Saturday, August 21, 2004

Forget the investigation, media already knows the answers 

This is how the mainstream media - Reuters in this case - is reporting Democrat talking points as fact:
"Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry asked the Federal Election Commission on Friday to force Republican critics to withdraw ads challenging his military service, and accused the Bush campaign of illegally helping coordinate the attacks.

"The Kerry campaign said it filed the complaint against the group behind the ads, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, 'for violating the law with inaccurate ads that are illegally coordinated with the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign and Republican National Committee'...

"Bush and a top adviser have long-standing ties to people behind the advertisements, which claim Kerry lied about his Vietnam War service record, but the campaign denies any part in the ads themselves."
In other words, Reuters seems to be so keen to speed up the complaint process that it is already reporting as fact today what the Kerry campaign wants to Commission to establish as fact tomorrow. That's called pre-judging the outcome.

Then again, maybe Reuters doesn't need to wait for the Commission to reach its decisions, now that the "New York Times" (registration required, alas) has passed its verdict:
"Records show that the group received the bulk of its initial financing from two men with ties to the president and his family -- one a longtime political associate of Mr. Rove's, the other a trustee of the foundation for Mr. Bush's father's presidential library. A Texas publicist who once helped prepare Mr. Bush's father for his debate when he was running for vice president provided them with strategic advice. And the group's television commercial was produced by the same team that made the devastating ad mocking Michael S. Dukakis in an oversized tank helmet when he and Mr. Bush's father faced off in the 1988 presidential election."
This is what liberals call a vast right-wing conspiracy. As Patterico writes:
"The article then spends an incredible amount of space detailing this 'web of connections,' which boils down to this: John O'Neill, a successful lawyer in Houston, knows some influential Republicans in Texas. He even knows people, including current and former law partners, who know George Bush and Karl Rove. Wow."
Let's forget for a moment logical arguments along the lines of "the group received funding from a trustee of the foundation for Mr. Bush's father's presidential library, therefore it's all lies." Let's hope that at least the Commission will be able to finally concentrate on what the media has largely failed to do so far - determining whether the allegations raised by the vets are true or not. The question is not whether you can draw a fancy graph - "web of connections" - that resembles something out of a JFK conspiracy book; it is whether 250 Swift Boat veterans are lying about John Kerry's war record.

Maybe the Vets should have instead made a documentary that alleges, say, that John Kerry had been in cahoots with the Vietnamese Communist Party. Maybe there would be international awards and millions at the box-office instead of a Federal Election Commission investigation anda shrill overreaction from the Democrat candidate.

Michael Moore says that George Bush, in league with the Saudi Royal family, perverted the war on terror and send his country into a senseless war to benefit his corporate buddies. The Swift Boat Vets say that John Kerry lied about his personal military record in Vietnam.

Compare the gravity of accusations. Compare the official reaction of the accused. Then ask yourself, which one of them has better judgment and integrity to qualify them for the top office?


Friday, August 20, 2004

The joy of blogging 

It's 11.25pm on Friday night. Just finished watching "Love Actually" on DVD with Mrs Chrenkoff (a fluffy but cute piece of film-making. I enjoyed a chuckle at Hugh Grant's Prime Minister - that's how the British artistic left obviously wishes Tony Blair would be in real life - dashing, wife-less, and tough on the United States. "Reality actually", is fortunately quite different), but I thought I would drop a quick line to let you know I'm still alive, however infrequent the blogging.

Ah, the dreaded blogligation strikes again - the desire to give all of you dear readers the biggest bang for your buck (metaphorically speaking; after all you're not paying) and provide you with tons of new and exciting stuff every day. And the feeling of guilt when I don't. And the blog envy at all those bloggers who can churn out half a dozen or dozen good posts every day containing not only interesting links but insightful analysis, some good fisking and a decent dose of humour.

My only defence is that this blog is slightly different in structure than others, in that instead of steady publication schedule, every Monday I publish a mega post of one kind or another, whether it's good news from Iraq, or good news from Afghanistan, or crazy news from Europe. As you can imagine, compiling them takes a lot of time - so in case you were wondering why I'm a lazy bastard and not posting more often during the week - that's what's taking my time every day.

Aside from that, I have a job and try to have a life. I blog as much as time permits outside the two. I would love to blog more, but for that to happen I'm afraid you have to arrange for me a stint as a professional pundit or a syndicated columnist so I can spend more time on the net, and more time "chrenkin' off" for you.

Anyway, enough whinging and self-pity. I'll promise to keep on writing if you promise to keep dropping in.


Nepal and Venezuela 

While many of us are preoccupied with the war on terror, there are some people who are still fighting the Cold War (and no, they're not John Kerry). It seems that while we were sleeping, the Maoist rebels in Nepal were quitely on the march:

"The second day of a blockade of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, ordered by Maoist rebels, has led to petrol rationing and a rise in food prices. Despite the threat to block highways, so far only the threat of reprisals has kept drivers off the roads.

"The Maoist demands include the release of detained rebels and an inquiry into the killings of others. The government says it wants to negotiate with the rebels to end the crisis and restart peace talks."
And James Taranto has this to say about the Venezuelan referendum:

"One of the [New York] Times' complaints about U.S. elections is that many states disfranchise would-be voters who've been convicted of a felony. 'Denying the vote to ex-offenders is antidemocratic,' the paper announced in a July editorial. In Venezuela, it seems criminals are so empowered that they actually run the country. By the Times' standards, we guess that makes Venezuela more democratic than America."
Read the whole piece.


Thursday, August 19, 2004

Baby, we were born to whine 

Another clash from the cultural front of the political war: the Republican Senate candidate from New York, Marilyn O'Grady, has launched "Boycott the Boss" television campaign in response to Bruce Springsteen's recent anti-Bush outbursts and his participation in the pro-Kerry "Vote for Change" tour through battleground states. As O'Grady says in her ad: "He thinks making millions with a song and dance routine allows him to tell you how to vote. Here's my vote: boycott the boss. If you don't buy his politics, don't buy his music."

The entertainment industry is not amused, even if it's still ignorant.
E! Online calls O'Grady "Conservative Party candidate" before noting that "[t]he conservative Republican is lagging in the polls at present - maybe she just wasn't born to run?" (Update: Thanks to readers in the comments section for clarifying the situation)

O'Grady explains in a
statement that Springsteen "has a right to say what he thinks, but we have an equal right to speak. Now that he's moved onto the political stage to bash my president, it is entirely fair to respond". I've written before about artists and freedom of speech, so I'm not going to repeat myself except to say once again that Springsteen has a right to his political views, but also the obligation to take whatever commercial consequences may come as a result of his statements and actions. Freedom of speech is a two-way street.

Personally, I won't be smashing up my extensive Springsteen CD collection. If I had to boycott every artists on the account of their stupid comments or trendy political views I would lose half of my collection and deprived myself of the pleasure of listening to (the music, not outbursts of) not just the Boss, but U2, Simple Minds, Big Country, Peter Gabriel, REM, Live, Manic Street Preachers and many others. By the same token, I'm not going to begrudge O'Grady her right to call for a boycott, nor indeed try to deny others the pleasure and the adventure of trying to put Springsteen's "The Rising" through an industrial shredder.

If anything, O'Grady has created a lot of extra publicity for herself, which is what those sorts of election-time gimmicks are mostly all about anyway. So whether or not the fans will punish the Boss for his "rocking for change", the ad money's well spend already.

Oh, and apparently, Springsteen's "No Surrender" is said to have become
the anthem of Kerry's campaign. I would have thought that "Dancing in the Dark" would have been a more appropriate choice.


The hero gets precious under fire 

Senator Kerry has issued a new call from a location close to the Cambodian border:

"John Kerry called yesterday for a 'campaign of issues, not insults' hours after his supporters returned fire against the Republicans with an attack on George W. Bush's military service.

"Retired general Wesley Clark led the Democrats into battle, repeating accusations in the latest advertisement by a liberal interest group that the US President had drawn on family connections to avoid serving in the Vietnam War.

