Thursday, September 30, 2004

Che Trippers

Walter Salles' "The Motorcycle Diaries," with Robert Redford as executive producer, got a standing ovation at Sundance film festival and has been praised in the press as "an inspiring coming-of-age tale and buddy-bonding road trip full of wondrous vistas, earthy humor and universal emotions whose last stop may be the Oscars." When it goes into wide release Friday, it's bound to induce a whole new generation of disaffected youth to hitch their dreams of liberation and freedom to this handsome rebel.

Paul Berman marvels at the strange sort of culture that makes a martyr-hero out of Che Guevara.

Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won.

Che presided over the Cuban Revolution's first firing squads. He founded Cuba's "labor camp" system — the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che's imagination. In the famous essay in which he issued his ringing call for "two, three, many Vietnams."

Che's phrase was echoed, perhaps consciously, in March 2003, by Columbia University professor Nicholas De Genova, a professor of anthropology and Latino studies, at a faculty meeting to oppose the American invasion of Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

"Peace is not patriotic. Peace is subversive, because peace anticipates a very different world than the one in which we live -- a world where the U.S. would have no place. U.S. patriotism is inseparable from imperial warfare and white supremacy. U.S. flags are the emblem of the invading war machine in Iraq today. They are the emblem of the occupying power. The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military."

And he added, "I wish for a million Mogadishus."

I wonder if De Genova is happy now that his wish is unfolding in Iraq. Tonight, almost three dozen little children lie dead on a street in Baghdad, and more lay moaning in hospitals with their legs blown off, thanks to the "Minuteman" heroes who detonated their cars in the interest of an anti-American revolution. Che would applaud.

Che has far more in common with a modern-day Islamist suicide bomber than he does with the people who are fixing power plants, building schools, and lining up to vote in Iraq and Afghanistan -- or with the dissident liberals rounded up and jailed recently in Cuba. Take Che at his word:

"Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become."

And so, in the name of a nasty medieval religious fundamentalism, they are doing across the Middle East. That's the trouble with selling Che to a new generation of youth as a "radical." That steely stare of the young Argentine in those old '60s posters, it's not looking forward. It's firmly fixed on the past. Berman writes:

Che was an enemy of freedom, and yet he has been erected into a symbol of freedom. He helped establish an unjust social system in Cuba and has been erected into a symbol of social justice. He stood for the ancient rigidities of Latin-American thought, in a Marxist-Leninist version, and he has been celebrated as a free-thinker and a rebel.

The current repackaging of Che in the U.S. no doubt has a streak of '60s nostalgia. Those silk-screen Che posters in red and black were icons of "counterculture" interior decoration. As one fawning Web site about him puts it, "Che became the poster boy (literally) for revolution."

Salles' movie apparently trades on many of the mythic themes of Latin American history. I wonder if he didn't overlook one: the vampire. It's as if the '60s generation, bitter under Bush and bypassed by history, is trying to vampirize a modern anti-war youth movement that is otherwise wary of the dippy excesses and failures of 1969. It as if Redford et al have said, "We can plant seeds of Che in their brains -- mix him up with Jack Kerouac and Holden Caulfield and make him every teen's idol -- and 'the revolution' will live on for another generation, even as we totter off to the grave."

I trust the truth will keep the domestic myth-making within bounds. And I pray that the future in Iraq will refute of the kind of insurgent "revolution" Che would have sought.

"[H]e was killed in Bolivia in 1967, leading a guerrilla movement that had failed to enlist a single Bolivian peasant. And yet he succeeded in inspiring tens of thousands of middle class Latin-Americans to exit the universities and organize guerrilla insurgencies of their own. And these insurgencies likewise accomplished nothing, except to bring about the death of hundreds of thousands, and to set back the cause of Latin-American democracy — a tragedy on the hugest scale.

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A Fair Tally of Bush Blunders

Richard Brookhiser has a trenchant piece in the New York Observer this week on Bush’s 10 Mistakes At Home and Abroad

"6. No punishment for Falluja ... 10. Soft on Ken Lay ..."

Ayup. And I would have found room to add "uglying up the gay marriage debate" to the list. Here's one I hadn't thought through enough to make the connection he makes:

7. Misreading Turkey. Going the U.N. route unsuccessfully made our enterprise seem illegitimate (no one questioned our actions in the Balkans, which neither sought nor had U.N. sanction). Misreading Turkey had a material effect on the invasion of Iraq and, even more, on its aftermath. Tommy Franks’ plan was to sweep to Baghdad from the north and from the southeast. Because Turkey was not brought on board, we had to rely solely on the southern river corridor. The heartland of the old regime, the so-called Sunni triangle, was therefore not shattered in the initial push. It was as if Sherman marched to the sea without touching Atlanta.

Brookhiser's 3, 2, and 1 Bush missteps are Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran.

Mr. Bush seems to believe that Syria is cowed and that the Saudis can be pressured. His administration seems not to believe that Iran is a threat; at least, it does not encourage spontaneous regime change there, as Ronald Reagan did when he urged Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Perhaps Mr. Bush will grasp these nettles, but we cannot tell.


Wednesday, September 29, 2004


The parallel seems too close to ignore — and, for headline writers, too good to resist. "Al Qaida kamikazes" slammed passenger planes into skyscrapers; "Palestinian kamikazes" blow up buses full of teen-agers in Jerusalem, and "female Chechen kamikazes" march into Russian schools, belted in dynamite.

"We learned how to do suicide missions from the kamikazes," Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, told Japan's ambassador to Lebanon in 2001.

Just don't say that in front of a real kamikaze. Believe it or not, some still live. Old men now, as youths they were prepared to give their lives, plunging planes into American warships to keep the Western barbarians away from Japan, but the war ran out before they got the chance.

Recently, a reporter from the Los Angeles Times tracked down some of the survivors and collected their views.

"When I hear the comparison, I feel so sorry for my friends who died, because our mission was totally different from suicide bombers," said Shigeyoshi Hamazono, 81. "We did what we did for military purposes," says Takeo Tagata, 88. "No matter what supreme ideas they talk about, suicide bombers are just killing innocent civilians, people who don't have anything to do with their war."

The kamikazes achieved legendary status for their myth-shrouded suicide missions. Yet American garrisons and Russian tank crews also knowingly fought to the death in that war. The casualty rates among British airmen in 1940 made their deaths no less certain, and their sacrifices no less deliberate, than those of the kamikazes.

Suicide attacks are not some distinct quality that unites the 9/11 hijackers and the Japanese pilots. Warriors fight other warriors — even when defeat and death are certain. It is a story as old as Roncesvalles, as old as Thermopylae. The difference, as the silver-haired suicide pilots of 1945 instantly and correctly discern today, is that the kamikazes attacked military targets, but "the main purpose of a suicide bomber is to kill as many innocent civilians as they can." That, Hamazono said, "is just murder."

Yet the LA Times, not content with this, keeps working the story aroyund till it gets the opposite answer. Switching the topic from the tactic itself to the mindset of the young man willing to give his life, the reporter waits till he has got one of the old men to see an identification, and this becomes the conclusion of the article:

"The emperor was everything then, a god, divine," explains Den, who has spent his adult life in politics and is a socialist member of Japan's Upper House. Only the country's surrender prevented his suicide mission.

Postwar Japan offered little consolation to the survivors. In a blackened ruin of a country, civilians saw the few thousand kamikazes in their midst as uncomfortable reminders of Japan's folly, the ultimate caricature of the Japanese warrior as zealot. Kamikazes were regarded as having flown on emotional autopilot. They died, it was said, "like dogs."

Yet Hamazono says: "I still don't think it was a mistake. I'm proud that I flew as a kamikaze. And I'm glad I came back. We did what we did out of a love for our parents, for the nation.

