Friday, May 16, 2008

Peace through Prosperity - Plan for Iraq?

People are too caught up with words like "democracy" and "ally" in trying to solve Iraq. What is needed is a government that supports some form of the right to speak freely, so that you do not have to live in fear of your neighbors and those with guns for questioning tyranny by small neighborhood warlords or religious zealots. And people need to accept that just because someone has a different religion, it does not mean they lose their right to property, to be safe in their home, to not be held up by thugs while the police turn away because you are not one of "them."
Because frankly, if you have these things, or at least a genuine effort to turn towards these things, you will have peace. And people can flourish. And a state with good natural resources can let business grow with very little taxation. But that resource will always be a problem. Control of the oil means money and guns. It could be used for other political patronage like construction (helping a broken nation form local construction firms that work of government patronages usually work well for a country, like Japan and Korea). A Marshall plan mostly funded by oil. Is this ideal transparency and perfect government?
No. But just try to get to "peaceful." No bombs going off daily, no massacres, no death squads in the night. Corruption is a luxury concern of developed and peaceful nations. Let us hope they can get there in a generation. But you can get peace now with some tolerance of financial corruption and tolerated with a nod and a wink.
But that also forgets the past 5 years of bloodshed. 5 years of death. In a culture very focused on "honor" and the need to make tribes or families look strong. But in that system was an old policy of reconciliation, repayment for wrongs, and the making of peace. And Islam is instrumental in that rekindling of faith between the warring groups quite often. So given sufficient money coming in from the government to help lubricate the area and quench some of the unemployment (which leads people to be susceptible to plating bombs against an occupying force for a few hundred dollars so they can eat for some time).
People could buy into this if the US strongly announces it as an agenda and also begins a drawdown (interestingly, many of the opposition groups like the Jihadi Milita and Sadr, and some of the Sunni guerilla groups have only asked for a timetable to leave in a year. And when they control their troops, they do keep attacks down. Like the ones we're bribing at the moment in Anbar. If we can get a drawdown rolling, a good and reasonable schedule, and get the central gov. to start kicking money to the local power groups so they can fund reconstruction and job programs (aka patronage = power in democracy), then things might be able to settle down.
But the US needs to always be the public advocate for a position of peace, prosperity, and respect for basic rights (but tolerant of economic corruption as long as all the groups are getting a piece of the pie...). Not of torture, of checkpoint killings, and home raids.
After all, Al queda is not loved by the population. It has strong points in Mosul. But if the rest of the country agrees to focus on peace more (which means Maliki can't move on Sadr before the elections, and the fed's start sharing more with Sunni Anbar), then the US can put more resources into Mosul and also gain allies among the populace if they see that the rest of Iraq can relax a bit too.
Perhaps the October elections will change the situation. If people with actual political legitimacy take power and agree to get fat together off of the patronage system that the country is capable of (see the U.A.E. for that), then we can declare peace, get out, and the local Iraqis can mop up any Al Queda remainder (which shouldn't be hard because they are there because we are there, and the Iraqis have come to loath their brutishness).
So if we get Obama in and focus on something realistic and mutually beneficial for all the parties in Iraq, maybe we met get it.
And if there are very few American soldiers in Iraq by 2010, then there's hardly any saber rattling over "American soliders being killed by Iraqi insurgents trained by Iranians."
We're an occupier. There are a sizable portion of people that think it is a religious duty to attack occupiers. So that means you will always take some small level of casualties in running an occupation. Then you can talk to Iran without all the current heat and noise that our bungled occupation seems to generate. They reached out to the US after 911 and Afghanistan. But President Bush and his circle smacked the hand away.
If the Iraqi government is fully on your side and knows you are on the way out the door, it can be a much better partner in protecting you as well. Because you will still be giving money. You still have arms and can be used to quell disturbances.
The ripple effects of achieving stability in Iraq would benefit the whole region (especially, I think, Lebanon and our Iranian relations). But that is a topic for another time.

