Saturday, August 28, 2004

Why we fight 

I don't know too many people involved in politics on the right, who don't have fondness for the classic early to mid 1980s BBC comedy series "Yes Minister" and "Yes Prime Minister." Margaret Thatcher certainly wasn't alone when she said that "its closely observed portrayal of what goes on in the corridors of power has given me hours of pure joy." I'm led to believe that for all the differences between the British Westminster system and the American system of government, the show was also a big hit in Ronald Reagan's Washington. After all, politics and bureaucracy are not all that different the world over.

As I follow the international news nowadays, I'm often reminded of an episode "A Victory for Democracy", where the arch-bureaucrat Sir Humphrey explains the classic four point strategy that the British Foreign Office uses in response to any crisis:
"Stage One: We say that nothing is going to happen.

Stage Two: We say that something may be going to happen, but we should do nothing.

Stage Three: We say that maybe we should do something about it, but there's nothing we can do.

Stage Four: We say that maybe there was something we could have done but it's too late now."
Underneath all the laughter, "Yes Minister" and "Yes Prime Minister" could be quite brutal in its honesty. Sadly, watching the events in Central Africa and the Balkans a decade ago, Iraq before March 2003 and in Darfur today, one is reminded that the four point strategy is not restricted just to political comedy shows, or even the real-life British Foreign Office for that matter, but seems to be avidly followed by most governments and the "international community" generally.

"Doing nothing" is a somewhat unkind and inaccurate description of the processes taking place - after all, politicians, diplomats and bureaucrats do generate a lot of activity while in their "problem-solving" mode, even if that activity largely consists of lots of talk during lots of meetings, and a great deal of first class international travel. While "doing nothing" might more appropriately refer to the ultimate outcomes (lots of dead Tutsis, Bosnians, and Sudanese; defiant Saddam still in power, etc.), I prefer to think of it as a synonym for the reluctance to seriously consider, much less actually use force to solve international problems.

One one level, this reluctance is quite understandable; more violence is not necessarily always the best solution to already existing violence. The decision to go to war is a momentous one, and it should weight heavily on the consciences of those who send young men (and increasingly women) into battle. Last, but certainly not least, there's the very human unwillingness to risk harm to one's own for the sake of helping others, on the other side of the world, in their strange and seemingly irrelevant predicaments.

It was Adam Smith, who more than two centuries ago famously commented on this trait in our character:
"Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connexion with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could before himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own."
This indifference to the fate of others and unwillingness to seriously assist, are as familiar to us today, as they were to Smith when he wrote his "Theory of Moral Sentiments". Most of us, I'm sure, have participated in discussions where faced with a call for action to stop genocide, or famine, or remedy some other natural or man-made calamity, our interlocutors resorted to lines such as "it's not our problem", "it's somebody else's business", or "what have they ever done for us?"

In the late 1930s, British appeasers (or realists, as they would have liked to think of themselves) were fond of saying that Danzig is not worth the life of a single British soldier. Nowadays, sentiment remains the same, only the settings and the participants have changes; Fallujah, and Iraq generally, are not worth the life of a single American (or British, for that matter) soldier, we are told.

The institutionalists agree: after all, war is not the answer; peaceful means should be at all times pursued to solve international problems such as those in Iraq. That way there will be no need for any soldier to lay his life for Fallujah.

The realists agree, too: soldiers' lives should be sacrificed only when the national interest, narrowly construed, demands it. Iraq was not a threat to us and we have no business being there, trying to change the Middle East.

Finally, the isolationists, not caring very much either for the institutionalists or the realists nor for their arguments, nod and repeat the mantra about minding our own business and not trying to solve all the world's problems.

Only the neo-cons, for the lack of a better term, disagree. To the proposition that Fallujah is not worth the life of a single American soldier, they present two answers.

Some, like Marine Major Glen G Butler argue that the American soldiers aren't dying to Fallujah - ultimately they're dying for Des Moines: "No, I would not sacrifice myself, my parents would not sacrifice me, and President Bush would not sacrifice a single marine or soldier simply for Falluja. Rather, that symbolic city is but one step toward a free and democratic Iraq, which is one step closer to a more safe and secure America." In other words, contrary to the realists and the isolationists, it is in America's interest to fight in Iraq, because we're ultimately trying to make sure that the region doesn't pose in the future the same threat to our security and well-being it has posed in the past.

The other - and related - answer is that it takes two to tango: it's not just our decision whether or not Fallujah is worth even one soldier's life. Those who in 1939 thought that Danzig was not worth sacrificing the lives of British "Tommies", were soon enough forced with the necessity of sacrificing them for London and Coventry. It's not that their willingness to send troops in the harm's way has changed - it's that their enemies' hasn't.

The institutionalists in particular, seem to share in a popular and appealing delusion that everyone in the world is quite rational. Since no rational person would ever want war, there's really no excuse for anyone to resort to violence. All we have to do is sit down and talk out our differences. And if that's not possible, then the least we can do is to leave them alone, as surely they will.

This belief in universal rationality is not dangerous because it's always wrong. It's dangerous because it's sometimes wrong, and those sometimes matter a lot. We have to face the fact that once in a while an enemy comes along, whether it's communism, fascism or Islamism, that is not interested in "taking out the differences." The enemy doesn't have limited strategic objectives; he wants to see us dead. And if we don't fight him in Danzig, soon we'll have to fight him over London.

So next time somebody tells you that we should leave the foreigners alone and let them sort their own problems, remember these three simple propositions:

1) sometimes the alternatives to war are even worse.

2) sometimes our interests don't stop at our shoreline.

3) sometimes it's better to fight them in Fallujah.


Friday, August 27, 2004

Najaf realpolitik 

One thing no one can deny the Grand Ayatollah Sistani - he's a smart man. Sistani returns from his surgery in Great Britain just at a time when al Sadr's Mahdi army is facing annihilation in his home town of Najaf, steps in to broker a peace deal between al Sadr and Iraqi government, and in a space of a few hours he demonstrates to everyone who's really in charge in the south. You might recall that Sistani left for London the day after al Sadr restarted his Shia uprising.

A mere coincidence or a clever plan? The upstart al Sadr's radical and largely uncontrollable forces have been significantly degraded over three weeks of fighting, with the dirty work being all done by the "infidel" Americans; al Sadr himself has been humbled and put in place; the provisional Iraqi government is grateful for this respectable way out; and the Shias are ecstatic that peace has finally returned to Najaf.

Surely the Shia establishment in Iraq could not be that Machiavellian?

Update: The question whether Sistani purposefully bloodied al Sadr's nose with the American fist becomes even more interesting when you throw Iran into the equation.

Al Sadr likes to play the chauvinistic Arab card, being an Iraqi-born Shia as opposed to Sistani, who like many other prominent Shia clerics in Iraq actually hails from Iran, yet it's al Sadr who has recently visited Iran, and seems to enjoy the support of the mullahs form Tehran (more here) - despite their denials.

Sistani, for his foreign origins, is said to represent a different strain of Shiism: "The Persian-born ayatollah represents the conservative and mainstream of Iraqi Shias - rejecting the model of Iranian-style theocracy in favour of a separation between religion and politics." (more on Sistani's political views here).