"The MoveOn.org advertisement, which accuses Mr Bush of allowing false advertising attacking Senator Kerry, started airing yesterday."
I'm sorry to rain on John Kerry's military parade, but these are election issues. It was him and the Democratic Party who first made Kerry's service in Vietnam into one (some uncharitable souls might say, the one and only issue of the campaign), just as they subsequently did to George Bush's service record. It's a bit too late, not to say somewhat dishonest, to now call for a "campaign of issues, not insults." Kerry himself, of course, might help if he stopped continually reporting for duty in Vietnam and instead shifted his focus onto some more contemporary challenges facing the United States.


No Olympics, thanks; we're Greek 

What if you gave the Olympic Games and nobody came?

We're used to by now to the bizarre sight of empty stadium stands and small groups of spectators huddling together, looking almost embarrassed to be spoiling the pristine, virginal venues with their insignificant presence. Now Professor Richard Cashman has an interesting opinion piece in the
"Australian" explaining what went so wrong in a space of just four years:

"Although Sydney had less spectator capacity and a smaller aggregate of 6.7 million spectators [than Atlanta's 8.7 million], it set a benchmark for the proportion of tickets sold -- more than 90 per cent... [I]nternational tourists represent only a small proportion of the Olympic crowd. It was reported that there were 111,000 Olympic tourists at the Sydney Olympics. If each tourist attended 10 events, they made up less than one-sixth of the spectator figure. The vast majority of spectators were from the host city, state and country."
So what's wrong with Athens? The Greeks aren't showing up because they're simply not interested in the Olympic Games, argues Cashman. It might have sounded very appropriate to the International Olympic Committee to give the 2004 Games to Greece, the birthplace of the Olympic idea almost three millennia ago, but the sport honchos seemed to have overlooked the very basic consideration that there isn't much of an Olympic tradition in modern Greece.

Memo for the future: if you're organising a major international event, make sure that cold hard economic considerations get ahead of nice warm symbolic ones.


You too can help Iraqi democracy 

Another election I'll be watching with more than just general interest, now that Ali and Mohammed of Iraq the Model blog have decided that writing just ain't enough and will throw their hats into the ring to run for the Iraqi National Assembly:

"For sometime we thought that we can help by doing our jobs and by posting our opinions here on the blog, and while we still think it does help, the battle against tyranny and fanaticism in our country demands more than that. It demands that each one of us put all the effort he/she can make and take an active stand regardless of how difficult or dangerous it may seem. We simply cannot just stand and watch and we hope that we will encourage others also to do their best in order to achieve our freedom and establish democracy in a country that suffered more than enough from wars, dictators, terrorists and fanatics. We believe that democracy is the only cure to all those diseases and the only answers to all threats. As hard the battle seems now and as far victory may look, we believe in our people and we believe in our friends and we know we will win."
Please visit the website of Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party, which Ali and Mohammed have co-founded and which is now fielding a dozen candidates in the election. Most importantly learn how you can help their campaign, by donating money, buying their campaign gear, or just simply spreading the news.

Dear readers, while our brave men and women of the Coalition armed forces have done the heavy lifting to liberate the country and continue to work for security of Iraq, this is our opportunity, as non-military folk, to ensure that the sacrifices of our soldiers and Iraqi people have not been in vain. So please, consider doing your bit to ensure that decent, pro-Western forces get some foothold in democratic Iraqi politics.


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Can I have my daily dose of Iraq, thanks? 

No, I'm not obsessed by Iraq. Honestly, I'm not. Why do you keep looking at me funny? Anyway, here are today's Iraq-related stories that caught my attention.

VH1 is screening "VH1 News Presents: Soundtrack To War", a documentary about the
music of the Iraq war. The soundtrack to World War Two - not that many of us can remember it - was part-sentimental crooning, part-big band swing sound. The soundtrack to Vietnam was rock'n'roll, probably of the harder variety for those on the ground than the soft and sentimental late '60s musical journey you can find today on the soundtracks to "Forrest Gump" or "China Beach" (any readers who served can correct me - more Hendrix than the Mamas and the Papas?). Other wars of the last sixty years have been rather deficient in soundtracks, mostly because they haven't lasted long enough to generate them (thank God). In Iraq, according to the VH1 documentary, it's heavy metal and rap. No surprises there; I can't imagine any two musical genres better suited to combat. Any reader suggestions for the Songs of War?

While I - and the media - are obsessed with Iraqi war, and the chances are that you who are reading my blog are also somewhat interested in the issue, it seems that
the good people of Great Britain aren't at all: "With a general election expected in just nine months, the war came last in a list of 12 key issues put to people... Just one in 10 people, 12%, said the conflict was among the most important to them, The Guardian survey showed. The state of the NHS [British public health system] was named by an overwhelming 59% while 42% said education. The findings explain why backing for the Government has remained relatively strong despite continuing controversy over Iraq." So much for the backlash.

Still, the possibility that Iraqi interim prime minister
Iyad Allawi will be invited to Labour Party's National Conference has split the Labour ranks with the left of the party throwing a tantrum. The treasurer of an intra-party group Labour Against the War, Jeremy Corbyn MP, wrote to Blair to tell him that inviting Allawi will be "seen as an insult to many around the country." Particularly to those who would not have minded if Saddam was still in power.

Speaking of those sorts of people, the ex-Labour MP and a rabid anti-war activist
George Galloway entertained a crowd at a recent book festival saying that "in a perverse way" he was hoping that the US and British forces would stay in Iraq so they could get a "bloody good hiding" from the Iraqi resistance. The British soldiers might or might not actually want to be in Iraq, not having have had much personal input into their deployment, but I'm sure that they will warmly approve of Galloway's idea that as many of them as possible should be killed to teach Tony Blair a lesson.

Australia, meanwhile, "74 per cent of people surveyed believed [the Prime Minister] Mr Howard misled them about the reasons for going to war in Iraq, up six percentage points since last September. But 47 per cent of respondents said Mr Howard was misled on the issue by others, and did not intentionally mislead them.... 27 per cent said Mr Howard deliberately misled the public on the issue." That 27 per cent of the population tends to believe that John Howard eats babies at the best of times, so the overall result is quite positive. Still, I would have thought that the better opener would be "74 per cent of people surveyed believe that Saddam Hussein misled them about the reasons for going to war in Iraq." Canada's Centre for Public Opinion and Democracy helpfully comments that "Iraq War affects voters in Ukraine and Australia. The conflict is becoming an issue in the two nations. The outcome of their respective elections could further deplete the U.S.-led coalition." I don't know about Ukraine, but unfortunately the only polling cited in the article indicates that 58% of Australian voters agree with the Prime Minister that our troops should stay in Iraq, while only 38% want to bring them home by Christmas. So if the war is affecting Australian voters enough to potentially cause the depletion of the Coalition of the Willing, perhaps the voters should start showing it a bit more.

And in the US some real polarisation of the electorate emerges out of the
latest poll, which by the way shows that the majority now think Iraq was a mistake. The breakdown between various political affiliations is quite interesting: in December 2003, 91% of Republicans supported the war, while in August 2004 this figure is down to 86%. For Democrats, the figures are 39% and 19% respectively. What's more concerning is that the support among the independents has fallen from 56% to 29%. Iraq is no longer a war that enjoyed a broad mainstream support; it's a Republican war with a Democrat opposition. God knows why Kerry still tries to appear serious on defence issues, now that his base no longer is.


Kerry - still fighting the last war 

You really have to give it to John Kerry. Not only does he still continue to re-fight the war in Vietnam (more than thirty years after President Nixon declared the end of the major combat operations), as opposed to focusing on something more contemporary, like Iraq; but now the Democratic presidential contender is determined to prove he can reach even further back in time for strategic inspiration:

"John Kerry will on Wednesday set out his opposition to the Bush administration's plans to bring home 70,000 US troops from permanent overseas bases, leaving their future dependent on the outcome of the presidential election.

"Setting out one of the few clear strategic differences between himself and George W. Bush, Mr Kerry is expected to argue that the withdrawal of troops from Europe and Asia threatens to undercut alliances and weakens America's ability to project its power overseas."
The "two war" strategy has been an integral part of the Cold War military paradigm, allowing the US forces to fight one major conflict in South East Asia and another one concurrently in Europe. John Kerry might be reporting for duty, but unfortunately only to fight the last war.

