Body and Soul

Thoughts on the body politic, the human soul, Billie Holiday songs (and other people's) -- with a lot more questions than answers

Friday, February 28, 2003

What The New York Times Leaves Out

Last Sunday, the New York Times published an article on how important it will be to keep civilian casualties in Gulf War II to a minimum -- not just for humanitarian reasons, but for political ones as well. Support for the war in this country is, at most, hesitant, and televised pictures of dying civilians would quickly shrivel that support. It would also create greater hostility to American troops in Iraq, making reconstruction all the harder, not to mention sparking anger all over the world. If we had a reasonable and competent administration, it would be easy to assume the Times was right. Bush and Company have everything to gain from planning for humanitarian needs and minimizing causalities. Any fool can see that. The only question is whether this particular collection of fools can see it. At least we can hope they've noticed one special thing to be gained: the opportunity to discredit their critics by proving fears of a humanitarian catastrophe ill-founded.

Of course, that fear of massive casualties and a humanitarian disaster didn't come out of nowhere. It grew in reaction to an administration that spoke of using nuclear or biochemical weapons, and of employing a strategy of "shock and awe" -- which sounds an awful lot like an act of terrorism. Fear grew in reaction to an administration which has given little cooperation to humanitarian organizations trying to plan for the emergency. The best we can hope for, I think, is that this was nothing but bravado -- little boys waving their sharp sticks and hoping to freak out the grownups, or the other little boys -- and that in the end they will do everything possible to keep from harming innocent people.

But there's a contradiction between the adolescent attitude toward grotesque weapons and strategies that this administration has demonstrated, and the Pentagon's apparent caution, as described by the New York Times. A reasonably informative article about the threats to civilians in Iraq would have at least mentioned the contradiction, and the reasons for fear. A decent model would have been Anthony Dworkin's article in The Guardian, which looked at why the "shock and awe" strategy deeply concerns human rights groups, while still demonstrating that it's not unreasonable to think -- or at least hope -- that civilian casualties might be minimal.

But there's an even more important objection to the NYT article that should be made: It is historically evasive. A reader recently forwarded to me a letter he sent to the Times complaining about important facts the article omitted, and pointing out that those evasions were part of a pattern that revealed a particular kind of bias at the Times. Let Donald's letter explain it:


To the editor:

James Dao's piece on civilian casualties was conspicuously incomplete. The fact is that in Gulf War I the US did attempt to avoid blowing up civilians because of the public relations problem, but at the same time they deliberately hit civilian infrastructure in order to accelerate the effects of the sanctions and cause civilian suffering. We know this because the Pentagon admitted it to the Washington Post. And we know what Human Rights Watch said about this -- it was a violation of the laws of war -- because they say so in their online study "Needless Deaths in the Gulf War." We know that they knew the destruction of water treatment plants would cause epidemics, because anyone with a triple digit IQ would know this, and because it is stated in declassified Pentagon documents.

So the NYT stresses the Pentagon's attempt to avoid the obvious sort of civilian casualty, and omits mention of its confessed attempt to cause them in a more subtle way. Similarly, earlier this week the NYT gives its readers a history of Turkey's relationship with its Kurds and yet you neglect to mention the fact that the US gave Turkey advanced weaponry knowing how it would be used. (See Human Rights Watch for more details, but of course you know them.)

Coupled with all the other stories that have appeared elsewhere in the mainstream press, which I will list below, it is clear that the NYT has made a choice not to publish facts about US policy, past or present, which would show it in an extremely bad light. The most charitable assumption I can make is that you think this is a patriotic duty. But whatever the motive, you are lying by omission.

Other stories which I've missed in the NYT (though maybe they were there, since I don't claim to read every single line) --
  • The Washington Post reports that the US sends prisoners to other countries to be tortured. (Dec 26,2002)

  • A US government statistician was nearly fired for calculating the number of civilians who died as a result of health effects in the first Gulf War. (I think her name is Daponte and the total was in the neighborhood of 100,000, much larger than the 3000 blown up as collateral damage that you mention in the Dao piece. The story has appeared in numerous places, including Business Week ). This shows the government tried very hard to conceal information it found embarrassing. The NYT is a partner in that endeavor.

  • The Washington Post (Dec 30, 2002) goes into detail about US support for Iraq and its weapons programs during the 80's. It seems there was more to it than just two currently defunct US companies, as reported in the NYT.

Notice that none of this is meant to argue for or against an invasion of Iraq. Presumably the US has some incentive to avoid civilian casualties, direct and indirect, for the reasons mentioned in the Dao piece. It also has an incentive to blame Saddam for any that ensue. But that is no reason for your whitewash of current and past American actions and it indicates that no one should trust the NYT to report the truth about the upcoming war if there is something our government would like to cover up.

Donald Johnson


In a follow-up, Donald notes that in the past, the NYT seemed more willing to report honestly about American actions abroad, and particularly praised Ray Bonner's reporting from El Salvador in the early '80s. (Although it should also be noted that the Times pulled Bonner out of Central America and reassigned him to the paper's Business section after he wrote a story on a massacre by the Salvadoran army, which had been trained in anti-guerrilla warfare by the U.S. Military -- a story which embarrassed the Reagan administration and led to a right-wing campaign to smear the reporter.) Donald also notes that they've had good coverage of "US crimes that no longer have any political resonance," including condemnation of US support for Jonas Savimbi and revelation of lies about US involvement in Angola; a series of articles on US complicity in the Guatemalan military's acts of genocide; and a recent article mentioning US support in the mid '60s for the Indonesian military's killing of somewhere between 300,000 and 1 million people. But, as Donald points out, that's old and not immediately relevant history. The Times has a record of being far too reluctant to report current crimes, or past ones that have a direct connection to current events, even when other papers have reported the information.

When it comes to foreign affairs, the New York Times probably has the best resources of any paper in the country. Anyone who wants to know what is going on outside the United States is dependent, to some extent, on the NYT. But anyone reading the Times ought to be aware that they seem to have a history of leaving certain kinds of information out of their stories. Caveat emptor.

Coalition of the Billing, Part...oh, who knows, I lost count long ago...
The United States offered Turkey a package of textile trade concessions as a reward for letting U.S. troops use the country as a jumping-off point for an attack on Iraq, and agreed to agreed to allow Turkish troops to enter northern Iraq and observe the disarmament of Kurdish militias once fighting has stopped.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Via Atrios -- and go over there to join the conversation -- I came to this U.S. Diplomat's Letter of Resignation, written to Colin Powell, a cri de coeur (assuming I'm still allowed to use French) that everyone must read. Below is an excerpt, but really, go read the whole thing.

The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America’s most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security.

The sacrifice of global interests to domestic politics and to bureaucratic self-interest is nothing new, and it is certainly not a uniquely American problem. Still, we have not seen such systematic distortion of intelligence, such systematic manipulation of American opinion, since the war in Vietnam. The September 11 tragedy left us stronger than before, rallying around us a vast international coalition to cooperate for the first time in a systematic way against the threat of terrorism. But rather than take credit for those successes and build on them, this Administration has chosen to make terrorism a domestic political tool, enlisting a scattered and largely defeated Al Qaeda as its bureaucratic ally. We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq. The result, and perhaps the motive, is to justify a vast misallocation of shrinking public wealth to the military and to weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government. September 11 did not do as much damage to the fabric of American society as we seem determined to so to ourselves. Is the Russia of the late Romanovs really our model, a selfish, superstitious empire thrashing toward self-destruction in the name of a doomed status quo?


