What does a wall mean to you?

There’s a bit of a controversy going on in Baghdad concerning the building of a wall. The walls are going up between the Iraqi capital’s neighborhoods – what some journalists have apparently come to call “blast walls.”

Answering criticism that the wall is a “sectarian or racist wall,” the Iraqi prime minister was apparently quoted as saying:

“… such measures are not new, and are used in most countries, such as the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, China and Germany.”

Yeah, every place I go in the U.S. is riddled with walls. Why even right here the suburban paradise that is west-central Florida, we’ve got walls around every subdivision. And it’s a good thing too, because you never know when one of those bastards in Spanish Oaks is going to want to start taking pot shots at the passers by. Now at least I’ve got a wall to hide behind.

I’m sure it’s exactly the same thing in Iraq.

IraqSlogger: Iraqi Papers Tues: Popular Protests


From the Washington Post:

“… the assumption that the United States could create a liberal, constitutional democracy in Iraq defies just about everything known by professional students of the topic. Of the more than 40 democracies created since World War II, fewer than 10 can be considered truly “constitutional” — meaning that their domestic order is protected by a broadly accepted rule of law, and has survived for at least a generation. None is a country with Arabic and Muslim political cultures. None has deep sectarian and ethnic fissures like those in Iraq.”

The Republican response to Democratic maneuvering in the House and Senate has been, “don’t just tell us the President’s wrong, give us an alternate strategy.” Increasingly, the response (if not from elected Democrats themselves, then from some in the media) has been, “pull out.” Over the last few years I’ve resisted such talk. It’s not like I have any say, but I can have an opinion (can’t I?). No matter what reason we went, or what mistakes were made in the past, we made this mess and we’ve got a unique responsibility to clean it up. That’s what I thought anyway.

Now I’m not sure the responsibility question is the right question. The question I ask myself these days is, “can we clean it up?” Does the existing evidence suggest the answer to this question is ‘no?’ What if our presence in Iraq only serves to make matters worse? If that is the case, perhaps we have a unique responsibility to pull out.

Continue reading →

Don’t try to bring that weak (stuff) in my house!

It looks like today is the big day… the day James Baker and the Senior Singers release their album of Middle East greatest hits. After having the war up on the lift for a few months, it looks like Jimmy and the boys are going to recommend rotating the tires and driving home – eventually, at some time yet to be determined. Now that’s a bold move.

Speaking of weak (and shifting gears to issues near and dear to my palate) I won’t say other people’s coffee is weak, but after going through my wife’s bounty of fine gift grind, a merely mortal cup of joe tastes like someone rinsed whole beans in a colander and saved the run-off. On the other hand, my wife has suggested that my customary cup is capable of felling any earth-born land mammal (and there are some pretty big ones out there). It looks like I’m doomed to custom brew for the rest of my days. No more mass produced coffee for me!

Just one more reason it ain’t easy being me.

What is in a name?

(Foreword: I’ve got unflattering things to say about folks from both political parties… so if you’re feeling unfairly picked on… have patience, keep reading. If you’ve read it all and you still feel unfairly picked on… please feel free post a comment and pick on me.)

This morning on the radio a sound byte was played from the first American President in Estonia. The debate point for the day (again) was: “Civil War, is it or isn’t it?” The President laid out his position on the subject.

“What we’re seeing in Iraq right now is a pattern of violence that started in February.”

Whew! That’s a relief. A pattern of violence sounds much better than a Civil War.

Wait a fight pickin’ minute. That’s nine months. The word “pattern” suggests order… the opposite of random… distinct factions attacking each other. What exactly does nine months of ordered violence suggest? Even if you buy into the theory that it was all “sparked” by al Qaeda “months ago,” doesn’t a “pattern” of internal and reciprocal violence begin to add up to a Civil War at some point? It’s been argued that Iraq is not in a Civil War because most of the fighting has happened in Baghdad. I’ve heard it suggested that the same argument could be used to say the pattern of violence between the United States in the 1860’s wasn’t a Civil War because no fighting took place in Maine (and I would add that none of it occurred in the major population centers of the time… Boston, New York, Philadelphia… or anywhere in the northeast). I’ve also heard it said that more than a quarter of the Iraqi population is in Baghdad.