There might be a reasonable argument to be made about maintaining military presence in South Korea, however strong the temptation to say to the Korean people "You don't like our forces in your country? See how much you'll enjoy living under Kim Jong-il's enlightened leadership." But the American bases in Western Europe no longer protect the Europeans from anything, even the consequences of their own strategic stupidity. They
neither generate any local goodwill anymore, nor strengthen the alliance, much less allow the US to project its forces more efficiently, seeing how many restrictions the host countries put on the use of the facilities. It might be time for the realism to have one over symbolism - but not if John Kerry gets to the White House (if you want the same arguments expressed in a much better way, check out this "Opinion Journal" article).

It would be unfair to say that Kerry's mindset is September 10, 2001. At best, it is September 10, 1988, at worst, 10 September 1968.


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Because they can't spit on civilians 

The Japanese authorities are very keen not to provoke too much their domestic anti-war crowd:

"Japanese soldiers returning from a tour of duty in Iraq this month got an unusual request from the Tokyo airport authorities: Do not wear your uniforms.

"So, 82 soldiers coming back from their humanitarian mission in southern Iraq had to peel off their camouflage uniforms and buy suits and ties in Kuwait for the trip home, airport and government officials said yesterday. When they arrived at Tokyo International Airport on Aug 7, the only hints of their military affiliation were their camouflage duffel bags.

Japan's military was disappointed. 'Uniforms are our symbol. We went to represent our country, so why can't we wear our uniforms?' General Hajime Massaki, chief of staff of the Ground Self-Defence Forces, protested last week."
Partly, General, because the Transport Ministry had promised various "civic groups" that the Tokyo Naraita Airport would not be used by the military. And partly because the Singapore Airlines, which flew the troops home, also requested that they dress as civilians. In the words of the airport's spokesman, "We have to think how ordinary passengers might feel sitting next to a large group of soldiers in uniforms, occupying nearly one-third of the seats." Quite safe, I would have thought.

In another Iraq-related development, Swedish tabloid reports that
two of Saddam's cousins, both former generals who have recently escaped from Iraq, were granted refugee status in Sweden. The paper quotes an unnamed Iraqi intelligence official as saying that "Sweden was the first country that came to mind, since they [Saddam's cousins] trust the country’s humane asylum system."

Swedish tabloid quoting unnamed Iraqi intelligence sources does not inspire confidence, so we'll have to wait and see whether the story turns out to have any solid foundations. If true, however, this is a worrying development. After all, from the Nazis down, all members of bloodthirsty regimes technically qualify for asylum as they would have a reasonable fear for their life or their safety and well-being had they stayed in their own country. But the line has to be drawn somewhere - refugee status cannot be abused by suspected criminals merely trying to avoid justice. Unless Sweden thinks that the cousins' only real crime is that they fell foul of the United States.


Chrenk versus Cronk 

No, it's not a sequel to "Alien versus Predator", which in turn is not an award-winning documentary about the 2004 presidential election.

Walter Cronkite, arguable the most famous American newsman of the past century, is punching the clock for the last time with his farewell newspaper column, in which he focuses on the state of the media today. Some of the things Cronkite has to say are pretty non-controversial:

"The decent newspapers try to be fair and present both sides of a disputed story in the community and our nation, and that is the essential of our history... It is where historians go to do their research. This is an absolutely vital link in the chain of culture that we call our democracy."
I can't think of too many people who wouldn't say "amen" to that. Call me a rabid right-winger, but when I ran a student newspaper some years ago, whenever a controversial issue came up I'd always make sure to publish stories reflecting the two main opposing points of view. Unlike my predecessors and successors, I might add, for whom a student newspaper had to be biased to the (far) left in order to counterbalance "Rupert Murdoch's right-wing media domination."

Yet getting both sides of the story across is so essential; not just as a service to current readers, to enable them to make up their own minds based on the alternative views provided, but also, as Cronkite notes, for the sake of the future generations. When I read history I'm often struck by how little written evidence goes to build our picture of the past (of course, the further back in time we move, the more of a problem this becomes). Not that this is ever likely to happen, but sometimes I do have nightmares that academics a millennium from today will write their history of the twentieth century based on an archive of "The Nation" discovered is some buried basement.

Some other of Cronkite's opinions are somewhat more debatable:

"The newsman said he values the Internet as a research tool, but he finds some stories published on the Web -- scandals especially -- play too fast and loose with the facts. 'I am dumbfounded that there hasn't been a crackdown with the libel and slander laws on some of these would-be writers and reporters on the Internet. I expect that to develop in the fairly near future,' he said."
I'm not at all sure whether overall the Internet is more of scandal-monger and slandered than any of the traditional media (any comments, Matt Drudge?). Sure, the Internet makes it easy to publish just about anything, but the papers and radio and TV still enjoy and advantage of an overwhelmingly bigger audience.

But that's slowly changing, too, in part because contrary to Cronkite's ideal, the mainstream media has not been doing good enough job of presenting both sides of the story. Those who want to find out whether John Kerry has really been across the Cambodian border, or indeed find some good news from Iraq, have to resort to the Internet, since surely they won't find that information anywhere else. Until the mainstream media wakes up to its duty to report fairly and comprehensively all the talk about developing new slander laws is just a smokescreen and a distraction, not to mention a cynical, not-too-veiled threat by a monopolist against new entrants.

But I'm not going to hold my breath. Particularly when I keep reading things like
"An eager young Greek Olympic volunteer who is ordinarily a college student has been asking American journalists staying at the University of Athens media village for their opinions on President Bush.

His unscientific findings?

" 'Everybody says they don't like Bush, and they don't vote for him,' he said with a somewhat puzzled expression. 'So how did he get elected?' "
The people who use Internet must have obviously voted for him (hat tip: The Best of the Web).


Monday, August 16, 2004

Czeslaw Milosz 

One of great poets of the twentieth century, a Nobel Prize winner for literature, and my fellow Cracowian, Czeslaw Milosz, had died at the age of 93. His book "Captive Mind" remains one of the best works ever written on the psychology of Stalinism and the fascination that communism holds for generations of intellectuals.

Having survived - and outlived - both the Nazis and the communists, Milosz had acquired deep
wisdom that is so often bred of the Central European adversity:

"A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death -- the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders, we are not going to be judged."
Rest in peace.


Good news from Iraq, Part 8 

Note: Also available from the Wall Street Journal's "Opinion Journal". Once again, thanks to James Taranto and Brendan Miniter for their support. Also thank you to all the readers who have sent in links to news stories, and thank you for all of you for helping to spread the good news.

As "Boston Globe" columnist
Jeff Jacoby writes, "The press tends to emphasize what's going wrong in Iraq because of an inbuilt bias for the negative - only the plane that crashes, not the 999 that land safely, make news. The result is that while the bad news in Iraq gets reported everywhere, the reports of good news you have to look for." For the sake of fairness, one might add that in Iraq it's perhaps 10 or 20 planes that crash, yet even with that caveat the mainstream media coverage often gives ones the impression that the whole Iraqi air fleet has gone down in flames.

The past two weeks have not been an exception, with the news from Iraq dominated by more hostage crises, the oil shock, continuing terrorist campaign and a sequel to the Shia uprising. Good news, once again, was few and far between. Yet progress continues to be made on the ground in Iraq, even during the most dangerous of times and often against the odds that we - so insulated by the safety, comfort and predictability of life in the West - can hardly even begin to comprehend.

The challenges still ahead in Iraq are considerable, but the media in its manic rush from one disaster to the next and from one "quagmire" to another rarely provides the context that would help us understand the situation. Having followed the mainstream media coverage, one can be forgiven for thinking that our task in Iraq is merely to return the country to its pre-war status quo. More often than not lost in reporting is the realization that Iraq has to recover not just from the violence and destruction of the last year and a half, but of the past 30 years. Iraq of March 2003 was not a normal, well-functioning state thrown into chaos and mayhem only by the arrival of the Coalition forces. In reality, the pre-invasion Iraq was a wreck of a country whose great potential of the 1950s and 1960s has been all but completely squandered for the sake of the aggrandizement of one man and the hegemony of his party. It's important to bear that in mind before rushing to criticize the Coalition authorities for failing to rebuild in a year what took three decades to destroy.