Mr. Secretary, I have enormous respect for your character and ability. You have preserved more international credibility for us than our policy deserves, and salvaged something positive from the excesses of an ideological and self-serving Administration. But your loyalty to the President goes too far. We are straining beyond its limits an international system we built with such toil and treasure, a web of laws, treaties, organizations, and shared values that sets limits on our foes far more effectively than it ever constrained America’s ability to defend its interests.

I am resigning because I have tried and failed to reconcile my conscience with my ability to represent the current U.S. Administration.

This is still America, isn't it?

Isn't it?

Karzai Seeks to Keep Aid to Nation on U.S. Agenda

The man in the emerald cloak was everywhere in Washington 13 months ago -- conferring with ambassadors, greeting members of Congress, and as a prime symbol of America's success in battling terrorism, sitting with the first lady in the gallery as President Bush delivered his State of the Union address. U.S. forces had destroyed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai, just in from Kabul, the Afghan capital, was the man of the moment.

Karzai, now the president of Afghanistan, is back in Washington making many of the same rounds -- but the capital's attention is largely elsewhere. With the White House firmly focused on Iraq, Karzai is here to prod the administration to not forget his country.

Something came to mind as I was reading about Hamid Karzai's attempt to get a president with an infamously short attention span to pay attention to the hard and unphotogenic work of reconstruction. Someone described Karzai's situation years before he found himself in it:

The End and the Beginning

by Wislawa Szymborska

(translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak)

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won't
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the sides of the road,
so the corpse-laden wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone must drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone must glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it's not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

Read the rest

We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.' Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes." -- Fred Rogers

Fred Rogers' death this morning has set me to thinking a lot about children. And lately, of course, I've been thinking a lot about Iraq. The focus has all been on whether or not a war is justified and necessary. I don't think it is, but that's not what concerns me today. Children in Iraq have suffered enormously under the last twelve years of sanctions. At least 500 thousand children have died unnecessarily. If there's a war, things will only get worse. If somehow, miraculously, we manage to avoid a war, things aren't going to get any better.

It seems like a good time to mention an organization working to alleviate some of the suffering. All Our Children is a $1 million campaign, organized by a consortium of religious organizations, to meet health care needs of Iraqi children by providing antibiotics, anesthesia, IV solution kits, and methods for accessing clean drinking water.

Those critical needs will remain whether there's a war or not. I don't, to be perfectly honest, trust the Bush administration to care much about that, and I don't think private groups can make up the difference. But they can make some difference. It's a very good time to make a contribution to "All Our Children," or one of the other NGOs like CARE that will deal with the consequences of war (or, hopefully, with the crises that remain even if there is peace). Iraqi children are our children, too, after all. We're all part of the same neighborhood.

Mr. Rogers died early this morning. And I'm literally writing this through tears. I feel like I lost a member of the family.

As I've written before, probably in more detail than I should have, I grew up in a brutal family, and reached adulthood with no idea of what a family was, or how you were supposed to take care of a child. And then, eighteen years ago, I had a kid. And I didn't have the vaguest idea how the hell to take care of him. I could figure out how to feed him and clothe him and change diapers, and I knew it was a good idea to play with him and read to him, but there was something intangible, something I'd never learned at home, that I knew I was missing. I learned it from Mr. Rogers.

For the first couple of years, I counted on a love so huge it made me glow every time I looked at my baby to carry me through. That's really not a bad way to deal with a child who can't talk yet. Just love him and keep your eyes on him. But it wouldn't have been enough once I had a kid who asked questions and talked back. In my family, asking questions and talking back was dangerous.

Thank God for Fred Rogers. Literally, I've thanked God over and over for Fred Rogers. I never let my son watch much television when he was little (or when he was a teenager, for that matter) because I'm one of those annoying mothers who thought that it was mostly crap and I wasn't about to turn my child over to people who wanted to throw crap at him. We watched Sesame Street once or twice, but didn't like it. It was too loud, too bright, and there was too much happening at one time. It made both of us squint and back away. And then one day, we discovered Mr. Rogers.

My son, before he turned three, began learning to tell time, because he wanted to be sure he didn't miss Mr. Rogers.

Everyone makes fun of Fred Rogers. The slow, careful speech; the "you're special" talk addressed to millions of kids -- from an adult point of view, it's faintly ridiculous, and seems condescending. But God never made a human being less condescending than Fred Rogers.

Let me tell you a little bit about my son to try to explain why I believe that. He was -- still is -- unusually bright. Before he turned two he memorized every book I read to him. Hundreds of books. He couldn't read, but he'd sit down with a book and recite it, turning the pages in the right place, and when he did it in public, people thought he was reading. At three, he could read most picture books. Before he started kindergarten, he was reading chapter books. And the Los Angeles Times (not everything in it, but he'd check the front page every morning to see if there were any articles about dinosaurs or evolution or space). He was passionate about the things he learned, and very verbal, and if anyone gave him the slightest opening, he'd seize the chance to tell everything he knew. I can't tell you how many adults I've seen with their mouths hanging open while a tiny kid went on and on about Australopithicus afarensis or something. Unfortunately, most people would then say the words that annoyed my son more than any other: "Aren't you a smart little boy?"

How is anyone supposed to answer that question? It's condescending and stupid, and whenever anyone said it, I'd see my son's big blue eyes get as beady as George Bush's, and he would just shut down, and refuse to talk to the person any more.

You'd think a kid who hated being talked down to that much would despise Mr. Rogers, right? No way. No matter how smart my son was, he was still afraid that he might go down the drain with the bath water, and that if he went to a new place, there might not be a bathroom, and that if he got angry, he would turn into a monster and no one would love him anymore. He wasn't sure that Margaret Hamilton wasn't really green and mean, with an army of flying monkeys at her command, until he saw that obviously gentle woman with Mr. Rogers, and truly understood to the bone that Oz was all pretend, and the wicked witch was just a nice old lady like Nonna. I didn't understand at first how much he needed to know that, but Mr. Rogers did.

Fred Rogers had an astonishing gift for knowing exactly what worried kids, and more than that, a gift for brushing away their concerns without at any time making it seem like there was anything wrong with that concern. Just try to strike that perfect tone. You probably can't do it, for the same reason you can't sing like Aretha Franklin. It's a glorious gift that God didn't hand out to everyone.

But even without the gift, you can learn from, and be inspired by a genius. From Fred Rogers I learned that when you're around kids, you wear comfortable shoes and clothes you don't care much about so you can get down on the ground, because the only way to talk to another human being, including a child, is face-to-face. I learned that if you listen to them, children say amazing things. Not just cute and clever things. They're seeing the world for the first time and are enthralled by its beauty, and if you get down on the ground with them, you've got an opportunity to see it for the first time too, even if you're thirty-something. Surely there must always have been lizards, cocoons, constellations, and hermit crabs – but I swear I never noticed any of them until my son pointed them out to me, and then I couldn't stop being aware of how amazing they were.

And I learned that each child is "special." Ever since my son was three, I've volunteered at his schools, and over the years worked with hundreds of children, and I've never met one that wasn't gifted. Even three and four year olds will show signs of some astonishing gift that sets me raving about some breathtaking child and his innate ability to make another child feel welcome, or to persevere in a task that I would have given up on in half the time, or to plan a complicated project and see it through. There's no way to see the gifts that people who have barely entered the world have, to see how "special" they all are (and Fred Rogers spent enough time with individual children so that wasn't just a word to him) without believing in God, and knowing to the bone that beauty and grace come into the world with every human being.

Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. If he ever mentioned God on his show, I missed it. But he was one of the greatest witnesses to the power of a life of faith I've ever seen.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

If you tried to call your senators yesterday as part of the Virtual March on Washington and didn't get through, you weren't alone. Try again on Thursday. And if you still get a busy signal, call the local office number, which you can find here.

Let's see. Donahue is out because the media thinks it’s a bad time for not mouthing exactly the same banalities everyone else is mouthing. And fighting terrorism apparently means never having to say you're sorry – at least not to a Yemeni immigrant. Hesiod gave me plenty to get mad about today. Thank goodness he also gave me someone to laugh at.

Who opposes this war? Everyday people. And they're everywhere.

"If we don't have allies in Iraq, peacekeeping could employ the entire deployable army," -- Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, explaining Gen. Eric K. Shinseki's statement that peacekeeping and humanitarian operations after a war with Iraq would probably require "several hundred thousand soldiers."

Today's the day. Join the Virtual March on Washington.

MUST READ: Max on war and oil.

No comment
A high school junior wore a tee-shirt to school with a picture of Bush and the words "International Terrorist." The vice principal sent him home because he wasn't allowed to wear a shirt that "promotes terrorism."

Well, this is interesting:

A strange spectacle in court: As the USA prepares for a war against Iraq, it is being sued by Iran for its previous close relationship to Saddam Hussein. At the International Court of Justice, Teheran is accusing the United States of delivering dangerous chemicals and deadly viruses to Baghdad during the eighties.

Estimates of the number of refugees a two-to-three month war with Iraq will produce start at around half a million and go up over a million. Iran has joined Turkey, Syria, Kuwait and Jordan among countries planning to turn refugees back at the border. Where will they go?

The alliance with Turkey isn't the only way the Bush is shafting the Kurds. If the US attacks Iraq, the Kurds would be a likely Iraqi target, so, naturally, they've asked the US for gas masks, protective suits, and antidotes to biological agents. According to an article in today's Christian Science Monitor, with everyone predicting no more than a few weeks before an inevitable war begins, they still have lots of nice words and no gas masks. One Kurdish leader goes so far as to suggest that American officials would like to see another mass murder of Kurds because it would be to their political advantage to point to dead Kurds as proof that Saddam did indeed have deadly weapons.

At least times are good for some people.

The continuing saga of the shifty AIDS money

The story so far: The NY Times, the Washington Post and the LA Times all reported a few weeks ago that Bush was changing the "global gag rule" -- barring distribution of U.S. funds to foreign clinics that provide abortion or abortion counseling -- so that social service agencies in Africa and the Caribbean could get funds for AIDS treatment, even if they also provided contraception and abortion services. That was an important development, because AIDS treatment and reproductive services are often provided by the same agencies. Without that change, many poor communities, which can only afford one clinic, would have to choose between treating AIDS and providing reproductive health care to women. Combining services also makes AIDS victims more likely to go for help, because it relieves them of the stigma of going to a clinic labeled as exclusively for people with AIDS.

Chapter II: As is so often the case with the Bush administration, the good news turned out to be a little less than the truth. Not only were they not relaxing the gag rule, they were extending it.

To its credit, the Washington Post published an editorial on Sunday exposing and condemning the fraud. LA and NY have still not been heard from.

UPDATE: Twenty members of Congress (by some strange coincidence, not a Republican in the bunch) signed a letter to Colin Powell calling on the administration to drop plans to extend the global gag order. The letter states, "Our international AIDS policy cannot be subverted in order to satisfy the qualms of any group with specific concerns over a single policy issue that has little relevance for other countries." I think the simple translation of that is: It's bad enough that anyone in this country pays attention to a bunch of misogynist religious nuts. It would be really unfair to inflict them on a continent that already has plenty of its own problems.

Hallelujah! The Catholic Church will not sell exclusive rights to the Virgin. It's sad, though, that they even considered it.

President Bush told reporters that Iraq's generals should "clearly understand that if they take innocent life, if they destroy infrastructure, they will be held to account as war criminals."

I'd appreciate that threat a lot more if it were true for everyone, and if I thought Bush had any understanding that the purpose of war crimes trials is justice, not encouraging coups, and if the decision not to try someone for war crimes had more to do with what crimes they had committed than whether or not they were "willing to cooperate with United States forces," or have "technical expertise" that is "deemed crucial to running a post-Hussein government."

How much will war with Iraq cost? The Pentagon is estimating higher costs than Bush and Company are willing to admit, but even the Pentagon's numbers seem optimistic, taking into account only what "defeating Iraq and occupying the country for six months" could cost. Does anyone believe we will only be in Iraq for six months? The Pentagon numbers also leave out the cost of humanitarian assistance and reconstruction. Although maybe the Pentagon is just taking Ari Fleischer at his word when he says that Iraq will have to "shoulder much of the burden for their own reconstruction" -- a suggestion which is both callous and "economic and political folly." Or maybe people in the Pentagon simply noticed how quickly Lawrence Lindsey disappeared from the administration after saying that the cost of the war would be as much as $200 billion.

Good intentions can be evil,/Both hands can be full of grease./ You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace. – Bob Dylan

Devra asked a intriguing question awhile ago (it's taken me awhile to write this, which is why the link is a little old): Is it better to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, or the wrong thing for the right reasons?

Devra's question brought to mind something else I read recently, something that briefly discombobulated me. In a pretty good column about Dick Cheney (mostly recycling old information, but you can't reiterate too often how bad our vice-president is), Arianna Huffington mentioned that Cheney had lobbied for an end to U.S. sanctions on Iraq.

Did I read that right? Dick Cheney and I were, for the better part of a decade, on the same side? I think it's time to go take a really long shower.

I started googling, hoping Huffington was wrong, but of course she wasn't – and when I thought about it, Cheney's opposition to sanctions made perfect sense. Sanctions get in the way of business. Why should the fact that a tyrant is torturing and murdering his opponents stop people from trying to make a profit? As recently as April, 2001, Cheney's energy task force was considering the possibility of lifting sanctions on Iraq (as well as Iran and Libya), not out of any humanitarian concerns, obviously, but because sanctions "affect some of the most important existing and prospective petroleum producing countries in the world."

That isn't exactly why I oppose the Iraqi sanctions. Some time ago, I was writing something about the sanctions, and tried to find an online copy of Joy Gordon's "Cool War," which Harper's had published in November. Unfortunately, Harper's hadn't made it available online then, but they have now, and it's still well worth reading. Gordon spent three years researching the sanctions and came to the conclusion that the United States had manipulated the program in ways that purposely increased human suffering without damaging Iraq's ability to make weapons. That, and a few hundred thousand other small reasons, are why I'm against the sanctions. That's a reason Dick Cheney might have appropriated if he had needed a pretty face to cover his greed.

Keep in mind that for most of the lifespan of those murderous sanctions, Bill Clinton was president. And Dick Cheney and I were on the same side. I can't think of very many issues on which I'd be both against Clinton, and on the same side as Cheney. But sometimes weird things happen. Politics is politics and nobody expects it to be pretty. And if Cheney's energy committee had gotten rid of the sanctions, I would have been far happier about the lives that might have been saved than about the base motives for doing it. If the right thing is accomplished, the motives don't matter – at least not for that one thing.

So, my immediate answer to Devra's question is that doing the right thing is always best. Actions are what count, and perfectly pure motives are a rare – perhaps non-existent – thing in this world anyway.

