East right now. I'd like to see (but won't, sadly):

1) appointment of a high-level special envoy to shuttle between Israel and the Palestinians to a) get a ceasefire, b) resuscitate negotiations, c) revive Martin Indyk's 'trusteeship' idea so international forces would be made available to enforce a prospective settlement; and d) start thinking/talking about the contours/nature of a Palestinian state and compensation mechanism for pre-67 refugees so Palestinians can espy a real settlement (no pun intended);

2) more troops (and a better troop mix) in Iraq to help provide security rather than a chimerical peace with honour (pseudo-Iraqification)--by all means, Iraqify--but do it deliberately and right, ie. 2 years of force training and until then beef up U.S. presence;

3) appointment of a major U.S. expert on the Arab world (not Madison Avenue execs) to spearhead a reinvigorated public diplomacy effort in the region (no this doesn't mean piping in J. Lo or Madonna);

4) destroy Abu Ghraib rather than, risibly, rename it "Camp Redemption" (please spare me the E-mails about how what went on in Saddam-era Abu Ghraib was so much worse than Rumsfeld-era Abu Ghraib--remember that Saddam never represented that he was invading Iran or Kuwait to democratize said countries);

and,

5) contemplate "Marshall Plan" style supplements to aforementioned Barcelona Process to aid economic liberalization in the region.

There's more, of course. But this would be an ambitious start. Kerry ( wallowing in meek non-statements) won't do it.

Bush, it appears, won't either.

But given this reality, I'll go with the stronger leader who moved U.S. strategic doctrine in the right direction post-9/11.

Of course, massive errors (mostly the result of misguided souls at the Pentagon and Cheney's shop) helped scuttle much of our policy in Iraq and elsewhere in the 'region.'

But the game is not yet over. Iraq can still prove a success (especially if, for instance, McCain replaced Rummy at the Pentagon).

But I'd be lying to myself if I didn't report I have very real misgivings and concerns at the present juncture.

You'd be giving Pangloss himself a run for the money if you didn't, really.


posted by Gregory| 5/19/2004 10:17:00 PM
 

In Memoriam

For the victims of the March 11th attacks in Madrid--a "forest of the absent" is in the works--192 cypress and olive trees will be planted in front of the Atocha railway station in memory of those massacred.

posted by Gregory| 5/19/2004 09:11:00 PM
 

Name Games

Abu Ghraib is to be renamed Camp Redemption. After reading the article--another moniker springs to mind: Camp Cover Your Ass (or at least those of the civilian leadership at the Pentagon).

posted by Gregory| 5/19/2004 09:06:00 PM


5/18/2004  

The Responsibility Gap

"What are the odds that a 21-year-old reservist from a small town decided out of the clear blue sky to strip her prisoners naked and lead them around on a leash? She must have been told by superiors to do this, or at least been told to make the prisoners eager to talk or some similar order suggesting extreme measures. Her motive cannot have been sexual, as talk radio has implied; can you think of any situation less erotic than a filthy prison, grubby prisoners and fellow soldiers with cameras? An individual soldier might mistreat prisoners for reasons of personal sadism. But entire groups of guards don't suddenly become sadists at the same time out of the clear blue sky. Someone must have told them to soften the prisoners up. And the someone who must have told them appears to have been knowledgeable about Arab culture, far more than a 21-year-old reservist from the mountain town of Cumberland, Maryland, is likely to have been. Male homosexuality is deeply shameful in Arab culture; to force naked Arab prisoners to simulate gay sex, taking pictures you could threaten to show, would be far worse than beating them. Someone familiar with Arab psychology, an Army intelligence officer or a CIA officer, must have known this and ordered what happened. What are the odds some low-ranking reservists came up with the idea out of the clear blue sky?

Yet so far only enlisted personnel are facing courts martial in the prisoner-abuse fiasco, and this is outrageous. Officers are responsible for what happens under their command. It is the officers, not the enlisted men and women, who should be held to account
." [emphasis added]

Some common-sensical straight talk from Gregg Easterbrook.

And don't miss Mark Danner's NYRB piece either.

Some key grafs:

"As I write, we know nothing of what "American intelligence knew"—apart from a hint here or there, this critical fact is wholly absent from both reports, as it has been from the public hearings of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other officials. General Taguba, following his orders, concentrates instead on the activities of the military police, hapless amateurs who were "tasked" to "set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses" and whose work, thanks to digital photography, has now been displayed so vividly to the citizens of the world. It is this photography that has let us visualize something of what happened to Mr. Abd one night in early November, following a fight among prisoners, when he and six other men were brought to what was known as "the hard site" at Abu Ghraib, the wing for the most dangerous prisoners:

The seven men were all placed in hoods, he said, and the beating began. "They beat our heads on the walls and the doors," he said. "I don't really know: I couldn't see." He said his jaw had been broken, badly enough that he still has trouble eating. In all, he said, he believes that he received about 50 blows over about two hours.
"Then the interpreter told us to strip," he said. "We told him: 'You are Egyptian, and you are a Muslim. You know that as Muslims we can't do that.' When we refused to take off our clothes, they beat us and tore our clothes off with a blade."
It was at this moment in the interview...that several pages of the photographs made public last week were produced.... He quickly and unemotionally pointed out all his friends—Hussein, Ah med, Hashim—naked, hooded, twisted around each other.
He also saw himself, as degraded as possible: naked, his hand on his genitals, a female soldier, identified in another report as Pvt. Lynndie England, pointing and smiling with a cigarette in her mouth. Mr. Abd said one of the soldiers had removed his hood, and the translator ordered him to masturbate while looking at Private England....

"She was laughing, and she put her hands on her breasts," Mr. Abd said. "Of course, I couldn't do it. I told them that I couldn't, so they beat me in the stomach, and I fell to the ground. The translator said, 'Do it! Do it! It's better than being beaten.' I said, 'How can I do it?' So I put my hand on my penis, just pretending."

