Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Instability in Iraq 

Recently, on an Iraqi Blog I offered in a comment the following personal assesment of the security situation in Iraq:

Specifically on the topic of insecurity, I see four main sources and causes:
1. Terrorists and Ba'athist hold-outs that just want to create chaos to try and force the coalition out. They cause much pain and suffering to the Iraqi people both directly (car bombs) and as a result of their actions against coalition, IP and ING (stray bullets and bombs).
2. Misguided Iraqis who genuinely believe it is their duty to fight against the coalition. I don't believe this group is relatively large and they are probably largely being influenced in their actions by the first group. While not likely to directly attack Iraqi civilians, the violence they visit upon coalition and IP/ING still produces stray bullets. If at all possible, this is the group I hope friends and relatives can reach to help them see that they are actually fighting against the best interests of Iraq.
3. Misguided religious extremists attempting to impose Taliban-like order and rules. Again, these people are greatly being used by the first group to add to the chaos and instability. Unfortunately, I don't know how much influence logic will have over them, so we must look to responsible clerics within both Sunni and Shi'ia branches of Islam to try and stop this practice. It is my impression that Sistani is trying to reduce the Shi'ia tendency, but the lack of a recognized individual Sunni religious leader makes this more difficult in that community.
4. The dedicated efforts of individual and organized thugs and criminals. These people are both used by and use the terrorists and Ba'athists and equally deserve no mercy at the hands of the coalition and IP/ING. I believe the greatest threat to Iraqi stability actually comes from this group at this time, but as they are indistinguishable from and supported by the terrorists in many ways the IP has been hampered in going after them. The more we (coalition, IP and ING) reduce the strength, capabilities and resources of the terrorists, the more capable the IP will be to deal with the criminal element.

In Mosul lives the cousin of the owner of the previously referenced blog, a charming 16 year-old with an English language blog of her own. In the recent fighting there tragedy visited her family when her older sister's father-in-law was killed, reportedly by American troops. She recently wrote of her Father's assesment of the situation in Iraq, in which he also identifies four main sources of problems:
His list closely matches mine, with a key exception. While he seems to lump what I called the "misguided Iraqis" in with the Jihadis, even if their motivation is not specifically religious, it is a relatively unimportant distinction. The exception I speak of is the implication in his final category that there is essentially no difference between the American troops and foreign fighters, seeming to imply that he believes the Americans by themselves, even without terrorist opposition, would be destabilizing and pose a threat to the Iraqi people in general. While I can understand that there must be great frustration and anger in this family, especially given the recent circumstance, I find it frankly disturbing that an obviously educated intelligent man such as him can have such a vastly different view of American intentions than I do. I think, however, the key to this difference may be in the second country he specifically mentions as a source of "vandals," Israel.

The vital role of the conspiracy in contemporary Arab society has been written about before and this, I believe, is another manifestation. Even though Israel has no troops in Iraq, even though they have, to my knowledge, not made great issue of the events there and even though they have not exercised any active role what-so-ever in post-Saddam Iraq, this gentleman still almost instictively identifies them as a source of trouble. The idea of an American-Zionist conspiracy is so pervasive in the Arab press that it's no wonder that it resonates even in the educated population. Anything bad can seen as proof of the true intentions while anything good can be dismissed as an effort to hide those same intentions. Even in America, I remember reading of a scholar's discussion with an Arab peer in which his friend matter-of-factly claimed that Israel was behind the 9/11 attacks. Conspiracy theories, by their nature, are difficult to rebut, so how, then, do we stand in the face of such sentiment?

I don't know any quick answers, but I believe the individual person-to-person dialog provided by blogs may be a start. I also think that helping the Iraqis to build a free and open society of their own will also help. Over time, just as integration in America helped in many ways to lessen the fear and mistrust of others, prolonged un filtered exposure to the real nature and intentions of America will work to put aside the flawed logic of the conspiracy. Sadly, the emotional wounds of many in Iraq will be very deep and a long-time in healing, if ever. For this one family, though, and especially for a young woman named Najma, I hope the very real and deep tragedies they have suffered does not prevent the eventual healing and realization that we are doing the best we can with truly noble intentions and goals.