Criticisms or suggestions about the plan are welcome. Please feel free to copy the text and remix it to your own agenda (but I would appreciate a hat tip). Give peace (and money... democracy, whiskey, sexy?) a chance.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Jena and Iraq

So the general allegations of Jena are here. As it is, 6 black high schoolers are being charged with murder because some white high schooler got beat up enough to have a mild concussion and some reoccurring headaches a few weeks later. This is after white kids hung some nooses above a tree when some black kids didn't stay in their place, and a massive escalation of tension and conflicts in the following months.
The real question seems to be "what happened the night of the alleged kicking?" Was the Kickee actually knocked out, viciously stomped, or did he just lose a schoolyard fight (which included a few kicks to the gut, but it's just an asskickin, not deadly assault. I mean, does this kid just need to suck it up, or was this serious?
The only complaint since the attack, after healing up, is recurrent headaches (there was a swollen eye and a bit of a concussion). With that level of injury, that the extent of the harm (when 6 humans, in an attack, could clearly do so much more if they wanted to kill or maim someone) the charge is clearly excessive.
That is excessive, and the individuals should be punished. Suspensions, community service, and participation in public discussions on respecting human rights and dignity (including not whaling on people to give then concussions, unless sanctioned by the Leviathan (strange how Hobbsean our society has become lately, with all authority ceded to the executive in the name of protection).).
Jena is almost a twisted metaphor for Iraq. There is a sectarian dispute, the local gov. just favors its own sect, past murderous violence is referenced, and one side starts taking matters into its own hands. Because they believe they are entitled to have... well, that's where the analogy dies. One is just high school, with some kid who got beat on a bit, the other is geopolitical chaos.
I am from the south, and while the executive and city council branch of that town were just pouring gas on a smoldering fire, it's not representative of the area. Hopefully, it will be a lesson to us all in the need to respect the freedom and dignity of our fellow man, and if we follow that precept (a value truly honored by our founding fathers), if we remember that we must live free or die defending individual liberty, we will continue to prosper as a people. I only hope the recent misconduct, both overseas and by corrupt and tyrannical government entities can cease.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Opiate of the Masses?

Some Greek guy in a dress once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I would tend to agree. But I like to use general reason, experience and empiricism to figure things out. Others prefer to put their stock in belief, in faith, in a "movement." Both lefties and righties can be guilty of this, both nanny-staters and libertarians.

There is a debate going on right now over at Sully's blog, with a discourse between an atheist, Sam Harris, who feels religion isn't so good and the practicing Catholic (who subscribes to the "theology of doubt"). In the linked post, he quotes Harris on the bible and koran, who stated:

So why not take these books less seriously still? Why not admit that they
are just books, written by fallible human beings like ourselves?
A reader responds to this attack on his favorite holy book (who knows which one) and states:

Religious books are not "just" books. Rather they are books that try to guide
human beings, and their conduct, through the mystery that is human life.
And when I say "mystery" I don't mean it in the sense of "Wow, that's
cool!" I mean it in the sense that we don't know where we came from, or
where we are going, or how, on the one hand, we can have a profound sense of
self, but, then, on the other hand, must live with the unease that our
entire sense of self - without religion - will somehow some day cease to
. (emphasis mine)

So if you truly believe that there is an afterlife, you get to toss off your angst. Nothing about the truth behind religion, more of "it's like prozac for me. I'm not as worried about what happens when I die when I turn my brain off and blindly believe in fairy tales."

The commenter further states:
Religion, and religious books are designed to help us with these problems of human existence. They are designed to show us - based on very old traditions - about the proper courses of conduct to lead one to the eventual pride in having lived to the full and to the good the one life that one was granted. They make us glad to be alive... Other books do not help. Even philosophers are of little use for these areas of life, and most will gladly acknowledge it. Perhaps some people don't need religion. But most of us do, even if our religious devotions are tinged with more or less worldly skepticism... For reasons we cannot put into words, we feel at times - after a Beethoven quartet or a Shakespeare play - that we have been touched by something so special, that it could not be the mere product of "just some guy." (my emphasis)

It's almost tough to know where to begin with this guy. I think the Bible is one of the best records we have of the brutality and barbarism of early man, of our tribal life. Constant warfare, slaughter, sacrifice to gods and idols, fire and brimstone, sinners in the hands of an angry god that brings fires and floods and earthquakes and plagues. That is the proper course of conduct? It's all about the smiting.

Listen, one of the greatest problems of the Islamic world is this constant yearning for the time of the Prophet, to go back to the 700s, because of the belief that everything was pure and just then, and it has been nothing but a corruption of Islam since that moment. Instead of looking ahead, they look back. There can be no progress, there can only be an eternal striving to return to the life of a warring desert and trading people, for that is the way of Mohamed and he is the purest man to ever live.

Perhaps if they did read these other books, books that the clown quoted above thinks are useless, then they would have a greater understanding of the human spirit. The great works of Hemingway, the poetry of Tennyson, the words of Bellow, the frenzy of Roth, the wise eye of Naipaul, all these books and more help man deal with the cruelties of existence, to persevere through this vale of tears. And they all help deal with the conundrum of human existence. Even the Bible can help, but the fact it is placed on a pedestal, that it's fantasies should hold mystical weight and the other books are blasphemous, this is a pernicious mindset that should be rejected. Sentiments like those quoted above lead to death sentences on the heads of writers. Just ask Salman Rushdie. And ask him if one of his masterpieces was inspired by God or though his own hard work.