All the while, he said, the flash of the camera kept illuminating the dim room that once held prisoners of Mr. Hussein
....

Particularly given that many of the detainees so odiously handled were not 'high value'--in terms of any intelligence information they could impart to their interrogators (if we can call them that)--these tactics were not only reprehensible in the extreme but also simply stupid.

[ed. note: Some clarifications given a few E-mails sent in overnight. No I didn't mean to imply that some of the torture methods could have been justified in the case of 'high value' detainees. And, yes, the use of the word torture is appropriate, in my view.]

Such tactics, of course, play into the hands of the insurgents.

As Danner puts it:

....This of course is a prime goal of the insurgents; they cannot defeat the Americans militarily but they can defeat them politically. For the insurgents, the path to such victory lies in provoking the American occupiers to do their political work for them; the insurgents ambush American convoys with "improvised explosive devices" placed in city neighborhoods so the Americans will respond by wounding and killing civilians, or by imprisoning them in places like Abu Ghraib. The insurgents want to place the outnumbered, overworked American troops under constant fear and stress so they will mistreat Iraqis on a broad scale and succeed in making themselves hated."

Danner concludes:

"Many of the young Americans smiling back at us in the photographs will soon be on trial. It is unlikely that those who ran "the process" and issued the orders will face the same tribunals. Iraqis will be well aware of this, even if Americans are not. The question is whether Americans have traveled far enough from the events of September 11 to go beyond the photographs, which show nothing more than the amateur stooges of "the process," and look squarely at the process itself, the process that goes on daily at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram, and other secret prisons in Iraq and around the world.

To date the true actors in those lurid scenes, who are professionals and no doubt embarrassed by the garish brutality of their apprentices in the military police, have remained offstage. None has testified. The question we must ask in coming days, as Specialist Jeremy Sivits and other young Americans face public courts-martial in Baghdad, is whether or not we as Americans can face a true revelation. We must look squarely at the photographs and ask: Is what has changed only what we know, or what we are willing to accept
?"

That's the question, isn't it?

I'm certainly not willing to accept what was depicted in these pictures--and I'm speaking as someone who has raised money for Bush and supported the Iraq war.

Which is another reason I find these weasely (non) apologies underwheming and beneath many of these men and women.












posted by Gregory| 5/18/2004 10:39:00 PM


5/16/2004  

Abu Ghraib's Long Shadow

"We believed in American exceptionalism, and American exceptionalism has proven to be fraudulent."

-- Fred Hiatt, quoting Tommy Koh (Singapore's former Ambassador to Washington).

Harsh and overwrought? Perhaps...but Hiatt is right when he writes:

"The first victims of U.S. prison abuse at Abu Ghraib were Iraqis. But those who will pay a price also live in Libya and Hong Kong, Venezuela and Burma, and anywhere else human rights are in jeopardy.

They will pay a price because America's capacity to stand up to dictators, and stand up for their victims, is the lowest it has been in memory. And so far at least, President Bush either does not appreciate or does not care enough about this handicap to begin taking the steps that might point to recovery
."

I think Bush does care--it's the appreciate part I'm concerned about.


posted by Gregory| 5/16/2004 05:50:00 PM


5/14/2004  

Going Wobbly?

I'm getting a decent amount of the 'you're going wobbly' strain of reader E-mails.

One E-mail, about something of a pre-9/11 epiphany about the perils of Islamic terrorism that took place at a Soho cafe--sparked some memories of my own.

A few months after 9/11, I was sitting down in Soho as well. I usually stayed in far east Soho/Nolita where I lived--avoiding the swarms of tourists clogging central Soho.

But that day found me having lunch with a good friend and his girlfriend in far West Soho (I think on Thompson). We were eating al fresco at an Italian with the outdoor tables closely clustered together (the premium on outdoor dining space in Manhattan was painfully apparent).

My buddy was one of those expat types who never wades north of 14th St and works in the film industry. He was subjecting me to the typical 'we trained UBL' speel and thus (wink wink), you kind of reap what you sow, right?

I cut him off a bit past mid-way in the rant and tried to inject some facts into the discussion. Yes we helped train some Afghan (and Arab/Central Asian) irregulars, in the midst of the Cold War, so as to stave off Soviet advances in Afghanistan. Yes, of course, some of those irregulars became further radicalized and provided manifold human capital for jihadists in far-flung spots like Bosnia, Chechnya and so on. Yes, provision of Stinger missiles and such might also have included some training in guerrilla tactics. Yes, just maybe, UBL himself may have benefited directly from all the CIA training, doling out of cash and Stingers, myriad Peshawar intrigues.

But, no, we didn't train UBL (or anyone else, for that matter) in urban terror tactics aimed at the mass slaughter of innocent civilians. No, we didn't train him to fuel up the jets and smash them into iconic skyscrapers smack dab in the center of the leading financial district of the world. No, we didn't instruct him to grin and have a hearty chuckle about the carnage--while expressing pleasant surprise that the Towers actually crumbled.

We moved on to new topics after my rant (would it be oxymoronic to call it a fact-based rant?). What I remember, however, is that a tall, blonde woman approached me after she finished her lunch at the neighboring table. Standing in front of our table, she openly thanked me (rather effusively) for getting the facts out (she was obviously listening to our entire conversation).

We were perfect strangers. As the New Yorkers among you will appreciate--it can take a lot for New Yorkers to actually, er, talk to each other. Or evidence that their sensory antenna have actually gauged, in some fashion, your mere presence in their immediate physical radius.

But it was that kind of time in downtown. We had been, in turn, incredulous, deeply wounded, ferociously angry. But we were moving towards resoluteness, clarity, a desire for lucidity and facts during a time of crisis.

So no, in that vein and mood, don't tell me (even a good friend) that the U.S. created UBL. My B.S. detector would have to go off, big time, and given the events a few blocks to the south a couple months back, I simply didn't have the time for such claptrap.

Few sensible folks did.