There's certainly no love lost between the two: "In April 2003, just after the fall of the regime, club-wielding members of the Sadr Group besieged Ayatollah Sistani's house, demanding that he leave the country and that he recognise Moqtada Sadr as a marja." Amir Taheri writes that Sistani in turn, has been starting to cause troubles inside Iran:
"By the end of June [2004] Ayatollah Sistani had named representatives in 67 Iranian towns and cities, including the capital Tehran. At the same time a stream of visitors from Iran, including many clerics, are received by the ayatollah in his mud-brick home in downtown Najaf each day. Ayatollah Sistani's Persian-language Web site is attracting more than three millions visitors each month from Iran.

" 'Today, Sistani is probably the most influential Shi'ite [religious] leader in the world,' says Sabah Zangeneh, who was Tehran's ambassador to the Organization of Islamic Conference until last year. 'Many Iranians see in him a revival of the mainstream Shi'ite theology.'

"Many clerics agree. 'It is now clear to most Shi'ites that Khomeinism is a political ideology and a deviation [from the faith],' says Ayatollah Mahmoud Qomi-Tabatabi. 'Those who represent authentic Shi'ism cannot speak out in Iran. This is why the Najaf clergy, especially Sistani, are emerging as a pole of attraction for Iranians'."
It's starting to look like Sistani might have used the American fist not only to bloody al Sadr's nose, but also - indirectly - touch up the Iranian hard-line mullahs. Rafsanjani & Co are claiming the recent events in Najaf as a major victory for Shiism against the United States, but their self-congratulatory orations might just be hiding a much more interesting reality.

Something that bears close watching in the future.


Tricks for treats 

This blog doesn't engage too often in moral pontifications (except on foreign policy matters), but once in a while a story comes along that almost impossible to resist.

It seems that a company called
Brands on Sale, which sells children's Halloween costumes, is now marketing pimp costumes for boys and hooker costumes for girls. Now, I think I've got a reasonably well developed sense of humour, but I have to say that I fail to see anything amusing in dressing up children as sex industry workers.

Johnathon Weeks, who designs the costumes for Brands on Sale, has a lot of things to say in defence, all of them
pretty lame: "[W]e're not telling everyone to buy [the costumes]... [They are for] unique customers." I'd say. To be honest, I'm not sure whether I'm more disturbed that somebody is designing and selling these costumes, or that some supposedly responsible parents would buy them for their children.

Weeks goes on: "If they want, they can purchase a devil costume, or a ghoul or ghost costume - I don't care. But it does not promote prostitution or sexual exploitation. It's just a costume for kids to dress up and pretend." It's not about promoting the behaviour per se; after all, few would argue that children who dress up as devils aspire to demonhood, or more mundanely, those donning prisoner uniforms want to spend the rest of their lives as career criminals behind bars. It's about normalising the undesirable. In the end, it is far easier and lot more straighforward to explain to a child that being a criminal is bad, than doing the same in regards to a pimp or a prostitute. It would require us to enter that next level of "education" about the ways of the world that most of us prefer to leave off for a few more years.

The last of Weeks' excuses is surely the thinnest: "If you think about a real pimp, they're not in flamboyant suits. Kids don't even know what the word pimp means - regarding soliciting women for sex. They think being 'pimp' means having big, fancy cars and homes." Well, dressing them up as pimps can only bring forward that distinctly un-magic moment in their lives when they will learn the awful truth: not only there is no Santa, but pimps, far from being only amusing aficionados of outrageous clothing, are rather unsavoury characters who live off women renting their bodies.

wrote some time ago about the "whorification" of children and teens - the whole Britney Spears-inspired schoolgirls-who-dress-like-strippers-who-dress-like-schoolgirls vicious circle of inspiration. The bottom line is, even my libertarian friends think that there is a difference between a child of, say, 10 and a woman of 25, or 18 for that matter. If the latter thinks that the poll-dancer is the latest hip look to imitate, it's her decision; but children are children, and should remain so as long as possible. They will enter the adult world soon enough, and have plenty of time to savour the good, the bad, and the ugly of it, guided by their character and experience and making decisions of their own free will. But I don't necessarily think there is much benefit in speeding up that process.


The ads that bite 

John Kerry continues to be bogged down in the quagmire of Vietnam, as Swift Boat Vets for Truth release their third ad, focusing on Kerry's now discredited claim about his secret mission to Cambodia on Christmas 1968. While not nearly as powerful as the previous two ads, it will provide yet another blow to Kerry's credibility and reinforce the growing public concern about the candidate's trustworthiness, judgment and relevance.

If the latest opinion polls are anything to go by, the issue is
finally starting to bite:

"For the first time this year in a Times survey, Bush led Kerry in the presidential race, drawing 49% among registered voters, compared with 46% for the Democrat. In a Times poll just before the Democratic convention last month, Kerry held a 2-percentage-point advantage over Bush...

"Although a solid majority of Americans say they believe Kerry served honorably in Vietnam, the poll showed that the attacks on the senator from a group of Vietnam veterans criticizing his performance in combat and his antiwar protests at home have left some marks: Kerry suffered small but consistent erosion compared with July on questions relating to his Vietnam experience, his honesty and his fitness to serve as commander in chief."
Meanwhile, the new USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll shows Bush leading Kerry 50%-47% among likely voters, and Kerry winning over Bush 48%-47% among registered voters. With Ralph Nader thrown into the equation, Bush leads Kerry, 48%-46%, among likely voters. The report comments:

"Bush's favorable rating of 54% was his highest since April. By contrast, Kerry's 52% was his lowest since January. Bush dominated on personal traits such as 'honest and trustworthy' and 'stands up for what he believes in.' But Kerry continued to lead Bush when people were asked who would better handle taxes, education, Medicare and the economy."

"Bush leads Kerry 49%-43% on who would handle Iraq better. Kerry was ahead 48%-47% right after the convention. Bush leads Kerry 54%-37% on who would handle terrorism better. Kerry had risen to 41% after his convention. Bush leads Kerry 54%-34% on who people think is 'a strong and decisive leader.' Kerry had halved that lead to 10 points right after the convention."
The Vets rear their head too:

"The encouraging signs for Bush came as Kerry's Vietnam War record was under attack by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The attacks, though most have not been substantiated, appear to have contributed to the slippage in Kerry's numbers on national security issues...

"At the same time, the poll found that most people, 63%, think Kerry is definitely or probably telling the truth about his military service. Half say Bush is very or somewhat responsible for the ads the group is running, although Bush and his campaign have denied any involvement. And 56% say Bush should denounce the ads."
Yet they still bite.

John Kerry tried to use Vietnam in this election like Harry Potter used his Cloak of Invisibility. The problem is that once you put it on, no one can see "the rest of you." And it seems more likely by the day that this election will not be won in the Mekong Delta, but in a more contemporary and relevant setting.


Thursday, August 26, 2004

We suck in bed 

No pun intended, but that's the results of a latest poll:
"Democrats are better lovers than Republicans, the latest opinion poll has found. The poll, of 900 US singles, found by a two-to-one margin that Democrats are better in bed."
All those years of practicing "make love, not war" are obviously now paying dividends for the Democrats. That, and decades of experience at screwing the taxpayers. Still, I'd rather support the Party of Fighters rather than the Party of Lovers, because in the time of danger I don't want to be surrounded by people whose natural instinct might be to simply bend over.*

The poll also found that "[f]orty-nine per cent of respondents... said President George W. Bush is the best-looking candidate, but 53 per cent of women imagined challenger John Kerry to be the better kisser."