"Just like suicide bombers," he says, dropping his defenses for a moment. "We did it out of love for something."

[emphasis added]

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Chernow's "Hamilton"

I like Alexander Hamilton, and so does Ron Chernow, whose cinder-block-sized biography of the financial genius was a non-fiction best-seller this summer. The trouble is, I don't like Chernow's book.

Hamilton was brilliant and tireless, and much of what is brilliant and enduring in our nation — from the Constitution to the financial system itself — owes its origins to him. He loved his country with an unglamored love: He knew the elites were best persuaded to do public good by appeals to their self interest, and he knew an unruly populace needed guide-rails on its power. He helped insure that this awareness was woven into the Constitution.

Historians become historians, in some cases, because they're more comfortable with documents and numbers than with people. When they turn to biography, they sometimes carve shortcuts through modern psychology that even Dr. Phil would find shallow.

For instance, writing of Hamilton's wife, Chernow says, "Eliza was either pregnant or consumed with child rearing throughout their marriage, which may have encouraged Hamilton's womanizing."

Eight children in 20 years was typical of a late 18th century family (and of an Amish one in more recent times); if it "encouraged" Hamilton's womanizing, it ought to have encouraged a general orgy of colonial bed-hopping. Yet a great many men who had large families did not philander. So we're back to where we began, except for an acquired mistrust of Chernow's easy assumptions and apologetics.

Chernow's summation of Hamilton's attitude toward slavery suffers from the same superficiality. "The early exposure to the humanity of the slaves may have made a lasting impression on Hamilton," Chernow writes, "who would be conspicuous among the founding fathers for his fierce abolitionism."

The final word there ought to run up a red flag. "Abolitionist" wasn't even used in the anti-slavery sense until the 1830s, a generation after Hamilton was dead (in his lifetime it refered only to the slave trade). Yet Chernow uses it repeatedly.

According to this view, Hamilton saw slavery first-hand in the Caribbean where he grew up and where his family owned slaves, and this instilled in him a horror of human bondage. Yet Madison and Jefferson, too, as Chernow writes, grew up "against an incongruous background of black hands stooping in the fields." And they are counted among Hamilton's opponents on the issue of slavery. So, once again, the image is insufficient to explain the story.

Chernow's "stooping" (cotton-picking?) slaves are out of place for 18th century Virginia's diverse agricultural system, and are more suited to the huge Deep South plantations of the Civil War era. Modern historians have failed to study colonial slavery, and it shows.

This is exemplified by Chernow's wrong statement that "slavery itself had expanded in tandem with" the Revolution. In fact, the war dealt slavery a heavy blow. Five years of back-and-forth fighting, with both sides competing for the loyalty of slaves, severely reduced slave populations in many states. In Connecticut, one of the major slaveholding states of the north, the black population fell by better than 16 percent from 1774 to 1790. When the British and the American Loyalists pulled out of New York at the end of the war, some 3,000 blacks left with them. Slavery in America in 1790 was as weak as it had ever been, or would be again until 1865.

Yet Hamilton's "abolitionism" is a central theme in the book. "It is hard to grasp Hamilton's later politics," Chernow writes, without contemplating the "raw cruelty" of slavery he witnessed as a boy.

The emphasis on Caribbean slavery and its impact on Hamilton, misplaced or not, is hardly surprising. Hamilton has had many excellent biographers before. To justify a new entry on the Hamilton shelf, Chernow had to somehow expand the interpretation of the man.

Seeking new ground, Chernow did extensive research in the Caribbean. This had been the least-explored period of the man's life, so Chernow naturally turned there. And just as naturally, he looked for links from that to the modern-day thesis that Hamilton was motivated in large part by "abolitionism." Yet the strain here is as obvious as the bid to contain the man in a word that didn't exist in his time.

Hamilton was a voluminous, and often embarrassingly confessional, writer. Some 22,000 pages of his works have been published so far; a pile that daunts even a dedicated historian like Chernow, who writes at one point that Hamilton "must have produced the maximum number of words that a human being can scratch out in forty-nine years."

You'd think, then, that Chernow would be embarrassed by the fact that Hamilton never makes the connection that Chernow takes as a central tenet: he make no reference to any impact of exposure to West Indian slavery on his later political positions.

But the "abolitionist" Hamilton is a creation that Chernow inherited, and he is unwilling to help dismantle it. The current generation of academic U.S. historians, raised in the Sixties, have busily been rubbishing Southerners generally, slave-owners especially and Thomas Jefferson particularly. It seems they've found themselves with a national narrative wanting a hero.

Hamilton, like many founders, had scruples about slavery. Unlike most of them, he avoided being personally involved in it, either through financing slave-trading voyages or owning slaves himself.

Thus the rehabilitation of Alexander Hamilton. Old CW: Hamilton=silk-stocking snob and closet royalist. New CW: Hamilton=The One Who Didn't Have Slaves.

Jefferson is the arch-villain in any Hamilton story, but in this one the third president is never allowed to stray far from the image of his "stooping" slaves, the better to dismiss, without argument, Jefferson's populism and democratic liberalism. Chernow actually blasts Jefferson for spending his own money on books in Paris -- books carefully selected and which he would later donate to the nation as the Library of Congress -- because it "betrayed a cavalier disregard" for the slaves whose labor supported him.

Anyone who knows the Hamilton story knows right where to turn at this point to see whether Chernow is making a serious case that Hamilton was a man of honor while Jefferson and Madison were racist brutes, or whether he's blowing smoke.

Hamilton's 1791 "Report on Manufactures" is one of the most important documents in early U.S. history. In it, the Treasury Secretary outlines and explains in detail America's future as a great manufacturing nation. Along the way, he praises the British factory system — specifically for its employment of women and young children. "It is worthy of particular remark that, in general women and children are rendered more useful, and the latter more early useful, by manufacturing establishments than they would otherwise be."

Just after praising Hamilton for using the word "diversity," which will "please modern ears," Chernow faces the unpleasant task of explaining this passage. Hamilton notes approvingly that in British textile mills, the women and children form more than half the work force, "of whom the greatest proportion are children and many of them of a very tender age."

Yet Chernow will overlook all this, and continue his lionization of Hamilton, because, you see, child labor was "commonplace" in those days, and Hamilton naturally did not see it as exploitation — because he had grown up with it in the West Indies.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Democrats: The Other French

Transatlantic Trends 2004 is a public opinion survey undertaken annually by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Turin-based Compagnia di San Paolo. In June, the group polled 11,000 Americans and Europeans on issues of common concern. This is the third year for the survey, which gives it some basis for seeing trends.

The poll, released Sept. 9, is a rich lode of statistics. The poll sponsors conclude that it shows that the deterioration in European-American relations has "hardened over the last year, confirming a fundamental change in transatlantic relations may be underway." Not surprisingly, to anyone who's read the European chat sites, 76% of Europeans disapprove of U.S. foreign policy, an increase of 20 percentage points over the past two years.

In analyzing American public opinion and comparing it across the pond, the report finds that those who sarcastically accuse John Kerry of being "French" actually have a point: "Democrats are more closely aligned with majority European views than are Republicans."

On the topic of Bush's foreign policy, for instance, French and Kerry backers are in near exact agreement: 86% of French disapprove, and 88% of Kerry backers disapprove.

To the question, was overthrowing Saddam worth the cost, yes or no, in the U.S. overall the percentage split was 44 (yes) to 50 (no). In France, the split was 8-89; among Kerry backers, it was 9-87. Bush supporters said "yes" by a factor of 80-16.

Is U.N. approval "essential" before any use of military force? In France, 86% said "yes," as did 83% of Kerry supporters. Among Bush backers, only 29% said so.

In some cases American Democrats are more "French" than the French. When it comes to the U.N., 67% of French had a "very favorable" or "mostly favorable" opinion of the organization; 79% of Kerry supporters did. Only 45 percent of Bush supporters did.