At this rate, if the president doesn’t watch his step he’s going to have to give up his membership card to The American Association for the Advancement of Hyperbole (A.A.A.H.! for short).

My biggest regret posting this message is that I’m contributing to a (mostly) meaningless debate. The energies devoted to all of this haggling over a label would be better spent haggling over a solution. Democrats need to get their imagination out of cold storage (where it’s been safely preserved since the late sixties), and start positioning themselves as a REAL solution to the problem (instead of playing one on TV).

There’s more to this problem than a label.

The President’s Advisors

One of my favorite pastimes these days is nit-picking public statements made by public servants. A fine candidate came up this morning. General George Casey, Commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq (the military wing of The Coalition of the Willing), was on the radio in an interview on NPR.

General Casey says you can’t judge our success in Iraq by enemy action, or by statistics on violence which show increasing numbers of “violent acts.” In making this argument, he provides a good point. General Casey admits that the number of “acts of violence” have been on the rise. However, he points out that some “acts of violence” can be something as relatively benign as a single shot being fired. So when you say that X number of violent acts is occurring per week, the public perception may be that it correlates to X number of car bombs (when it isn’t, necessarily). The point is that not all acts of violence are equal.

Here’s my quibble with General Casey. In a WAR, enemy action is precisely how you measure success; in my view anyway. Well, maybe we aren’t in a war. Here, the Bush administration is a bit confused. Apparently we’re not in an Iraqi “Civil War,” but he keeps insisting that we’re in SOME kind of war. After all, aren’t we reminded CONSTANTLY by the Bush administration that we are at war, and that our involvement in Iraq is part of a broader “War on Terrorism?” Hasn’t the administration been arguing for four years that the congressional “Authorization to Use Force” is tantamount to a congressional declaration of war, which serves as a constitutional trigger for the special authority Bush has been attempting to wield since 9/11? If we’re not at war, then Bush’s veil of constitutional legitimacy to exercise the power of a wartime president, and particularly on some of his controversial anti-terrorism initiatives (holding enemy combatants, wiretapping, data mining, etc) completely disappears. O.K., we must be at war (or we better be, lest someone have some ‘splainin to do). Last I checked, success in war is gauged one of several ways: 1) the land controlled by each force relative to the start of hostilities, or 2) the ability to “wage war” by each force relative to the start of hostilities. It seems to me that enemy action (and the resulting level of violence) is not merely a measure of success in war… but may be the BEST measure of success in the kind of guerrilla war (or insurgency) we find ourselves embroiled in Iraq.

But so far (in this entry) General Casey’s point regarding how an “act of violence” is defined still holds. Surely a car bomb is more significant that a single gun shot. Fifteen car bombs a week in 2003 versus 90 single gun shots a week in 2006 (hypothetically speaking) would not prove anything about the true level of violence in Iraq. Comparisons of the number of simple, broadly defined “acts of violence” mean little if the level (or intensity) of individual acts of violence has fluctuated. Here’s where General Casey’s argument falls flat. The number of deaths, or casualties of violence, serves to quantify the relative level of violence… and these numbers have also been on the rise since the insurgency in Iraq began.

So we’re at war, the number of (vaguely defined) “acts of violence” is on the rise, and more people are dying as a result. With all due respect to General Casey, that certainly doesn’t sound like success to me. It doesn’t even sound like progress. In fact, one could even call that the opposite of progress. You could call it failure.

Civil War?

The President’s words were heard on the radio this afternoon. Discussing the possibility that Iraq had fallen into “Civil War,” the President said (not his exact words, but as close as I recall), “I’ve talked to a lot of people… and the people I’ve talked to all want a united Iraqi government.”