It's truly something that's better left to the imagination. Unless you're a rich widow.

* I apologise to all my Democrat friends who are, as
Ed Koch would say "liberals with sanity" - when I say all these nasty things I mean the "other" Democrats.


"His real band of brothers" 

Finally, we've got an issue that makes even the "Boston Globe" editor's blood boil:

"An angry group of swift boat veterans has vowed to continue airing its odious ads attacking John Kerry's military service even after many of its claims have been discredited."
One gets the impression that what the Globe find truly odious is that many of the vets' claims have indeed been found to be true. In politics you can forgive the potshots that just slide off your armor, but never those which find their mark.

The editorial goes on to defend Kerry's notorious 1971 testimony before Congress about war crimes in Vietnam ("It is hard to imagine that anyone reading the full 30 pages of Kerry's testimony would see anything but a thoughtful, anguished young man trying to come to grips with his experiences in Vietnam and spare other soldiers the same," thus showing the limits of imagination at the highest levels of the respectable printed media), before slipping back into a didactic mode:

"Yet the smear goes on and on. Speaking on CNN Sunday, former presidential candidate Bob Dole, himself a wounded veteran of World War II, said Kerry should apologize for his testimony and questioned whether Kerry actually bled from the wounds for which he received three Purple Hearts. This is inane. It is time to steer the campaign back to the issues voters care about: jobs, health care, education, the war on terror, and the one in Iraq. The voters are ill served by an ugly, distracting campaign fueled by bitter men."
This is all very good advice that sounds like it could have come from the Republicans themselves. If only John Kerry had listen to it all those months ago, when he decided to make his military service the centerpiece of the campaign for the White House. If only the Globe had shared the same advice with the candidate at that time, instead of now, when with the benefit of hindsight the whole "Vietnam thing" is becoming a liability. If only...

And how to better end your angry editorial than with a backslap at the President:

"President Bush has steadfastly refused to call an end to this trash. On Monday Bush issued a broad condemnation of all so-called 527 political groups from both the left and the right that have been exploiting a loophole in campaign finance reform laws with a vengeance this season. This is fine, but the watchdog Federal Election Commission hasn't lifted a paw to do anything about it despite several formal complaints. If Bush is serious about returning this campaign to a reasonably civil plane, he will call on the FEC to close the 527 loophole immediately, and he will call his friends who are bankrolling the swift boat ads and ask them to stop."
How about at least trying to sound bi-partisan and unbiased about your outrage? Nope. Too hard.

As always, no one can say it better than
Mark Steyn:

"The story now is not John Kerry's weird secret-agent fantasies but the media's willingness to act as elite guardians of them. They're his real 'band of brothers,' happy to fish him out of their water, even if their credibility sinks in the process."
Read also Jeff Jacoby's "Some of Kerry's biggest fans are in the press."


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Welcome Missouri 

It's been an aboslute pleasure to appear a few minutes ago on Crane Durham's "Nothing but truth" show on KTRS Radio, St. Louis. A big, warm welcome to new readers from Missouri.


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

No blood for oil... 

...but don't worry, it's somewhere else, where it doesn't matter, because it's Arabs, and not the Americans, killing the blacks.

Welcome to
Sudan. No Halliburton here, so not much interest or outcry from the international community and the usual clique of caring government who are always "concerned" about human right issues wherever and whenever the United States is involved militarily or commercially:

"China, India, Malaysia and some European countries are dramatically expanding business ties with Sudan, taking advantage of U.S. sanctions that bar American companies from operating here, local officials and foreign diplomats say.

"Companies from those countries — some of which are at least partially state-owned — are investing billions of dollars and working closely with the Khartoum government with little concern about its role in recent mass killings in Sudan's Darfur region, Western diplomats say."
And yes, I wasn't joking - there is oil involved:

"While Washington has begged the world -- and pressured the United Nations Security Council -- to send peacekeeping troops to Sudan to quell the sectarian fighting that has put a million refugees at risk, China has already deployed 4,000 troops to Sudan. But those troops are there only to protect China's investment in an oil pipeline. China is concerned that civil unrest could wreck the oil project. It has actually been hostile to U.S. pressure to impose economic sanctions on the Arab government in Khartoum, a key Chinese client, buyer of Chinese arms and partner in oil exploration.

"It was also telling that China was a major opponent at the Security Council of the war against Iraq, in large part because China had obtained prospective contracts with Saddam Hussein for exclusive exploitation of some oil fields. But perhaps the most worrisome prospect for U.S. policymakers is China's burgeoning attempt to secure ties with Saudi Arabia, the world's arbiter of the oil market, taking advantage of the Saudi regime's tensions with Washington since the 9/11 attacks."
Hypocrisies are quite breathtaking.

The charge has been made so frequently against the US so as to become a stock-standard response whenever an American official speaks about spreading freedom and democracy: the United States only uses lofty language to disguise is ruthless drive for world political, military and economic domination. America's critics have been very successful at claiming the moral high ground and the strategy of hijacking the humanitarian terminology has paid off quite well in propaganda dividends - after all, it's not easy to argue against the self-proclaimed defenders of "human rights", "peace", or "international community."

Yet, while America is traditionally presumed guilty of rhetorical abuse, the same sort of scrutiny is rarely applied to other states or international institutional actors. Would it be so, it might all too often emerge that some of the most passionate public defenders of "peace", "cooperation", "international law" and "human rights" use these terms not as a shield to protect the victims of war, oppression and injustice, but a sword to attack the United States and its allies.

There are many genuine humanitarians out there, compassionate albeit occasionally misguided good souls, but they seem to be largely unaware that their ethos has been infiltrated and colonized by others, who play on the world opinion's heartstrings out of cold, hard political calculation. The language might be one of high morality, but the objectives are quite down to earth: either own commercial advancement (see the Sudan example above, where the concern about American "imperialism" is used to deflect attention away from one's own interests elsewhere) or a strategic powerplay to weaken the hegemon and thus improve own relative position in the international scheme of things.

So next time you scan the news, beware of wolves in humanitarian sheep's clothes, and angels of compassion who speak with forked tongues. The "peace-makers" might indeed be blessed and the "meek" could still inherit the earth, but only if we allow ourselves to be bamboozled by their pious rhetoric and allow them to get away with it.


The power of one missing word 

I'm sure they don't do it on purpose:

"US President George W Bush has praised the military record of his election rival, John Kerry, and called a halt to unofficial negative advertising."
The President called for a halt on negative advertising. To write that he "called a halt" implies that negative advertising campaign was under his control and therefore it was in his power to stop it - that is, it implies the truth of the subsequent paragraph in the story:

"Mr Kerry's campaign team has alleged Mr Bush backed ads by Republican-leaning Vietnam veterans which questioned Mr Kerry's record for bravery in the war."
And the Dems go on to show some class in response. Not:

"The Democrats have described Mr Bush's remarks as 'too little, too late'. 'The moment of truth came and went, and the president still couldn't bring himself to do the right thing,' John Edwards, Mr Kerry's running-mate, said."
In the memorable words of Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee:

"I look forward to that debate when John Kerry, a war hero with a chest full of medals, is standing next to George Bush, a man who was AWOL in the Alabama National Guard... George Bush never served in our military in our country. He didn't show up when he should have showed up. And there's John Kerry on the stage with a chest full of medals that he earned by saving the lives of American soldiers. So, as John Kerry says, 'Bring it on!' "
Still waiting for that apology, Terry. If the Republicans are "too little, too late", the Dems take the cake for "still nothing, even later."