Which leads me to the whole Abu Ghraib/Nick Berg going-ons. As I've written before, I don't see these events as linked (al-Q very much wants to world to see them so). But, inevitably, temperatures are rising in reaction to both events.

Many on the right of the blogosphere have gone through something of a flip-flop over the past week. Infuriated by the FUBAR situation at Abu Ghraib--we expressed our outrage and spent time grappling with various questions: a) how the hell did this happen? b) should Rummy go? c) should the jail be destroyed?

Then some beast-like coward of a man sawed-off the head of an innocent civilian in a scene straight from the 11th Century. People, with mixed feelings and queasy stomachs, forced themselves to watch the video clip on-line. And they were, of course, really, really disturbed.

But here is the key difference between Nick Berg's slaughter and Abu Ghraib. We should only be surprised about the occurence of the latter, not the former.

Why? The nature of our enemy has been crystal-clear since 9/11. Their objective is simply to slaughter as many innocents in the West as possible. And the more terrifyingly excecuted the slaughters--the better.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has, despite all the derision that such statements evoke among the predictable quarters of the absurdist, hyper-relativistic Left, been an avatar of human rights for many long decades.

Put differently, we are more the country of the Statue of Liberty, Miranda, and the Declaration of Independence than the country of My Lai, Plessy, Abu Ghraib.

We intend, and strive, for greater justice.

Yes, an errant cruise missile that smashes into the wrong target in a Baghdad neighborhood, all told, will look just as damn ugly (hell, even worse) as Nick Berg's beheading.

But we strive to avoid said outcomes. We strive for a better compact for humanity--domestically and abroad. Contra such efforts, who doubts al-Qaeda and affiliates wouldn't vaporize Manhattan or the City of London the moment they could?

Bush and Blair, of course, get this. I'm not so sure the center-left really does. I've yet to convicingly hear from Kerry, for instance, that he really gets the perils presented by the nexus of WMD, failed or terror states, transnational terror groups.

Listen, we can all quibble with the Coalition's often (though certainly not always) piss-poor handling of post-war Iraq. We can criticize other Bush missteps in the war on terror (too cozy with Sharon, public diplomacy shortcomings).

But, at least, we have been apprised of the key dangers of the 21st Century and have cobbled together a robust foreign policy doctrine to combat said threats. To be sure, the doctrine will need tweaks and better implementation. But we are, at least, reacting to events--not slumbering through gathering storms as during the Clinton years.

At some level, I suspect that Bush understands, to paraphrase Dostoevsky, that humanity has always been equally torn between instincts for self-preservation and instincts for self-destruction.

Partly as a reaction to this reality, he has decided to seek a greater security umbrella in the perilous Middle East region (to better the chances that the self-preservationist instinct prevails).

Bush has gambled in a big, strong way. If he loses, if Iraq degenerates into a failed state, a state wracked by civil war, a radical theocracy of some sort--we will all lose. Even serious people in gauchiste quarters of Paris and Berlin get this. The stakes are high indeed.

So yes, let's get on top of the Abu Ghraib scandal as I've extensively blogged. But let's also keep the larger context of these perilous times in mind too. An event that will make 9/11 look de minimis is being actively plotted (or at least dreamed about) daily.

We must forge an intelligent way to prevent said terrorists from obtaining the means to carry out such attacks--while pursuing intelligent policies that reduce the pool of individuals ready to engage in such wanton carnage (see conflict resolution in Israel-Palestine, robust punitive measure against those found to be responsible for the horrors of Abu Ghraib, more effective public diplomacy with the Arab world, economic reforms through the region, and so on).

So, am I going wobbly? No, I'm not.

I simply demand higher standards of conduct from my country and its leaders than those we expect from our enemies.

You should too--in spades.


posted by Gregory| 5/14/2004 03:23:00 AM


5/13/2004  

Beeb Humour

A telling little gem from the Beeb--before heading to sleep in a hotel room I hear the following on BBC International:

"Donald Rumsfeld goes to prison...[cue quite noticeable pause]...the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq..."

Cute, isn't it?

posted by Gregory| 5/13/2004 07:41:00 PM
 

Talking Geneva

That was then.

"We have indicated that we do plan to, for the most part, treat them in a manner that is reasonably consistent with the Geneva conventions, to the extent they are appropriate.”

--Donald Rumsfeld, back in '02.

This is now.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, making a surprise visit to Iraq aimed at containing the prisoner abuse scandal, said Thursday that U.S. government lawyers were advising the Defense Department not to publicly release any more photographs of Iraqi prisoners being mistreated by American soldiers.

‘‘As far as I’m concerned, I’d be happy to release them all to the public and to get it behind us,’’ Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him from Washington. ‘‘But at the present time I don’t know anyone in the legal shop in any element of the government that is recommending that.’’

Government lawyers argue that releasing such materials would violate a Geneva Convention stricture against presenting images of prisoners that could be construed as degrading, Rumsfeld said en route to the Iraqi capital on a trip that was not announced in advance due to security concerns
.

--Donald Rumsfeld, today.

Fussy Genevois legalisms are suddenly appearing of more import, aren't they?

Hey, why not comply, er, "for the most part," and simply blur the faces of the detainees and/or U.S. personnel in the pics/videos so as to not degrade them and/or violate their privacy rights?

And then release them forthwith?

Just to get it "behind us"?

Read this spot on WaPo masthead too.

Key grafs:

"The lawlessness began in January 2002 when Mr. Rumsfeld publicly declared that hundreds of people detained by U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan "do not have any rights" under the Geneva Conventions. That was not the case: At a minimum, all those arrested in the war zone were entitled under the conventions to a formal hearing to determine whether they were prisoners of war or unlawful combatants. No such hearings were held, but then Mr. Rumsfeld made clear that U.S. observance of the convention was now optional. Prisoners, he said, would be treated "for the most part" in "a manner that is reasonably consistent" with the conventions -- which, the secretary breezily suggested, was outdated.

