Thursday, April 27, 2006

Happy belated Earth Day!

Here is your gift, Mother Earth. Bush has called for the Environmental Protection Agency to waive gasoling clean-burning regulations for the summer driving season. This would lower gas prices, as dirty-burning gas is cheaper to produce. Of course, cars would pollute more; as if the air in the summer doesn't get bad enough.

I have a better idea. How about people just don't drive as much this summer? Or maybe take public transit? Or ride bikes? How about we keep jacking up gas prices so we can stimulate alternative energy research? Temporarily keeping gas prices low only delays the inevitable.

Zarqawi resurfaces.

The criminal has released a new tape, on which he vows to bring down the new Iraqi government. This government, however, is far different than the previous government led by Allawi. That government was appointed by Americans, and was condemned and attacked by Zarqawi as a collaborationist farce. Which was more or less true.

The new Iraqi government is based on an Iraqi-authored constitution. Its members were elected directly by the Iraqis. This government represents the Iraqis; Zarqawi's vow in essence is to bring down the will of the people. The Iraqis, if nothing else, have shown that they don't take very kindly to foreigners telling them their business. Look how they have responded to the American occupation. Zarqawi will be seen no differently - if not far worse. Additionally, Zarqawi has been killing family members of leading Sunni Arab politicians.

I would posit that assassinating relatives of influential Sunnis is probably the worst way to stay alive in Iraq.

Monday, April 24, 2006

No good news

Sometimes one feels like the world is on a downward spiral. I'm usually pretty optimistic, but not right now. Here are some reasons why I'm feeling pessimistic.

Israel/Palestine: A suicide bomber attacks Israel; Hamas refuses to condemn the attack. It also refuses to try to stop more bombers from striking. It refuses to change its charter, and so is on the brink of financial collapse as aid money is held by the West. Naturally, Bin Laden is using the West's economic warfare as a rallying cry.

Iraq: Sectarian bombings continue to kill scores of people. The spineless George Bush refuses to fire Rumsfeld, who is more than anyone responsible for the mess in Iraq. This President's incompetence is worthy of impeachment. I really hope the Dems take congress in 2006 so they can oust this pathetic weakling of a President. One tidbit of good news from Iraq, though. The political deadlock is over, and Prime Minister Jafaari has been replaced by Jawad al-Maliki. Whether this makes any difference remains to be seen.

Sudan: Bin Laden has called on holy warriors to attack any UN peacekeepers that set foot in Sudan. Already 200,000 civilians dead and 1 million displaced in the worst genocide since Rwanda. The UN will do nothing to stop this; certainly not in the face of Islamic terrorists. And people around the world will continue to rationalize our inaction with silence. You can almost hear them thinking, "we shouldn't be meddling in Arab countries." Bin Laden must be proud.

Iran: More belligerence, more enrichment, more anti-Israel rhetoric. It never gets old, does it? As much as I'd like to see it done, the US absolutely should not bomb Iran unilaterally. And yet, there is this really unsettling feeling in my stomach that our retarded cowboy-president has already decided to do just that. Maybe he thinks "bold" action will bring up his poll ratings. I could mention that I might support UN-sanctioned airstrikes on Iran. But lets be serious. The UN could never pass such a resolution; not with China, Russia, and France sitting on the security council.

World Economy: A worldwide economic collapse may be imminent (within 5 years) as oil prices continue to rise. Iran could make this happen a lot faster, if it was so inclined. I get the feeling that they will be soon.

I'll post good news if I can find it.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Put your money where your mouth is!

The West (US, EU, Israel) has suspended its almost 1 billion/year of aid to the PA, and Hamas is going broke. Hamas doesn't seem to care; it says it won't sacrifice its claims for a "handful of American dollars". The party is calling on Arab states to honor their promise to provide aid money; to replace the money that the West is no longer giving. Iran has promised a meager 50 million. And Saudi Arabia, the most oil-rich nation on earth, has promised only 20 million.

Hmm...all of Hamas' "friends" aren't willing to financially match a handful of American dollars? I begin to wonder whether these governments (Iran, Saudi Arabia) really care about the Palestinians, as they endlessly claim. They'll certainly have to do a lot better, if they are to avert a Hamas financial collapse.

The other Palestinian political party, Fatah, is loving the pressure that Hamas is facing. Fatah still refuses to form a coalition government with Hamas, since Hamas doesn't acknowledge all of the agreements that Fatah and Israel have made over the years. Fatah knows that under Hamas, the peace process will go absolutely nowhere - it doesn't want to be a part of failure.

The West should continue isolating Hamas, economically and politically. There should be no dialogue until Hamas 1) recognizes Israel, and 2) renounces violence. All of this drama, for two simple requests. You wouldn't think it is too much to ask.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Updates, and Libya

****Update for my Update****

Turns out, the censored segment that I linked below is a fake. A minor point. It also turns out that the Execs at Comedy Central censored the episode not out of tolerance, but out of fear. Pathetic.


