Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Seriously now, who is this guy?

So, Safire's replacement has a great idea: Lets ignore terrorist bombings. I guess if we ignore them, then they aren't really happening, right? Is this guy kidding? Here's a gem: "I'm not advocating official censorship". So I guess the unofficial kind will just have to do.

Tierney claims that the suicide bombings are taking away from the reporters precious time to cover what he considers to be real news. Isn't someone blowing himself up and tens of people around him not real news? Or is it just because it is happening in Iraq, and involving mostly Iraqis that it does not matter? I seriously dare him to look into an Israeli Mother's eyes and tell her "I really don't think that a suicide bombing in an ice-cream shop in Tel Aviv should be reported." Of course, Israel is nowhere mentioned in this report, so he is clearly only taking about the poor buggers who die waiting in line to join the Iraqi police force because unemployment is so bad that they are willing to do anything (including risking their lives) to feed their families. In Arabic we have a super caustic expression, "ma lahum rub?", which translates to "do they not have a god?" It means, roughly, are they not human beings, or are they like ants, their pain and misery is somewhat irrelevant in the larger scheme of things?

The purpose of the media is to report the events in the order of importance. 50 killed and over 200 injured is far more important of an event than phonelines finally reaching some village in Al Anbar. Oh, maybe they shouldn't report the all-out offensive going on in Al Anbar because if too many American casualties (which is likely) would just be a bummer in the news cycle. Though I wasn't here, everyone tells me that in 1990 the Iraqi invasion absolutely invaded American TV stations, who had round the clock reporting. This was an event that initially had nothing to do with Americans, but they were absolutely bombarded by it. Now, that America has actually invaded a country, we barely hear anything nor see any footage of Iraq. What's shocking about sitting through About Baghdad is that I realized that we don't really get to see what Iraq looks like at all. I argue that, in fact, Tierney's objection is totally without merit. We simply do not see enough footage of what is going on over there. Perhaps if we did, Americans would begin to understand what is really going on, and how hard it really is, instead of this fuzzy smokescreen where all we know is that things are somehow both "sorta going badly" and "a massive improvement". Just compare what the BBC is doing, they are reporting from the ground constantly, and guess what? The brits didn't pull out, nor did they kill Blair politically, but they sure gave them a piece of their mind before voting him back into office. Why can't the American leadership handle the same pressure? Are these guys leaders or moody adolescents with delicate feelings?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Iraq's Sunni Human Rights Minister Rejects Nomination

According to the Times, Hashim Al-Shilbli rejected the offer because: "Concentrating on sectarian identities leads to divisions in the society and state, and for that reason I respectfully decline the post." If this is truly his opinion, rather than an out of context blurb, then I think he is right. It seems that the purpose of the new government is to see how many different colors of the rainbow can we fit in one institution, rather than hiring competent people to fill the roles regardless of their ethnicity. I personally like Talebani, but primarily because I think the Bush administration will be wonderfully surprised that you can take the man out of the militia, but you can't take the militia out of the man. He was a revolutionary who carried arms for Kurdish sovereignty, and in this way I think he is more akin to the post-American Revolution generals who got into positions of power. The tragedy would be that he would begin dealing with social problems by applying military solutions, which would be a continuation of American policy any way.

I think the sooner we de-militarize the conflict, Iraq will be in a better situation. They have to acknowledge that there are many insurgents who are Iraqi, and they have a legitimate right to be actors in their own country. Kicking out the foreign Jihadis should be the number one priority, and after that it would be to reach out to newly Islamized militant groups and placate them before they get seriously organized and entrenched in the Iraqi cultural psyche. If that happens, it won't be sunni radicals versus everyone else, but rather different groups will begin coalescing. The shi'is who miss the days when Muqtada Al Sadr carried some weight will begin re-organizing, no doubt with assistance from the fringe Iranian elements exporting the revolution. America has two options, neither of them in any way pleasant:

1. If they keep their forces, it will inevitably end up as a proxy war between the US and Iran, with the use of the rising police force versus the Jihadis.

2. They can begin leaving or minimizing their presence, and let the matter be settled through a controlled civil war. Eventually, the Iraqis in government will realize that negotiations are not so hideous, after all, these fellows are in the end of the day Iraqis.

The problem with American foreign policy mindset is that they already think its a proxy war between them and the "terrorists". Remember the press conferences when they suggested that it was better to keep the terrorists occupied "over there" rather than have them plotting to attack US cities? Over there, however, is slowly being considered to 'belong' on some ideological level to America. It is, after all, America's great democratic experiment in the Middle East. This is their pet project, just like South Korea was, or Japan, or West Germany. The officials always shy away, however, from comparisons with that pet project that went seriously awry: South Vietnam. This is not to say there are no serious differences, except that Baghdad is now slowly replacing Saigon as that exotic city in the East where their boys get to see the world and enjoy some serious R&R time. But guess what? There will not be a Baghdad version anytime soon of Miss Saigon. But cable TV certainly is catching on here about the concept of being Over There.

Al-Shibli is right, by emphasizing which ethnicities get what, you are making a forced pluralism that will encourage sectarian tendencies. Instead, you should be working on developing (or re-developing) a unified Iraqi identity. This has happened in the past, during the Iraq-Iran war, the Iraqi Shi'ites fought hard on the Iraqi side of the conflict. If the Shi'ites, under a dictatorial regime that seriously alienated them, were able to embrace their Iraqi nationality over their religious group, then what is going on now is destroying that sense of Iraqi identity that is necessary to build a future unified Iraqi state and society. Right on Shibli, too bad we won't be able to see you in a position of influence anymore.

UPDATE: Apparently, Al-Shibli was the Minister of Justice in the provisional government. He might've seen this new position as a demotion, which I think he might be right. If anyone has any more info about him, it would be greatly appreciated.