The problem with thinking on a case by case basis like that, though, is that in the long term, bad motives tend to lead to bad actions. Every once in awhile someone does a good thing for a bad reason, but as a general rule believing that profits are more important than people leads to some pretty nasty behavior and inhuman policies. And you don't have to look past Dick Cheney for proof of that.

And while the person whose heart is in the right place might unwittingly do the wrong thing from time to time, I'd trust a compassionate person over a greedy one to do the right thing far more often. And I wouldn't blame anybody too much for doing the wrong thing for the right reason.

Which brings me to the question of war. I can't point to a specific post, but among the reasonable proponents of war that I read regularly -- CalPundit, The Agonist, and Matthew Yglesias -- a question has come up a few times about how many anti-war people would support the war if they didn't have a strong sense (shared, I think, by all three of my pro-war examples) that the Bush administration was acting from base motives.

Personally, I don't think I would support this war anyway. I don't find even the most reasonable of arguments about WMDs convincing – at least not convincing enough to overcome my very strong prejudice against war. I think the dangers outweigh any good that could come out of this war, even if we had wise, skillful, and trustworthy leaders. The fact that we don't adds to my wariness, but the wariness would be there no matter what.

But what if I'm wrong for the right reasons? What if this administration, despite their motives, managed to accomplish some good in Iraq, or even in the Middle East as a whole? What if they did the right thing for the wrong reasons?

I think that's basically what Kevin Drum was asking recently – damn, people are asking hard questions lately – in a wide-ranging and thoughtful post on possible results of the war. What if -- he asked war opponents -- the war turned out to be swift and decisive, with few casualties, and in addition, democratic institutions began to take root in Iraq, with protection of the Kurds and other minorities, humanitarian needs were dealt with adequately, and there was a rapid reconstruction. Suppose, even, that – I assume were talking about quite a few years in the future here – the democracy built in Iraq began to spread to the rest of the Middle East? Suppose, in essence, that the neocon fantasy turns out to be true. Would that convince you that, despite your earlier concerns, the war turned out to be a positive move?

Given every move this administration has made so far, that stretches my imagination a lot farther than it likes to go. But maybe, like me, my imagination is getting a little creaky in the joints and could use stretching. So, okay, for the sake of argument, I'll go there.

Just to make this even more complicated, let's throw in another damn fine, and closely related, question. Barry, at Alas, a blog recently pointed out that there is one very good result that will surely emerge from this war – an end to sanctions. Does that mean anyone who opposes sanctions should support the war, because obviously some good will come out of it? Barry deals immediately with the moral conundrum this leads to. It's "morally perverse" to tell our government it's okay to wage war in order to stop itself from inflicting harm on people. All kinds of unknown things could happen during a war which could make life even worse than under sanctions. And it is just plain weird to hand the solution of a problem over to the people who are causing it. And yet the truth is, it's impossible to imagine a real world scenario, other than war, that puts an end to sanctions.

I had a weird, related thought – okay, more like a fantasy (neocons don't have exclusive rights to political fantasies) -- during the haggling over the price of Turkish support. What if the Turks pushed too far, I thought, and in the end got cut out of the deal? Wouldn't that be a good thing, really? It would force Bush to work with the Kurds, who might gain enough power to actually create the independent Kurdistan that they've dreamed of, but had to give up hope on. Maybe it would even – as the Turks feared – spread to include the Turkish Kurds. Wouldn't that be a wonderful result of this war – one Bush didn't count on, plan for, or care about?

It would have been. But it would have been even better if we helped the Kurds build on what they've already achieved in their protected zone, and those democratic institutions spread by force of example, instead of by force of arms. Not just because force of example is abstractly "better," but because "democracy" imposed by force isn't likely to put its roots down very deeply, if at all. A "good" you stumble over just doesn't have the staying power of a good you're committed to.

In the long run, I think how things come to be matter as much as what comes to be. But it may be faith, more than reason, that carries me to that conclusion.

I suspect there will be some good that comes of this war. There will be positive consequences – along with some negative ones – that we haven't even thought of yet. Grace has a habit of showing up in the ugliest places. And still, the United States going in, either on its own, or with a coalition of the bought and bullied, and overthrowing a government without any immediate threat, only because (under the most generous interpretation) it feels threatened, or (using a less generous interpretation) because it has something to gain – I can't imagine that I would ever say that such a thing turned out to be for the best. It's a horrible precedent that makes the world a more dangerous and brutish place. And I hope the few signs of grace that emerge from the rubble – and I'm sure there will be signs of grace, especially at the beginning, while everyone's on their best behavior, before the press gets bored and goes looking for the next war -- don't ever seduce any of us into believing it is a good model for future action.

Even if some bits of good come out of it, doing it for the wrong reasons, and in the wrong way, will make a difference.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Don't miss…

Ruminate This on Bernadette Devlin's arrest and deportation.

"We aren't going to go home from whatever we do in Iraq." -- General Anthony Zinni

UPDATE: Go to The Road to Surfdom for more on military opposition to the war.

Another day, another verse of the Can't Trust the Mayberry Machiavelli Blues. The White House is starting to sound like a CARE press release, warning that as many as 2 million Iraqis could be made homeless by the coming war, and discussing its strategy for dealing with the catastrophe. Now there was a time when I thought that the president talking like the head of an NGO was a positive development, but after food packets that lured people out into mined fields in Afghanistan, a magically vanishing education budget, and an AIDS proposal that that ended up looking like welfare for pharmaceutical companies, I'm unpacking my fine-toothed comb.

My cynical response:

What the hell took you so long? Relief groups have been complaining for months (warning: pdf.) that they haven't been privy even to unclassified information about plans for humanitarian aid. The administrations' renowned secrecy and lack of interest in proposals by NGOs, and unconscionable delays in approving licenses for NGOs to conduct assessment missions have made it extremely difficult for relief organizations like CARE and Refugees International to develop plans and prepare adequately for the emergency. According to Ken Bacon, of Refugees International, they kept being told that a decision to go to war hadn't been reached, so it was "premature" to start planning for humanitarian relief (it didn't seem to stop Bush and Company from planning for the war, however.) It's hard, even, to say, "Better late than never," because even if these plans are adequate, a lot of time was lost, and people will suffer and even die because of it.

Next question: Why is the military taking over a job that could be better done by NGOs? Initially, the military will have to be responsible for the work. The UN has already pulled out half the foreign aid workers it has in Iraq. There's nobody else who can do the job. But the administration has appointed Jay Garner, a retired lieutenant general, to head the office of reconstruction and humanitarian assistance, and while he has some good, relevant experience – he was in charge of Kurdish resettlement in the months after the first Gulf War – and no one seems to have anything negative to say about him, some relief workers are worried that he has too close ties to the Pentagon, and that the Pentagon is trying to run the show. There have been problems in Afghanistan for humanitarian workers because of the military's aid and development work. Afghans see the American military and NGOs as the part of the same force – which can make it difficult for aid workers to gain people's trust. In some cases, it can even put workers lives at risk.

The importance of this distinction is apparent in an interview Mark Grossman, undersecretary of State for political affairs, did with NPR:

LYNN NEARY: And one other thing--I know you make a distinction between the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government...

GROSSMAN: Absolutely.

NEARY: terms of the Iraqi people not being the enemy. On the other hand, the Iraqi people may regard the US military as the enemy. The very people who now perhaps are trying to assist them in humanitarian ways might be the same people they regard as those who caused the problems in the first place. How do you deal with that?