That the Iraqi people are not giving up on their desire to overcome the tragic and soul-destroying legacy of the Baath Party misrule and are courageously forging ahead with their new lives is truly a testament to the power of the spirit and human tenacity.

SOCIETY: The elections are scheduled for January 2005. The
national conference to select an interim national assembly is set to be taking place as you're reading these words. In the meantime, the new generation of leaders is getting a crash course in democratic governance. A group of 14 Iraqi women is visiting the United States to get acquainted with the American political process and learn lessons which might be put to a good use at the next year's poll. The group, which already visited Washington and the Democratic National Convention in Boston, includes among others Taghreed Al-Qaraghuli, "a Baghdad resident who says she was denied the chance to pursue her education when she refused to join Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Al-Qaraghuli is an active member of the Iraqi Independent Women's Group, a political party formed last year to advocate for equal rights." In all, some 50 non-government women's organizations have sprung up in Iraq recently; many women are getting involving in politics and civic life. "We succeeded in getting a target of 25% of women to be included in decision-making positions [in the new Iraqi government]. Now we have to train enough women to take on those jobs," says Tamara Sarafa Quinn, a Chattanooga resident, who helped organize the delegation. You can also read about the group's visit to Chicago (also here), and Michigan.

another Iraqi delegation, which includes three mayors and an assistant provincial governor, is also traveling around the United States, "hoping to glean some insight into how communities here deal with divergent populations and opposing perspectives." The tour has been sponsored by the U.S. State Department and included stops in Washington, DC, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Chicago. "Many of the delegates' questions focused on 'how to bring different factions together to ensure broad-based representation in government,' says Judy Rambeau, Assistant to the [Santa Monica] City Manager for Community Relations, including 'Christian women in male- and Muslim-dominated neighborhoods.' They also wanted to know how to get people - 'especially young people' - interested in voting." Michael Moore is wrong yet again; the insurgents are not Iraq's version of Minutemen. It's these people instead, who are Iraq's own Founding Fathers and Mothers.

On the macro political scale, the concept of
federalism is attracting increased attention in Iraq: a mini-congress which met in the southern city of Basra has recently proposed a formation of a southern province out of exiting provinces of Basra, Zikar and Missan. "Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, blessed the proposal in a speech read to the congress on his behalf, saying it will be part of a democratic, federal and united Iraq."

And one of the preconditions of a healthy, democratic society -
freedom of speech - continues to revive on Iraqi streets:
"Saddam Hussain would be grumbling in his prison cell if he knew.

"Al Mutannabi Street, the book-lined alley whose spirit he tried for decades to crush, is again filled with customers, from communists to clerics, who would once have faced jail for reading some of the material on offer.

"One man browsing the stalls was Sami Al Mutairy, a one-eyed poet and playwright who wrote The Tribes of Fear, a thinly veiled attack on Saddam's attempts to sow ethnic disunity. He was imprisoned and tortured by the Baath party's secret police.

" 'They used a ring to grind out my eye,' he said. 'They said I was a communist. Well, that was true enough - I am a Trotskyite. But I don't think the punishment fitted the crime'."
On the health front, this report provides a much needed context to reconstruction efforts: "Health Minister Ala'adin Alwan says three wars, international economic sanctions, and years of neglect under Saddam Hussein degraded a once advanced health care system to the point of almost complete collapse. Health statistics took an equally precipitous drop since the 1991 Gulf War, with life expectancy, for example, declining from 67 years to 59...

"Rebuilding Iraq's health care system is almost like starting from the beginning, and that is precisely where American government and Iraqi Health officials began when the U.S. led-coalition forces took control of the country in April, 2003...

" Iraq spent only $20 million on health care in 2002. Now, the Ministry of Health has a $1 billion budget. Most of the money comes from oil revenues, but the United States and other nations are supplementing this as the result of last year's donors conference in Madrid. This does not mean the Ministry is awash in money, but the increase has raised health care spending from 68 cents per Iraqi in 2002 to about $40 today.

"As a result, Iraq's 240 hospitals are running despite severe shortages of medicines and other supplies and staff are being paid after going unsalaried for months leading to the 2003 war."
In another health news, the number of AIDS cases in Iraq is staying low, with only 67 listed as suffering from the disease. Their treatment is being fully funded by the government.

In the field of education, Iraqi academics continue to benefit from the assistance of their Western colleagues. A group of 14 Iraqi lecturers from the universities in Dohuk, Sulaiymania, Kirkuk and Arbil are currently taking part in a summer training course at
Huddersfield Technical College in the United Kingdom, to bring themselves up to date with teaching and marketing methods and the use of information technology, which was restricted under Saddam's reign. The course is funded by the British Council and was initiated by Rasheda Zaher Draey, of the Huddersfield College, who while visiting Iraq in 2001 had noted the outdated teaching methods and limited resources at Iraqi universities.

In the media news, Royce Bitzer and Shafi Shaafi of the Human Service International group are conducting talks with the authorities at Basra University to start a newspaper, tentatively called
"The Times of Humanity". The paper would focus on providing Iraqi readers with good news about the reconstruction of their country. Bitzer and Shaafi are currently also at work to restore Iraq's southern marshes and create a training program for teachers.

Meanwhile, Baghdad's favorite radio station,
Radio Dijla, continues to be a huge hit with the audience: "At the studio microphone - as he is for a remarkable seven hours a day discussing everything with his listeners from politics to pop music, sewage to suicide bombing, corruption to conjugal disharmony - Baghdad's top jock, Majid Salim... How has life changed [since Saddam's overthrow]? Well, [Salim] says with a smile, for one thing you couldn't mention, let alone play the music of, Iraq's most popular singer, Kazem al-Saher, after he failed to turn up to a birthday party of Uday Hussein. More seriously, he says: 'You couldn't mention the word Kuwait. Or Iran.' He adds: 'Now I have the freedom of giving my opinion as a presenter and to encourage the listeners to give theirs'." In another story, Salim reminisces about his old radio days under Saddam:
"Sometimes I accused some ministers and ministries of corruption and bribery... Uday's security would come, shave my head, beat my legs and I would go back into the studio and continue my program."
Now, all that Salim has to worry about are the ratings. On TV, meanwhile, a new station is filling the entertainment vacuum in Iraqi lives:
"The Al-Sharqiya network, launched in June with an initial budget of $30 million, has eagerly sought to fill Iraqis' need for diversion with soap operas, reality shows and music videos...

"Shows in the works include 'Chaif Kheir,' or 'Blessed Wedding,' in which the network funds a young couple who would otherwise be too poor to tie the knot. In exchange, the couple allows the show to tape their wedding, honeymoon and domestic life.

"Another show, which could be called 'Iraq's Most Nostalgic Home Videos,' will show footage of Iraqis living abroad to folks in the emigres' old neighborhoods back home in Iraq, who will then reminisce about the good old days.

"Al-Sharqiya's female newscasters are conspicuously young, beautiful bottle-blondes wearing flashy, low-cut blouses. More prevalent than footage of Mideast violence are music videos of Egyptian, Lebanese and Iraqi exile pop stars. The men sing; the women wear skimpy miniskirts and dance in the background."
Trash TV? Perhaps, but who are we to deny it to the Iraqis after three decades of nightmare? "Blessed Wedding" must make a nice change from the obligatory daily dose of Saddam only a year and a half ago.