Those wacky Republicans and their amazing celebrities 

Now we finally know which celebrities are coming to the Republican convention in New York: country duo Brooks & Dunn, country singer Lee Ann Womack, Latin gospel singer Jaci Velasquez, Christian rock band Third Day, Christian singer Gracie Rosenburger, rock band Dexter Freebish, country singer Darryl Worley, gospel singer Donnie McClurkin, the legendary Wayne Newton, actor Stephen Baldwin, and actress Bo Derek.

Not wanting the begrudge the above their celebrity status, it's probably just as well that the presidential elections aren't decided by the Hollywood electoral college votes. It is also a pointed reminder that for all their inevitable glitz and excitement (at least as far as political junkies are concerned), conventions should never sacrifice substance for the sake of flashy but superficial symbolism.

And just to remind us what the Republicans will be missing by being denied the cream of our entertainment elite,
Janet Jackson is claiming in a forthcoming interview that the Bush Administration had used her breast to distract people from the war in Iraq. The nefarious neo-con conspiracy in the White House must have in this case cleverly manipulated the mainstream media to do their dirty work for them. It just shows you how low the Bush junta will stoop to prevent the American people from keeping abreast of the real issues. Fortunately the distraction proved not to be particularly big, and the Titgage conspiracy was soon nipped in the bud.


Monday, August 23, 2004

The good guy of the week 

This week's award goes to Ed Koch, the mayor of New York from 1978 to 1990:
"Calling himself a 'liberal with sanity,' former mayor Ed Koch - a lifelong Democrat - said he had decided to support President Bush in the 2004 election because of Bush's policy on Iraq.

" 'While I don't agree with Bush on any domestic matters, there's only one matter that's important in this race, and that relates to standing up to international terrorism, taking it on - and George Bush has established that he is willing to do that,' Koch said in an interview broadcast Sunday on WNBC-TV's 'News Forum.'

"Koch said Bush's unwavering opinions contrasted favorably with the 'hypocrisy' of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. Koch said Kerry had wavered on Iraq..."
"Liberal with sanity" - a very nice description that, come to think of it, applies to so many people in the blogsphere - Glenn Reynolds and Dean Esmay spring instantly to mind, but I'm sure you can name another few yourself (hello, Joe Gandelman). These are all people, who like Koch, might not necessarily support some or even all of Bush's domestic policies, but who agree that there is indeed only one issue in this election - the war on terror. I tend to think of myself as a "conservative with sanity" so I don't have the same dilemmas about supporting Bush (morally, as I can't vote), but I warmly welcome to the ranks of the sane all those of other political persuasions who have the political courage to understand that we are at war.


Good news from Afghanistan, Part 3 

Note: Also available at the "Opinion Journal". Kudos and thanks to James Taranto, one of the few in the mainstream media who continue to spread the good news. And, as always, available at Winds of Change, thanks to Joe Katzman.

The former king of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir Shah, has seen it all in his 89 years: after four decades on the throne, a coup that saw his deposed, and another three decades in exile, he is now back in his homeland, living the peaceful life of a private citizen, albeit in the security of a private mansion on the grounds of the presidential palace in Kabul. Asked recently by an interviewer about his country's future, Mohammad Zahir Shah
replied: "I am not a fortune-teller, but I am optimistic."

For the past quarter of a century, one need not have been a fortune teller to expect that Afghanistan's near future would remain grim. A communist coup, followed by the Soviet invasion and occupation, then the civil war between former mudjahedin freedom fighters, and finally the oppressive Taliban theocracy have all drastically reduced the number of optimists in this unlucky corner of Central Asia.

But optimism is back, and since the overthrow of Mullah Omar's regime almost three years ago it has been making a slow but steady comeback. For all the continuing security problems and sporadic fighting with the Taliban and al Qaeda remnants, Afghanistan's resurrection has been an unheralded success story of the recent times. Huge challenges remain, to be sure, but for the first time in a generation there is real hope that the country is finally breaking out of the cycle of violence and succeeding in its first steps on the road to normalcy.

The Afghans know it's happening, but we in the West, looking at Afghanistan through the prism of mainstream media coverage, are far less aware of all the positive developments taking place over there. Here is some good news from the last four weeks that you might have missed while the media, true to their form, continued to focus on the negatives.

SOCIETY: The presidential elections are still some two months away, but the foundations have already been laid down with considerable success: according to initial United Nations reports,
almost 80 per cent, or 7.9 million out of estimated 10 million eligible voters have registered to vote in October's poll. Other reports at the time put the figure as high as 9 million registered voters, but when the voter registration officially closed on Sunday, 15 August, the United Nations realized that a staggering 9.9 million Afghans had registered to vote, of whom almost 42 percent were women. In the words of Manoel de Almeida e Silva, a spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), "This registration process has concluded after a number of problems and what is even more remarkable is the number of Afghans registered in spite of these problems." One of those who have recently registered to vote is Afghanistan's former king.

To assist in the proper running of the election some much needed foreign aid continues to flow in, including an addition
$2 million from Australia (A$2 million has already been provided). "Australia's total assistance to Afghanistan since September 2001 stands at [A]$110 million, making it Australia's third largest humanitarian effort, exceeded only by East Timor and Iraq," said Australia's foreign minister Alexander Downer. The European Union is also providing an extra $10.9 million towards the running of the elections. Some 5,000 polling centers are expected to operate across the country, each consisting of 5 polling stations, making it a total of 25,000 places where the Afghans will be able to cast their vote in October.

There's already
considerable political interest in the presidential poll:
"Three of the political parties, the Afghanistan National Unity, the Afghanistan National Welfare and the National Ideal of the People of Afghanistan officially began their activities on Saturday August 17 after registering with the Afghan judiciary.

"The latest reports released by Afghanistan's Justice Ministry indicate that so far 61 parties have asked for permission to campaign for the nation's top job and 31 parties have obtained permission to participate in the elections.

"According to Afghanistan's laws on parties, one of the main conditions for establishing a party is to dissolve military sections; therefore, it seems that Afghanistan's active political parties have done an about-face in their policy by accepting this law."
The Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body has recently announced the names of 18 eligible candidates for the presidential election. "Of the 23 candidates who filed their nomination papers prior to the 26 July deadline, three were rejected for failure to comply with the nomination procedures and two others later withdrew."

Not surprisingly, it's those who have suffered the most in the past who feel most passionately about the need for democracy. Take, for instance, the
Panjshir valley, which used to be the hotbed of anti-Taliban resistance and where the voter registration figures now are twice what the UN has originally expected. As the poll draws near, the enthusiasm is palatable:
"Like virtually every adult in this Panjshir Valley village, Rahmal Beg registered to vote weeks ago. Indeed, popular enthusiasm is so high for the Oct. 9 presidential election -- the first in Afghan history -- that thousands of people in the valley have reportedly registered twice.