On some issues, however, U.S. voters, however far apart, were closer to one another than to their Europeans counterparts. To the statement, "Under some conditions, war is necessary to obtain justice," in France, only 33% agreed. This is opposed to 73% of likely Kerry voters and 91% of likely Bush voters who agreed with that.

It only confirms the obvious, but Democrats are now the more isolationist party of the two. In answer to the question, "Do you think it will be best for the future of the United States if we take an active part in world affairs or if we stay out of world affairs?" Some 85% of Bush supporters preferred an active role; 15% more than the 70% of Kerry backers who said so.

Some 63% of Democrats disapprove of U.S. troops in Iraq, while 83% of Republicans and 54% of Independents approve.

Here's a tid-bit that may interest those who think "blood for oil" is an American peculiarity: the survey asked people if they would approve of the use of their nation's military force "to ensure the supply of oil:" in the U.S., 44 percent did, but in France 50 percent did.

The survey also neatly identified the "undecideds" in this election:

Independents resemble Democrats in their support of EU leadership in world affairs; desire to see a closer U.S.-EU partnership, and warmth toward the EU. They are similar to Republicans in their support of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and willingness to bypass the UN on vital interests. Independents are divided on Bush’s foreign policy and the role of military power.

One of the interesting conclusions to emerge is that Europeans want their continent to be more independent of the U.S. when it comes to world politics, while Americans look toward Europe as their preferred partner for resolving global issues. Specifically, 60% of Americans believe the partnership between the U.S. and E.U. should become closer, while 58% of Europeans believe the E.U. should take a more independent line in security and diplomatic affairs.

(Or, as Protein Wisdom puts it: Democrats to Europeans: “love us as we love you, sweet Mother Europe, for we, too, are educated and luxuriate in nuance.” Europe to Americans: “go choke on a Big Mac, you obese Yankee morons.")

In the "you've got to pay to play" department, 71% of Europeans believe the EU should become a superpower like the U.S., but 47% of those that agree with this statement dropped their support if doing so would costs more money.

Craig Kennedy, President of the German Marshall Fund, said the trends, if they continue, could end in “a redefinition of the fundamentals of the transatlantic relationship from a first-choice partnership to an optional alliance when mutually convenient.”

Americans and Europeans agree on the big threats: terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But they sharply differ on how to handle them. Americans are more willing to use military force and to act without an international mandate. Europeans require an international mandate for military action.

[The European data came from 10 nations: Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Turkey.]

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All Quiet in Najaf

Omar, at Iraq the Model posts a letter that was forwarded to him by the father of a U.S. soldier serving in Najaf:

Dear Dad:

1. Not much to report on here in Najaf. Its been quite but we have heard about things being hot in other parts of Iraq so we are still being vigilant. Just recently the Mosques here in Najaf have re-opened and people are returning to them for prayer for the first time in almost a year. When the militia came into the city they took over the Mosques and used them as hideouts, even though it's against their own religious beliefs to use a holy site in such a way, but they did so because they knew that we wouldn't bomb there. The people kept asking us to just go in and get them, but we didn't want to destroy their Mosque, and some of my friends died as a result of sniper fire from inside, but we know it was the right thing to do.

As we were driving through the city on a security patrol the other day we drove by the newly re-opened Mosque. As we drove by many people came out and waved at us and some parents even held up their children and said "thank you America." I remember thinking that how lucky I was to be able to be from a country where I don't have to worry about someone using my church as a battle position, or that someone might shoot me and my family for trying to go to church. Some times I forget how lucky I am and I can't ever believe that I thought of going to church as being a "chore" We should feel blessed to be able to go in and pray as we choose. And I thank God every day that you and my family are safe and sound in the U.S. I love you guys so much that I would gladly lay down my life so that you never loose a single freedom that you enjoy today. And if anything should happen to me, don't worry there are a lot of guys like me out there who will never let that happen.

Lately we have been doing public affairs stuff, going around to different schools and seeing what kinds of stuff they need to be fixed. Things like desks and chalkboards and stuff. The hard part is dealing with all the little kids that come out to see us and they all think that we are going to be giving away food and candy. And it's not like it's just a couple of kids, we get mobbed by like a hundred kids. Instead of more candy or chocolate or stuff me , if you could send some basic school supply stuff to me we can get it right to the school kids. Things like pens, pencils, protractors, rulers, etc and we will get it out. I will also get some pictures of the kids for you that I will send. Oh, and don't forget those little hand held pencil sharpeners. Apparently they need some of those too ....


David Jr

Yet Najaf routinely appears in AP and Knight-Ridder articles that contrast the "rosy" picture of Iraq painted by Bush and Allawi with the "Realities on the ground." Because this place was taken over by a militia, mostly from outside the city, earlier this year, that means it falls into the media's "Iraq chaos" category. And there it remains, even though the militia thoroughly disgusted the residents, and the U.S. and its allies (including Iraqi military) drove the attackers out while inflicting catastrophic losses.

And all the reporters left with the militias. My friend Katrina, who was working in the Najaf area earlier this summer, and who still has contacts there, reports that, after the U.S. restored order, the people of Najaf staged large protest marches daily -- against the Shi'ite militias who had temporarily held a reign of terror there.

The Al-Sadr uprising was news. So is this. Only one was reported.

Back in mid-September, she wrote that the Shi'ite militiamen in Najaf were "alienating potential supporters simply because of their ability to bring down destruction on normal people wherever they go, not mentioning the extremity of their views, which once practiced seem to gain little appeal from average Iraqis. They're protesting Muqtada in Najaf daily, not because they are impressed with his people. But then you're probably not aware of the size and scope of those protests back in the US."

A couple weeks later, she wrote:

You will not find any journalists in Najaf. Someone said something positive towards the coalition that indicated support from that population, it slipped out onto the AP newswire, and that was all it took to completely clear that city of every western media source and Al-Jazeera.

... Anyone who stopped long enough to think about just how critical the battle in Najaf was would be left to question why the media has decided to completely abandon the place. After such an event, it would certainly be of interest to most people to know just how the population survived, and what they think. But you're not getting it, and most people in the States never seem to question such things.

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Ground Level

The author of Mudville Gazette has arrived for duty in Iraq. Watch the situation through his eyes, and his fine posts.

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Food For Spoil

The United Nations' oil-for-food bargain with Saddam Hussein may well be the biggest scam of a "relief" effort in global history. It's a kraken of corruption that is hard to see whole because the investigations underway focus on one tentacle or another, while the monster 's bulk lies hidden in the murk of U.N. secrecy.

After the 1991 Gulf War, the U.N. slapped economic sanctions on Saddam's regime. Five years later, stung by heart-wrenching pictures of hollow-cheeked Iraqi children and statistics about infant mortality, the Security Council set up the Iraq Oil-for-Food Program. Iraq would be allowed to export oil and use the money to import food and humanitarian supplies.

Saddam shamelessly shook down the program to fuel his power machine. He undersold his oil, demanding part of the profit as a kickback. He made arrangements to overpay for the goods he bought, then took back part of the overpayment as more kickbacks. The U.S. General Accounting Office estimated that Saddam earned at least $10 billion from smuggling and kickbacks. He lined his pockets and pimped his sons' palaces while his people suffered.

The tyrant's perfidy should surprise no one. But what's disgusting is the number of willing partners he seems to have found in the U.N. and 50 nations around the world. Apparently, leading figures in France, Britain and Russia adamantly opposed the American bid to topple the dictator while taking his money under the table. Among the subpoenaed companies is a Swiss-based firm that employed U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's son, Kojo, and which was in charge of monitoring goods entering Iraq.