Meanwhile, a satellite TV channel, Al Fayhaa, has started broadcasting into Iraq from the United Arab Emirates. In the words of Iraqi blogger
Alaa: "This station seems to be an answer to our prayers with a clear patriotic message, which can be understood by the simple people. This is the first attempt at talking plainly to the people with a direct anti terrorist message reassuring and encouraging the ordinary man and spreading the ideas of hope and democracy."
In sports news,
the new Iraqi Olympic team has been farewelled with these words from Ahmed al-Samarrai, Iraq's Olympic committee chief: "The sports field brings together people of all countries, backgrounds and religions... In that respect it is emblematic of the new Iraq. Lifting the Iraqi flag over the skies of Athens will be a great defining moment for our country." Al Samarrai, who served on Iraq's Olympic committee under Uday Hussein before escaping abroad in the 1980s, also adds: "The greatest thing I can imagine is the 202 nations at the Games cheering as the Iraqi delegation arrives. We want to show the world that we are coming back, peacefully and with a sporting spirit, to share sports with everybody." The Olympic Committee has been set up only six months ago and it has successfully raced against time to assemble the Iraqi team to compete in Athens. In another profile of Iraq's Olympic Committee, Al Samarrai says:
"The most important part is we are here. It doesn't matter if we don't win a medal. We've already got the best medal: the friendship and support from everyone. This is our first step in a 1,000-mile journey for Iraqi sports. We will move ahead with sports while our country recovers and eventually, I believe peace will win."
The Iraqi Olympic team has been flown from Baghdad to Athens by the Royal Australian Air Force. In the words of Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer: "It's very appropriate that a country like Australia, which has helped to free the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein, should play a role in getting their Olympic team to the Olympic Games. I think there's a nice symbolism about that."

Iraqi soccer team, by the way, has just upset Portugal with a 4-2 win in the Olympic competition. "This victory will be received with happiness by my people, who have suffered through much," said Iraqi coach Adnan Hamad.

ECONOMY: In oil news, the Iraqi Oil Ministry announced that it plans to
dig 2000 new oil wells and extend the existing oil pipelines by 3000 kilometers in 2005. In the meantime, the Iraqi authorities are planning to construct four new oil refineries in central and southern Iraq.

Just how much oil there is in Iraq is uncertain. To find out the capacity of its two largest oil field (at Rumaila in the south and Kirkuk in the north), the Oil Ministry has invited bids from 16 Western companies to conduct the most up to date and most technologically advanced
evaluation of oil reserves in two decades. "Determining how much oil is in the ground and how it can best be recovered are essential first steps in rebuilding and modernizing the Iraqi oil industry... More reliable data on Iraq's oil could also help calm turbulent commodity markets, where futures prices have soared to new records, in part on fears of supply shortages and disruptions from terrorism."

The expectations are also high regarding the
current levels of oil production: "Iraqi Oil Minister Thamir Ghadhban said he expected his country's oil exports to average between 1.7 million and 1.8 million barrels per day next month. Ghadhban said in Abu Dhabi average exports in July would be 1.5 million bpd. Iraq is currently producing 2.4 million bpd, out of a capacity of 2.8 million bpd, he added. 'We want to exceed three million barrels per day (production capacity) next year,' Ghadhban said."

In other
oil export news, the Minister has recently announced "that officials in Kuwait have formed a joint committee to explore ways of cooperation in the fields of oil and natural gas. Al-Ghadban told reporters... that future cooperation will include supplying Kuwait with natural gas. He added that the talks with the minister had focused on bilateral and strategic cooperation in the energy sphere. The Iraqi senior official declared that Iraq was keen to cooperate with Kuwaiti private firms in developing oil fields in Iraq, such as the Seibah field in the southern city of Basra. He added that Iraqi oil workers will be trained by Kuwaiti oil well firefighters, highlighting their expertise in handling oil field fire accidents." Across the eastern border, Iranian firm Petroiran Company is conducting a feasibility study of participation in Iraqi oil projects. Taipei-based Chinese Petroleum Corp is also evaluating potential future projects in the country, now that economic sanctions against Iraq have been lifted.

In other energy news, German firm Elbe Maschinenbau has signed an agreement to build
three new power plants in Iraq: "A 550-megawatt and a 100-megawatt plant are planned, while the deal gives the Hamburg-based company an option on a 240-megawatt facility. It will be the company's first project with the Iraqi energy ministry." Again, to provide some context, the Iraqi blogger Zayed has some interesting things to say about the electricity supply during Saddam's time and today:
"In Basrah city it has been the same for over a month, 3 hours of power followed by 3 without. At the village where I work, it sometimes goes out for a whole day or more, and sometimes it stays on for a full day at random intervals, no rationing system over here it seems. Needless to say that Basrah (the whole south in general) used to get 2-3 hours of power a day for the last 12 years in order for Baghdad to get a relatively stable supply of power...

"As to what people do when the power goes out. It is a long established fact that the majority of Iraqis now own generators (usually 1-5 kV units) or have subscribed to the various 'neighbourhood generators' which were formerly government property. One Ampere usually costs 10,000 Dinars (about 6 dollars) a month. There are some streets in Baghdad where a vehicle higher than 10 feet cannot go through because of the network of wires and cables that go across the street."
In other electricity news, thanks to three newly constructed power stations, farmers in the Anbar region in the middle Euphrates governorate can rely on an uninterrupted 12-hour supply of power for their water pumps to produce the most famous rice in the region.

In manufacturing news, Dr. Hajim Al- Hassani, the Minister for Industry has announced that the Iraqi government is negotiating with General Motors the construction of a
car factory, which would produce annually some 90,000 salon cars and 30,000 pick up trucks.

And the Iraqi
insurance industry is rebuilding, as domestic providers resume their service and foreign entrants eye the market. As the report comments, "It's one more small example of how, despite the awful security situation and the dashed hopes over jobs, basic services and reconstruction, Iraqis are grasping at normalcy."

On the trade front, even the past history and the current tense relations with Iran have not prevented an
Iran-Iraq Joint Economic Commission meeting taking place in Tehran. The meeting, attended by 700 Iraqi government officials, had on its agenda the development of greater economic cooperation between the two countries. Already, three Iranian banks have been given permission to open branches in Iraq, and the Export Guarantee Fund of Iran (EGFI) has signed an agreement with the Iraqi Trade Bank, under which "Iranian banks will facilitate the opening of letters of credit for Iraqi tradesmen in Iranian banks... The agreement [also] lays down incentives for bolstering Iran-Iraq economic cooperation." According to Dr. Nowrouz Kahzadi, the director-general of the Iranian Export Development Bank, the volume of trade between the two countries is expected to reach between $3 and $4 billion annually.

Meanwhile, across the southern border, a meeting is expected to be held over the next three months between
Saudi and Iraqi businessmen to discuss increased economic cooperation between the two countries. And across the northern border, the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce has recently announced the establishment of the Iraq Board to assist Turkish businesspeople who want to engage in trade with Iraq.

There are already some positive
flow-ons for the rest of the region from the growth of Iraqi economy: "The Middle East's marine coatings industry is growing, with more ships entering the Gulf since the end of the Iraq war, according to a leading supplier. Saudi-based Sigma Coatings, part of the global SigmaKalon group, one of the region's leading marine paint suppliers, has seen business pick up post-Saddam."

In order to further develop Iraqi private sector, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded a $12.3 million grant to the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) to implement the
Iraq Private Sector Development Initiative:
"The VEGA Iraq Private Sector Development Initiative will establish new business centers and work through existing centers throughout the country to provide training and technical assistance to businesses of all sizes.

"VEGA will leverage access to over 20,000 volunteer advisors and experts covering all industrial and business sectors to provide Iraqi businesses with exposure to successful business methods. Services will include training courses, business kits, and technical assistance to businesses. Additionally, assistance will be provided to firms to compete for procurements under supplemental funds."
Meanwhile, the Iraqi American Chamber of Commerce and Industry has announced the date of the Destination Baghdad EXPO, which will now be held on December 15th, 2004 on the site of the historical Baghdad International Fair grounds. Says Raad Ommar, the CEO of the Chamber: "We are determined more than ever before to make DBX Baghdad the single most important international trade and business networking event in the last 10 years in Iraq. There is but one hope and choice for all private businessmen and public sector officials in Iraq, and that is to reveal Baghdad as it truly is, a vibrant city, able and ready to welcome the world business community, making them feel free and safe to conduct business and begin in earnest the rebuilding of Iraq."