The Real Colonialists 

The Transatlantic Intelligencer discusses the reports of French troops in Ivory Coast firing on a crowd of protestors in Abidjan, making the observation that the press would not have the same relative silence on the event if it had been American troops involved. He also questions the accusations of "decapitation" made by Ivorians and the French response that these allegations are "outrageous" and "strips [the Ivorians] of all credibility ... consist[ing] of disinformation." I think, however, it is the French government engaged in purposeful disinformation concerning the matter.

In the amateur video widely available (both spliced together and compressed on Free Will), one scene clearly shows an individual whose head had essentially been destroyed, presumably the result of a high caliber round. It seems clear that the Ivorian accusations refer simply to the removal/destruction of an individual's head without regard to the method. It seems equally clear that the French officials are intentionally misinterpreting these allegations and trying to make them sound similar to the sort of beheadings seen recently in Iraq. In the comments, the author, John Rosenthal, notes that the same French word could be applied to both, making me wonder if the French might be counting on the possible confusion of terms, especially when their comments are translated into English. That the author of this post had the exact same confusion the French seem to be promoting unfortunately indicates this gambit may be having some success.

That this event could still have so many unanswered questions surrounding it seems almost incredible.
That the French characterize the Ivorian claims as "racist [and] xenophobic remarks" is not nearly as amazing as the complete silence of any contrary opinion that perhaps the apparent wanton disregard for civilian safety demonstrated by the French forces (all of which I saw on the video were white) perhaps had a racial element to it. Don't get me wrong, I am the first to get decry groundless charges of racism that are often used in an effort to silence and demonize one's opponents, but the fact is that throughout the history of Western presence and intervention on the African continent there has always been either an explicit or implicit racial element, pitting the civilized white man against the savage black man.

Besides that, what is the purpose and mandate of the French intervention? By UNSC Resolution 1528, they are specifically charged with the following:
So, under which of these provisions did they essentially destroy the Ivorian Air Force, a major issue of the protests? One might say "protection of ... civilians" except this mandate specifically refers to civilians in "imminent threat of physical violence." I think it is clear that we have here a French effort to protect its political and economic interests in a former colony under the guise of a UN "peace keeping" mission. And the world, for the most part, remains in silent complicity.

Taken as a pattern, how can one look at UN inaction in the face of violence against black Africans not only in Rwanda and Sudan but by its own forces in Côte d'Ivoire and not feel that this disinterest is not racially or ethnically influenced? The sad fact is that as long as the victims are poor and dark and the perpetrators aren't the hated Americans or Israelis there really isn't much concern or interest on behalf of the world.

Friday, November 19, 2004

To be a part of it, or to be apart of it? 

Despite a spectacular offensive action that makes the Blitzkrieg look like the siege of Troy, the big news out of Falluja centers on a single action of a single Marine. In the midst of the circus, the question I keep asking with no clear answer is what purpose was served by the high visibility given to this event? That it caused concern on behalf of some is not questioned, but I do question the judgment of sensationalizing it and presenting it almost seemingly as the most prominent and important worldwide example of the entire action in Falluja. Given the extremely strong role near real-time propaganda has consistently played in the war, especially on behalf of the terrorists and their sympathizers, I feel confident in saying that despite the original intended purpose of the video feed any reasonable thought would lead to the conclusion that it would also serve the purposes of the terrorist propagandists. In deciding to release the video, therefore, one may logically infer that it was done with the full knowledge that its use would in at least some way support the terrorist cause.

Making that assumption, I see only three possible thought processes that lead to the decision made:

1. The video was released with the intention of providing it to the terrorists for their use. While there are undoubtedly those that either sympathize with the terrorists or feel that anything that hastens the withdrawal of US troops (under any circumstances) is desirable, I certainly hope and believe that such is not the purposeful motivation behind our major news sources.

