Friday, March 20, 2009

...and now, this piece of shit

Terrible news out of Iran.
A young blogger arrested in Iran for allegedly insulting supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an Internet posting has died in prison, his attorney said Friday.

Attorney Mohammad Ali Dadkhah said Omid Mir Sayafi, reported to be in his 20s, died in Evin prison, which is located in Tehran and known for its wing that holds political prisoners.

Dadkhah said a fellow inmate, Dr. Hessam Firouzi, called him Wednesday night with the news -- and said he believed Sayafi would have lived if he received proper medical care.”
You can bet that ANSWER and the SWP will lament this story, as they will perceive it as war mongering by the West, and not for what it really is: the death of a political prisoner who was guilty of nothing more than insulting Iran’s leadership.

More Window Smashing in the Bay Area

This time, it was at the Marine recruiting center in Berkeley, California. The vandals posted their exploits at Indybay, and sounded a bit like a comment I received yesterday.
As of the time of this posting, no one involved has been arrested. The act was easy. You and a few friends could have pulled it off any day.



Nothing says revolutionary like caps.

Foreign Policy – Afghanistan and Pakistan

The Center for American Progress writes about the need for America to support democracy in Pakistan.
Pakistan is unraveling. The only recipe is more democracy, not less, so that civilian support for, and ownership of, the war on terror can be manufactured and strengthened. Western efforts must be focused on strengthening the economy (there is no substitute for jobs, well-being and upward mobility in ensuring a political stake in the system rather than Long Marches and terrorism) and retraining and re-equipping the Pakistani military to cope with insurgency. Above all, greater intervention is needed in discreetly but firmly knocking political heads together in Pakistan. The last thing the United States should consider is a wink and a nod to another army general to seize power. The war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban will eventually be won in the hearts and minds of the people.

For this, empowerment of secular and liberal elements in the mainstream media is crucial. The present nature of the vernacular Urdu media, both print and electronic, is that although the owners are all stake-holders in the national economy, and have assets in the United Kingdom and the United States, they are pandering to the lowest common denominator (hatred of the United States, sympathy for the Taliban, emphasis on religiosity, hatred of India) for the Punjabi urban middle classes in pursuit of eyeball “ratings” for ad revenues purposes. The media barons of Pakistan must be persuaded to allow rational debate in their papers and on their channels and discouraged from pandering to the religious right, glorifying Al Qaeda and the Taliban and spreading hatred of India. The majority of Pakistanis are still interested in the objective truth, but this may be a short-lived phenomenon as they are steadily being poisoned by a diatribe of irrationality. In the final analysis, the battle for hearts and minds has to be won in the Pakistani media rather than in the tribal badlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Patrick French takes on the argument that the Taliban can be reasoned and baragained with. On the handing over of the Swat Valley to Taliban insurgents, he writes:
When territory is surrendered in this way, it is very difficult for the state to recover it. The central premise behind the war on terrorism was that extremist groups should not be allowed sanctuaries from which to threaten the rest of the world. In that context, the loss of Swat offers the Taliban and other extremist groups a template for the future.

Pakistan's slide toward anarchy is similar to the conditions in Afghanistan in the 1990s: it was easier then for the Afghan elite to pretend that the political situation was likely to improve than to face the truth and do something about it. The bickering factions in Kabul allowed the Taliban to take control of large areas of southern Afghanistan, refusing to see that this would only embolden the Islamists to march on the capital.

Similarly, millenarian Islamists are now seeking to destroy Pakistan as a nation-state, and realize that they have won a strategic victory in Swat. President Obama's hope of weaning "moderate" elements in Afghanistan and Pakistan away from violence, as happened with Sunni militants in Iraq, is stymied by the fact the Pakistani Taliban know they are winning. Making a deal with them now is appeasement.

Terry Glavin on the many foolish statements made by Canada’s Jack Layton.
It's certainly not Layton's fault that the NDP's activist base, by 2006, had become so completely uprooted from its working-class traditions, and so addled by an antique (and curiously American) counterculture pseudo-analysis of Afghanistan's torments, that all the NDP could say on the subject was that it was all about oil or all about the Haliburton-Blackwater global corporate hegemony or something. Or more succinctly, it was all just "George Bush's war." Or as Layton himself was fond of saying, in those moments when he was caught up in flights of his own oratory, it was all just a "George Bush-style seek and kill mission."

If Layton was willing to overlook the fact that Canada was and remains one of 39 countries operating under a United Nations mandate with troops in Afghanistan, at the invitation of Afghanistan's democratically elected government, then the rest of us should be big enough to look the other way now that Layton is insinuating that it has been someone else who has been engaging in "name calling and overheated rhetoric" all this time.

I realize it doesn't help that ever since September, 2006, it's been all "NATO troops out, UN peacekeepers in," and Support The Troops, Bring Them Home, and then after our soldiers are gone we'll send Canadians back, only this time armed with Blackberries, to engage the Taliban in peace talks. It's also true that for nearly three years, the NDP has had no place in the critically important debates about what our soldiers should be doing in Afghanistan, anyway, because the NDP's official party policy has been that our soldiers shouldn't even be there at all. But still.