Here is a clip of the relevant parts of the censored South Park episode. Kyle ends up giving a long speech about why the network president should not censor the cartoon. Watch it, its not long. And then here is the tiny segment that was censored.

Meanwhile, Aljazeera reports that Libya is being kept on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Really. Libya's government still may be questionable, but it is dramatically improving and is more than deserving of a few carrots. Following 9/11, Qaddafi "made one of the first, and firmest, denunciations of the Al-Qaida bombers by any Muslim leader" (Wikipedia). He has pledged to fight Al Qaeda. Most significantly, Qaddafi came clean with the West regarding Libya's WMD program. He agreed to stop the program, and to allow his existing weapons to be dismantled.

George Bush never realized that it isn't enough to defeat our enemies. We also need to build and strengthen friendships. After decades of isolation and sanctions, you could consider Libya beaten (incidentally, a good model for how we should be dealing with Iran?). Now that Qaddafi is making overtures to the West, though, we should be reciprocating them with earnest. We should be removing Libya from the list of state sponsors of terror, and forming stronger diplomatic ties. Further, we should be pouring aid money into Libya. We should work to visibly improve the quality of life for Libya's citizens; the people should learn that peaceful coexistence with the West is in their best interests too.

As of now, we're doing nothing. I really hope Qaddafi or the people of Libya don't conclude that being friendly with America has no benefits. We have a golden opportunity to win the 'hearts and minds' of an entire nation, and Bush is throwing it away.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The execs at comedy central are cowards.

First it was the Scientologists, who got the episode "Trapped in the Closet" pulled. They cited the shows offensive nature; also, high powered Scientologist Tom Cruise threatened to not promote MI3. Since Viacom owns both Paramount and Comedy Central, the threat worked.

After the Scientologists' success, the Catholics decided to try their hand. Catholic groups complained about the Virgin Mary episode. The episode was eventually pulled as well.

Censorship has become so routine for Comedy Central that Muslims didn't even need to utter a word order to get the newest episode of South Park edited. Even though Muhammad has visually appeared on South Park before with no outrage, they wouldn't allow him to appear on the newest episode.

What do we have a first amendment for, anyways? You don't need to have a law guarenteeing the freedom of speech if you aren't going to say anything controversial.

Meanwhile, now we have one less means to mock such blatent and transparent hoaxes as the Scientology "religion". Really, it was founded by a science fiction writer! And now we have opened the floodgates; Christians everywhere can throw a fit any time someone mocks or insults their religion (I wonder if teaching evolution will apply?) and have them censored. And, if any fanatical Muslims in the Middle East were wondering whether terrorism works, the answer is yes. We are scared, and we are very intimidated.

Not that it matters, but I'm definitely boycotting Viacom and all of their holdings. Paramount Pictures, Comedy Central, MTV, VHI, Showtime, Movie Channel. I definitely won't see Mission Impossible 3; I refuse to ever support Tom Cruise.

And for those indispensables like the Daily Show, there is always the internet.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Some heated responses to Israel's decision to sever all ties with the PA. From Aljazeera:

1) Hamas described Israel's action as a declaration of war.

2) The PA has said that Israel's actions are in violation of previous agreements between the Palestinians and Israelis.

3) Mahmoud Abbas said that "we are a peaceful nation but we want our rights".

4) Hamas has accused America and the EU of blackmailing the PA, as the West has decided not to continue giving aid money to the Palestinian government.

My thoughts on these accusations:

1) Hamas' charter states their intention to destroy Israel through violent means. Is that not a de facto declaration of war in itself?

2) Hamas does not recognize the previous agreements signed between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Why should the Israelis continue to do so?

3) Prove it. Force Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel. Why is that asking too much?

4) The West has the interests of peace and stability in Palestine. It thus makes sense for the West to provide financial assistance to those seen as furthering those aims. It conversely does not make sense for the West to aid a government that remains committed to violence. The West does not owe financial aid to everyone; its our business who we fund and who we don't. Not funding a terrorist organization is not blackmail, its common sense.

I also find it ironic that before the Palestinian elections, Hamas brought up the fact that Fatah had received American money. They acted like Fatah had sold out for taking Western money. Now they turn around and accuse us of blackmail?

What is Hamas so worried about? Since other Middle Eastern governments are so concerned about the plight of the Palestinians, I'm sure they'll have no problem replacing Western money (insert heavy sarcasm).