Saddam's shenanigans would have run up red flags for anyone on the scout for evidence of graft. But you can't see with your eyes closed. And Kofi Annan's Secretariat, raking in a 2.2% commission on Saddam's oil sales, never systematically examined Saddam's contracts.

The scale of this scandal still has not percolated through the media, in part because it is being investigated piecemeal, by different agencies with different levels of secrecy, working independently at their own pace. For instance, three different congressional panels have subpoenaed the French bank BNP Paribas. This week, BNP delivered "a semitrailer truck load" of documents concerning the $60 billion it held in the oil-for-food escrow account.

At least two other committees in Congress are investigating allegations of U.N. corruption. The U.N.'s own investigation of the morass apparently is focused on bribery allegations. The interim Iraqi government in Baghdad, meanwhile, has reams of documents from the old regime waiting to be examined.

At stake is the legitimacy of the U.N. itself. Already shaken by the rifts opened in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, the U.N. now finds itself in a situation where only a little over a quarter of the citizens in its major contributor nation, the U.S., feel the organization reflects their values.

The U.N. should be subject to the same scrutiny given to Halliburton, or applied by the 9/11 Commission. It has failed miserably to protect lives in Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia, it continues to dither while Darfur dies. Yet its leadership lives in denial.

And now, we are beginning to learn that, while Annan scolds the American administration for overthrowing a murderous tyrant, he has yet to acknowledge that he presided over that tyrant's theft of food from dying children.

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My Three Questions

The presidential debates kick off Thursday night. The topic is foreign policy. Here are a few questions I hope get asked:

1. President Bush contends that the struggle to build a free and democratic Iraq is not just noble in its own right, but "central" to the war on terrorism. But John Kerry and many others call it a "profound diversion" from the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Both sides acknowledge that the fight against Islamist extremism will be won in hearts and minds as well as on battlefields. And there, Bush's record has been nothing to brag about. The media coverage of the bloody insurgency in Iraq reinforces, rightly or not, the image in much of the Muslim world that the U.S. is fighting Muslims, not terrorists. The U.S. has failed to mount an effective PR campaign to express the real purpose of the Americans. The slanders of al Qaida and Al Jazeera go unanswered.

Even people who stood behind Bush during the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq can accept that the next step is building bridges to the Islamic world, and Bush has an awful lot of Abu Ghraib-style baggage for that, while Kerry would give us a fresh start. Can Bush answer the "rebranding America" argument, which has some traction among independent voters?

2. The candidates' views on what to do next in Iraq have much in common. But Kerry often says he will do better in Iraq by getting our major allies to send more troops. Yet French and German government officials have said repeatedly they will not significantly increase military assistance in Iraq even if Kerry is elected.

Gert Weisskirchen, member of parliament and foreign policy expert for Germany’s ruling Social Democratic Party, said, “I cannot imagine that there will be any change in our decision not to send troops, whoever becomes president.”

Michel Barnier, the French foreign minister, said last week that France had no plans to send troops “either now or later.” French President Jacques Chirac said last week that, whatever the election results, "French policy with regard to Iraq has not changed and will not change."

How does Kerry explain his proposal in light of that?

3. Beyond Iraq, a crucial issue is the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Iran is, by its own admission, assembling the technology for nuclear weapons. Not long ago it seemed that the upwelling of democracy in that nation would dethrone the mullahs before they got their hands on nukes. That seems unlikely now. Iran may well be a nuclear power by spring. The world's deadliest weapons will be in the hands of religious fanatics with a loathing of the West.

Can Bush effectively lead the world in containing the Iranian nuclear threat, given his administration's woeful reputation in the wake of the Iraq WMD claims of 2002 and his antagonism of the International Atomic Energy Agency?

Kerry has put forth a proposal of his own, to call the bluff of the Iranian government, which claims that its only need is energy. "We should ... organize a group of states that will offer the nuclear fuel they need for peaceful purposes and take back the spent fuel so they can't divert it to build a weapon. If Iran does not accept this, their true motivations will be clear."

Is that really a good idea? Is it the best one he's got?

4. Finally, a question that assuredly won't be answered: Wouldn't a lot of Americans rather see a Jerry Springer-style stare-down between the two men who have been snarking at each other from a distance for months now?

No deal; they won't even be allowed to talk to one another. It will be all pre-game, no Super Bowl.

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"Axis of Evil" Wanna-be

Dan Darling at Winds of Change has a post called Everything you need to know about Darfur. The title's kind of misleading, because it's actually everything you didn't know about Darfur. It's an excellent post that puts the genocide into a broader context.

The tragedy there has been filtered through the lens of the bitterness over Iraq. The anti-war crowd taunts the "get Saddam" voices because they aren't equally intent on rushing into Sudan to solve a human rights crisis. Meanwhile the go-it-alone interventionists hold up the U.N. ineptitude in Darfur as an example of why multilateralism is really just Latin for "sitting on your ass while everything goes to Hell."

Darling takes a step back. "[O]ne of the things that I think is so problematic about how Sudan is being framed to the American public is that it's being viewed almost entirely through the prism of a humanitarian crisis, a la Rwanda, and not as an issue of US national security. While the humanitarian situation in Sudan almost certainly warrants international attention and assistance, it would be a mistake not to look at the nature of the threat emanating from Khartoum towards both the US and its allies."

His post largely is based on information collected at an American Enterprise Institute conference on Sudan from Ronald Sandee, a senior counterterrorism expert at the Dutch Ministry of Defense:

"I just want to state I hope I made my point that we must see that the Sudan is not only bad inside its own country, but this government also has a lot of hard-line Islamists who are not only playing the role within their own country and not even respect their own Muslim minorities if they aren't from their own race, but that they are also--are at least entities within this government, at least people who know, are still involved in what we still call terrorism.

"There are training camps where Mujahadeen are being trained to fight the coalition in Iraq. There are training camps from where Mujahadeen go to Saudi Arabia to attack government installations. So Sudan is still paying a major role in the international terrorism."



[From Katrina, working with a company doing oversight work for US infrastructure contractors and the Iraqi interim government in Iraq and Turkey.]


Months ago, when I first realized just how much was not being covered in the media about Iraq, when I realized how impossible it was becoming for anything positive to come out of Iraq and be shared with the world, when the Democratic party continued to Monday morning quarterback this effort, I knew this would happen. We now have people in the US who have stretched all the way to the point of actually proposing a total breakdown of society in Iraq and letting lose a civil war upon the country.

Well, prepare yourselves to be disappointed. We have a very hard fight ahead of us, but no matter which candidate is elected, cutting and running is not an option for the future of either Iraq or the US.

I can think of no foreign policy that would be more foolish or damaging to both countries than to do so. While I believe Kerry to be somewhat spineless, certainly without any compass, and completely unsuitable to hold the highest office in the US government, I believe that even he is not moronic enough to actually pursue such a policy if he were to gain that office.

All your media has supplied to you is the absolute negative. Every single problem in Iraq has been presented, expounded, and when possible, amplified for absolute maximum effect. It has put joy in the hearts of those who would love civil war, or a return to dictatorship, or the establishment of religious domination. And it has put fear into the hearts of average Iraqis, outside contractors and aid workers, coalition soldiers and the Iraqi interim government and their security forces.

Many times I have seen anti-war people in the U.S. going on and on about the bias of media from the time of the Civil War to the present. Yet on the subject of Iraq, they consistently have chosen to believe the mass media at every turn without any consideration of what are obviously huge chunks of ANY society that go missing from the daily reports they produce.

You will not find anything positive on the work of those Iraqi police and security forces already in place, though there are indeed several thousand of them working each day and making huge positive impacts though out the country. There is no news of the expansion of water and power services everywhere, or the training of government workers, or the formation of city and provincial government structures which have been constructed at an alarming rate of speed.