Max Boot on why the Soviet mission in Afghanistan does not correlate to the current US-UN operation.
The Russians did try to use a blunt-force strategy of killing civilians more or less indiscriminately to terrorize the population. They also failed to garrison much of the countryside, confining their troops to large bases in the cities from which they ventured in periodic search and destroy missions. Even so, they might have prevailed were it not for the Stingers and other weapons shipped to the mujaheddin -- a level of support that far exceeds what Pakistan, Iran, or any other country is giving to the Taliban today.

Luckily, NATO is not emulating Soviet tactics. Our troops use force sparingly and they are making an effort to win over the population. Far from trying to win by force alone, they are putting major resources into economic, political, and social development programs.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Note to Self: Don’t Steal When in India

Indian citizens don’t mess around.
Villagers in eastern India burned eight suspected robbers alive and beat four others to death, police said Thursday.

Harinarayan Ram Mahli, deputy superintendent of police in the Jharkhand state, told CNN that an investigation was continuing into an attack that followed a robbery in a remote village of the Pakur district Wednesday night.

Crowds of villagers beat four suspected robbers to death after a chase and set fire to the house where eight others took shelter, he explained, killing them as well.

Some Joshua Muravchik

One of my favorite commentators and writers out there is Joshua Muravchik. A few years back, he wrote an excellent book on the history of Socialism, and he continues to write interesting and controversial pieces.

Here is another from Bloggingheads, in January of 08.

And a CSPAN talk, done back in 2006.

Foreign Affairs

I have read some very fine articles lately in the absence of any substantial pieces from myself.

Eran Tzidkiyahu on the lack of outrage in the Arab world over Darfur.
The criticism against Israel, by its volume and severity, overshadows the coverage of the ongoing conflict in Darfur, for example, which in the past few years has already claimed a quarter of a million victims and created millions of refugees. The ethnic cleansing taking place in Darfur is far worse than any other regional crisis and cannot be compared to the Israeli-Palestinian political conflict, neither in volume nor in essence.

The silence of the Arab media regarding the humanitarian side of the conflict in Darfur is reinforced by the fact that Sudan is an active member of the Arab League. Moreover, some voices in the local press claim that the Western coverage of the Darfur crisis is part of a Zionist-Western conspiracy to divert attention from Iraq and Palestine and bring foreign involvement to Sudan to take control of its natural resources.

Tucker Carlson explains why John Stewart has turned into an unfunny, nagging shill for the establishment in recent years. He writes:
In August 2004, a week before the Republican convention, Stewart got an interview with then-candidate John Kerry. At the time, reporters covering Kerry couldn’t get closer than the rope line, so the interview qualified as a booking coup.
Stewart squandered it embarrassingly. His first question (after, “How are you holding up?”) was: “Is it a difficult thing not to take it personally” when your opponents are mean?

“You know what it is, Jon?” Kerry replied. “It’s disappointing.”

Four years later, Stewart had become, if anything, even softer. Over the course of a reverential eight-and-a-half minute interview with Barack Obama six days before the election, Stewart failed to ask a single substantive question, much less venture into policy (though, as with Kerry, he did open with, “How are you holding up?”). Instead, like the cable-news morons that he often criticizes, Stewart stuck strictly to the horserace, at one point even resorting to a sports metaphor.

As Stewart becomes more self-righteous, he inevitably becomes less funny. Sanctimony is the death of humor, and also of innovation. Where a show like South Park challenges its audience’s every conceivable assumption, The Daily Show has become safer than Jay Leno, pandering night after night to the converted. Can you remember the last time Stewart said anything his viewers might disagree with?

John Bolton takes on The Brooking Institute’s A Plan of Action:
“As the Obama years begin, we certainly do need a lively debate on the utility of diplomacy, but it would be better if that debate were not conducted on the false premise offered by A Plan for Action. In reality, in the overwhelming majority of cases, foreign-policy thinkers on both sides of the ideological divide believe diplomacy is the solution to the difficulties that arise in the international system. That is how the Bush administration conducted itself as well.

The difference arises in the consideration of a tiny number of cases—cases that prove entirely resistant to diplomatic efforts, in which divergent national interests prove implacably resistant to reconciliation. If diplomacy does not and cannot work, the continued application of it to a problematic situation is akin to subjecting a cancer patient to a regimen of chemotherapy that shows no results whatever. The result may look like treatment, but it is, in fact, only making the patient sicker and offering no possibility of improvement.

Diplomacy is like all other human activity. It has costs and it has benefits. Whether to engage in diplomacy on a given matter requires a judicious assessment of both costs and benefits. This is an exercise about which reasonable people can disagree. If diplomacy is to work, it must be preceded by an effort to determine its parameters—when it might be best to begin, how to achieve one’s aims, and what the purpose of the process might be. At the cold war’s outset, for example, Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, frequently observed that he was prepared to negotiate with the Soviets only when America could do so from a position of strength.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Positive Changes in Iraq

Foreign Policy Magazine has a photo essay up showing life in Bagdad six years after the liberation.

ABC News also recently ran a report documenting positive changes for Iraq citizens around the country.