In one important respect, Mr. Rumsfeld was correct: Not only could captured al Qaeda members be legitimately deprived of Geneva Convention guarantees (once the required hearing was held) but such treatment was in many cases necessary to obtain vital intelligence and prevent terrorists from communicating with confederates abroad. But if the United States was to resort to that exceptional practice, Mr. Rumsfeld should have established procedures to ensure that it did so without violating international conventions against torture and that only suspects who truly needed such extraordinary handling were treated that way. Outside controls or independent reviews could have provided such safeguards. Instead, Mr. Rumsfeld allowed detainees to be indiscriminately designated as beyond the law -- and made humane treatment dependent on the goodwill of U.S. personnel
."

That's probably about right, I'm afraid.

Meanwhile, some Baker Hostetler partners, in a pretty sober and well-reasoned piece, have poo-poohed what they call the "bad atmosphere" argument:

"The second argument is also meritless, although far more insidious. It suggests that the administration's refusal to grant "unprivileged" or "unlawful" combatants (such as al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the insurgent forces in Iraq) the rights of honorable prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, has "dehumanized" them and created an "atmosphere" permitting (or even encouraging) abuses like those at the Abu Ghraib prison. The president's political opponents have embraced this "bad atmosphere" argument, and are utilizing it as something akin to a pundit's philosopher's stone. Clear and acknowledged abuses have been transformed into evidence of action that is supposedly characteristic of the entire American detention system, equally applicable to the treatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Guantanamo Bay....

In fact, the administration's policy is fully supported by the Geneva Conventions, which distinguish between forces that are, and are not, entitled to POW status. It is also very well grounded in the customary laws of war, which have never accorded captured combatants the rights of criminal defendants simply because they are detained. Combatants without a transparent command structure, who do not wear uniforms, carry their arms openly, or obey the laws of war in their operations, are not entitled to POW treatment — whether or not their actions are sanctioned by a state. Such individuals have been traditionally disadvantaged by the laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions, because they do not distinguish themselves from the civilian population and often purposefully target civilians for attack
." [my emphases throughout]

I'm not surprised the two Hostetler lawyers appear to rely more on "customary" law than attempting to showcase the Administration's de jure compliance with the Geneva Conventions.

Why? Because arguing that Rummy's Pentagon was in full compliance with Geneva Conventions is, at best, somewhat disingenuous and, likely on the merits, false.

As the WaPo masthead mentioned above stated:

"At a minimum, all those arrested in the war zone were entitled under the conventions to a formal hearing to determine whether they were prisoners of war or unlawful combatants."

This formal screening process doesn't appear to have routinely been pursued in Afghanistan and/or Iraq (readers are invited to send any information/thoughts on this topic--especially if they have contrary information).

And it appears that designating captured enemy as unlawful combatants--rather than bona fide POWS, without a hearing--would violate Geneva Convention norms. So the authors of the NRO piece are quite likely wrong to say the policy the U.S. has pursued is "fully supported" by the Geneva Conventions.

They also write:

"Nor can the abuses be attributed to a lack of training in humanitarian law — which seems to be the excuse chosen by the accused and their lawyers. General Taguba's report identified a lack of training in Geneva law was one problem with the units serving in the Abu Ghraib prison, and such training certainly could not have hurt matters. However, had every member of these units been required to memorize the Geneva Conventions, it would have made little difference. Those instruments detail a number of technical rights to which prisoners of war are entitled, but their overall requirement is that captives be treated humanely. For all practical purposes, this is the same commonsense standard established by President Bush from the very beginning of the war on terror. If that standard wasn't clear enough to rule out the use of Iraqi prisoners as so many props in a series of pornographic photographs, home movies, and worse, then there is nothing in the Geneva Conventions that would have taught the Abu Ghraib guards otherwise. The problem here was with individuals, not the system."

This is a variation on this Rummy statement.

"The test is what is decided and what is issued, and then is it adhered to?" Rumsfeld said. "And what we know is that the lawyers cleared what was issued down through the system. What we can't know at any given moment of every day is whether each person is executing them consistent with what was approved by the lawyers down through the system."

Fair enough, you'd almost be tempted to say.

But if you have got a bunch of 19 year old kids from places like West Virginia and Idaho, who haven't had the chance to digest the finer distinctions between al-Qaeda enemy combatants and Fallujahan Baathist 'dead-enders' (lucky POWs!)--all the legal guidance does get a little muddied, doesn't it?

Especially when the need to adhere to Geneva Conventions (for the lucky folks) hasn't been hammered in--whether by routine briefings or posting the relevant regulations at the jail you serve at as a guard (the Taguba report found that guards at Abu Ghraib were not briefed on the Geneva Conventions and its provisions were not posted at the prison).

Add to all this top-down comments from your leadership about adherence to Geneva Conventions not needing, shall we say, to always be running at 110%--you start getting damn close to blaming Abu Ghraib on systemic failures rather than solely the acts of a few 'bad apples'.

If more of the balance of evidence keeps pointing towards systemic factors--the pressure on Rumsfeld to step down will (rightly) ratchet up.

N.B.: The Hosteter lawyers describe the Geneva Conventions as consisting merely of "technical points" and a general obligation to 'do good.'

From the Convention:

"To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(b) Taking of hostages;

(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment
..."

So let me ask--if you post the Conventions prominently in a detention facility, and remind your junior soldiers about the requirements more often, wouldn't such actions help foster an environment that might help keep young soldiers from pulling out the chemical lights and forcing detainees to masturbate on tape?

It's not a panacea against all the bad apples, of course, to post the Geneva Conventions and inform soldiers about them in detail routinely. After all, combat duty in Iraq isn't 1L at HLS.

But it just might have contributed to a better 'atmosphere' at Abu Ghraib, no?

UPDATE:

Ironies...Zeyad of Iraqi blog "Healing Iraq" reports that Abu Ghraib used to be known as 'Abu Geneve' (back duing the Saddam years).

Note: Don't miss his thoughts on the torture scandal either.
















posted by Gregory| 5/13/2004 01:30:00 PM
 

Some Perspective

From Jim Hoagland.