You'll get ten reports of bombs exploding at police and army recruiting centers, but you won't get a second of reporting on the hopefuls who line right back up again just as soon as the cleanup is done. I never seem to see Americans question that.

You'll read every day about Fallujah or Sadr City, but you won't see anything about Iraqi security and residents who have teamed together to boot out extremists from their communities and set up their own government structures with the help of the coalition and government forces.

Iraq is a pretty big country, much larger than just Sadr City or Fallujah, or any thousand protesters in Basra. And there are villages and cities all over Iraq that have managed to do this. But presenting these places is something the media never does, and something I never see most Americans at home question. In the media and in the anti-war talk, the whole land is Fallujah, every corner a car bombing, every patrol a dead soldier, and every Iraqi citizen a terrorist.

On the other hand, those of us working in Iraq completely understand. Because it has been done with such consistency here that we fully expect nothing else. We don't expect to find media coming to us to discuss what we're doing or accomplishing, because they simply aren't interested in telling the world what is positive about our work or Iraq. It simply isn't done, period.

Are there problems in Iraq? Undoubtedly there are. Certainly more problems than I could quickly list, and they are altering daily, because the situation is fluid, and those who oppose what the coalition is doing have the ability to think and revise their methods for hurting our efforts.

But the media has been consistent. It has been able to find every negative occurrence, find every person who has experienced difficulty or can see problems, and no matter what these people say about the positives here, they seldom can read about or hear of them later in the US media.

And yet we are still there. We cannot get a moment's attention unless we are kidnapped, beheaded, shot, or blown up. Two Italian women about my age, working on projects affiliated with those we supply with oversight, are taken from their offices, similar to the one I was working from until just days ago. If this hadn't happened, they would have never found even a moment in the media, and even after this tragedy, their work goes neglected. Their impact of their lives in Iraq has been profound, but that's not what you'll read or hear of.

Here, that gets pretty frustrating, because we know what this kind of exposure breeds back in our homelands, and amongst many Iraqis.

I certainly understand frustrations in the US. It is frustrating enough in Iraq, and sometimes dangerous as well. But I also understand what is helping drive that frustration at home, and how the situation in Iraq has been politicized and cheapened.

Now we are all the way up to the point of Americans actually looking forward to packing up and running, and civil war. God, Goddess, Allah or the Great Blank in The Nothing, help all of you back there.

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Monday, September 27, 2004

Not Vietnam

U.S. Army Lieut. Col. Powl Smith, former chief of counterterrorism plans at U.S. European Command, is in Baghdad. He write in the "Weekly Standard" that Iraq isn't Vietnam; it's Guadalcanal.

In one of our first counteroffensives against the Japanese, U.S. troops landed on the island of Guadalcanal in order to capture a key airfield. We surprised the Japanese with our speed and audacity, and with very little fighting seized the airfield. But the Japanese recovered from our initial success, and began a long, brutal campaign to force us off Guadalcanal and recapture it. The Japanese were very clever and absolutely committed to sacrificing everything for their beliefs. (Only three Japanese surrendered after six months of combat--a statistic that should put today's Islamic radicals to shame.) The United States suffered 6,000 casualties during the six-month Guadalcanal campaign; Japan, 24,000. It was a very expensive airfield.

Which brings us to the next lesson of World War II: Totalitarian enemies have to be bludgeoned into submission, and the populations that support them have to be convinced they can't win. This is a bloody and difficult business. In the Pacific theater, we eventually learned our enemies' tactics--jungle and amphibious warfare, carrier task forces, air power--and far surpassed them. But that victory took four years and cost many hundreds of thousands of casualties.

Iraq isn't Vietnam, it's Guadalcanal--one campaign of many in a global war to defeat the terrorists and their sponsors. Like the United States in the Pacific in 1943, we are in a war of national survival that will be long, hard, and fraught with casualties. We lost the first battle of that war on September 11, 2001, and we cannot now afford to walk away from the critical battle we are fighting in Iraq any more than we could afford to walk away from Guadalcanal. For the security of America, we have no recourse but to win.

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A World To Lose

"Leaving the Left can be a bit like trying to quit the Mafia," Marc Cooper writes. "You can’t get out without getting assassinated -– literally or figuratively. The Left, infused with a 'class-struggle-a-world-to-win' ethic, tends to look upon its apostates not only as enemies, but as downright traitors."

Cooper's reflection was sparked by this piece in the "Independent" by Johann Hari, the young British writer and playwright who is still a self-described leftist, though he understands the menace of Islamofascism. Hari interviewed his friend and, in some sense, mentor, the uber-apostate socialist, Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens tells him why he left The Movement:

He explains that he believes the moment the left's bankruptcy became clear was on 9/11. "The United States was attacked by theocratic fascists who represents all the most reactionary elements on earth. They stand for liquidating everything the left has fought for: women's rights, democracy? And how did much of the left respond? By affecting a kind of neutrality between America and the theocratic fascists." He cites the cover of one of Tariq Ali's books as the perfect example. It shows Bush and Bin Laden morphed into one on its cover. "It's explicitly saying they are equally bad. However bad the American Empire has been, it is not as bad as this. It is not the Taliban, and anybody -- any movement -- that cannot see the difference has lost all moral bearings."

Hitchens -- who has just returned from Afghanistan -- says, "The world these [al-Quadea and Taliban] fascists want to create is one of constant submission and servility. The individual only has value to them if they enter into a life of constant reaffirmation and prayer. It is pure totalitarianism, and one of the ugliest totalitarianisms we've seen. It's the irrational combined with the idea of a completely closed society. To stand equidistant between that and a war to remove it is?" He shakes his head. I have never seen Hitch grasping for words before.

(At his personal site, Hari continues the thought-train that left the station during his interview with an apostate mentor. And there he outlines his own difference with Hitchens on the "one issue" support of Bush and presents what strikes me as an honorable and humane multi-issue rejection of Bush -- one of the few I've read.)

Cooper takes the broader view of the modern left:

The truly disconcerting part of all this, to borrow a descriptor from Hari, is that lefties rarely apply this purity test to those who stand to their purported left (but who, in reality, are reactionary enemies of democracy).

Example: Hitchens is drummed out of the left because his interpretation of anti-fascism brings him to support certain U.S. government policies and even the President. But what consequences among leftists does, say, Ramsey Clark reap for joining, literally, in the defense of Milosevic and Saddam? Anybody call him a traitor to the left recently?

What about college-activist favorite Michael Parenti who actually boasts that Slobo was a socialist, and anti-imperialist no less? What price does Parenti pay on the left for peddling such rubbish?

Just who on the left refuses to work with International A.N.S.W.E.R. whose propaganda denounces Bush but praises Kim il Sung? Did anyone care that the Not In Our Name campaign, that got squishy anti-war liberals to line up behind it, was organized by the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party, by folks who have defended, I might point out, the public execution of drug users?

Oh perish the very thought! Dare to criticize any of those folks from within the left and it’s tantamount to McCarthyism. But trashing a great mind like Hitchens, publicly condemning him as a traitor, a delusional alcoholic or as a queer, as Alexander Cockburn did? Well, no, that’s just sport, comrade.

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New Model Hero

One of the true heroes of the Iraq project has been U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne. He's the kind of military leader the U.S. needs in an era of nation-building, and he's done just about everything right in running Mosul.

Petraeus and his troops have produced a textbook example of waging peace, empowering the civilian populace, repairing the economy, even sending local kids to summer camp. Mosul had the first functioning city council in post-Saddam Iraq. Petraeus has ordered big signs posted in every barracks: WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO WIN IRAQI HEARTS AND MINDS TODAY?

Mosul, far in the north of the country, was not in the path of battle as U.S. troops swept into Baghdad to overthrow Saddam. But in the vacuum of power after the dictator's fall, chaos blossomed in the city. In a sense, it was an extreme case of what when wrong across the whole country -- power struggles among rival tribes, looters, revenge killing, roving armed militias, ethnic clashes.