" 'Everyone wants to vote,' the 75-year-old farmer said proudly. 'The radio, the mullahs and the district officials have all promoted the election. This is our chance to choose a leader who is patriotic and Islamic. Our valley was the center of resistance against the Russians and the Taliban. Now we want to become the center of democracy'."
The feelings are similar among the minority Hazaras who have also strongly opposed the Taliban takeover in the 1990s and as a consequence suffered thousands of their own people killed by Mullah Omar's not-so-holy warriors:
"There is one main reason Sher Aga will not allow the Taliban to scuttle his chance to vote in the October presidential election. Aga... recalled how agents of the former regime fatally shot his friends in this provincial capital's bazaar.

" 'They really exploited us,' he said at a teashop in the market. 'They killed a lot of our youth, burned our houses, destroyed the Buddhas and even released sheep and cattle into our fields to destroy our crops. Now it's a good opportunity for us to elect someone to serve the country... I have a voter card, so now I have the power...'

"Aga's comments are typical of the ethnic Hazara minority who live in the central Afghan province of Bamian. Armed with a new constitution that guarantees equal rights to minority groups, Hazaras are engaged in an intense campaign to grasp some power and lift themselves from the bottom of Afghan society."
There's more about the Hazaras in this current profile of their province:
"It is an idyllic image of what the rest of Afghanistan could be: University students play volleyball against the backdrop of the destroyed Bamyan Buddhas, while groups of chattering young girls walk to school through fields of wheat. Taliban fighters are hiding in caves just 60 kilometres to the south, launching attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces, election workers and the aid community, but the central province of Bamyan has become the safest, most egalitarian place in Afghanistan."
Unlike in some conservative tribal areas of Afghanistan, women were actively encouraged to enroll to vote by the local Hazara religious and community leaders, and they have done so in numbers equal to their men. Speaking of Hazaras, the famous ancient Buddha statues, whose destruction by the Taliban had generated so much anger across the world a few years ago, might soon be raised from the ashes, or in this case, rubble:
"[T]he fate of the Buddhas may lie with a veteran Bavarian art restorer with a walrus moustache who has spent a lifetime in German castles and cathedrals. Edmund Melzl has been sent out by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) for the summer to sort through the rubble piles to evaluate whether they contain the raw material to rebuild... 'Yes, we think it is possible to recreate the Buddhas,' he said. 'In restoration terms, this is the biggest challenge imaginable. Really good restorers could do it. A giant scaffold is needed, and a lot of money. It could take years. We could train local people so Afghans would do most of the work'."
Not a minority like the Hazaras, the Afghan women, too, continue to enjoy their new-found freedoms. Both Afghanistan and Iraq have for the first time sent official delegations to the Global Summit of Women, held this year in South Korea. "I can't compare before with now," says Soraya Rahim, deputy minister of the Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs, who heads the nine-person delegation. Indicative of the huge social changes that have taken place in the post-Taliban Afghanistan, Masooda Jalal, a female doctor from the Tajik ethnic minority, is contesting the presidential elections. It's not just politics, as dangerous as they can be; after the hiatus of the fundamentalist rule women are also rejoining the security forces:
"Nahid, 18, from Kushhal Kan in the western part of Kabul, leaned against the wall as she watched hundreds of young male recruits, march in formation in a graduation rehearsal at Afghanistan's only police academy.

"Her decision to become a police officer had caused a family row, she said. Her uncle cut off all relations with her parents, who supported her decision to enter the academy. But despite such challenges, women are once again joining the ranks of the police in Afghanistan."
And in their more traditional roles, yet still undreamed of under the Taliban, two Afghan women give birth to test tube babies at the Australian Concept Infertility Medical Centre in Karachi, Pakistan.

As the situation in Afghanistan slowly returns to normal,
refugees continue to flow back to their homeland: more than half a million have returned from Iran and Pakistan so far this year, bringing the total to 3 million out of the estimated 4.5 million who have left Afghanistan over the last quarter of a century of war and dictatorship. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is providing an extra 20,500 housing units for the returnees. So far, "[a]s part of an initial reintegration effort to help vulnerable returnees, UNHCR, in collaboration with the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MRR), provided some 100,000 rural shelter units as new homes that have benefited more than half a million Afghans in the past two years." You can read how this assistance is helping to rebuild houses in Kabul.

In entertainment news, "Earth and Ashes", a film by Paris-based Afghan director Atiq Rahimi, shared the
Best Picture prize with a Taiwanese entry at the sixth Osian Cinefan film festival. Back in Kabul, French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres has officially reopened the capital's famous 600-seat Arian cinema, which was destroyed during the civil war in the 1990s. The cinema was rebuild with donations from the French film industry. And Afghanistan now has its first entertainment television channel:
"Using a mobile antenna positioned on a hill overlooking the capital, the broadcast range of 'Afghan TV' station only covers Kabul city, but its owner, Ahmad Shah Afghanzai, hopes to widen its range across the country in a year's time. 'Within a year we hope to be watched all over the country through a satellite station,' he told Reuters. Afghanzai, a 34-year-old businessman, has invested $200,000 in the nascent private operation, and needs nearly $3 million to expand it to cover the whole of the country."
Mullah Omar must be turning in his cave. Another new station, Ayna TV (Mirror TV), which is broadcasting to northern Afghanistan, is also up and running.

And in sports news, Friba Razayee and Robina Muqim Yaar are the
first Afghan women to compete in the Olympics (in Judo and sprint, respectively): "When asked about her chances of winning an Olympic medal in Judo, Friba Razayee smiles and giggles that she's just happy to be able to compete at the games. 'I am really happy, winning or losing is not important for us, because we are the first women,' she says. 'The Olympic Games are important to us, we are all Olympians and it is important to us to participate and we are not here just for a medal'." Afghanistan was banned from competing in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, partly because the then Taliban government did not allow female athletes to participate.

The sprinter
Robina Muqim Yaar recently had this to say about the day she stopped wearing her burqa: "It was liberating, marvelous. I was very happy. The burka was not me, it was forced on many people by others." Her Olympic message back home is simple, yet powerful: "I am here to give hope to the women of my country. They can look forward to the future. Sports like athletics cost nothing to do. I would like to see many more Afghan women competing in sport."

It's an example that others are already following. On the somewhat more junior level,
eight girls with four months of soccer experience behind them are the first team from Afghanistan to participate in the International Children's Games, held this year in Cleveland, Ohio: "They're part of the Afghan Youth Sports Exchange, which brings Afghan girls to the USA for a six-week sports leadership camp. When program organizer Awista Ayub, a 24-year-old Afghan-American, learned about the Games, she realized it would be a great event for her girls to work toward." The rest, as they say is history; or in this case, history in the making. The team in now being couched by the local Cleveland soccer legend, Iranian immigrant Ali Kazemaini and President Bush has already met with the girls.

Not just the two female members but the whole
Afghan Olympic team is making history, even without getting onto the podium:
"For Afghanistan's athletes, gold medals are a distant dream. For them, the Athens Olympics merely represent ground zero after years left out in the cold. For the five Afghan athletes bravely carrying the flag for their war-torn nation, Olympic glory will be measured simply by the fact they were able to take part at all.