Incidentally, its important that the West provide direct aid. We want to make life difficult for Hamas; not for the Palestinian people. Let them see that Hamas is incapable of furthering the peace process, but also that the West does care about their situation; then perhaps next time around the elections will turn out better.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The War Revisited - Inside the Box

From the Economist, March 18th:

"When the American army overran Iraq three years ago, it was famously short of military policemen, Arabic-speakers and good ideas for putting the country back together again. But the army's historians have since then made the most of a unique opportunity: the chance to question Saddam Hussein's top generals and advisers about what happened inside the regime before and during the war. The findings are to be published next month in a book-length report. But its authors have published a preview on the website of the New York-based journal, Foreign Affairs. It contains some riveting findings.

One of these, based mainly on the testimony of Tariq Aziz, Saddam's deputy prime minister, is that right up to the last moment the dictator did not expect America to attack, because of the faith he had in pressure from Russia and France in the UN Security Council. Mr. Aziz told his interrogators that the two countries had received millions of dollars of trade and service contracts with Iraq, "with the implied understanding that their political posture...would be pro-Iraqi". Even after the invasion, Saddam did not expect the Americans to fight all the way to Baghdad-a delusion that prevented him from torching his oilfields or opening the dams to flood southern Iraq. Fixated at first on internal threats, instead of the advancing American army, Saddam later came to believe that Iraq was winning, and continued to think so until American tanks reached Baghdad. His own generals were far too scared of him to risk breaking the bad news.

As for those weapons of mass destruction (WMD), it seems that some senior members of the ruling circle never stopped believing, even after the war, that Iraq had these, even though Saddam himself knew otherwise. When he revealed the truth to members of his Revolutionary Command Council not long before the war, their morale slumped. But he refused a suggestion to make the truth clear to the wider world on the ground that his presumed possession of WMD was a form of deterrence, and that coming clean might encourage an attack by Israel. Instead, of course, the dictator's non-existent WMD became one reason America gave for its decision to topple him. This was, without doubt, the mother of all ironies."

Reproducing this article isn't to suggest that the war was justified. I believe, as I always have, that the war was a mistake. However, I don't agree with those that claim the Bush administration purposefully lied about the WMD to drag us into a war. Clearly, Saddam Hussein wanted us to think he had WMD. Is it any surprise that he convinced us? The only discrepancy here is that Saddam was misguided about the potential consequences of that belief. He thought it was a deterrent; it was the opposite.

Things never change. The French and the Russians undermining America's effort to oust Saddam...for what? A principled stand against the US, justified by reason, would certainly have been acceptable. Saddam wasn't a threat; Saddam was containable; Saddam wasn't friendly with Al Qaeda. But the Russians and French stood against us because of some contracts; and certainly because of the satisfaction in thwarting the only remaining superpower.

And today, we find the Russians (and Chinese) doing the same thing in the case of Iran. It will come back to bite them in the ass, the next time they need American support. A nuclear armed Iran is a greater threat to France and Russia than it is to us.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

We shouldn't bomb Iran.

I was originally hopeful that with Russia and China's backing, the situation would be resolved diplomatically. Now it appears that those two are backing out of their initial support (big surprise) for tough UN action. We are left with the unfortunate prospect of having to either bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, or deal with a nuclear armed Iran.

As much as I don't want to see Iran have nukes, bombing Iran to prevent them from furthering their nuclear program is a really bad idea. Here are a few reasons why:

1) The situation is much different from when Israel bombed Saddam's Osirak reactor in the 80s. That was a single easy target in a relatively small country. Iran's nuclear facilities on the other hand are numerous, well protected, and hidden throughout the country. There is no guarentee that a bombing campaign will work.

2) Iran can retaliate to a bombing campaign. They can make hell for our troops in Iraq, and undermine (whats left of) the Iraqi democratic movement. They could also disrupt oil supply to the world by blocking exports from the Persian Gulf, which would cause an economic crisis.

3) Iraqi Shiites have been our allies up to this point, for the most part. Bombing Shiite Iran will end those days. We'll probably face internal uprisings, certainly from the likes of al-Sadr. Its even possible that the Shiite government might stop working with us. Basically, bombing Iran will mean the end to our nation building efforts in Iraq. If we're going to bomb Iran, we might as well pack up and go home. Although that is unfortunately starting to sound like a good idea anyways.

4) Nationalist sentiment will rally the Iranian people around their leaders. The only eventual solution to the Iranian problem is a change of government, which has to come from within. As long as we are threatening the country, the people are going to rally behind the government.

Here is my solution to the problem. We need a new doctrine which states that the MAD (mutual assured destruction) principle applies to WMD based terrorism. The MAD principle is what prevented a war between the Soviet Union and the US, even when someone as fanatical as Stalin was in charge. It is an extremely powerful conflict prevention tool, but there has been concern that it won't work if there is an indirect attack (through a terrorist intermediary).

Screw that. A terrorist nuclear attack on the West or Israel should be treated as if the attack had come on a missile directly from Iran. Tell the Iranian people, that if they trust their leaders with nukes, thats their business. Just make sure they know that if a bomb 'accidentally' ends up in an Israeli or Western city, MAD still applies, and Iran will cease to exist. Then see if they cheer loudly the next time Ahmedinejad talks about eradicating Israel.