We should not need some crutch to find peace of mind. We should not have to rely on thoughts of the afterlife and prayer to find comfort. We must come to terms with the fact of our mortality, and live our lives in recognition of this eventuality.

A man can spend his day on his knees in prayer, a supplicant to a silent god. He can hope that these actions will show his piety and ensure his place in the great beyond. Or, he can spend his days in good works, trying to leave the world better than he found it, to leave a legacy of accomplishment that will give him solace on his deathbed. I don't know which of these two men is right. But the one who gets off his knees is the better man in my book.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Obama the Anti-Everything?

Obama is truly the golden boy of America at this moment. It really does prove what they say, that the longer you are in Washington and the longer your record, the more mistakes made on the record your enemies can hang around your head.

From Columnist Joe Sorban ( h/t Andrew Sullivan, who called Joe a conservative columnist, but in my first read seemed just common sense instead of ideological)

His greatest strength vis-à-vis Hillary is that he is even more different from
Bush than she is, which makes him more electable than she is. Bush has been a
worse calamity for the country than 9/11 itself. The 2008 election, like this
year’s, will be a repudiation of the worst president, by far, in most Americans’

Right now things are going almost too perfectly Obama’s way. Time will
of course force him to make definite and therefore costly choices, even if some
unforeseeable disaster doesn’t befall him. Or maybe — cruel fate! — he’ll turn
himself into a joke. A single televised gaffe could do it!

I think on the Dem side, he is the anti-Hillary. He's "fresh," in the sense that most dems only first heard him at the 04 convention. And he is quick on his feet verbally, and "uses his tounge prettier than a 20 dollar whore." Which makes him the anti-Bush in at least one way. Damn it would be good to have a president who doesn't mangle the English language unless he is reading from a teleprompter.
The thing about Obama is, he has enough goodwill and dexterity that a televised gaffe can't do him in. He's not stiff necked about things, so if he does something goofy, he will sheepishly apologize and America will love him even more. After all, he's the skinny kid with the funny name who used to knock back lines of blow and smoke weed, but still ended up in the plum (and intellectually demanding) position of editor of the Harvard Law Review. As opposed to Bush and his "gentleman's C's. He still smokes cigarettes, but states that it's a filthy habit. He already knows he's is flawed, as are we all. Once you take that position, you can't get trapped by some silly gaffe.
It's far too early to say that it's his to lose. But the race for the presidency is certainly his to win.

Things are Going to Take Some Time

We've had six years where the Republican Congress put party over patriotism and respect for the Constitution. People who voiced dissent were branded as traitors, "blame America-firsters" (as if a handful of wealthy and corrupt Republican political elites were the avatars of America), and dirty hippies who couldn't be trusted in a time of war and "moral seriousness." And a stenographic media that let them get away with it. Despite that, Bush only got 51% in '04.

I think the Democrats need a good two to three months of hearings, buttressed by the honest Republicans who don't kowtow to King Bush (like Hagel) to really expose the malfeasance. It will take some time to dig up the dirt after 6 years of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil done by any Republican, especially those named Bush. Then it will take a few more months for all this information to sink into the reporting of the media, then a few more to fully sink into the populace. I predict that by November of 2007, the President will lose more support and there will be much stronger calls for impeachment. However, it will be so close to another election, that he will just be censured and then kept under a tight leash by Congress.

Plus it will take some time for the Dems to really get their bearings and understand their constitutional powers yet. Obama used to be a part time law prof. on constitutional law. Perhaps he can lead the way... But why would he want to make those types of speeches and demands on the floor of the Senate when he's got a potential election to think about? Hmm....

P.S.: Long time no post. What are you going to do, I suppose?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Fear is the Bush Foundation

What with the holy days approaching, I was browsing through some old chestnuts and noted this compelling piece from Mr. Russell. To make it more entertaining, mentally change every mention of Religion to Bush and/or his administration.

Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing -- fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things. In this world we can now begin a little to understand things, and a little to master them by help of science, which has forced its way step by step against the Christian religion, against the churches, and against the opposition of all the old precepts. Science can help us to get over this craven fear in which mankind has lived for so many generations. Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look around for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a better place to live in, instead of the sort of place that the churches in all these centuries have made it.

What We Must Do

We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world -- its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.