Meanwhile, goods news on the Moktada al Sadr front.

Sully has the details.

And here's some more must-read perspective on the whole Shi'a angle (from last year but still highly relevant):

"Nevertheless, the large majority of Iraqi Shi'ites probably have no desire to mimic the Islamic Republic of Iran. They are aware of the situation there and do not want to move from a secular totalitarian system to an overbearing theocracy. Iraq's political culture and social makeup, moreover, are very different from those of Iran. Quite apart from the existence of Sunnis, Kurds, Chaldeans, and Turkmen in the country, the Iraqi Shi'ite community is itself diverse. There are secularists (including liberals and communists) and various religious groups, urban and rural dwellers, rich and poor, Shi'ites who have never left Iraq and those who have spent decades in exile. There is no single leader who can speak for all Iraqi Shi'ites, let alone oversee the transformation of postwar Iraq into an Iranian-style Islamic republic.

That said, defining the relationship between religion and politics in Iraq will be a major challenge facing Shi'ite religious groups. Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, who in the past advocated an Islamic government, has more recently adopted a different tone. Hakim returned to Najaf this past May after 23 years in exile, and he is positioning himself as a contender for Shi'ite religious leadership in Iraq. It remains to be seen what course he will choose, given the complex social reality in Iraq and the U.S. presence there. If he adopts a pragmatic course, Hakim will be following in the footsteps of the Lebanese cleric Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who acknowledged that the conditions for an Islamic state did not exist in Lebanon.

The Iraqi Shi'ites, together with their non-Shi'ite compatriots, will need to develop a national identity broad enough to unite the country. Together, Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs constitute 75 percent of the population. The two groups are linked by a large number of mixed marriages and share social codes and cultural attributes that could form the basis of an Iraqi nationalism drawing on the ideas of the literary figure Ali al-Sharqi, who died in 1964. Sharqi offered a vision of nationalism that built on the strong Arab tribal character of Iraqi society. He advocated the development of a nationalist ideology that combined broadly Eastern and Arab elements with specifically Iraqi values and heritage. Sharqi's vision was also clearly influenced by the effort of Egyptians to use their ancient past as a foundation myth. His ideas have influenced later generations of Iraqi intellectuals, and they may be further developed as a new Iraqi nation takes shape
."

Keeping this broader perspective in mind (and indulging me a mini-bout of flippancy)-- Moktada might well be remembered by history as a pimply, post-adolescent hothead who over-reached and got burned badly.

At least let's hope so.



posted by Gregory| 5/13/2004 08:30:00 AM


5/12/2004  

Idiotic Headline of the Week



Yes, and Danny Pearl was similarly barbarically slaughtered because of the going-ons at Abu Ghraib too...

Note: More commentary on Abu Ghraib and the beheading here.

posted by Gregory| 5/12/2004 08:27:00 PM
 

Sign of the Times

We get (significant) traffic from such Dogpile searches and such Google searches these days....

Almost makes me nostalgic for the days people were getting to B.D. via this search.

posted by Gregory| 5/12/2004 01:33:00 PM
 

Abu Ghraib Watch

The unfolding scandal is starting to feel a bit like Chinese water torture.

Drip (Karpinski is blaming higher ups; but note I find Karpinski's behavior in much of this detestable).

Drip (Afghanistan too?).

Drip (Shouldn't court martials of low-ranking officials be suspended and judicial proceedings proceed from the top down?) [ed. note: See Michael Suessmann's letter third down].

Memo to the Bush White House.

Abu Ghraib has real legs.

And you're not yet in front of the story.

To repeat: 1) Release all pics/videos; 2) destroy Abu Ghraib, 3) POTUS to issue an unequivocal, unfettered apology; 4) Rummy to give serious thought to stepping down.

Note: Spare me the E-mails about my relative lack of outrage about the beheading.

I'm disgusted by it. The beheading of the U.S. national is, of course, outrageous.

But it is in keeping with the values of radical, theocratic barbarians we are fighting in multiple theaters at home and abroad.

They will continue to kill until not a single infidel inhabits a large land mass from Alhambra to Jakarta--the better to create a pure Islamic caliphate where adulterers are stoned to death and thieves have their hands and feet amputated.

Their brutal beheading had nothing, of course, to do with Abu Ghraib.

The claim of a prisoner exchange refused by the Americans is manifestly laughable.

Put differently, their linkage of Abu Ghraib to the brutal execution of an American national insults our intelligence and is a complete fiction and propaganda tactic.

But let's not link Abu Ghraib to the execution in another way either.

Let's not say, look how bestial they are, our treatment of detainees pales in comparison with their brutish butchery (not strictly true, regardless, as some detainees died in our captivity--and not because of natural causes).

We are not theocratic fanatics hell-bent on a brutish, medieval interpretation of one of the world's great religions.

We are upholding Enlightenment values of reason, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.

Thus much higher standards of behavior are demanded of us.

McCain gets this. George Will gets this. Sully gets it.

More Republican leaders need to get it too. Soon.

Yes, spare me the indignation of the John Kerrys and Co. who have so little to offer in terms of viable policy alternatives on Iraq and whine from the sidelines (give me some meat on your Iraq policy prescriptions Mr. Kerry!)

But give me comfort that this White House is not in pure batten down the hatches, court martial a sergeant here, a Karpinski there, and, voila, case closed.

It's bigger than this. Much bigger.

John Vinocur, the IHT's veteran observer of U.S.-Euro relations (and no Gerard and/or Jacques fan) reports worrisomely from Brussels:

"A NATO official, asked to speak his mind about the effects of the U.S. military's prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq, leapt - despairingly - to the task. "It's the worst blow to American credibility in 25 years," he said. "People in Europe," he added, are telling the Americans "they've lost their moral authority. It is impossible to underestimate the problem."

In another capital, a cabinet minister of a leading allied government described the situation as a "Guernica moment," a reference to the indelible impact on international opinion of that town's destruction by fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War
."