Afghanistan Olympic officials have long-term plans. 'All of Afghanistan is proud of what the athletes are doing in Athens,' Sayed Mahmood Ziadashti, vice-president of the Afghan Olympic Committee, told Reuters on Sunday. 'This is a very important step for Afghan sport and will encourage the youth and younger generations so we can build for the future'."
More here about the tough journey of the Afghan team from their war-torn country to the Olympic stadiums: "The road to Athens is tough for any athlete, but for some it is lined with land mines. For those representing war-torn countries, training can mean risking bombs and bullets to reach the stadium, and making do without the barest essentials of equipment and coaching... But many say the adversity they face has strengthened their resolve to push themselves to the limit." Let's hope that win, lose or draw, the Afghan Olympic squad with their determination, tenacity and hard work will provide some much needed inspiration and role models for their compatriots.

And finally, a
moral victory in the war on the local scourge of drug cultivation, after Afghanistan's religious leaders declare any involvement in drug industry out of bounds: "Afghanistan's Council of Ulemas earlier this month issued a fatwa, or religious decree, saying the cultivation, processing trafficking and consumption of drugs must be prevented... opium poppy cultivation, even if it is not consumed by Muslims or if it is done out of poverty, is illegal." This coincides with signs of increased efforts to combat drug cultivation: "US-led coalition forces are preparing a coordinated effort to attack the narcotics trade in Afghanistan, recognizing that drug income could be used to fund insurgents and terrorists in the country."

Lt. Col. Scott Normandeau, of Manchester, New Hampshire, commander of the 157th Communications Flight for the Air National Guard: "There is a huge reconstruction effort going on... I came back here [to the United States] and was surprised at what I heard on the news." Having been following the media coverage of Afghanistan I can sympathize with Lt. Col. Normandeau. "I don't think people realize, this isn't a country at war," he continues. "It is a country that is in the process of recovering." Normandeau provides a good picture of how the reconstruction is taking place every day, out of the eye of news camera:
"The city is divided into reconstruction zones, whose first effort is to establish security. After that, people like Normandeau go from zone to zone, having tea with the governors and finding out what they need. Schools top the list, but after almost a quarter of a century trying to defend itself against invaders and the Taliban, they need everything.

"So Normandeau and others act as liaisons between the provinces and the workers who are being taught basic skills such as plumbing techniques and reinforcing concrete. 'The engineering unit there isn't just doing the building for them, they are teaching them how to do it themselves,' Normandeau said. 'The Afghanis are learning a trade.'

"Because the last two decades have been spent waging war, there hasn't been much time to create infrastructure, let alone build anything, Normandeau says. 'We are helping them rebuild and providing the security so they can do that,' he said. 'But we are just a part of it. Most of the security is provided by the Afghanis. And we are just one of 68 nations. There are Germans, Poles, Italians'...

"Normandeau's area of expertise is telecommunications. In that role, he worked with the nationals to design systems, obtain equipment, build new telecommunication centers. The 'first generation' of communication will be cell phones, he said, which will replace the switchboards and radios in use now. After that - in five to 10 years - fiber-optic cables will be laid."
On the other side of the world, University of California-Berkeley recently hosted about 100 businesspeople, professors and government officials at the International Conference for the Rehabilitation and Development of Infrastructures in Afghanistan. The conference was organized by the Society of Afghan Engineers, a global group of about 500 members, which has a large local branch in the Bay Area:
"Invited to the conference were prominent guests including Afghanistan's deputy ministers of education, water and power, housing, irrigation, and education; leading scholars, such as Bernard Amadei, professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado and head of the U.S. branch of Engineers Without Borders; and Afghan-American activists Rona Popal of Fremont and Humaira Ghilzai of San Francisco, both of whom simply want to understand what's going on in their homeland and see what they can do to help.

"The academic setting provided an opportunity for Said Mirzada, 29, a Newark computer engineer who plans to return to Afghanistan in about two years. Mirzada wanted to meet with big names in the field such as Hunter Lovins, president of Natural Capitalism in Colorado, who spoke about how Afghan engineers have an opportunity to develop their homeland 'right the first time' by using eco-friendly infrastructure. 'My dream is to rebuild Afghanistan and get it stabilized,' Mirzada said."
Back on the ground, the World Bank has announced a grant of $456 million, half of nearly $900 million already pledged to Afghanistan, which will be released by June next year. The Bank has also approved a $145 million package of extra assistance: "$35 million in grant funding for education, a $25 million credit for urban reconstruction, a $80 million credit to support the Afghan government's medium-term development strategy, and a $5 million in seed money for a private investment guarantee initiative."

In transport news,
Russian Railways (RZD) will be constructing a railway network which will link major Afghan cities and extend to Iran and Pakistan. Meanwhile, Pakistani Minister for Railways, Ghous Bukhsh Mehar, has announced that his government is considering the construction of the Pakistan-Afghanistan rail link to slash the high transport costs between the two countries and open Afghanistan to the international markets. "To accomplish the objective, both Islamabad and Kabul had already agreed to lay down railway track of about 103 Km between Chaman and Kandhar", said the Minister.

Pakistan is also donating
200 trucks and 100 buses to help in the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Manila-based Asian Development Bank is funding the development of a master plan to "identify the main road systems required to link major markets, production centers and development opportunities in Afghanistan" as well as linkages between Afghanistan and its neighbors. Earlier this year, the Asian Development Bank has already pledged $1 billion in loans and grants to Afghanistan between 2005 and 2008.

And in the private sector, some quite unexpected business concepts prove to be
quite successful: "Afghanistan's first fashion brand -- 'Tarsian & Blinkley' -- is selling fast in New York and various other cities around the world. It is a product of a company a 30-year-old female fashion designer has created with the local non governmental organization 'Morning Star.'
" 'Morning Star''s office in the Taimai residential area in the heart of Kabul is always crowded with Afghan women, mostly those who lost their husbands to war, trying to meet the designer, Sarah Takesh, to sell their embroidered products..."
HUMANITARIAN AID: The Coalition forces, in addition to their vital security role, continue to assist in reconstruction. Some of their tasks are unlike any faced in previous deployments: for example, getting more girls to schools:
"Coalition officials are working with village elders in Aibat Khile to improve the learning environment for the girls who are starting to go back to school. The groundbreaking ceremony for Aibat Khile Girls School was held July 15. 'As the number of children in the village grows, so does the number of students,' said Gen. Maulano, a local mujahedeen commander. 'There will be 600 girls attending Aibat Khile Girls School when the construction is done'."
The Coalition governments are also providing valuable assistance, which in some cases can take quite a high-tech form:
"The Bush administration is sending talking, electronic books to Afghanistan to give women basic lessons about public health. The concept is based on LeapPad, a top-selling line of electronic books that help children learn to read...