Petraeus established order quickly and relatively bloodlessly by doing what is said should have been done to the whole nation: he moved in masses of men quickly, used foot patrols to make connections with locals, worked out a power-sharing arrangement among the ethnicities, and spread a lot of money around in good causes -- opening schools, building infrastructure and helping farmers.

British military officers, who in private are deeply critical of the U.S. Army’s counterinsurgency tactics, single out the 101st as the exception.

However, as this article points out, doing all that right didn't stop Mosul from breaking down into sporadic "spikes" of some of the goriest and most vicious insurgent attacks. Perhaps it's a case of one city not being able to maintain a peaceful occupation when some of its near neighbors are breeding ground for terrorism. But perhaps it's a lesson that, no matter how well the U.S. had done its job in the immediate aftermath of Saddam's demise, the second phase -- the Islamist backlash and the popular frustration -- was inevitable.

Petraeus remains positive about the country's prospects, without being pollyannaish. In an op-ed in this weekend's "Washington Post," he writes, not of "battling in Iraq," but "Battling for Iraq." The preposition is apt.

Helping organize, train and equip nearly a quarter-million of Iraq's security forces is a daunting task. Doing so in the middle of a tough insurgency increases the challenge enormously, making the mission akin to repairing an aircraft while in flight -- and while being shot at. Now, however, 18 months after entering Iraq, I see tangible progress. Iraqi security elements are being rebuilt from the ground up.

The institutions that oversee them are being reestablished from the top down. And Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously in the face of an enemy that has shown a willingness to do anything to disrupt the establishment of the new Iraq.

He lists a lot of numbers. He outlines the progress being made in terms of numbers. Some things that should have been done before (training border guards) are finally underway. Late, but not too late. Michael Moore is wrong. The insurgents aren't winning. We will win, if we persevere.

Our enemy is counting on us giving up and going home. That's our reputation in the world; a weak giant. That's one of the reasons Bin Laden seems to have thought there would be no serious retaliation for 9-11. One of the reasons we get hit hard is the assumption we would rather retreat than fight a long fight.

Yet Iraq is not just an American battlefield. And really it frustrates me day after day to read John Kerry's remarks and see him trash-talk the liberation of Iraq without a word of praise or support for anyone in Iraq who is working to rebuild that country as a free and democratic society. There are tens of thousands of men and women there, risking their lives, and they can't just hang on and wait for a rotation out or a Democratic "exit strategy." It would increase his "presidentiality" to reach out to some of them, to at least tip his hat, and it wouldn't cost him a thing off his critique of Bush's competence.

Yet he seems to regard Iraqis as cardboard people in a Bush Potamkin village, and he seems to regard the violence in Iraq as primarily a U.S. domestic political issue.

Petraeus sees these Iraqis. He sees them every day, doing their jobs, taking responsibility for their futures. He knows they, not any collection of numbers, not any political rhetoric, will be what tips the conflict in Iraq away from the terrorists.

I meet with Iraqi security force leaders every day. Though some have given in to acts of intimidation, many are displaying courage and resilience in the face of repeated threats and attacks on them, their families and their comrades. I have seen their determination and their desire to assume the full burden of security tasks for Iraq.

There will be more tough times, frustration and disappointment along the way. It is likely that insurgent attacks will escalate as Iraq's elections approach. Iraq's security forces are, however, developing steadily and they are in the fight. Momentum has gathered in recent months. With strong Iraqi leaders out front and with continued coalition -- and now NATO -- support, this trend will continue. It will not be easy, but few worthwhile things are.

For now, they need us. But someday, the country will be theirs. Their only possibly exit strategy -- and really our only viable one -- is to persevere.

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Iraqi Police

[From Katrina, working with a company doing oversight work for US infrastructure contractors and the Iraqi interim government in Iraq and Turkey.]

Effort to Train New Iraqi Army Is Facing Delays

New York Times

September 20, 2004

"Their capabilities are still uneven, but they're improving as we arm and equip them better, improve their infrastructure, give them additional training, and help them weed out the weak leaders," one American general said. "Nothing's quick in Iraq and nothing's easy."

Police Academy

The above link provides some information on police training, such as what is necessary to join a police force in New York, as well as to extend that basic training and help the policeman gain further skills and become more effective. It also includes some basic fees, which of course in this case paid by the recruit or officer. In the case of Iraq, these costs would be primarily carried by the US military and the State Dept.

The basic course takes about four months, with additional courses varying from a few hours to several days. The basic course allows the recruit to become a basic officer, but doesn't provide much in the way of advanced training for more involved situations. And as one might expect, only the most advanced courses prepare the officer to deal with the types of activities many Iraqi police officers could expect to encounter on a somewhat regular basis.

And of course, all of this information is being applied to officers being trained in a very secure environment and being trained by professionals sharing the same language, which is not something Iraqi recruits can claim.

In the most worthwhile paragraph from the New York Times article, the general mentions the need for the ongoing construction of the Iraqi police infrastructure. Selecting, reviewing, and where necessary replacing leaders cannot be performed magically or without taking time and attention.

It's no different from building a civilian company, where systems are designed, people are trained, and then over time adjustments are made to both to make the company operate smoothly and effectively. It's an ongoing process that has to expand as the size of the company, or the police force in this case, expands.

This concept that everything can be done overnight is one which we seldom are willing to place upon ourselves in our own performance but, at least in the US, seem to be increasingly willing to thrust upon everyone else. While we want months to produce some simple result while we waste time on anything but our own work, we expect miracles of everyone else in theirs, from our military in Iraq to our power companies after major hurricanes.

And this is plainly ridiculous to anyone who pauses long enough to give matters a thought. These people are not cozy in their homes or offices and safe from all the riffraff. They are functioning in a difficult and sometimes hostile environment and yet they are still managing to produce a decent, if not perfect product.

Recent congressional investigations have revealed problems with the rate of training of Iraqi security forces and police. Several hundred thousand dollars have revealed to US leadership things that probably any Iraqi, US soldier or foreign contractor could have told them in a simple phone call. But with US leadership, the problem isn't something to be solved. It's something to be politicized and cheapened.

Of course, this is just my opinion, but at least I have the experience of being part of projects in Iraq and am familiar with the multitude of basic difficulties being faced and overcome there on a daily basis. But if I were just to read this New York Times article without any such knowledge, or without stopping to simply add the well-known factors into the story, I would be led to believe that the administration and the military had produced absolutely nothing but a failure in their training program, all because they were just sitting around twiddling their fingers.

No, the media isn't biased at all.

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Friday, September 24, 2004

Six of One ...

Today in Philadelphia John Kerry told an invited audience that he would wage a "tougher, smarter, more effective war on terror" than Bush has. Kerry even spoke of Islamic radicals bent on forging "an oppressive, fundamentalist super-state" from Central Asia to Western Europe. I'm glad he sees that part of the picture, at least for one day. His supporters of my acquaintance will have to pretend they didn't hear that line, so they can go on insisting that the only reasons for any violence in the world today are Bush, Israel, and Fox News.

Kerry even came close to offering specific ideas in his Philadelphia speech: lock down chemical and nuclear weapons in the old U.S.S.R., stop the spread of nuclear weapon in Iran and North Korea, shut down terrorist financing systems in Saudi Arabia, break U.S. dependence on Mideast oil, and broker peace between Israel and Palestine. He talked of boosting homeland security, reaching out to the Muslim world with American ideals and promoting democracy within Muslim nations.

Trouble is, there isn't one item on that list that also isn't in Bush's post-Sept. 11 program.