GROSSMAN: Well, first of all, I can imagine that the Iraqi people are more than tired of the regime that they've been living under for all these years, and second, one of the reasons that we've done so much planning and have tried to be so objective-oriented in this regard is so that if our military forces have to be used, then the thing that the Iraqi people will see immediately after their liberation are people who are coming to restore exactly the kinds of institutions and efforts that you were talking about. So I'd like to see, you know, Iraqis recognize immediately that the United States and its coalition allies are there to restore the water, to get the power back up, and also to consider the areas of future governance of Iraq so that people there have a chance to run their own lives.


That conversation is troubling for two reasons. Assuming that the Iraqi people are going to see the American military as saviors is a horrible idea. It might turn out to be true. But if it doesn't – and the chances are good that it won't – you will be putting people in a position of depending for aid on people they view as the enemy. If you care about those people's lives, it makes much more sense to help NGOs get in and take over as quickly as possible, and allow them to act as independently as possible, without forcing them to work with the military. They'll be able to accomplish more if Iraqis don't view them as a branch of the US military.

It's also disturbing that Grossman seems to see providing aid as part of the public relations strategy: We want Iraqis to "recognize immediately that the United States and its coalition allies are there to restore the water, to get the power back up." Combine that with the fact that, according to the LA Times, "The White House made a special effort to invite members of the international press corps, a strategy intended especially to reach Arab audiences, who fear that a U.S.-led war could cause widespread misery," and that Grossman brags about how closely the administration has worked with NGOs (that's not what the NGOs are saying), and the whole thing is starting to sound less like a real plan for reducing misery, and more like a p.r. gambit.

NOTE: Andrew Natsios says the NGOs are lying about how little involvement they have had in the preparations. That seems to say a lot about the relationship this administration has with humanitarian organizations.

Good source of information:
The Human and Humanitarian Consequences of a War on Iraq

Sign Amnesty International's petition asking the Security Council to send humanitarian and human rights monitors to Iraq to assess both the current situation and the impact of any military action on civilians.

I'd like to pose a moral question that I don't have a satisfactory answer to in the hope that someone has a good response.

Humanitarian organizations are increasingly aware of the manipulation and abuse of their aid. Some examples:
  • During the 1991-92 famine in Somalia, aid agencies, without enough resources to feed hundreds of thousands of starving people, paid exorbitant fees to armed militias to protect them and their supplies. It's not just the waste that's at issue. It's the fact that humanitarian groups, obviously without meaning to, ended up helping militias kill people.

  • In 1994, Hutus in Rwanda began a genocidal campaign that in three months killed at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The genocide ended only when the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front took control of the country, at which point as many as 2 million Hutu fled to refugee camps in Zaire. As hunger and disease swept through the camps, aid from the West began to pour in. Among the recipients of the aid were people who were responsible for the genocide in Rwanda. Ironically far more Western aid ended up going to the architects of the genocide, now in refugee camps in Zaire, than to the victims in Rwanda. Worse, the Hutu genocidaires took control of some of the camps, seized the aid and sold it to buy weapons. The "humanitarian" refugee camps ended up sheltering murderers conducting cross-border raids to continue the genocide.

  • In North Korea, as many as three million people may have died from starvation and related illnesses since 1995. But refugees who have fled the country say that aid meant for famine victims is not getting to those who need it but is going to citizens deemed to be loyal to Kim Jong Il. Some aid organizations continue to work in North Korea, but they have no control over how aid is distributed. The problem isn't just that some, or even most, of the food is being siphoned off. The bigger question is to what extent that aid keeps a monstrous regime afloat. Does the aid feed the monster instead of the children? Would the regime be threatened if it didn't have the food to offer as bribes?

All of that went racing through my head when I read that Colin Powell was talking about resuming food aid to North Korea. Food shipments were stopped three months ago. My instinct is to say give the food and hope at least some of it gets to people who need it. But if you give aid without any control over, or even knowledge of, how it's distributed, and it keeps monsters in power, or allows murderers to go on rampages, aren't you, in some sense, morally responsible for what happens? I don't in any way mean that as a slam on Colin Powell. It seems to me a genuine moral conundrum.

What would Ike do?

Liberal Oasis has a great interview with investigative reporter Greg Palast, talking about democracy, war, oil, globalization, and the frustrations of being a real reporter in a fluffy media world. Definitely worth checking out.

Then, while you're thinking about the media, go read Jim Capozzola's obituaries for the late, great Washington Post and Salon, may they rest in pieces.

The US has enormous economic power over some of the non-permanent members of the Security Council. Bulgaria has gotten $31.5 million in US military grants since 2001, and an additional $97.1 million in aid. Pakistan is receiving $50 million in military grants. Cameroon receives about $200,000 yearly for military training. Angola receives about $100,000 for military education and training, and about $19 million in development assistance. The US provides about $500,000 annually for military training of Chilean soldiers and awarded the country about $1.5 million in military grants this year. Mexico will get over $44 million in development assistance this year. And then there are other incentives.

Isn't it pleasantly surprising that this doesn't seem to be paying off? Some unknown person in the administration was quoted in the LA Times this morning, saying, " "We have no tricks left in our bag."

Time to stop threatening and start listening? Just a suggestion.

Paul Krugman has an interesting theory this morning about why it isn't working with at least one country – Mexico:

Consider the astonishing fact that Vicente Fox, president of Mexico, appears unwilling to cast his U.N. Security Council vote in America's favor. Given Mexico's close economic ties to the United States, and Mr. Fox's onetime personal relationship with Mr. Bush, Mexico should have been more or less automatically in America's column. But the Mexican president feels betrayed. He took the politically risky step of aligning himself closely with Mr. Bush — a boost to Republican efforts to woo Hispanic voters — in return for promised reforms that would legalize the status of undocumented immigrants. The administration never acted on those reforms, and Mr. Fox is in no mood to do Mr. Bush any more favors.

Mr. Fox is not alone. In fact, I can't think of anyone other than the hard right and corporate lobbyists who has done a deal with Mr. Bush and not come away feeling betrayed.

Isn't it a good thing to know that in the absence of decent and trustworthy behavior, all the bribes and threats in the world get you nowhere? At least that's the way it looks today.

UPDATE: The Agonist suggests Bush will get Chilean and Angolan support for the resolution; MSNBC quotes "diplomatic sources" who say the "financial and other inducements" are working -- Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan will all vote for the resolution.

Counter-terrorism experts and a senior US intelligence official interviewed by the Christian Science Monitor, say that Al Qaeda stands to gain from a US invasion of Iraq. Yes, I realize you know that already – but you're not a counter-terrorism expert or an intelligence official, so that doesn't count.

I'll be back with some links and rants and maybe even a little coherent thought later today.

Monday, February 24, 2003

What does John Ashcroft have against women?

On March 1, the INS moves over into the Department of Homeland Security, and Ashcroft loses his chance to harass immigrants and refugees, so apparently he decided to sneak in one final horrendous act – denying asylum to women fleeing gender-based human rights abuses including sexual slavery, honor killing, and government-tolerated domestic violence.


Hesiod says listen to Rush -- and take notes.

Prosecutors See Limits to Doubt in Capital Cases

Judge Laura Denvir Stith seemed not to believe what she was hearing.

A prosecutor was trying to block a death row inmate from having his conviction reopened on the basis of new evidence, and Judge Stith, of the Missouri Supreme Court, was getting exasperated. "Are you suggesting," she asked the prosecutor, that "even if we find Mr. Amrine is actually innocent, he should be executed?"

Frank A. Jung, an assistant state attorney general, replied, "That's correct, your honor."