"The books have a small wand that can be used to touch images of everyday life in Afghanistan that are then described in Dari or Pashto, the country's two principal languages. One scene describes how to make water safe to drink, another how to give basic care to an infant. Health clinics initially will distribute 20,000 books to Afghan women."
Other health assistance is more straight-forward: "Japanese surgeons successfully removed a bullet from a 13-year-old Afghan girl's head, eight years after she was caught in crossfire in her war-torn homeland. Fatema Safar was hit by a stray bullet during fighting when she was five years old. The bullet, embedded near the top of her nose, caused her chronic headaches. Safar was brought to Japan by a Tokyo-based aid group last month for treatment." You can also read this story about one humanitarian "over-stayer" in Afghanistan: "When Army Col. (Dr.) Richard Gonzales arrived in Afghanistan, his mission was to serve 90 days before he could return to his family and private practice in Puerto Rico. Now, six months later, his private practice is sold and he has signed on for an entire year." Col. Gonzales will be teaching modern orthopedic techniques to Afghan surgeons.

Civilians, too, are active in humanitarian work on the ground in Afghanistan. These are people like
Cindy and Zack Taylor (Zack is a gastroenterologist in Germantown), who have taken medical teams with them into Afghanistan on six occasions so far. The genesis of their effort lies on September 11, when Cindy Taylor was onboard one of the planes which were diverted to Canada when the terrorists struck. "We began to ask ourselves what we could do to help," says Cindy.

Agriculture still remains Afghanistan's major industry, and so in that area, too, some major assistance programs are currently under way. A native of Fairfield, Iowa,
Randy Frescoln, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development business and cooperative program director, is going to Afghanistan on a six-month assignment to help increase agricultural growth and rural incomes. Meanwhile, Canada's Drew Gilmour is "trying to marry business and aid by forming Development Works Canada with two silent partners" in a $4 million aid project to build a sustainable business for Afghan farmers. Says Gilmour: "Smart development doesn't have to be charity. Emergency relief is absolutely necessary, but if a country is going to recover, it has to have opportunities. Long-term recovery can only happen through economic investment and job creation." Hence, Gilmour's new project: a vegetable dehydration facility.
"Dehydration is labour-intensive and increasingly popular, two reasons that attracted Mr. Gilmour to it. In addition, the climate of Afghanistan allows many things to grow well. 'Afghanistan is an agricultural greenbelt. The quality of goods you can get there is amazing,' says Mr. Gilmour. 't's sandy, but things can grow in that environment. They have wonderful soil that has not been contaminated (by pesticides or chemicals).'

"The company has already sold its dehydrated vegetables to Dutch, German, British and French customers. With produce coming from 1,200 farms, the new venture employs 5,000 people. A top-of-the-line dehydration factory is under construction and will open in December, employing another 125 people. A second factory is being considered."
Another of Gilmour's projects: producing sun-died tomatoes, with four hundred farms led by women participating in the project.

It's not just the Coalition governments which are providing funds and support to aid in Afghanistan's reconstruction: the government of
New Zealand, for example, is spending an additional NZ$5 million on education, agriculture and governance programs, targeted specifically at the southeast province of Bamiyan, which is the base of the operation for a New Zealand provincial reconstruction team.

Private businesses are also contributing to the reconstruction: "All thanks to the efforts of a construction company owner from Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, a badly needed schoolhouse is rising from the rubble in a small village in the east of war-ravaged Afghanistan. Mitsuhiro Kanemoto, 61, has donated the majority of the funds for the project with money he raised to help the children of Qara-i-wazir, about 10 kilometers south of Kabul."

Japanese students, too, lend a helping hand: students form Tsuruma Elementary School in Tokyo's Machida, for example, have all donated their old school bags after the graduation. "Artificial-leather manufacturer Kuraray, Co. and JOICPF [Japanese Organization for International Cooperation in Family Planning] teamed up in February to collect and deliver the bags, along with stationery and other utensils. Contributions came from around the nation. Of about 10,000 bags donated so far, 2,200 were shipped from Yokohama in May to the mountainous Nangarhar province of eastern Afghanistan. JOICFP has asked an Afghan group to distribute the bags to schools."

SECURITY SITUATION: The fight against the Taliban remnants continues: in recent fighting in the
Khost province along the Pakistani border, the US forces have killed 50 Taliban fighters. In another recent success, "Afghan forces acting on a tip captured four regional Taliban commanders and killed six other militants in two separate weekend raids in southern Afghanistan." And in eastern Afghanistan, a Taliban commander has been killed during an unsuccessful ambush against a Coalition convoy.

Some successes in border control, too, as Pakistani Frontier Corps
arrest 13 suspected terrorists near the border between the two countries, also seizing a "huge quantity of arms and ammunition" that the arrested men were attempting to smuggle into Pakistan.

After two and a half years out of power and under constant military pressure, a
split has developed in the Taliban ranks, resulting in the formation of a breakaway faction. Claiming the loyalty of about one third of fighters, the new faction is led by Sabir Momin, the Taliban's deputy operations commander in southern Afghanistan. According to Momin, "the Taleban militia was beset by internal differences and suffered serious losses due to poor leadership." May they continue.

As the new Afghan security forces are slowly building up and gaining strength, there is more foreign military assistance with
Eurocorp, the European security force, arriving on the Afghan scene. In the force's first deployment outside Europe in its 12 year history, Eurocorp has now taken control over the 7,000-strong peacekeeping contingent in Afghanistan: "Eurocorps is made up of detachments from five European Union countries - Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Spain. Created in 1992 by France and Germany, it was later put at the service of the European Union and is certified as a NATO rapid reaction force... Ultimately some 350 Eurocorps troops will be deployed to Kabul. While the peacekeepers patrol Kabul and parts of northern Afghanistan, another 20,000-strong coalition of troops under the United States' leadership is hunting militants in the southern and eastern parts of the country."

There is a strong cooperation between the foreign troops and the new Afghan security forces: the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, for example, has been
airlifting Afghani army units to trouble spots around the country. Other contributions are smaller in scale, but just as valuable: "Cisko the sniffer dog is worth more than a new Corvette sports car, but his ability to intercept explosives is priceless."

While armed forces work to guarantee a more peaceful tomorrow for the country, international organizations are working to deal with the
legacy of Afghanistan's bloody past:
"Ahmed has had to grow up fast. Aged 12, he found the bodies of his parents amid the rubble of their home bombed by Taliban aircraft four years ago. By then he was already a fighter in Afghanistan's resistance forces, and ever since has been providing for two younger sisters.

"With shaved head and troubled, darting eyes, the thin 16-year-old seems to have lost his childhood, although he loves to play soccer when he can. Like thousands of other child soldiers in Afghanistan being prepared for civilian life under a programme sponsored by the U.N. children's charity UNICEF, he is looking forward to a less turbulent future.

" 'I want to be a blacksmith,' he said, after enrolling in the scheme in a village on the old frontline between the Taliban and Northern Alliance forces north of Kabul."
According Yousaf Ghaznavi, programme supervisor and UNICEF's local partner, between 2,000 and 2,500 former child soldiers (out of the total of around 8,000) have enrolled in the scheme since February. You can read more about this valuable program here.

No one is pretending that Afghanistan doesn't have a long way to go yet - it is, after all, starting almost from zero. But thanks to the Coalition military action that overthrew the Taliban regime almost three years ago, and with the continuing assistance from governments, organizations and individuals around the world, the Afghans are finally allowed to be optimists again. For a country that has suffered so much, it's a good start.


Sunday, August 22, 2004

More confusing polls 

Some interesting polls out in the United States on the war in Iraq.