2. The video was released in the belief that the positive value exceeded potential negative value derived from the terrorists. This would be a judgment call, but I would strongly argue against it. If the reporter had witnessed and filmed a massacre of civilians that was intentionally being covered up by the military there would be little doubt that it would be a proper decision to release the video. In this case, however, the video covered a single Marine in a single incident that was hardly black and white and was released after an investigation had already begun on the individual in question. I fail to see that there was any demonstrable positive effect at all in releasing the video.

3. The video was released without any consideration of the effects. Unfortunately, it seems the most likely explanation is that the sole interest in releasing the video was simply to release it. There was no thought, no consideration of risk, no though about effect, a complete disregard for "why" lost in the discussion of "how" and "when". It would be tempting, with this picture in mind, to draw a parallel to the stereotypical mad scientist who is concerned only with what he can do and not with if he should do it.

While one may conclude that there was no intended purpose in releasing the video beyond the single simple desire to broadcast, that very assumption is betrayed by both the vast amount not being broadcast (from the terrorist murders to the "slaughter houses" where these crimes took place) and the existence of an Editorial body within these news shops. For, if it is as simple as "shoot video, play video" it seems the media is carrying a lot of useless overhead. So I've come around again to the thought that there was a conscious decision made to release this particular piece of film and not others, but the reasons still elude me.

So we must look at the second option, that the perceived benefits outweighed the perceived risks. My initial logical fault here is to evaluate this question based upon what I perceive the benefits and risks to be, but what if I felt the personal benefits of having a scoop outweighed the possible risks to mission, lives and public confidence? What if I felt that being able to say "see, I told you US troops were indiscriminately killing Iraqis" was more important than denying the terrorists the ability to do the same. What if I believed my own parochial and business interests were collectively more important than the next Marine who hesitates one second too long and is taken by surprise by the perfidy of a ruthless murderous death-seeking fanatic.

I don't believe the main stream media wants us to loose in Iraq. However, I am increasingly convinced they feel they are too important to actively care. And it is just another example of the attitude of elitism, entitlement and assumed superiority that took its toll in marginalizing them during the campaign. And it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Phase I : Denial 

It is no news to anyone objectively viewing the news of the last week that many hard-core Democrats are in serious denial over the election results. Leave aside the fruit-cake election conspiracy nuts. Forget the "Jesusland" digs. These are all just symptoms. The fundamental core cause is a basic denial not only about what the party has become but also what their political adversaries have become.

I was at a conference this past weekend and had the singular pleasure of enjoying too much alcohol and conversation with a couple of fellow steely-eyed killers of the deep. As luck would have it, our triumvirate roughly mirrored the voting population, with a somewhat enthusiastic Bush supporter (myself), a somewhat reluctant Bush supporter and a somewhat reluctant Kerry supporter who, interestingly enough, happened to be a Bostonian. While the war was of concern to my fellow Bush voter, I was surprised that his main reason for supporting Bush over Kerry was his belief that Bush intended to try and do something about Social Security and Medicaid, while Kerry only offered more of the same. As the conversation progressed, though, I felt he demonstrated stronger support than he wanted to show. Bush was a leader; Bush had a handle on national security concerns; Bush had a feel for traditional American moral values. It seemed his greatest complaint with Bush was that he didn't think he was particularly bright. Chalk one up (almost) for the MSM.

Our misguided Kerrynista initially started on the Democrat litany but had to cede ground when pressed. For example, he came out of his corner swinging with stem cell research, but had to answer honestly when asked some true or false questions.
"True or False: Bush banned stem cell research?"
"Well, false, but..."
"True or False: the only source of stem cells is embryonic tissue?"
"Well, false, but..."
"True or False: embryonic stem cells are the only stem cells to have demonstrated therapeutic value?"
"Well, false, but..."
His wife works in public health and he offered some vague explanation of "the state there under Bush," but by the end of the evening he had dropped most of his points except three: Bush wasn't smart enough (again); Bush's religious positions are "scary", and; Bush's actions in Iraq were wrong. He expressed general discomfort with going into Iraq "unilaterally" until my back-up reminded him that there was no possibility of getting the only recognized international "authority" (i.e. the UN) on board and that it was a supremely moral act to remove Saddam regardless of relative threat. In the end, though, our Bostonian friend felt that Bush had been, if not dishonest, at least disingenuous with his reasons for going into Iraq and there had been no compelling reason to go when we did. Asked if he thought Kerry would have been any more forthcoming he couldn't say so, "but he wasn't the President and Bush was."