A "Guernica moment", you say? Perhaps a tad strong?

Was Vinocur quoting, say, a disgruntled, Blair-fatigued, lefty Labour Minister?

Or a German Minister barely concealing a healthy dose of schadenfreude?

I'm not so sure. Read all of Vinocur's piece. This is a serious crisis.

America's moral standing, while not destroyed by a long shot, has nevertheless been significantly imperiled.

We need, put simply, to regain the moral high ground.

And this White House hasn't yet shown that it: (a) adequately gets this and (b) has a strategy to regain said moral authority.

posted by Gregory| 5/12/2004 06:52:00 AM
 

John Burns

The New York Times most talented correspondent explains why he has appeared to adopt an Afro-style haircut, why he almost O.D'd on caffeine in Iraq, and why there are "probably closer relations between reporters of all major newspapers and news networks here [Iraq] than there have been in any place I’ve ever worked."

This despite the fact that some journalists may have been angered when Burns charged some Western press outlets with whitewashing some of the worst aspects of Saddam's reign.

Burns reminds us that the coalition--despite all the major problems the coalition has had to date, continues to face, and will face going forward-- has nevertheless dismantled a terror state in Iraq:

"I believe that there’s tremendous redemptive power in nature," he said. "One of the things that’s happened in the course of the last months of increasing hazard here is that we’ve all drawn together. And that includes myself and the people of whom I spoke critically at that time. It reminds me of a wonderful phrase from Rupert Brooke’s First World War poem. In another context, he talked about ‘all evil shed away.’ We’re all in this together now. If there were people who were wary about stating the essential truth about Saddam Hussein’s regime, which is to say that it was a terror state, those people now are showing tremendous bravery, and I’ve also seen just how good they are as journalists. It’s a different time. It’s a different challenge. That seems a country far away and long ago. And one or two of my colleagues who were upset by those remarks are now friends again. So all evil shed away." []emphasis added]

UPDATE: A reader writes in:

"On the terror state boldage in your John Burns article, I read terror as "brutal police state existing through influence of fear" rather than "international terrorist supporting country." You don't add any analysis, but your bolding puzzled me, and it seems that the second interpretation (in my eyes the incorrect one) of journalists uniformly accepting that Saddam harbored AQ etc would be more bold worthy, as it would be far more relevatory."

Good feedback and I should have been more specific. No, I didn't mean UBL and Saddam were in deep huddle in Prague hotel lobbys with Mohammed Atta serving up tea as they talked about delivering anthrax through rush hour Grand Central.

But, perhaps unlike the reader, I do think it's "bold worthy" to remind ourselves that we did put an end to a terror state--read a neo-Stalinist thugocracy that pursued genocidal policies, started two regional wars, used WMD in the past, had tried to assassinate a U.S. President, and so on (we all know the long list by now...)

posted by Gregory| 5/12/2004 06:34:00 AM


5/11/2004  

Euro-U.S. Relations

Felix Rohaytn says it's not about Old vs. New Europe--but Old vs. New America. I've got some issues with his piece (particularly Rohaytn's description of the New America as "radical") but will have to comment later given time constraints.

posted by Gregory| 5/11/2004 10:06:00 AM
 

Destroy Abu Ghraib

George Will joins others conservatives in calling for Abu Ghraib to be destroyed.

Is Karl Rove listening?

I'm speaking to other Republicans (people who have raised money for this President) who are highly concerned about how this White House is handling the torture scandal to date.

Are we trying to save a little cash by not blowing up this jail with some C-4?

Christ, we've spent hundreds of billions of dollars on this Iraq effort.

For Pete's sake, blow up this prison and transfer the detainees elsewhere soonest.

Mr. President, tear down this jail!

Read all of Will's op-ed.

Don't miss these other key sections:

"The first axiom is: When there is no penalty for failure, failures proliferate. Leave aside the question of who or what failed before Sept. 11, 2001. But who lost his or her job because the president's 2003 State of the Union address gave currency to a fraud -- the story of Iraq's attempting to buy uranium in Niger? Or because the primary and only sufficient reason for waging preemptive war -- weapons of mass destruction -- was largely spurious? Or because postwar planning, from failure to anticipate the initial looting to today's insufficient force levels, has been botched? Failures are multiplying because of choices for which no one seems accountable."

And later:

"One question is: Are the nation's efforts in the deepening global war -- the world is more menacing than it was a year ago -- helped or hindered by Rumsfeld's continuation as the appointed American most conspicuously identified with the conduct of the war? This is not a simple call. But being experienced, he will know how to make the call. Being honorable, he will so do.

He knows his Macbeth and will recognize the framing of the second question: Were he to resign, would discerning people say that nothing in his public life became him like the leaving of it?

This nation has always needed an ethic about the resignation of public officials. Such an ethic cannot be codified. It must grow in controlling power from precedent to precedent, as an unwritten common law, distilled from the behavior of uncommonly honorable men and women who understand the stakes. A nation, especially one doing the business of empire, needs high officials to be highly attentive to what is done in their departments -- attentive far down the chain of command, as though their very jobs depended on it
." [emphasis added]

George Will (like, much less importantly, B.D.) hasn't quite called for Rumsfeld to resign.

But I would join Will, even at this relatively early stage in this unfolding scandal(I fear it's going to get much worse), in asking Rumsfeld to think long and hard about whether he is currently more of an asset or more of a liability for this President.

George Will closes his column with this Charles de Gaulle quote: "the cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men."

Will doesn't tell us in his column--but this is one of Rumsfeld's Rules: "Don't think of yourself as indispensable or infallible. As Charles de Gaulle said, the cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men."

Here's another one of his rules for Rummy to chew over:

"Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the President and do wonders for your performance."

Also:

"The price of being close to the President is delivering bad news. You fail him if you don't tell him the truth. Others won't do it."

Maybe Rumsfeld did tell Dubya the truth, when and as he knew it, throughout.