Earlier in the week I referred to a recent Associated Press poll suggesting that the majority of Americans now think that the decision to go to war was a mistake. But according to another new poll, this time from CBS, 49% of Americans believe that the US did the right thing by taking action in Iraq - up by 4% since July, while 44% believe that the US should have stayed out - down by 3% since the previous month.

A more in-depth research on public attitudes has been conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland. The PIPA notes a decrease in support for war (putting it more in line with the Associated Press poll). More intriguingly, however, most Americans seem to be hearing different things to what the White House is actually saying.

For example, 60% of the polled believe that the Administration is currently saying that Iraq had actual weapons of mass destruction before the war, and according to a further 20%, that Iraq has no actual weapons but major programs to develop them. 43% believe that the Administration is currently saying that Iraq gave major assistance to al Qaeda and according to a further 27%, that Iraq was involved in September 11.

The pollsters are mystified, as these misinterpretations of the Bush Administration's pronouncements tend to cut across political lines and are reasonably consistent among both the well informed and the less well informed sections of the population. Are people hearing what they want to hear, or are they not listening at all? the pollsters ask. The most obvious answer, of course, is that people get their news through the filter of the mainstream media. How then can we blame them for misunderstanding the Administration's positions?

But what do Americans believe themselves as opposed to believing what the Administration is saying? 35% say that Iraq gave substantial support to al Qaeda and a further 15% that Iraq was involved in S11. 35% say that Iraq had WMDs and 19% say that at the very least had major programs to develop them.

Yet - 69% now believe that Bush's decision to go to war was based on wrong assumptions. This is a curious result - people who don't think that Iraq had WMDs and wasn't connected to al Qaeda (less than half of the polled in each case) would obviously think that the decision to go to war in Iraq was based on the wrong assumptions (weapons of mass destruction and terrorism being the most prominent justifications for going to war). But where does that leave the other 20% or so within the 69% who based on the other results believe in WMDs and the terrorist link, yet still think that Bush went to war on based on wrong assumptions? There's just no way to please everyone.

The wonders of public opinion never cease.


Sports ingratitude 

No, I'm not happy that Australia lost the quarterfinals soccer (football) match at the Olympics.

But at least I'm happy that if we had to lose, we lost to Iraq.

In the words of the Qatar-based midfielder Emad Mohammed responsible for the 1:0 victory: "People where I live (in Iraq) have suffered so much... It's very confusing for us and hard to keep our minds on the game. But we hope we can give a little happiness to our country."

I'm sure that's the case. As guys at Iraq the Model write, "Right now there is lots of shooting into the air (I don't like it but at least Iraqis are happy and it's better to waste bullets this way)."

I guess that's how they repay you - you liberate them one day, the next day they beat you at the Olympics.

Well done Iraq!


Around the world in 40 blogs - the mega edition 

In Australia, but temporarily in the US, Tim Blair continues to drive from California to New York for the Republican convention. Along the way he stops at a motel in Albuquerque.

Gnu Hunter writes about Australia's partisan press.

The Currency Lad has another wide-ranging post about history, the North Korean threat, the mad mullahs of Tehran and what the politicians are doing about it all.

The fellow blogger Alan Anderson is following the trend into the mainstream media, with an opinion piece in the Melbourne "Age." Well done.

And Yobbo muses on aging air hostesses who are suing to work for the youthful Virgin airlines.

In the United States, Powerline writes on the Dem's 527 hypocrisy.

And Captain's Quarters has few question to ask John Kerry at his next press conference.

Blackfive knows one thing about military leadership - leaders don't sell their troops out. By the way, Blackfive, welcome to suburbia. It's not that bad, trust me.

Daniel Drezner has been persuaded enough to reduce his probability of voting for Bush down to 0.4. Find out way. Dan also argues with Patrick Belton from OxBlog whether the American people are Wilsonian in their foreign policy inclinations.

Dean Esmay's probability of voting for Bush is, I would guess, higher than 0.4: Dean can smell fear in the Kerry campaign.

Lots of goodies at Winds of Change, including new editions of Hate Watch and Winds of Discovery.

Clayton Cramer fisks some "growing income gap" scare figures.

IowaHawk has some Olympic stories you won't read anywhere else.

In the aftermath of the Governor McGreevey resignation, The Bad Hair Blog agitates against corruption in New Jersey.

Brainshavings alnalyses John Kerry's anti-Swift Boat Veterans for Truth statement.

And Patterico writes about the "Washington Post" and the Vets.

The Moderate Voice has some insider's thoughts on media and bias.

Marty Dee writes on why teachers love John Kerry.

Freedom's Truth fisks the polling on Americans' attitudes to war in Iraq.

Solomonia considers pros and cons of US troop withdrawals from Europe.

Athena from Terrorism Unveiled will soon be blogging live from Jordan. Make sure to check her out.

Fine? Why Fine? engages in people-watching at the Pakistani Independence Day celebrations in New York.

Pacetown is playing with Wordcount. I bet you always wanted to know which is more popular: love or sex. Now you'll know.

Fringeblog presents another Carnival of the Vanities.

And for something totally different - The Beacon - in addition to being a solid right-winger, is also a co-owner of a sports photography marketing firm - and some of the Olympic photos in his stable have made it to some high places. Check out his blog generally for some very nice shots.

Meanwhile, TigerHawk muses on which side is winning the Olympics.

And from Canada, Damian Penny has more thoughts on boycotting Bruce Springsteen.

In Europe, David Adesnik at OxBlog tries to get to the bottom of the controversy whether John Kerry does have a clear position on Iraq.

The Czech Republic's ever dependable Tomas Kohl, inspired by yours truly's "Good news from Iraq" has started publishing "Bad News from Europe" - here's part 1 and part 2 so far. Highly recommended, particularly if you need some European madness fix while waiting for my next installment of "All in the same EU-Boat."

Another one of our good Euro friends, Barcepundit, has been asked to join the esteemed Command Post team. Here's his first post for his new outlet.

And Michael at DownEastBlog writes about the new faces of the European Commission.

In Asia, John Kennett reports from South Korea that John Kerry is not the only politician whose past is coming back to haunt him.

Simon World has another monster round-up of what Asian blogs are writing about - well worth checking out.

In the Middle East, Ali at Iraq the Model reports on democracy in progress: "What happened yesterday was a serious blow to terrorists and fanatics and their supporters. It’s a clear message that says, 'Do your best. It won’t stop us'." The guys at the Model are also celebrating one million visits to their blog. It's all richly deserved - you're doing a fantastic job.

Zeyad at Healing Iraq, too, has commentary on the birth of Iraq's provisional parliament.

Israellycool writes about blog concepts. Ever heard of Premature Blogulation or Blog Standoff? No? Then read on. Also check out the return of the peace tool.

In Africa, Ethiopundit comments on the curious mix of Marxism and crony capitalism that is running down Ethiopia's economy.

Last but not least, Part I: please also welcome a "new kid on the blog", Right Makes Right.

Last but not least, Part II: check out the output of Homespun Bloggers, the ever growing merry bunch of those of us who, unlike the big guns, do it for fun not money. With Tom of MuD & PHuD on holidays, I've been the guest compiler of the weekly "Best of..." round-up of the Homespunners. Check it out on Monday, and let Tom know if you would like to join in and increase your exposure.


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