Our invasion of Iraq has not only weakened the US, but has greatly strengthened Iran. The strategic stupidity of the invasion of Iraq is simply mind boggling. What was our government thinking? We supported Iraq in the 80s, not because we liked Saddam Hussein, but because Iran was a greater threat. The secular Sunni Arab Saddam was a counterweight to religious Shiite fundamentalism in the region. Now we have removed that counterweight, and democracy has brought to power Shiite religious fundamentalists in Iraq. Unfathomable.

Monday, April 03, 2006

"Be prepared to defend yourselves."

A firsthand account, about a month old. From Iraqi blogger Zeyad.

A few months ago, when Baghdad was ripe with news of Interior ministry's death squads raiding Sunni neighbourhoods at night, the local National Guard commander in our area started touring mosques to warn them from uniformed security forces operating at night. The commander's own words were "Never, never open your doors to security forces after dark. If they attempt to force their way in, be prepared to defend yourselves."

Chilling. This is why the Ministries of the Interior and Defense need to be handed over to a Kurd and Sunni Arab. The Shia that currently control these posts are abusing them horribly. I doubt the Shia will give them both up, though...hopefully they'll at least cede one of them.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Zarqawi got fired?

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, has evidently been sacked for making strategic mistakes. Such mistakes include the indiscriminate bombing of Shia civilians, attacking Iraq's neighbors (Jordan), and killing certain Sunni Arab leaders. These things have been extremely counterproductive for the insurgency.

I find it very surprising that the insurgency in Iraq has such a level of organization and centralization that they can just fire Zarqawi. A bit unsettling, too. A good summary of the insurgency here from the International Crisis Group.

Gregory Djerejian from the Belgravia Dispatch, while commenting on the above ICG summary, reflects on why he voted for Bush and not Kerry. His reasoning is identical to my own:

"Needless to say, the Iraqi insurgency is not defeated. Equally needless to say, their chances of victory will be exponentially enhanced if a too speedy U.S. withdrawal is pursued. This was one of the very key reasons I supported Bush, as I judged him much more likely than Kerry to keep our forces in theater for the duration. We can quibble about that, and my disgust at this Administration's frequent incompetence has been blogged frequently in this space, but I still believe we'd have well fewer than 133,000 or so troops in theater today if Kerry had prevailed, based on his campaign utterances and the view among rank and file Democrats about the Iraq war. This would likely mean that sectarian violence would today be even more intense than it has been to date, as fewer U.S. forces would be available to attempt to keep a lid on the nascent civil war. Further, I believe we've made significant headway, of late, in peeling off some moderate Sunnis away from the insurgency. I know too that coalition authorities have, on occasion, attempted to raid Shi'a-run detention centers, or have, of late, more proactively monitored other abuses of power by nascent Iraqi police units or Interior Ministry authorities, so as to attempt to ensure gross abuses are reined in."

A final note. A few posts down I mention that Bush sent a letter to the Grand Ayatolla Ali al-Sistani in which he asks Sistani to help break the government deadlock. I had a few concerns about the impact the letter would have on Sistani's reputation. According to Juan Cole, Sistani "blew off Bush" and didn't even bother to open the letter. Brilliant.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Finally, some good news.

Aljazeera reports that Prime Minister al-Jaafari is being pressured by senior leaders in his United Iraqi Alliance (the Shia party that has about half of the seats) to resign. The Kurds and Sunni Arabs have been calling for his resignation for some time now, though the Shia have ignored them until now. Many people had, and still have doubts about the ability of the Iraqis to compromise, so this is great news in that respect.

From what I can gather, the Sunni Arabs and Kurds are upset with al-Jaafari's leadership for a few reasons. A big one is his failure to prevent government security forces from being infiltrated by religious militiamen. The result is government forces that have questionable loyalty. Many such government forces have been described as death squads that target Sunni Arabs (either in retaliation or revenge). Another reason people are upset with the Prime Minister is that he really hasn't accomplished much as far as infrastructure goes.

Hopefully we'll see more compromises in the future. The biggest deal right now is who will control the ministries of defense and interior. These are the ministries that would have control of the government military and police forces. The Sunni Arabs and Kurds, for reasons stated above, want these ministries. I really can't blame them.

So who may replace al-Jaafari as Prime Minister? One candidate is Dr. Hussein al-Shahristani. This guy is a badass, to put it bluntly. He was an Iraqi nuclear physicist who defied Saddam by refusing to work on a nuclear bomb. He was subsequently jailed and tortured for years. During the 1991 Gulf War he managed to escape from his prison during a US bombing run, and fled to Iran. And, he was one of the few Iraqis-in-exile that told the US government from the beginning that the invasion and occupation wouldn't be easy.