And you know what? I have no doubt that’s true. I’ll bet if you talk to an Iraqi Shiite, he or she will tell you they want a united government – controlled by Shiites; if you talk to an Iraqi Sunni, he or she will tell you they want a united government – controlled by Sunnis; and, if you talk to an Iraqi Kurd, they’d just as soon let the Sunnis and Shiites beat themselves to death and leave them to their own “united” government.

It seems the devil is in the details.

Bring it… oh never mind

Dude! I totally forgot to publish this entry! (Here it is, as originally conceived and typed in the A.M. of 5/26)

The news this morning reports that 43 regrets using phrases like “bring it on,” when addressing the insurgents in Iraq (albeit indirectly, via news conference). Apparently the leader of the free world believes he was misinterpreted. I can see how someone might misinterpret “bring it on.” It all depends on your definition of “it.” For the insurgents, “it” was obviously a whole lot of disruptive violence. Who woulda thunk it?

Come on Georgie. This wasn’t the key note speech for the Betty Crocker Cook-Off. “Bring it on” wasn’t a challenge to whip up the best bowl of chili this side of Crawford. When you’re addressing a bunch of angry guys with guns, there’s only one thing they’re likely to bring… and it ain’t a cup of sugar. Heck, coming from Texas I’d think you already knew that.

Anyway, I guess there’s never a bad time that to learn that cowboys make nice movie heroes but terrible diplomats.

A date which has lived in infamy

This afternoon on my way home from work I was listening to Bush 43 give a speech about Iraq. It was the standard White House fare… Iraq is the most important front in the War on Terror… we remain firm in our commitment to supporting freedom in Iraq… blah, blah, blah. I was settling in for a nice bout of day dreaming when Bush switched metaphorical gears on me. In honor of Pearl Harbor, he compared 9/11 to the attack by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. I got to thinking about the years following Pearl Harbor (from what I’ve read, not from life experience), and how it might have compared to post-9/11 America. To be fair, the “good ‘ole days” had their share of questionable actions in the name of “security” too. As many Americans of Japanese decent can attest, Bush 43 didn’t invent the term “internment.”

Say what you will about how WWII ended, but there was a pretty clear connection between the attackers at Pearl Harbor and the Empire of Japan (those big red “zeros” painted on the planes was a subtle hint). It wasn’t like we were attacked by a bunch of Saudis, went over there looking for a little “pay back,” flew north to Mecca, turned right and kept going until we got to the Euphrates, attacking the next country over. No, wait…

Lets review some recent history: 9/11 = terrorism. Saddam Hussein = very bad guy. However…. Prior to the U.S. invasion, Iraq may have had fewer ties to terrorism than almost every other middle-eastern country. Iraq had no W.M.D.’s for it’s own use, let alone to sell to terrorists. There were no ties between Iraq and the planning/execution of the terrorist’s plans for 9/11. Therefore, Iraq does not equal 9/11, and does not equal a War on Terrorism.

Bush hasn’t exactly built on the principles of “honest Abe” in Lincoln’s Grand Old Party. A recent Gallop Poll (11/14/2005) served up a delicious slice of irony for the man who promised to “return honesty and integrity to the White House.” By a margin of 53% to 30%, American adults indicated they trusted what Bill Clinton said while he was president more than what George Bush has said while he has been president (16% thought their word was equally worthless, and 1% had no opinion).

Pearl Harbor… 9/11… Pearl Harbor… 9/11… Both were terrible. Both will live on as turning points in American history. Both justified swift, military reactions. But will both be viewed by history as the catalyst for America’s prolonged AND justified involvement in armed conflict?

If the President wants to address his poll numbers, a good start would be to cease the disingenuous and dishonest connections between 9/11 and the conflict in Iraq. It would appear that the American public is slow, but it’s gradually catching on.