But did he dig deeply enough, so as not to be fairly accused of negligence, into the extent of the horrors at Abu Ghraib so that he hasn't failed this President (given the massive public relations disaster and, indeed, greater strategic threat environment we face give the scale of this unfolding scandal)?

Yes, the pictures that Rummy didn't immediately see are jarring, haunting, despicable--a deep stain on America.

But the written descriptions of the acts depicted in the pics--that Rummy read many months back--they couldn't have made for cheery reading either, no?











posted by Gregory| 5/11/2004 09:20:00 AM


5/10/2004  

Bush's Pentagon Statement

Still very much on the road but was able to catch Bush's Pentagon press conference on CNN International.

All told, I wasn't impressed.

It was a transparent bid to try get back 'on message' (Bush, while blessedly not a Clinton-like obsessed poll-reader, likely nevertheless derived some comfort from polls indicating that a majority of the public supports Rumsfeld).

Basically, it appears Bush is looking to routinize the scandal, ie. get into 'let the investigation proceed', impending court martials, 'rule of law' mode.

Democracy in action!

I wish I could be so sanguine.

But, and particularly with more pictures on the way, I simply can't.

Bush, in his Pentagon talk, outlined three main "commitments" to Iraq (and, in passing, asked Congress to approve a USD25B 'contingency fund').

1) "First, we will take every necessary measure to assure the safety of American and coalition personnel, and the security of Iraqi citizens. We're on the offensive against the killers and terrorists in that country, and we will stay on the offensive."

2) "Our second great commitment in Iraq is to transfer sovereignty to an Iraqi government as quickly as possible. Decades of oppression destroyed every free institution in Iraq, but not the desire to live in freedom."

3) "Third, because America is committed to the equality and dignity of all people, there will be a full accounting for the cruel and disgraceful abuse of Iraqi detainees.

The conduct that has come to light is an insult to the Iraqi people and an affront to the most basic standards of morality and decency.

One basic difference between democracies and dictatorships is that free countries confront such abuses openly and directly. In January, shortly after reports of abuse became known to our military, an investigation was launched. Today, several formal investigations led by senior military officials are under way.

Secretary Rumsfeld has appointed several former senior officials to review the investigations of these abuses. Some soldiers have already been charged and those involved will answer for their conduct in an orderly and transparent process. We will honor rule of law. All prison operations in Iraq will be thoroughly reviewed to make certain that such offenses are not repeated.

Those responsible for these abuses have caused harm that goes well beyond the walls of a prison. It has given some an excuse to question our cause and to cast doubt on our motives. Yet who can doubt that Iraq is better for being free from one of the most bloodiest tyrants the world has ever known? Millions of Iraqis are grateful for the chance they have been given to live in freedom, a chance made possible by the courage and sacrifice of the United States military
."

Some of this is true.

Millions of Iraqis (though the number is likely diminishing daily) are of course grateful to have been rid of the yoke of brutish neo-Stalinist rule that was Saddam's Iraq.

Our soldiers have shown courage in Afghanistan and Iraq. And it was good of Bush to stress to the servicemen and women serving in Iraq (the vast majority serving honorably) that he stands firmly with them in the midst of this scandal.

But here is the problem. He got the order of the commitments wrong.

He tried to trot out the old lines about hunting down the diehards and terrorists. He gave us the Fallujah/Najaf updates. Finally, third, he got around to the "abuse" of Iraqi detainees.

At the present juncture, however, the tortures that took place in Abu Ghraib must be the lead story (or commitment). Sorry, but whether we've got patrols or such in Fallujah right now; well, I don't care a whit just now (OK, I do, but not nearly as much as I care about seeing Bush get on top of this torture scandal).

A scandal that is going to get worse (see the latest picture over at the New Yorker of a dog terrorizing a detainee--blood is reportedly drawn in later pics--an odious, de-humanizing torture worthy of your best friendly neighborhood Baathist thug).

Speaking of torture, Bush has yet to utter the word.

But army dogs drawing blood from detainees is prima facie torture.

But I guess actually using the T-word would compromise due process for our accused troops or such?

Nor has Bush yet offered up an unadulaterated and full-blown apology to the Iraqis tortured by U.S. forces.

Or announced he will reduce Abu Ghraib to rubble.

Meanwhile, his White House press spokesman (during the snippets of the daily White House brief I saw) looks like he is in cover up mode regarding pics and tapes still not made public.

Put another way, I'm worried Bush doesn't get the stakes and the fact that America (as Fareed Zakaria recently put it) is increasingly being viewed as an "international outlaw" (if so often hyperbolically and unfairly) through large swaths of the globe.

I say this with regret as a defender of Bush and supporter of this war.

I think Bush has often been grossly underestimated and believe he has pursued, all told, a robust, cogent and impressive foreign policy.

But, in Iraq, I'm starting to lose faith.

We have made big mistakes.

We should have never disbanded the Iraqi Army. And no, this isn't a case of hindsight being 20-20. Many experts urged that the Iraqi Army not be disbanded before the conflict.

We never had enough troops in country to effectively protect supply lines, to provide a real 'shock and awe' strategy (read: a soldier on every corner when Iraqis woke up in the morning), to pursue a consistently robust counter-insurgency campaign.

And now, we are not getting in front of this hugely important scandal. A scandal which shows a pretty AWOL command. It smells, frankly, of (gross) negligence at the highest levels. Or something of an alarming insouciance about the treatment of U.S. detainees from the senior Pentagon leadership.

Bush, to use a phrase he likes to use these days, must understand that this scandal is of the highest import in terms of, not only successfully seeing the Iraq effort through, but also our larger aims in the region and our image through the world.

Bush must release all remaining pictures and videotapes to the world. Now.

Then he must call them what they are. That's torture.

He must then fully apologize. In unfettered, unadulterated fashion.

And, all told, I suspect he needs to push Rumsfeld along (should the embattled SecDef decide not to resign) if the vicious abuses and tortures prove to have occurred at other facilities too or if Rumsfeld is increasingly deemed to have been staggeringly incompetent (or arrogant, or secretive) in terms of not alerting POTUS and/or Congress, in timely fashion, about the scale of the torture scandal developing since January.