This will become easier now that the
Baghdad international airport is reconstructed and fully in Iraqi hands. Minister for Transport is using this occasion to invite Arab and other foreign airlines to resume direct flight to Iraq.

Iraq has not been a popular tourist destination under Saddam and the current security situation is still too uncertain to allow tourism to thrive, but given time and some stability, Iraq has much to offer the visitors, particularly those interested in the country's rich historical and cultural heritage. In the meantime, before you pack your bags to go and see Babylon, you can read this story about Western entrepreneurs and Iraqi officials who are trying to resurrect the
Iraqi tourism industry. The British Government is also doing its bit to help; the Department for International Development is now providing funding to develop and publicize Iraq's nascent tourism industry:
"Sightseeing tours would include the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, dating back to 3,000BC, and marshlands thought to be the location of the Garden of Eden... Basra - regarded by some as the Venice of the East with its lush gardens and lagoons... [and] the capital, Baghdad... packed with ancient bazaars, restaurants, museums, palaces, mosques and shrines."
In the agricultural sector, the once world-famous Iraqi date industry is beginning to rebuild after decades of decline:
"Iraq's string of wars in the last 20 years, the Iran-Iraq conflict, the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion, not to mention pollution, have blighted date trees, a symbol of Iraq... What was once 'the country of millions of date palms' has seen the number of its trees fall from 33 million in 1958 to 13 million today.

"After oil, dates were once the country's second largest exports. They were smuggled -- like oil products -- by wooden boats down the Gulf in defiance of UN sanctions during the last 13 years of Saddam Hussein's rule... Senior officials in the former regime, including Saddam's elder son Uday, who chaired a date-exporting company, lined their pockets with the industry's takings."
But there is fresh hope: "In an effort to restart the industry, a 400-million-dollar project to plant 160,000 trees over eight years began in April, financed by the Iraqi interim administration and the US Agency for International Development (USAID)."

Lastly, a good news-bad news scenario: the bad news is the new
Iraqi dinar is now selling at 1,460 to $1; the good news is the trade in dinars is thriving on the Internet:
"Internet auctioneer eBay, for example, lists 622 auctions of new Iraqi dinars, in lots from 1,000 to 5 million. Dozens of Web sites, such as www.BuyDinarsHere.com, www.DinarTrade.com and www.InvestInDinar.com, sell dinars to U.S. investors."

"The lure: Investors remember that the Kuwaiti dinar plunged to 10 cents after Iraq invaded Kuwait. It's worth $3.39 now. The Iraqi dinar sold for as much as $3 before the first Gulf War.

"And Iraq sits on the world's second-largest oil reserves, an enormous asset. 'Even if it goes up to one penny per dinar, that's a lot of money,' says Mahmoud Shalabi, president of SilverDinar.com. Currently, a 250,000 dinar note is worth about $171. At a penny per dinar, the same note would be worth $2,500."
RECONSTRUCTION: On the reconstruction front, a slow but steady progress:
"US agencies and prime contractors involved with the various reconstruction projects being undertaken in Iraq met in Baghdad last week for the Iraq Engineer Summit. The meeting focused on future goals, strategies and ideals for the mission.

"Retired Rear Admiral David Nash, director of the Project and Contracting Office (PCO), opened the event by stating that current reconstruction efforts are occurring at rapid speeds. 'The effort is the fastest ever moved in the history of the world. We are doing $50 million in construction every week'...

"The number of projects that the $12.6 billion will fund has risen from 2,300 to more than 2,800. The decision to split large projects into several smaller projects was approved last week in an effort to achieve faster completion rates for the reconstruction of Iraqi-life necessities."
Elsewhere, Admiral Nash explains that the Iraq Project and Contracting Office had employed 80,000 Iraqis each day in the past week and; 100 job sites have opened across Iraq and 900 more are expected to open over the next few months. The report goes on:

"Much media focus has been on $800 million paid out to contractors so far, a tiny portion of the $18.4bn. But Nash says the key number is $7bn 'obligated' for work in Iraq and $11.1bn set aside, or apportioned for work. 'That obligated amount means we have solid contracts and the only way we can get out of that work is to terminate a contract,' said Nash."
This is how the progress is being made at the coal face:
"Normally, the sounds of hammering would be an annoyance in this health clinic, but young Iraqi mothers with small children pay little heed to the construction din overhead...

" 'The American ... army has done this beautiful thing,' says Dr. Sarra'a Abdul Jalil Habib, senior doctor in the Al-Zewyia clinic. 'They are rehabilitating everything, the air conditioning, the furniture, even the instruments'."
It's not all smooth sailing, by any means, as the above extensive report demonstrates, though its authors note that "the pace has picked back up."

For those tens of thousands of Iraqis working on the reconstruction projects, these are the
"dream jobs." Says Kareem Sajid, a father of four, who works on the construction of one of the Iraq's largest landfills outside Baghdad: "I am very happy as this is the best day, when we get paid... It is the highest pay a labourer can get in Baghdad. I am sure my family can now relax for the next two weeks... Believe me, this is dream pay for someone like me who was virtually jobless until this project started in June." Sajid is paid a daily wage of 10,000 Iraqi dinars; before he used to make 50,000 per month.

In some places, the reconstruction faces additional challenges: Sadr City, the section of Baghdad inhabited by poor Shia population, provides one such example. At this
report explains, "[t]he public housing quarter built in the 1950s to house about 500,000 people now holds five times that many, and its services haven't been updated since... A Shiite district, it was systematically deprived of basic services under Hussein's Sunni regime, breeding a surly attitude toward outsiders." Now, the 1st Cavalry Division is spending $500 million to improve Baghdad's infrastructure and Sadr City is one of the heavily targeted areas. "[T]he engineers in concert with USAID and other US funding sources now have about 10,000 people working on sewage and water projects... They are also clearing blockages in the city's main sewage lines, and upgrading water-purification and pumping capacity. The engineers have more than $125 million in sewage and water projects that have just begun, or are scheduled to start soon." All this is very badly needed in an area where basic infrastructure is almost completely lacking and unhygienic conditions make disease outbreaks not uncommon.

Sewage aside, one of the 1st Cavalry's recently completed initiatives involved this vital piece of
emergency infrastructure:
"After years of war and neglect, the Amariya Fire Station celebrated the completion of a major effort to restore it to a fully functional firehouse replete with fire trucks.

"Soldiers from the 425th Civil Affairs Battalion and Company A, 91st Engineers, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division along with Amariya firefighters and members of the Baghdad press club officially marked the occasion with a ribbon cutting ceremony on August 5."
On the electricity front, the Iraqi Ministry of Planning has just announced an allocation of $1.5 billion to assist in development of modern electricity network throughout the country. One of the American experts who had helped Iraqis off to a good start is Jim Hicks, a retired Duke Energy Corp executive:
"When Hicks arrived in Iraq on March 8, with soaring summer temperatures approaching, the coalition wanted to have 6,000 megawatts of available power by June 30, enough for about 15 hours a day of electricity for the country. It was Hicks' job to shepherd the project through.

"The coalition failed to meet its goal. Too many sabotage attempts, bombings and security risks hampered progress. But Hicks feels he and the CPA did as good a job as possible, reaching 5,000 megawatts, and he says the legacy of the CPA's work goes beyond the new power plants and transmission lines installed."
It's not just the Americans who are rebuilding Iraq, of course. The British Department of International Development is commencing another program to generate employment in southern Iraq: "The £6m Southern Iraq Employment and Services Programme (SIESP) aims to provide 1.75 million days of employment throughout the four Southern provinces in Iraq by the end of 2004. Specific projects will be determined by Provincial Councils and are expected to include construction work, support for irrigation and sewerage systems, and improvements to public areas." Great Britain has already spent 330 million pounds ($602 million) on humanitarian aid and reconstruction in Iraq. And in another positive step, Saudi Arabia has agreed to start releasing shortly $1 billion promised last year for reconstruction.

HUMANITARIAN AID: While the Coalition forces, Iraqi authorities and other governments continue with the reconstruction on the macro level, individuals and communities throughout the United States and elsewhere in the West are doing their best to help on the grass-roots level.