I think the saddest thing about the Bush era (aside from the mangled and broken bodies and minds) is that the constant fearmongering is destructive to our tradition as a proud and free people, as he encourages us to quake in fear of the "bad men" who "hate our freedom." Al Queda's leadership are men. They are actually fairly rational (just their premise that they must fight a war against America to defend the purity of their faith leads to violent and destructive choices). They wanted a lesser American influence in the mid-east, especially in Saudi Arabia. They think the Saudi kings are corrupt, and want a more strict, fundamentalist control over Mecca. And yes, they operate out of caves and safe houses. This aint the Warsaw pact with thousands of tanks, planes, and nukes. In Iraq, the forces can't defeat the US conventionally except in an ambush at the lowest level of foot patrol; they can't take a US base, they can't lay siege to our forces. But you can't stop them from suicide bombing or sniping.

We need a fearless outlook and free intelligence to discern the way out, and we need to put the Iraqis in the forefront in finding the solutions. Because once we leave (and we will, even if not until a new President is in charge), the Iraqis will have to enforce the new order.

Good Food for thought, even if my rambling Iraq musings don't have much to do with Russell's dictums.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sadly, Bush is actually the Decider

We had an ISG. There have been innumerable pundit plans, exit strategies, new plans for fortifications, troop rotations, and governmental permutations. But it matters not whose plan is best, for Bush is the man who outranks the rest.
The Decider continues to decide. And no matter how many ponys are put forth, we are screwed untill he and Cheney are gone from office.
However that eventually happens.

But don't trust me. Listen to Atrios.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Fresh Hate in Iraq Creates Conflict, Not Ancient Grudges

Too many out there pontificate on the nature of 1,000 year ancient grudges, and asserrt a sort of hoplessness in stopping bloodshed in Iraq. They conclude that this sort of sectarian conflict is wired into the Arab DNA, so the US is powerless.

But just as all politics are local, so are greivances. Fueds exist because of their intenesly personal nature, because of what has happened in this generation, this year, this month. The people of Iraq lived under a cuel totalitarian dictatorship, wich also exploited racial (Kurd v. Arab) and religious (Sunni v. Shia) differences, so that the state, the bureacracy, favored Sunni Arabs.

Think of all the petty tyrannies that the burecrats of Iraq could inflict on the powerless, the many bribes demanded, the seizures of property, the abuses of the police, the torture inflicted by Saddam's internal intelligence agencies. And this is all before the American invasion. Once we toppled Saddam and disbanded the army and police, there were scores to settle. There were dead brothers, raped sisters, tortured parents to avenge. They did not thirst for payback because of some 1,400 year old schism regarding religious dogma, but for what happened to them personnally, what happened to their friends, family, and loved ones.

Fued begets fued. Now, approaching four years of war and fueds, there are few who do not have a dead or injured relative. There are those who hate the Sunni, the Shia, the police, the military, a tribal chief, a new burecrat, the American Army, or foreign terrorists. And Iraq is awash in guns and old Iraqi army munitions. There is more than enough fresh blood to keep these fueds going.

We stood by as the beast of revenge was set loose in Iraq. It had been chained by Saddam to some extent (in those days it was only the beast of Saddam that plagued the land), but we let it escape. Now it has grown strong. And hungry. And it must be fed. At this point, America's goal should be to ensure it feeds on Americans as little as possible.

The Denunciations of Bush Begin

We know a politician is often a whore for money, but a politician is always a whore for votes. After all, as a wise man once said, "If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner." So if Bush thinks things are bad now, wait till the rest of the war party cheerleaders start dwelling on that election in 08 and the constant dwindling of support for the war and a presidential approval level in the 20s (if that high by the big November). It's already begun...

Senator Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, a Bush rubber-stamp man 'till this point, gives a speech CNN headlines as "GOP senator criticizes Iraq war in emotional speech." Money quote: "[I'm at] the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up the same bombs, day after day.That is absurd...It may even be criminal."

Like rats leaving the sinking ship. While sharks are circling. Some of the rats think they can make it out alive if they pretend to be a shark, especially if the sharks are busy attacking the big, meaty target in the middle.

Is this how the road to impeach begins? It reminds me of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and his comments on another war... "In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success." Sounds like the ISG. As for the American people, Yamamoto said "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

The power of an angry and determined electorate can lead to some important changes in this country. And those that pander or get led by the polls will jump on the bandwagon. Republicans in the House and Senate are going to face the fact that they can toss Bush under the bus and give the Dems a veto proof power to shake things up or they'll go down with the ship. All those fellas teetering in the low 50s are doing the math and reading what's on the wall. If they want to listen? Only time will tell. But the ground is shifting and the tide is turned. Let's see how big this wave gets before it breaks.