For the life of me, I can't understand how any prosecutor could live with his or her conscience after arguing that post-conviction claims of innocence shouldn't even be looked at because we need finality and would prevent "very few unjust executions."

Exoneration isn't even enough.

(Via Kos)

Why Ken Pollack Is Wrong

People are crazy and times are strange
Read Peter Arnett on how reporting what he saw in the first Gulf War got him branded a traitor. Then read how CNN and MSNBC are toning down the graphics and trying to look classier and more serious in preparation for war. From Peter Arnett to Connie Chung in a little over a decade. Well, at least MSNBC is sending Arnett back to Baghdad.

UPDATE: It gets worse. According to Newsweek, MTV and the tabloid "Inside Edition" had reporters participating in combat-training boot camps sponsored by the Defense Department. MTV has one of Teen People's Hottest Stars Under 25 already in Kuwait. His parents were "way political," and that probably makes him as qualified to cover a war as most of the people who will be doing it.

The Kurds might be to Iraq what the warlords have been to Afghanistan, but seem pretty resistant, at least, to fundamentalists' attempts to co-opt their struggle.

It gets harder and harder to keep track of all the reasons for war:

From the New York Times: "But what administration officials and Republicans close to the White House also concede is that the president's ability to sell the public and Congress on one of the most ambitious domestic agendas in decades is linked to the outcome of the potential war in Iraq, with victory a turnkey to legislative success. A victory, they say, would give momentum to the president's plans to cut taxes and overhaul Medicare, which right now face objections even from some members of Mr. Bush's own party… The White House strategy is to push the centerpiece of the agenda, Mr. Bush's $670 billion package of tax cuts, into the legislative process now, so that the proposal will be up for debate on Capitol Hill this spring and summer — when it is possible that the president will have emerged victorious on Iraq…The president marching in with an 85 percent approval rating can push through far more than the normal political process will allow…Democrats and Republicans say that for all practical purposes, Medicare, prescription drugs and Mr. Bush's proposal to eliminate the dividend tax, to name just his top domestic priorities, are waiting for Iraq."

From Arianna Huffington:"Boys, boys, you're all right. Sure, it's Daddy, oil and imperialism, not to mention a messianic sense of righteous purpose, a deep-seated contempt for the peace movement and, to be fair, the irrefutable fact that the world would be a better place without Saddam Hussein. But there's also an overarching mentality feeding the administration's collective delusions, and it can be found by looking to corporate America's bottom line. The dots leading from Wall Street to the West Wing situation room are the ones that need connecting. There's money to be made in post-war Iraq, and the sooner we get the pesky war over with, the sooner we (by which I mean George Bush's corporate cronies) can start making it. The nugget of truth that former Bush economic guru Lawrence Lindsey let slip last fall shortly before he was shoved out the oval office door says it all. Momentarily forgetting that he was talking to the press and not his buddies in the White House, he admitted: "The successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy… Clearly, our national interest runs a distant second when pitted against the rapacious desires of special interests and the politicians they buy with massive campaign contributions. Oil and gas companies donated $26.7 million to Bush and his fellow Republicans during the 2000 election and another $18 million in 2002. So does it really come as any surprise that Cheney's staff held secret meetings in October with executives from Exxon Mobil, ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhillips – and yes, Halliburton – to discuss who would get what in a post-Saddam Iraq? As they say, to the victors – and the big buck donors – go the sp-oil-s."

Ineptitude and Arrogance
From Molly Ivins: "Bush once described something as ''the language of diplomatic nuanced circles.'' One could wish he were rather more practiced in it. It is not reassuring to be told we are going to war because he ''has already seen this movie'' and is bored by it. Far be it from me to discourage blunt speaking, but issues of war and peace are not aided by displays of petty impatience. There is something deeply unserious about it.

It is this cavalier streak in our foreign policy, the contemptuous dismissal of peaceful alternatives, that makes some Europeans conclude this administration is dangerous. What your mama told you about flies and honey is still true. Why not try persuasion instead of bullying? For that matter, why not see if the inspections work before racing into this ''preventive war?''

Republican leaders are hearing more and more anti-war sentiments from their constituents, but are still trying to convince themselves that hesitation about the war represents a minority view. Tell them they're wrong.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

There sure are a lot of us.
The numbers are one thing, but the pictures are truly amazing.

Remember Afghanistan?
  • The selling of young girls as brides is increasing.

  • 1.2 million Afghan refugees are expected to return from Pakistan and Iran this year. The repatriation will cost somewhere around $195 million. So far donors have given $15.4 million. The last wave of returning refugees also caught relief agencies without adequate resources.

  • Up to 4 million Afghan children may be starting school next month.

  • Humanitarian aid workers are coming under increasing attack by both Islamic militants and bandits, as are development projects like schools, hospitals and roads. Relief organizations expect the violence to increase if the US attacks Iraq. Most have decreased their staffs and are beginning to talk about evacuation.

  • The German Defense Minister recently said that threats to foreigners would worsen in case of an American attack on Iraq, and announced that it would be possible to evacuate peacekeeping troops within a week, if necessary. A spokesmen for the International Security Assistance Force quickly denied rumors that Germany, which supplies 1,700 of the 4,500 troops in the ISAF, was planning to pull out of Afghanistan.

  • Hamid Karzai announced that he had assurances from both Bush and Blair that war with Iraq would not distract them from reconstruction of Afghanistan, and that he may not run in the Afghan presidential elections required next year.

  • Afghanistan's justice system is a mess -- short of funds and trained staff, and susceptible to bribery and intimidation. The Supreme Court Chief Justice, Fazl Hadi Shinwari, is a cleric with strong links to a fundamentalist political party. He has no formal training in secular sources of law -- an implicit requirement in the constitution. Shinwari has expanded the number of Supreme Court judges from nine to 137, many of whom are also unqualified in secular law. According to Robert Templer of the International Crisis Group, "there are fears that the Afghan justice system has been taken over by hard-liners before the Afghan people have had a chance to express their will in a democratic process."

  • There has been considerable pressure from Islamic groups on the framers of the new Afghan constitution to incorporate a conservative interpretation of traditional Sharia law. The groups have said it must reflect Afghanistan's deeply conservative society, not Western values.

  • Afghanistan is an NRA dream come true.

  • Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan signed an agreement for a $3.5 billion gas pipeline project passing through the three countries. The Afghan Petroleum and Mines Minister assured his counterparts from the other two countries that the pipeline passing through Afghanistan will be "totally safe."

  • There are signs that al Qaeda is regrouping along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

  • The US is floating the idea of NATO control of the peacekeeping force.

War Is A Local Issue
My local school district had to close three schools this year, and also eliminate art, music, and P.E. in the lower grades. The jazz band my son played in throughout high school has also been axed. The district had to cut $2 million from the budget. This year we've been getting weekly letters from the principal asking everyone to write to the governor because next year the cuts will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $5.5 million from the district's $52 million General Fund. At that rate, we just start squeezing as many little bodies as we can fit into classrooms.

That's what came to mind last week when I read that the LA City Council had deadlocked on an antiwar resolution because, as one Councilman said, "This is a place to talk about police reform, not the Persian Gulf."

Well, to be honest, it didn't come to mind until after I read the comments of Eric Garcetti, the Councilman who introduced the resolution. He suggested that among all the other reasons for opposing the war is the fact that the billions of dollars the war will cost could be better spent meeting citizens' needs. That includes schools.

And police. Also last week, there was an article in the LA Times about the impact the military build-up is having on police, fire, and other emergency services. To put it simply, a lot of our first responders are in the reserves. In case of a terrorist attack in this country, the person you need may be in Iraq.