One of the more recent such initiatives is
American Aid for Children of Nineveh Iraq, which was started a few months ago by David McCorkle, who has served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne. As David says:
"While I was in Iraq I became concerned with the conditions facing children and schools. I became most concerned with the plight of orphan and fatherless children who had to work to support themselves and their remaining families, if any, instead of being able to attend school. Some of these children work on the streets for as much as 12 hours a day, in temperatures that reach as high as 125 degrees, while earning as little as the equivalent of 2 cents to as much as 2 dollars a day. Some of these children are as young as 4 years old. I was able to help one boy to return to school instead of working on the streets of Mosul."
Now, this small organization, run and largely supported by military personnel, is already sponsoring 40 Iraqi kids and three local schools. David adds: "We work to help all children living in the Nineveh Province of Iraq without regard to ethnic group or religion. We hope by helping these children to earn a better future that we can help build peace and understanding in the region. Our motto is 'Education is Liberation' and mandatory school attendance is required from all of the sponsored children." Visit their website and see if you can make a difference.

Some find ways to
combine fun with charity: the annual block party in Gurnee's Providence Oaks neighborhood (Illinois) this year hosted Col. Charles Schwartzmann of Vernon Hills who is trying to help soldiers in Iraq with fund-raising for two orphanages. The residents ended up not only enjoying themselves but also donating some useful things for the good cause in Iraq. There's an idea for your next neighborhood or community function.

If you want to find out how you can contribute to various charity efforts to help Iraqi kids get to school, make sure to check out the list of contacts compiled by an Iraqi-American blogger

COALITION TROOPS: The Coalition forces continue to help rebuild Iraq. In
Ninevah province, for example, "Soldiers from the 13th Corps Support Command joined local sheiks and community leaders to open a new primary school in Bu-Hassan, near Balad, today. The 29th Signal Battalion from Fort Lewis, Wash., sponsored the construction of the Al Salam School, which was built from the ground up in about six months. The Army provided about $80,000 for construction, but members of the community and local contractors did the planning and work. The school is one of more than 30 local infrastructure and water projects being managed by the 13th Corps Support Command civil affairs staff. Since January, the command has spent more than $2.7 million to improve local schools, clinics and irrigation systems."

If it's not schools, it's
"Although the engineers from the Army Reserve's 458th, 411th, and 980th engineer battalions and the Arkansas National Guard's 239th Engineer Company produce large clouds of dirt, [a restaurant owner Muhan Hassan Mizaal] al-Saadi couldn't be happier. He believes today's dust is tomorrow's prosperity for his restaurant and the handful of others bordering the park.

"Nearly five dozen soldiers have been clearing and grading land in the nearly mile-long, 100-meter-wide park, which runs along the east bank of the Tigris river in Rusafa, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, for the past few weeks."
Elsewhere, the American soldier are protecting from sabotage the Haditha Dam, "the second-largest of eight hydroelectric dams in Iraq. Its output - 670 megawatts when the water flow is strong - serves to stabilize the entire Iraqi power grid, increasing output when needed, reducing it when not. And irrigation canals that feed a wide swath of rice fields south of the dam depend on a steady flow of water, held in the big lake during winter and spring when snows melt in the Turkish mountains."

To get some idea of the professionalism of the troops in Iraq, read this story of the Coalition medical personnel
treating an insurgent and would-be suicide bomber for his self-inflicted shrapnel wounds. Says Lt. Col. Arthur Delorimier, 210th Forward Support Battalion, 10th Mountain Division who treated the man: "The more of the story I heard, the more angry I got, but I was still able to do my job and realized I am a professional and I'm going to take care of this guy. If I was the doctor taking care of Saddam Hussein, I would still have bad feelings about it, but I would have bitten my tongue and taken care of him just like I do with any of my patients. It's the professional thing to do."

Lastly, assistance is on the way for the Coalition troops as they continue to train the new Iraqi security forces:
NATO countries have finally reached an agreement to provide resources for training the Iraqi military. Around 40 NATO officers are expected in Bahgdad shortly, and another few hundred over the next few months.

SECURITY AND DIPLOMACY: To coincide with the 14th anniversary of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, the new Iraqi leadership, including Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and several of his top ministers, have paid a three-day
official visit to their southern neighbor in order to open a new chapter in the Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations. In another diplomatic closure, President Bush has officially scrapped sanctions put in place by his father 14 years ago in response to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.

Kurds are also expanding their foreign ties. Recently, a delegation led by a Kurdish leader, Nechirvan Idris Barzani, has
visited Taiwan to hold talks about possible future cooperation. The visit has focused mainly on prospects of agricultural, economic and technological exchanges. The Kurdish delegation has also visited South Korea to promote friendly relations between the two peoples. Barzani has welcomed the deployment of the South Korean troops to the Kurdish areas and promised closed security cooperation between the troops and Kurdish pashmerga militias.

Back home,
Iraq the Model blog provides the most up to date and most interesting perspective on security situation, all from an Iraqi perspective. In other developments, the training of the new Iraqi armed forces continues at a respectable pace. 711 Iraqi Army squad leaders have recently graduated from their training. The Iraqi army is set to expand over the next few months from around 3,000 trained troops to 20,000 soldiers, or 27 battalions. The 711 newly graduated non-commissioned officers will be deployed to those units to in turn take on training duties:
"At the Kirkush army base in the country's east, Iraqi soldiers now put new recruits through drills, teach them how to fire weapons and battle insurgents who attack Iraqi security forces just as much as US-led coalition troops in the country.

" 'Virtually all the training is now being done by Iraqis. All you see coalition soldiers doing at this point is advising and assisting,' said Brigadier General James Schwitters, commander of the coalition's Iraqi army training programme."
It's not just training, but also equipment and logistics that are staring to flow to Iraqi security forces, following the lifting of the arms embargo against Iraq:
"Iraqi security forces received 'massive shipments' of weapons and material from coalition partners in the last week, as the security effort to assist the Iraqi government in equipping its forces continues...

"As of July 28, Iraqi army, coastal defense, air, and National Guard forces had received more than 2,500 vehicles, 600 radios, 55,000 weapons and 25,000 pieces of body armor. Interior ministry forces, including police, border enforcement and facilities protection services, had received more than 6,800 vehicles, 14,000 radios, 101,000 weapons, and nearly 46,000 pieces of body armor.

"Equipment totals for all forces eventually reach nearly 290,000 weapons, 24,000 vehicles, 75,000 radios, and more than 190,000 pieces of body armor, officials said."
There are already some significant successes for the security forces. In one incident, Kurdish military authorities foil potentially one of the largest terrorist attacks in recent months when after a shoot-out at a checkpoint terrorist abandon a car laden with explosives. Elsewhere, a positive security development of an irregular nature, as fighters employed by the tribal leaders in Fallujah to combat crime and kidnappings stage a raid on kidnappers' safe house and rescue four Jordanian hostages.

Aside from practical results, there are certainly
perception benefits in having Iraqis take care of their own security:

"Faleh al-Asadi, 46, a high-school history teacher, was driving home when he spotted two Nissan pickups trucks with blue-and-white police markings blocking the street, allowing only one car to pass at a time.

"But rather than grumbling at the slowdown, he was delighted to see local police in action. 'This is what we want from the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis,' he said. 'I feel safe and comfortable with the police spreading out into the streets, with fewer United States patrols and checkpoints'."
Last, but not least, in the non-proliferation news, "[i]nspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog have completed an inventory of Iraq's declared nuclear material... The routine survey of Iraq's stocks of natural and low-enriched uranium accounted for all the material remaining in the country."

In the coming weeks, the pages of our newspapers and our TV screen will be full of reports of Iraqi planes falling out of the sky. But as you watch another story about a kidnapping in Baghdad or read another report about the growing violence in Mosul, try to remember those 999 - or even only 990 - Iraqi planes that are everyday taking off and landing safely, carrying onboard millions of Iraqis on their new journey to a better, normal tomorrow.