The same difficulty applies to Iraq. I'm sure John Kerry would love to make American's think his plan is as day to Bush's night. But reality there is a shade of twilight. The difference is the one Ben Franklin pondered at the Constitutional Convention: is that sun rising or setting?

Compared to Bush's combination of "stay-the-course" toughness and "eyes-on-the-prize" optimism, Kerry's pessimistic rhetoric about a land fallen into "chaos" is probably closer to the present reality. It sees too much darkness, though. Much of Iraq is calm and stable and advancing. Cheney was right to scold him for talking only about the darkness, though not for criticizing the administration.

As anyone with sense could have told you, it will take a generation to establish civil order and indigenous democratic government across Iraq (as it did in the American states after the Revolution or the South after the Civil War). Yet there's too much violence, and its too widespread, for anyone to pretend Iraq is going according to plan right now.

Bush is a bungling mediocrity. However, Kerry's claim that a fresh administration is the answer is just as pollyanaish as Bush is held to be. A new administration could be a benefit. Any change of players at this point probably will give the U.S. a bounce.

Yet as the "Economist" wrote recently, the Republican team has made just about every mistake possible, but the result is that the plan they now have in place, honed by these tragic mistakes, is about as good as anyone could devise for the present reality.

Bush has chopped and changed his approach many times since the invasion. But the plan now in place makes perfect sense on paper, enjoys a fair amount of support inside Iraq and has been formally adopted by the U.N. Security Council. Under it, the U.N.-appointed interim government of Iyad Allawi is supposed to hold the ring until a U.N.-supervised election takes place next January. The government thus elected then has the job of drawing up a new constitution and holding a new election under its rules in early 2006.

Kerry does not question any of this, promising only to be more effective than Bush in enabling it all to happen. But most of the enabling steps he proposes are things the present administration is already trying to do: beefing up Iraq's fledgling army and police force, rebuilding the economy and making sure that January's promised election will be credible.

As for Kerry's claim that once he is in the White House other nations will gallop to America's rescue in Iraq, this is whistling in the wind. If the violence continues at its present level, it will be hard enough for any American president to stop the existing dwindling band of helpers from bolting, let alone persuade new ones to put soldiers and civilians in harm's way.

The problem is not the plan. The problem is the ability of the plan to survive the determination of the "insurgents" to bring it down. As repeated attempts in Palestine have revealed, plans are fragile things. But, as the "Economist" notes, the first phase of the American project has produced a pleasant surprise success in the person of Prime Minister Allawi.

In some ways, Allawi has been a success. He has a robust — some say autocratic — style of leadership. He has genuinely taken over many of the decision-making powers previously exercised by the Americans through their now-departed proconsul, Paul Bremer. When American forces undertake big military operations, such as the recent siege around the Shia holy town of Najaf, it is he who calls many of the shots. But however much this change of guard may be welcomed by ordinary Iraqis, it has not improved security. If anything, the insurgency appears to have waxed ever stronger.

It's a start. The hard question now emerging from the haze of the near future is whether comprehensive elections can be held in Iraq, giving it a true national government, before the violence is stemmed and the Islamist terrorist ratholes retaken. Or whether it would be better to let the peaceful provinces form a government on their own.

American forces have the raw power to smash their way into Fallujah tomorrow. But what then? Launching an offensive at the behest of a mere appointee such as Allawi would be a far more dangerous undertaking than doing so on the orders of a government that will have been elected, however imperfectly, by millions of Iraqis.

Indeed, such an election could be a transforming event. It will not bring tranquility at a stroke: Turning Iraq into the model democracy of Bush's dreams is a job that will take years, if it is possible at all. But holding an election is the crucial first step if Iraq is to be saved from the war without end that Kerry fears. All of America's efforts there should now be bent toward this aim.

And that's something that I want the two candidates to agree on, as much as I want to have a real debate about America's policy in Iraq. But that's not possible if too many of us are frozen in anger at exactly the moment we decided to topple Saddam, and still stalking around the country shouting it was all a mistake and acting like Iraq is a bad dream that, if we wish really hard, we can wake up from on November 2.

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Cat's Pause

"Cat Stevens" got caught in the blowback of the mass media's strained avoidance of the word "terrorist." The Philadelphia Inquirer headling the other day about his deportation referred to him as an "Islamic militant." Which probably was an accurate description, in the old sense of that phrase. But now, when I read it, I thought, "what, he's been chopping off heads, too?"

The trouble with a euphemism is that the harmless word you introduce in place of the too-dangerous one quickly acquires the baggage of the old word. It's a very temporary solution. The word "harlot" used to mean merely "vagabond," but since 16th century Bible translators started using it in place of the racier words like "strumpet" and "whore," it's come to mean essentially the same thing they did.

So was Yusuf Islam a legitimate entry on the no-entry list? The Old Media reporting has left that a nebulous issue. The Reuters story from Sept. 22 says:

A law enforcement official who asked not to be identified said the United States had information that Islam, who visited the United States in May, had donated money to the militant Islamic group Hamas.

Islam was denied entry to Israel in 2000 after the authorities there accused him of supporting Hamas. The former pop star denied the charges and said his charitable donations were for humanitarian causes.

So does that mean he said he donated to Hamas charities, or not non-Hamas charities? Can't anybody at Reuters be bothered to follow up on an obvious hole in a story?

Stephen Schwartz makes a case for the exclusion that's not built on the Hamas connection, but on more recent activities. But he manages to prove that the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens is a fundamentalist Muslim in the Wahhabist strain, and a fellow-traveler of Muslim clerics who say vile things. But if that's cause for exclusion, there goes the whole Saudi royal family.

Personally, I would have excluded him for his contributions to treacly limp-wristed '70s folk-pop.


Media Matters

The news media in a capitalist society is a two-way energy flow between producers and consumers. Consumers influence coverage by putting their money (or their exposure to advertising) into some sources, and not into others. If the media gives people too much of what they don't want -- too many naked ugly people, for instance -- the viewers will tune out. Media, on the other hand, influence consumers by, overtly or subtly, showing them certain paradigms of the world they live in. It's thanks in part to the media that we have a collective image of which people are ugly when naked.

People have varying degrees of ability to sort out that media's constant stream of "reality memes" and test them against their own experience. If CBS news tells the world there's a brushfire in your back yard, you can tell at a glance whether that assessment is ture. If it tells you Iraq is a nation in chaos, neither you nor I can tell whether that is true without seeking more media to consult about it.

About 90 percent of my job, as a reporter or an editor, is about deciding what NOT to tell the readers. That sounds arrogant, but if you think about it, you'll agree that it's necessary.

I used to cover a lot of municipal meetings. They'd open with the pledge of allegiance, do old business, do new business, discuss the date of the Halloween parade. Joe Neighbor and his wife want a permit to add a garage to their house. The police chief thanks the supervisors for buying new uniforms.

Then a big lawyer gets up and makes a presentation saying that he represents a firm that wants to build 500 new homes on the last farm in the township. The supervisors tell him the proposal doesn't meet certain terms of their ordinances, and tell him to come back with a revised plan. Then they do some more business, set the date of the next meeting, talk about the local football team, and adjourn.

The only think I'm going to go back and write about from that meeting is the big development plan. I'm doing this on the premise that, unless you're Joe Neighbor or you live right next door to him, you don't care about his garage, but almost everyone is going to want to know that the last farm in the area is under consideration for development, and that someone wants to add a whole lot of new people to the census and new traffic to the roads.

That part of the meeting might have lasted 20 minutes out of 2 hours. That's reporting; a reporter is paid to recognize that stuff, and to write it on time.

When I'm sitting at the wire desk as an editor, it's not much different. AP will move maybe 300 stories in a cycle. We also get stories from the New York Times and Cox wires. Some duplicate the AP coverage, some don't. All told, there may be 500 possible stories to go in the paper (in addition to the ones generated locally) on any given day. Maybe 30 of them will get in, and some of those only in very abbreviated form.