On Wednesday, the resolution failed, but on Friday it was back, with the language tweaked a bit, and this time it passed, making Los Angeles the largest of more than one hundred cities to put itself on record against the war.

It was, after all, an important local issue.

I haven't quite given up yet. Somehow I still believe that despair is one of the greatest sins, and I'm encouraged by people who continue to behave as if peace were possible. Some days, though, it is extremely hard to sustain any optimism. Reading this headline last week -- U.N. Reduces Humanitarian Staff in Iraq -- literally made me start to cry. And then resolve to keep believing that peace is a real possibility.

Nevertheless, this is well said, and I share both the frustration and the hope.

(Via Counterspin)

Some things I didn't know about Kirkuk, the oil-burdened city in northern Iraq that just about everyone would like to claim:
  • CIA teams have been scouting out Iraqi Kurdistan. There are indications that two airstrips north of Kirkuk currently being cleared could be used by U.S. forces, possibly to assist in seizing the oil fields.

  • The Turks say they have 12,000 troops inside northern Iraq. There are at least 300 soldiers under Turkish command in Arbil, a Kurdish city 90 kilometres from Kirkuk. The soldiers in Arbil are Turkomans, an Iraqi minority that claims Kirkuk as its ancestral home. (The NY Times has a good article today on this Turkish-led force and why the Kurds fear it.)

  • Kurds haven't been a majority in Kirkuk since at least 1947. At the time, they made up 25 per cent of the town, and 53 per cent of the province. They were outnumbered by the Turkomans.

  • Reports from Kurdish refugees fleeing the city say the Iraqi army has brought in a brigade of the elite Republican Guards, along with extra heavy artillery and rockets. The army has also built trenches around the city, and reinforced the military presence on the roads leading to it.

Where al Qaeda shops for weapons
North Korea, Russia, Iran, Pakistan…

News from the Coalition of the Billing

Today's LA Times has good coverage of what the Bush administration may have to offer some small countries on the Security Council in exchange for a vote giving the United States authority to go to war. In order to get a majority, Bush needs five votes from the six uncommitted nonpermanent members -- Guinea, Mexico, Pakistan, Angola, Cameroon and Chile.

After all the publicity about the Turkish bribe, they're trying to avoid paying cash this time, but there are still inducements available.

Mexico could demand changes in U.S. immigration law to legalize the status of 3 million Mexicans believed to be working illegally in the United States.

Chile's in a harder place. Last year, the country signed a free trade agreement with the United States, but it still needs to be approved by the U.S. Congress. On the other hand, last month, Chile's Congress ratified a free trade agreement with the European Union. Trying to tip the balance a little, Colin Powell did an interview on Chilean television last week, and apologized for American involvement in the coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power.

The Turks are still making demands, insisting that their troops in northern Iraq outnumber American troops by as much as 2 to 1. The Kurds, meanwhile, warn that peshmerga guerrillas will resist any Turkish intervention, and that if the Turks enter Iraq, Iran will also feel free to intervene.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

It looks like the Turks have a deal, which will be presented to the Turkish legislature for its approval on Tuesday. The numbers muddle me, but it seems the big breakthrough was not an increase in the total amount the Bush administration was willing to pay, but an increase in how much they were willing to pay immediately. According to the Washington Post the Turks -- who you have to give grudging credit to for how well they seem to understand Bush and Company – were even haggling over who was going to pay for the plastic identification tags American troops would wear while stationed in Turkey.

Worse than the bribe is the continuing sell out of the Kurds. Apparently still up in the air is a Turkish demand that the Kurds be disarmed after the war. The Turks plan to have tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of troops in northern Iraq -- "several times more than the number of the American troops," according to the Turkish foreign minister. The LA Times says that Turkish television reported Friday night that the United States had given in to a demand that Turkish troops be allowed into the Kurdish enclave, even close to the oil-rich cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. An American official said that the role of Turkish troops would be "primarily humanitarian," but it's unlikely the Kurds will see it that way.

Unfortunately, no one seems to think it's important to work out those details before the fighting begins. Administration officials said it would all be arranged by Turkish and American military officials during the war. Turkey and the United States, after all, have "a long record of military cooperation." Well, yeah -- that's what makes some of us nervous. According to Human Rights Watch, the United States was "deeply involved in arming Turkey and supporting its arms production capacities," which allowed the Turks to conduct a war against Kurdish insurgents which resulted in "19,000 deaths, including some 2,000 death-squad killings of suspected PKK sympathizers, two million internally displaced, and more than 2,200 villages destroyed, most of which were burned down by Turkish security forces." Cooperation isn't always a good thing.


There's been a lot of interesting writing about Turkey in blogs this week:
  • Don't worry. The Iraqis are the ones who will pay the Turkish bribe.

  • We aren't talking about a toe dipped in the Kurdish enclave. The Turks are going all the way.

  • The no-fly zone doesn't apply to the Turks.

  • Just keep telling yourself: It's not about oil.


Turkey isn't the only country being bought off, of course. Today's Guardian looks at how much a few other countries are charging for their consciences.

I'm not persuaded by Ken Pollack that inspections still can't work. And I think he's way off base in suggesting that the Bush administration has "done a pretty good job" in planning for the "day after" war with Iraq. But reading his interview with Josh Marshall, it struck me that toward the end of the interview, he is saying in a hesitant way what John B. Judis said more directly in last week's LA Times:

If our initial goal had been the reasonable and important one of preventing Hussein from acquiring nuclear weapons, there was a host of options that could have been pursued, such as a demand for inspections coupled with the threat of an air campaign against any potential military target. If these efforts had failed, their failure would have created far more support for an invasion than currently exists. Instead, the Bush administration began by demanding "regime change," declaring its willingness to fight a preventive war, and sending troops. It took the very last, fateful step before it had taken the first. As a result, the troops are there, and we have to use them or risk a credibility crisis.

I won't get into whether or not we need to take that step in order to avoid a "credibility crisis." Pollack makes much the same case, but in all honesty, I don't think the Bush administration has a shred of credibility left to lose. And unfortunately it's our credibility as a nation that these losers are shredding.

But no matter which side of the war issue you fall on, I think you have to admit that at this point we don't have any good options. I still think the idea Jessica Tuchman Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace offered recently for "truly muscular inspections," is preferable to war, and still has a chance to work, but it would have had a better chance of working a year ago before Bush and Company made every sensible country unwilling to work with us except for a fee (with the promise in writing). If we have the limited choices before us at the moment, it's because of Bush's screw-ups.

Apparently "new Europe" thinks a lot like "old Europe."
  • 82 percent of Hungarians oppose war.

  • 75 percent of Poles oppose war.

  • 76 percent of Czechs oppose a war without a second U.N. resolution—and 67 percent oppose it even with one.

Why their democratically-elected leaders support it is a whole other story, which you'll find in an interesting article at Slate. It probably also didn't hurt that we were willing to help with the writing.

The Archbishop of Canterbury told Bush and Blair to stop covering their war in religious language: "There is no war that is holy and good in itself and to bring the heavy artillery of a religious kind, to say that is the only way of resisting evil, is something that has to be watched out for."

How much will the war cost?

Thomas Spencer notes that Peter Arnett will be reporting from Baghdad for MSNBC, and also links to a related, older post of his own – a must-read examination of how the media has changed for the worst since the days when Arnett last reported from Baghdad.

Privatization of Oil Suggested for Iraq

A State Department advisory panel of Iraqi petroleum experts has concluded that Iraq's state-owned industry would benefit from privatization -- a provocative idea in a region that evicted foreign oil companies three decades ago.