43 versus 43 

Last week, in an imitation of earlier similar public statements in the United States and Great Britain, a group of 43 former Australian diplomats and defence chiefs has written an open letter to the Prime Minister John Howard, "blast[ing] Australia's 'unquestioning support' of the US, calling for truth in government and a more balanced approach to foreign affairs."

Today, a group of
43 Iraqi-Australians publishes a letter of their own. Some of the choice quotes:

"We, the undersigned, are Iraqi-Australian citizens very grateful for the freedom we enjoy in this country - our new homeland.

"We respect the rights of the 43 former senior figures to freely express their views in their statement to the Australian people last Monday. However, many of us have certain doubts about the timing of their statement since it appears to be politically motivated as there is an election to be held very soon...

"We are in touch with members of our families in Iraq and some of us have visited Iraq recently so we are well aware of the true facts of the situation there today...

"We are extremely grateful to the Australian military forces for helping to liberate our former beloved country from the indescribable suffering imposed by the brutal Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein...

"We believe Hussein himself was the most dangerous WMD in Iraq - and fortunately he has been found...

"It was enormously courageous of the allies to go into Iraq. By hesitating any longer and agreeing to the wishes of the UN, perhaps the situation would have become much more hazardous. Some action had to be taken because the former regime took little notice of the UN. Let us remember that there was hesitation before World War II, which led to the deaths of millions."
There isn't really much more than one can add.


Sunday, August 15, 2004

Anglo-Saxons versus Latin-Catholics 

Something a bit heavier to start your week.

A fascinating historical document has for the first time become available in English: only three and a half months after the end of the Second World War, French philosopher Alexandre Kojeve wrote an "Outline of a Doctrine of French Policy," a visionary assessment of the global geo-strategic situation and a manifesto for post-war French foreign policy. Kojeve presented the document to General de Gaulle, recommending it to the leader of the Free French as the plan of action for the future French governments. Now, thanks to translation by Erik de Vries, we can all get a glimpse inside the mindset of a significant section of the French political establishment.

Kojeve's essay is long and ranges over extensive territory, but essentially it revolves around one simple observation and a rather more controversial proscription: the post-war world will be divided by the rivalry between two opposing blocks: "the Anglo-Saxon and Slavo-Soviet Empires." While it is possible for France to throw her lot with either one (more likely the former), any such submission to and submergence within a foreign political civilisation would spell the "definitive disappearance of the Nation qua State worthy of the name" - that is, the end of France as we know it.

Kojeve's solution to this problem is the creation of the third, Latino-Catholic force in international politics - with France as its natural political and spiritual leader:
"Anybody who would like to safeguard the existence and the influence of the traditional Latino-Catholic civilization, which is also that of France (and to which France has, moreover, contributed much more than all other Latin Nations combined), must thus want to provide it with a political base adequate to the given historical conditions. And anybody who were to do this would serve not only the cultural interests of his country, but also those of all of humanity. For the Anglo-Saxons, the Germans, and the Slavs do not possess, and will never possess, what the Latins, with the French at their head, have given and will continue to give to the civilized world.

"Now, if one wants to preserve Latin and Catholic values, which are also eminently French values, and ensure their global influence — or, in other terms, if one does not want to leave the political world divided between the reciprocally hostile and antagonistic forces of the Slavo-Soviet and Anglo-Saxon Empires — if one wants to complement these two powers — and civilizations — with a buffering, peaceful, global third one, it would not fall to one Nation, and not specifically to France, to coordinate them. Besides the Slavo-Soviet Empire of the Orthodox tradition and the Protestant-inspired Anglo-Saxon, and perhaps the Germano-Anglo-Saxon Empire, a Latin Empire must be created. Only an Empire such as this would be at the political level of the two already existing Empires, for it alone could possibly sustain a war where its independence was at stake. And it is only by putting itself at the head of such an Empire that France could retain its political, and thus also cultural, specificity."
What is notable about Kojeve's project is not so much its vision but the bluntness with which it is put forward. After all, what Kojeve argues is hardly new or controversial to practitioners and observers of history and politics: the world is divided into distinct political and cultural groupings which compete with each other for survival and dominance. What's refreshing about the "Outline of a Doctrine of French Policy" is the directness that only academics can afford to adopt when looking at the world.

Most of us are slaves of an illusion that "the West" is a particularly meaningful concept. In reality it merely denotes a certain geographic communality, and the acceptance of the basic shared Greco-Roman, and later Christian, heritage. It is also the lowest common denominator label to distinguish the fruits of the European tree from those of, say, Arabia, or the Far East.

We believe in "the West" because intellectually we remain children of the Cold War, when for a historically brief moment the overwhelming threat of Soviet communism had managed to unite in an uneasy alliance the separate civilisations of Western Europe and their overseas offshoots. Yet the Cold War period was an aberration in the history of "the West", which for the fifteen hundred years of its modern incarnation consisted of competing cultural and political blocs. The two World Wars - both largely civil wars within the West (I'll drop the parenthesis now), which on account of alliance and cultural ties had the misfortune of spilling into other parts of the world - are but the culmination, albeit the bloodiest one, of that complicated European history of the past millennium and a half.

What we think of as the West is really three and a half different Wests: the Germano-Nordic civilisation, the Anglo-Saxon civilisation, the Latin civilisation, and the non-Orthodox Slavic sub-civilisation, which always saw itself as part of the West (the feeling was largely unreciprocated throughout history, particularly recently) but had the misfortune of laying on the faultline between the Germanic and Russian tectonic plates.

Since the fall of the Western Roman empire, these three civilisations (as much as it hurts me as a Pole, I have to drop the Western Slavs out of the equation for the sake of simplicity) were in constant conflict and competition with each other. Take the relations between Great Britain and France as one small example. A lasting alliance between these two countries is only a twentieth century phenomenon, preceded by nine hundred years of intense rivalry from the Norman Invasion to the latter Bourbons.

Seen from the perspective of history, Kojeve's manifesto - as well as many of the recent international events - emerge in a far clearer light. It shocks us to read about the rivalry between the "Anglo-Saxon" and "Latin-Catholic" empires; it might disturb us think about the contemporary French and German "betrayals", but only if we forget that the "Western alliance" is a 45-year historical fluke, without any historical precedent (notwithstanding the Western Roman empire) and without much prospects for a lasting sequel.

If all this seems rather pessimistic and deterministic, it need not. Difference doesn't automatically translate into active rivalry. The march of progress, or to use more value-neutral terms, the recent political, cultural, economic and technological trends and developments certainly lessen both the appetite and the capacity for intra-Western conflicts. It is also debatable to what extent the policy-makers of today (or for that matter those of 1945 or 1845) consciously try to implement the blunt and clear-cut visions of people like Kojeve or Huntington. Ideologies, including the ideology of competing Western civilisations, do play on politicians' minds, at least for some of them and some of the time, but so do pragmatism and opportunism. The road from theory to practice in politics is like a game of "Chinese whispers" - what emerges at the end often bears only remote resemblance to the original intellectual input, despite the best (or the worst) intentions of all concerned.

In the end, to acknowledge that we are not one big happy and united family is not necessarily the same as to expect, much less to wish for, the repeat of the bloody past fifteen centuries. This makes the pan-European experiment of the last sixty years all the more fascinating, and in some ways more hopeful, to watch.

We can debate to what extent General de Gaulle took onboard Kojeve's program, and to what extent he and his successors have succeeded in implementing its planks. We can also debate whether committed cabals of Anglo-Saxon and Latin-Catholic ideologues, safely encased within the bowels of anonymous government buildings in Washington, London and Paris, really do actively plot the clash of Western civilisations. Regardless, however, it is wise to remember today that our common roots in Athens, Rome and Jerusalem don't necessarily make for our common interests in Washington, Brussles or Baghdad.

By choosing to see many Wests instead of the West (at least in the cold hard geo-political sense) we might lose some of the warm certainties that kept us kept us going through the past sixty years, yet we might at the same time gain a clearer, more dispassionate view of the world, and with it greater immunity to anger, frustration and disappointment, which often plague our attempts to make sense of international politics.

(Via Instapundit and the American Thinker, and thanks to the reader Hansome Stan for bringing Monsieur Kojave's work to my attention)


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