Not only do I chose which ones people read, I decide, or help decide, which ones ought to get more prominence than which other ones.

Along the way I'll choose maybe 6 photos to illustrate the day's news, out of maybe 250 images available since the last time we put out a paper, 24 hours ago.

And the AP editors, whom I never see or interact with, already have weeded through the news to choose those 300 stories, those 250 photos, through which I move like a cafeteria customer. They might have looked at 3,000 or 5,000 articles that were written in that day, and moved only a fraction of them on the wire.

And the photographers decided where to point their lenses .... You get the idea.

The other 10 percent of the job? That would be reporters looking for stories that don't flow through the usual channels of police reports, court trials, press conferences, news releases, beat coverage in the usual places. That would be me as a copy editor finding a story on the wire that doesn't have a lot of news value or local relevance, but might be compelling to read, and making space for it in the newspaper. Ten percent is about how much of a news organization's time and resources are left over for that part.

* * *

A morning newspaper or an evening newscast consists of decisions made by dozens of men and women along the line. Yet it strives to appear to be a seamless presentation of the world. And in fact newspapers and newscasts do appear to be the work of one mind. This can only work if the people making the decisions have, essentially, the same range of views about things. I say range of views, because there's a degree of flex in it. Two different wire editors can read the same AP political story and one will headline it: "Bush bashes Kerry," and the other: "Kerry's record questioned." But you get the same story in either case.

Some views are essentially excluded from the media: flat-earthers, for instance, are not taken into account when a reporter writes about the Space Shuttle. People who think that cell phone towers are alien homing devices usually only turn up in the letters to the editor page.

Not all fringes are minorities; Catholics who believe in the miracles of the saints don't usually find that view supported in the newspaper. America may have more Creationists than people who believe in the prevailing scientific view of geology. Yet the newspaper is written as though science is right.

That doesn't seem to bother most people, maybe because St. Theresa or the Carboniferous Period rarely appear in headlines. I think a lot of people, even committed Catholics and creationists, understand that their views on these particular issues are not universal, and they accept the secular alternative, for the sake of getting the news.

The mass media is part of the public definition of the wall between "mainstream" and "fringe." Yet when the journalistic core contracts, or shifts in one direction, valid views can get excluded, get marginalized, get taken off the table.

In the minds of the people who accept it and consume it, the mainstream mass media both defines and inhabits "the center," the core, the range of acceptable views of the world we live in. However differently these views may shade away from each other (the Bush-Kerry headline quibble), they are essentially coherent, logical, and consistent with facts.

* * *

The Chomsky critique has a lot of truth in it, as I've said. He examines the way in which media consensus is a manufactured quality, and he often sees that correctly, from my experience. Certain questions will never be asked in the press, because certain ways of thinking that would lead to them do not exist in the press. Swaths of information that some people consider crucial never will be presented because editors won't recognize how they fit into the world view.

The mistake Chomsky makes, I think, is in believing that HIS view ought to be enshrined in the meda in place of the current soft, leftish "center." When people protested against Fox News during the GOP convention, they told it to "get off the air." Chomskyites tend to want to replace "corporate media" with "severely Stalinist and Amero-phobic media." This ignores the symbiotic relationship of viewers and the media. It presents the viewers as passive recipients of propaganda.

And that, I think, reflects a somewhat outdated fixation with the importance of the major mass media, but one which is natural in a man of Chomsky's generation. In the 1960s, with only three network channels and international print coverage in America driven almost entirely by the AP, UPI, and the New York Times, the worldview of the majority of Americans could be shaped by a few twitches in the top newsrooms.

Now, you get the Internet. You get Fox News. You get NPR. You get Radio America. Hell, you can all but duplicate my copy desk job of sorting through the AP wire and the AP photo desk; it's all online. I'm waiting for the day my boss figures out that all this material, for which we pay tens of thousands of dollars per year as a "member" of the Associated Press, is available for free to anyone with a laptop and a phone jack.

But that's the rub. Most people don't have four hours a day to sort through the AP, Reuters, AFP wires and photo desks. They'll pay 50 cents for a newspaper, or sit through 10 minutes of dull TV commercials, for the sake of letting someone do it for them.

* * *

Since the 1970s, "journalism" has become not just a trade practiced by random people who couldn't hold down real jobs, but a profession, one for which you train since high school. Such schooling has the tendency to streamline herds into phalanxes. It weeds out misfits. It ensures the editors and reporters who do make it through have a common background that focuses the range of their world-views.

It's a lifetime process, because the people who hire reporters and editors tend to embrace people who think like they do. Managing editors (the ones who do the hiring) are products of the newsroom culture. They moved up through the ranks (in part by not making trouble for the herd mentality) till they got to the point where they can replenish the gene pool. And they'll choose people who resemble themselves.

It's a natural human trait. I'm sure editors are no different than other bosses. If they interview a job candidate and scent someone who has a way of seeing that is dramatically different from the boss's own, or from the group of people he's already hired, that candidate is not likely to get the job. It's just inviting trouble for yourself, as a boss, as someone trying to guide a group of people to cooperate intensely to get something done every day on short notice.

If the political polarization of the public expands, while that of the media shrinks, this is a problem. And if the media center not only narrows, it tilts in one direction, so that its world view loses touch with realities and in some ways itself resembles the "fringes" it typically excludes, then this is a crisis.

I believe we're in that crisis now. I find it amazing that people consider the media to have a "conservative" bias. If by that you mean, "Peter Jennings is not actively promoting Maoist revolutionary rhetoric," then yes, that's true. But according to a Pew Research Center survey reported in "Editor & Publisher," the official publication of the U.S. news media, the proportion of self-defined "liberals" in newsrooms is increasing much faster than that of self-defined "conservatives," and the ratio is well out of proportion to the nation as a whole.

At national organizations (which includes print, TV and radio), the numbers break down like this: 34% liberal, 7% conservative. At local outlets: 23% liberal, 12% conservative. At Web sites: 27% call themselves liberals, 13% conservatives.

This contrasts with the self-assessment of the general public: 20% liberal, 33% conservative.

Pew found that, over time, not only is the media more polarized, but the liberal voices are more numerous. Since 1995, at national outlets, the liberal segment has climbed from 22% to 34% while conservatives have inched up from 5% to 7%

This is a self-assessment. Most of the journalists, like many Americans, describe themselves as "moderate." But from my experience, the majority of journalists who describe themselves as "moderates" actually break toward the left on most issues. If you consider the schism between newsrooms and the rest of the U.S., it's not surprising that a "moderate" in the subculture will be a "liberal" in the larger culture.

And when the fury of partisan politics, and the vision of a world being led by George W. Bush into hellish ruin, converge in the minds of the media, as they have in so many anti-Bush/anti-war/anti-American people I see and read in the media, then the desire to change the future through the "medium" of the present becomes an active force in the thousand little daily decisions that define news coverage.

My newsroom is a sea of conversations in which my co-workers sit at their desks talking about how much they hate Bush, how important it is to defeat him, how many people they saw at the anti-war rally they marched in, how criminal the Iraq war is, how "evil" the U.S. administration is, how brilliant and important Michael Moore is, how stupid Republicans are.

These things are not even considered controversial. They're presented as things too obvious to require proof, and too universally known to be questioned. If I want to find someone in my newsroom to talk to about what a good job the U.S. men and women did in overthrowing Saddam, and are doing in rebuilding Iraq, I have to walk across the room the find the one who would answer me with anything but a stare of horror, like I'd just proposed dismembering a puppy.

And at the same time these conversations are underway the same people are assembling newspaper pages. They do this with the same minds, the same world-views, that they bring to their conversations. Would anyone expect otherwise?

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