OK, what's the point of this long recap of our drunken political discussion? To emphasize that the Democrats are in denial not only on loosing the election but with the general alignment of the American people. The Democrats and their accomplices in friendly media outlets vilified and lambasted and maligned this President unmercifully. With one of my decidedly unscientific sample points it had an effect, but not sufficient to sway his final decision. With the other sample point I had the distinct impression that his age, history and familial association with the party (especially influence of the wifey) allowed him to swallow the kool-aid, but somewhat distastefully. Where will we be in four years, though, with a fresh candidate that has similar policy appeal without the massive negative back story? After 2004 and its public confidence melt-down, how much of that 15% will the MSM be able to deliver in 2008? Plus, all the "constructive" recommendations for the Democrats, such as talk about defining themselves, getting the message out better or connecting with America's moral base, comes down to just more form over substance, a proven recipe for failure.

Like everyone else, I, too have some advice for the Democrats in 2008. Finish the job. Completely implode, fracture and shoot yourselves. Because, the sooner you get out of the way the sooner the real fight between Conservative-Socialism and Liberal-Capitalism in the Republican party can begin. And that's the conversation we really need to define 21st century America.

Dealing with the Problem of Illegals 

Now that Bush has won, attention is moving to other issues. One of these is the problem of illegal immigration and Bush's proposed worker program. There are many purists strongly against it, and others who see no alternative. I generally try and break things down to their base level, and in looking at this particular issue I find that one has to accept one of two fundamental assumptions:

1. we should expend whatever resources are required to expel illegal aliens and prevent their return, or

2. the costs (economically, socially, etc.) of expelling and preventing illegals is higher than we are willing to spend.

If one accepts the second, as it seems the President has, the next logical question is should we continue the status quo of not knowing who is here and how they get here or should we try and get some degree of control over the situation. I think the idea of a worker program that registers and tracks those coming into the US to work has many benefits. Besides the obvious security and tax benefits, by reducing the number of individuals that are breaking the law by either entering the country illegally or hiring illegally it allows law enforcement and border agents to better concentrate their limited resources and efforts where it may be of greatest value. Right now, law enforcement agents are trying to find the handfull of dangerous illegals among the mountainous haystack of the non-dangerous. By providing a legal alternative a majority of safe immigrants will self-select themselves from that haystack, making the bad guys more apparent.

The real problem is how to fairly go from today to tomorrow. Many feel it isn't right to reward those who illegally obtained their residence by ignoring their past transgressions. Especially in the light of so many struggling today to obtain and maintain legal employment rights. However, a program predicated on punishing all currently illegal aliens would also engender great hostility. I often hear conservatives removed from the issue wonder why the plight and status of illegals is often of so much interest to citizens of similar ethnicity. The fact is, regardless of sharing ethnic or linguistic culture, many of these citizens find themselves involved in the same society as many illegals, and there is a very real possibility that when one is speakign fo illegals one is also talking about their neighbor, friend, church-mate, son-in-law, wife or even mother. I am reminded of the Mexican-American girl in the film Spellbound who went to the National Spelling Bee but whose parents were illegal aliens that spoke little if any English. They had come across the river with their children with the expressed intent of securing for them a better education. While it was not clear exactly what the legal status of the family was at the time the film was made, one must question the propriety of forcibly removing them from the society and community they had become a vital part of solely on the basis of their immigration status.

That said, though, fairness is as much a part of the American character as independence and stubborness. Like others, my workplace includes many foreign nationals who have a long, difficult struggle in pursuit of work authorization and the eventual attainment of a Green Card. How can we, on the one hand, demand so much from these people trying to stay in the existing system while seemingly forgiving so much from those who have operated outside? One needs to recognize, at a certain level, that while there is a similarity in idea there are also huge differences between the two concepts because there is a fundamental difference betweeen hiring an individual to write software and hiring someone to pick carrots.