Maybe it's just that oil men have been running the company…I mean the country…too long, and I've grown cynical, but this makes me uncomfortable.

The article goes on about all the reasons this should not be alarming – goodness, of course this would all be in the hands of Iraqis, the Bush administration would never try to exploit the situation, because after all that would make the United States look terrible, and anyway after the war, foreign oil companies are in for a windfall providing engineering, construction and oil field services, they won't need to go looking for oil exploration deals, and Iraqis would be furious is they started to see Iraq's oil reserves sold off to foreign interests – but I still don't like it.

Administration officials have promised that they would make sure Iraq's oil riches were held in trust for the Iraqi people in the event of Hussein's ouster.

Maybe my discomfort has something to do with how quickly we went from a pledge that we "would not support replacing one dictator with another." to "Baathism with an American face."

UPDATE: More on Iraq and foreign oil companies from the New York Times, including this not unexpected tidbit: "Analysts said restoration of fields and facilities would probably be the first opportunities open to foreign concerns, mainly the oil field services companies like Schlumberger and Halliburton. You knew Cheney was in there somewhere, didn't you?

Friday, February 21, 2003

You Say You Want A Resolution
I'm not sure if it's the nature of the times, my lack of knowledge about how diplomacy works, or an innate mental muddle, but I'm confused.

We don't really need a UN resolution, because...well, because we say so. But Security Council approval would make things easier. There doesn't seem to be any chance of unanimous Council approval anymore, so now the United States and Britain will try to persuade 9 of the 15 members of the Security Council to back a resolution authorizing the use of force, and then challenge France, Russia or China to veto the will of the majority. Let them look out of step with the world for a change.

The US has Britain, Bulgaria, and Spain on its side. Four votes. The pressure is on the undecided "middle six" -- Angola, Guinea, Cameroon, Mexico, Chile and Pakistan. But the three African countries signed a declaration at a Franco-African summit expressing support for the continuation of the inspections. That seems like a pretty decisive rejection of the Bush administration's position to me, but what do I know? And I never was good at math, but with three of the six votes missing, doesn't that make it a little difficult to get the needed five?

And yet, Bush is still planning to present a new resolution to the Security Council, which would be kind of embarrassing if it failed. Is Bush counting on something that I'm not taking into consideration?


The US recently gave $4.1 million for the settlement of Angolan refugees; potentially Africa's biggest oil exporter, Angola needs American financing and technological help to take advantage of that potential; American oil companies are by far the country's biggest investors.


America and Britain backed Cameroon in a court fight with Nigeria over oil rights; over the objections of environmentalists and human rights advocates, the World Bank last year approved loans for a $3.7 billion project to build an oil pipeline from Chad to Cameroon's Atlantic coast.


The desperately poor country is kept afloat by $50 million per year of American aid and military training.

Added to the blogroll

Where Is Raed?


Back to Iraq 2.0

Today's New York Times has a good summary of the history of bad relations between the Turks and the Kurds, and a timeline of important events in Kurdish history. The Los Angeles Times looks at fighting among the Kurds. The BBC makes it personal, with the story of a Kurdish fighter from Kirkuk.

Paul Krugman, writing about the Bush administrations do-it-yourself reconstruction plans for post-war Iraq, is a must read today.

The Washington Post has the latest update on how the Iraqi opposition has been cut out of the post-war plans, which doesn't exactly sound like the model of Middle East democracy Bush describes.

And via Matt Yglesias and Oliver Willis comes news the news that Saudi Arabia has proposed leading a coaliton of Arab nations that would occupy Iraq, with Turkey "playing the leading role in the Islamic force," which might explain why they seem to be warming to the idea of war.

In comparison, what Krugman calls Bush's "Martial Plan" looks reasonable. It seems like everytime you choke on a suggestion this administration puts out, it turns out there's another one waiting in the wings that's even worse.

Joe Conason's right. Reports that Saddam read the anti-war demonstrations as support for him – however bizarre that reading – are disturbing. The last thing the anti-war movement wants to do is encourage Iraq not to co-operate with inspectors. Write to the Iraqi UN mission and the Iraq News Agency. Demand immediate cooperation with UNMOVIC.

Thursday, February 20, 2003


It was inevitable, wasn't it? Ivory Coast spam.

And while we're on the subject, and since we're all now convinced that a leader responsible for the murders of his own people must be overthrown, it's time to intervene in the Ivory Coast, right?

How do you finance a war and a tax cut?
You can always steal the money from military families, renters, firefighters. and hungry school children.

How much will the war cost?

I knew there was a catch. Less than a week ago, White House officials said that Bush was changing his policy of barring American money from going to social service agencies providing AIDS treatment and education if they also offered reproductive services (even if they used other money to provide those services) Now, according to a leaked State Department memo, it seems that the change will only apply if NGOs have separately administered programs -- which they don't, because they don't have enough money to deal with the crisis as it is without adding another layer of bureaucracy.

The sensible and compassionate "policy change" made the New York Times. It will be interesting to see if they cover the not so nice, fundamentalist-stroking fine print.

Is it really a good idea to encourage people not to vote?

NOTE: Ampersand suggests there's a reason for the strategy – but I still agree with Julia that it's a dumb one. Discouraging people from voting is not a good precedent to establish.

Just an off-hand thought: I wonder how many people there are in the United States who believe that both of these statements are valid:
  • From The LA Times: "Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned Iraqi military commanders Wednesday that using human shields against U.S. bombs would be punishable as a war crime."

  • From Human Rights Watch: Human Shields in Iraq Puts Obligations on U.S

I must admit, it bothers me a lot that American military planners "fear that civilian casualties would further inflame world opinion," rather than worrying about how to respond to Saddam's war crimes without committing war crimes of their own. World opinion is important; human lives are irreplaceable. Rumsfeld is right, using human shields is a war crime. But so is attacking targets shielded by civilians unless there is an overwhelming military necessity to do so.

Another helping of Turkey

  • The New York Times confirms that one of the things the Turks are holding out for is access to the oil in Kirkuk, the town from which the Kurds were expelled, and which they want to return to and possibly even claim as their capital:

    "The Turks want to control the operation at Kirkuk, at a minimum through a pipeline," the official said. "That's in a way a better deal for them than American aid."

    But Mr. Bush and his aides have often said Iraq's oil is for the benefit of the Iraqi people, and they realize that any discussion of guaranteeing access to the oil to Turkey — or any other nation — would make it appear that the war is about oil rights, not weapons of mass destruction.

    The official said giving Turkey guarantees was impossible "without breaking an awful lot of crockery," including "looking disingenuous to our Kurdish friends" in northern Iraq.

    I love the way this is phrased: We don't want to make it "appear" that the war has anything to do with oil. We're worried about "looking disingenuous" to the Kurds. Like the Kurds haven't already figured out where they stand.

  • Another sticking point seems to be Bush's well-earned reputation for – um, how do I put this nicely? – mendacity. According to the Financial Times, the Turkish negotiators told George Bush "that they required more binding guarantees than his word." It takes a thief, and all that.

  • The Bush Administration, in a tactic blatantly ripped off from Ted Stevens, is threatening to cancel Turkey's military aid if they don't do what they're told. Well, it worked on the GAO.

  • Seven thousand Turkish troops have moved into northern Iraq in the past few days. The Turkish military is also forcing Iraqis, who are trying to escape the coming conflict by fleeing across the Turkish border, back into Iraq.

  • The Kurds are pissed.