Finally, Rumsfeld, I fear, has ulimately proved a too hubristic figure who allowed for a "culture of extra-legal behaviour" (the Economist's phrase) to take root during the prosecution of the global war on terror.

And I fear that may have had a material impact on the lack of effective oversight at places like Abu Ghraib.

Put differently, it's starting to smell like we had too many penal colonies strewn about the globe where, more often than should ever have occurred, an anything goes mentality appeared to reign. Put differently, material gaps in adult supervision of the going-ons.

Yes, we don't know that yet. But it's my strong suspicion. In any case, we will see how all this develops in the coming weeks and months.

But, I repeat, and as a pretty consistent Bush supporter--Rumsfeld must give very serious consideration to resigning relatively soon.

You say--the fish rots at the head--why not call for the President's head?

He will be answerable to the electorate a few months on regardless--while Rumsfeld is an appointed official. For me, how Bush handles Abu Ghraib will be critical for his electoral prospects.

Accepting Rumsfeld's resignation, destroying Abu Ghraib; seeking the stiffest penalties in the court martial proceedings for guilty soldiers; uttering the "T" world, releasing all pictures/videos forthwith; apologizing convincingly (and yes, seeing the job through in Iraq generally)--all these actions will help Bush in November and, more important, are the right thing to do now.

In other words, talk about the 'rule of law' (how about in Abu Ghraib?) taking its course and Fallujah updates aren't going to cut it right now, I fear.

I hope Bush gets the stakes more fully and moves in these directions shortly. I'd note too, finally, that his praise of Rumsfeld today was not all it appeared.

He didn't reiterate that Rummy will stay in his cabinet, for instance. Yes, he praised him handsomely. But he left Rummy the wriggle room to exit if that increasingly appears the way to go...Developing, as they say.













posted by Gregory| 5/10/2004 05:49:00 PM


5/07/2004  

Query and More on the Torture Scandal

Have any of you ever witnessed such a breath-taking abdication of responsibility as Brigadier General Janis Karpinski's?

I've spoken to serving U.S. officers who are, to use a phrase that's making the rounds these days, deeply disgusted by her attempt to pass off all the responsibility for the torture scandal on the Military Police.

She was the commanding officer for Abu Ghraib and so owned the place (and all the bestial horrors that took place there under her watch).

Why is she currently only suspended? Few in the Army will shed tears should she be fired. Promptly, please.

That's not to say that other people up and down the chain of the command won't need to go too (by the way, I'm, er, deeply disgusted that Don Rumsfeld hasn't found the bloody time to read the Taguba report in its entirety. It's mind-boggling, really).

But Karpinski, particularly given her dishonorable passing of the buck excercise, would be a damn good place to start.

Listen, we are at a critical pivot point with regard to how we are perceived in the world today. We couldn't even release the State Department's annual human rights report on normal schedule given how risible the timing would be.

People who are trying to spin this story and are talking about how great we are because we are investigating the horrors, that the "process" is working, people who are saying that the Arabs are hypocrites because they didn't complain about Arab regimes use of real, full-blown torture over the decades (make no mistake, actions of our personnel were constitutive of real torture as well, not just mock torture)--they are clueless.

We went into Iraq to get rid of her WMD capability and forge a democracy--not to force inmates to masturbate themselves in front of their captors (ostensibly with videotapes rolling), sodomize detainees with chemical lights, apply dog collars to human beings.

It's simply FUBAR.

No, this is the time for big, dramatic moves.

That might mean firing Don Rumsfeld if he doesn't resign. Let's see the substance of his testimony today--particularly whether it judiciously appears that his seeming insouciance re: norms of behavior with regard to detention of enemy combatants are shown, in persuasive fashion, to have materially contributed to a more widespread, systemic culture of prisoner abuse (beyond a few despicable individuals having a smoke and laughing amidst the horrific actions that have stained our country's reputation so terribly).

Were similar going-ons occurring in Gitmo? Bagram? Elsewhere in Iraq?

If so, people far above Karpinski MUST go. That might have to include Don Rumsfeld--for the good of the President.

Aside from firing people there are other actions we must undertake promptly.

Let's raze that jail to the ground (as John McCain has suggested).

Let's also have Bush issue an unequivocal, unambiguous apology (preferably at the jail itself after it has been pulverized into dust).

Think I'm over-reacting? No, you're under-reacting....

posted by Gregory| 5/07/2004 08:44:00 AM


5/05/2004  

The Post-Saddam Horrors of Abu Ghraib

Today's Times of London--a centrist, mainstream UK paper--has a large, banner headline simply entitled "America's catalogue of torture."

The article details some of the horrific tortures that took place while Abu Ghraib was under U.S. control.

The Times clearly plucked the information directly from the Taguba report.

Here's the mind-numbing list the Times enumerates:

Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees;

Threatening detainees with a charged 9mm pistol;

Beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair;

Threatening male detainees with rape;

Allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell;

Sodomising a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick;

Using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.

The intentional abuse of detainees by military police personnel included:

Forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing;

Forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time;

Forcing naked male detainees to wear women’s underwear;

Forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped;

Writing “I am a Rapist” on the leg of a detainee alleged to have raped a 15-year-old fellow detainee, and then photographing him naked.


This is, perhaps, the biggest outrage my country has committed in my lifetime.

I am deeply ashamed that U.S. commanders (whether civilian or military) allowed forces under their control to engage in such bestial behaviour.

We need more than a Bush apology.

Heads (senior ones) need to roll. Big time. And soon.

UPDATE:

Some readers question whether this is the "biggest outrage" the U.S. "has committed in my lifetime" and bring up My Lai. Please note that B.D. is 31 and wasn't yet born in 1970.

Of course, the mere fact that we automatically think of My Lai in the context of the Abu Ghraib horrors speaks volumes.

posted by Gregory| 5/05/2004 01:56:00 PM
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