The President always couches his program with the caveat that this will allow an employer to hire a foreign nation if an American employee cannot be found, however, one thing I am sure of is that if the proposed program requires the same level of documentation and proof on behalf of the employers as the current rules it will not work as desired. While I am hesitent to invite the government to conduct labor and wage analysis, the degree to which an employer should have to demonstrate an attempt to find a suitable candidate among the American populace should logically correspond to the degree to which awarding the job to a foreign national adversely impacts the American worker. For example, should a farmer hiring temporary help at $7 an hour have to present proof of a paucity of applicants before he can go out and find the ten hands he needs? I am more inclined to cap the number of permits and allow unrestricted hiring of such workers below a certain wage scale.

Still Alive 

I sometimes wondered how actively I would post after the election was over. With the fervor of the "mission" abated, would I be as moved to dedicate time to writing? And about what would I write? I recognize that I have a strong tendency to pontificate and lecture and try to curb this natural inclination when I am in front of a captive group. If I can't say something different or add value I try and remember to keep quiet. While I am not always successful, can I ask any less of myself in written communication, even this strange form known as "blogging"?

Perhaps I recoil a bit at the implied pomposity in feeling that I add such unique insight or value to the larger political discussion that I need to be heard, but in such vanity are not all voices born? Did man first form words to instruct and educate others or merely to cry out "I live" to the darkness? How, then, can any individual web log, broadcast into the ether on the net to fall upon those who would listen, be reckoned much different?

I am still here and so, though perhaps without the same urgency or fervor as before, do what I must and look out into the vast unknown darkness of the internet to cry aloud "I live."

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Election Post-mortum 

Well, I didn't get it 100% right, but I damn sure beat Zogby!

Ok, I looks like I may have gotten WI and NM reversed, which leads to a net -5EV for Bush, but an additional 7 from IA puts him at a projected 286EV (I predicted 284EV). In the end though, Bush won two of the four horsmen (FL, MI, OH and PA) and got the prize, for which I am pleased and relieved. Not to be piling on, but one of my worst concerns about a Kerry win was if the American public wasn't sure what his approach to Iraq and the GWOT would be how could we expect the bad guys to know. And, not knowing, what were the chances one of them would want to test him?

More later on post-election thoughts.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Competing with Zogby 

Like many, I experienced a noticibly heavier turnout today when I went to vote. I'm in a rather red state and did not note an unusually large presence of presumed Kerry types (i.e. young, minority) so I have to agree that it looks like Bush's base is motivated.

Zogby's latest is calling it a 252/252 tie to be decided by VA and PA. Of course, since PA brings its winner 21 EV, if Zogby is right VA is irrelevent. He, however, makes a few calls at odds with mine, specifically he gives CO, WI and HI all to Kerry (23EV), while I counted them 19B/4U. I'll stick with CO in the Bush column, making the race 261/243 with VA(13), PA(21), WI(10) and HI(4) in the hunt. In this new scenario, though, Bush takes the brass ring with any one of the three big buys left (poor little HI still stays a wallflower). In the end I expect Bush to take at least VA and WI (284EV), with a good possibility of a hat trick plus one (309EV).

Bottom line: I'm still calling it for Bush and by an uncontestable margin.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Four Horsemen on the Election 

The four states to watch will be PA, OH, MI and, of course, FL.

I started with the LA Times’ map and made the following assumptions about their "undecideds":

 EV total(58)(52)

This brings the EV totals to 237 Bush, 205 Kerry. What this means is that of the big four left (PA, OH, MI and FL), Bush will win with any two, while Kerry will win only with FL and any other two. The oddball scenario is if Bush takes FL but Kerry has the other three, in which case IA becomes the tiebreaker. Barring any upsets in my initial assumptions above, HI, while dramatic as the last state to vote, will largely be irrelevant.

Look for early upsets to indicate unforeseen trends. If NH or NJ fall to Bush look for a 300+ win. While word of mouth in MA and CT has indicated stronger Bush support than expected, they will remain standing for the Democrats in the face of everything but a full force landslide.

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