'Just World News' by Helena Cobban
Info, analysis, discussion-- to build a more just world.

February 27, 2003  

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH WATCH, part Deux: HRW is an American-based, mainly staff-driven research and advocacy organization. In contrast to Amnesty International, the Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme, and a number of other human-rights organizations, HRW notably does not take a position for or against the advisability or legality of the currently threatened U.S. assault against Iraq. In a statement issued in fall 2002, HRW explained that the organization, "has worked for more than twenty years in war zones. We believe that our most important contribution to reducing the suffering that war so often entails is to monitor and promote all warring parties' compliance with international humanitarian law." In other words, HRW is ready to issue pronouncements on justice and rights issues regarding how a war is fought (jus in bello), but not those deeper and antecedent questions regarding the decision to resort to war (jus ad bellum). The fall 2002 statement says, "We care deeply about the humanitarian consequences of war, but we avoid judgments on the legality of war itself because they tend to compromise the neutrality needed to monitor most effectively how the war is waged - that is, compliance with international humanitarian law - and because they often require political and security assessments that are beyond our expertise." The organization's reluctance to express judgment on the justifiability of any war is not absolute. The statement admits that HRW is prepared to support a going-to-war decision, "in the case of humanitarian intervention - the military invasion of a country to protect its people. We have advocated military intervention in limited circumstances when the people of a country are facing genocide or comparable mass slaughter." But it notes that, "Horrific as Saddam Hussein's human rights record is, it does not today appear to meet this high threshold - in contrast, for example, with his behavior during the 1988 Anfal genocide against the Iraqi Kurds." The statement notably does not describe any case in which HRW would be prepared to oppose a going-to-war decision. This puts HRW in a rather special position among the "leading" human-rights organizations of today's world. Amnesty International, for example, is an international organization, headquartered in London but democratically accountable to the preferences of its worldwide membership: it has adopted a position that is far more skeptical than HRW's of the justifiability of the US-proposed war against Iraq. In a FAQ-sheet currently posted on their website, AI explains that it, "neither condemned nor supported the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan and our position is the same with respect to Iraq... AI calls on all governments and armed groups to ensure that the protection of civilians is paramount and that the human rights and humanitarian impact of any actions are carefully considered. We ask that due consideration be given to exploring all diplomatic and judicial avenues." But AI has actually done a bit more than simply asking that this consideration be given. At the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos a few weeks ago, AI Secretary-General Irene Khan openly challenged Colin Powell, asking him, "How does the threat which Iraq poses today weigh against the threat that American military action poses for human rights and innocent lives in the Middle East?" She warned him and the rest of the WEF's swanky Masters-of-the-Universe audience that, "Military action could easily precipitate a huge disaster. As in 1991, there might be a million refugees again and a humanitarian nightmare if Iran and Turkey keep their borders closed, as they have vowed they will." She warned of the risk of reprisals within Iraq: "Knowing the way Saddam treats his people when he is cornered, it's very possible there could be an internal bloodbath... This is not just conjecture - it has happened before and it could happen again." And she also warned of a "ripple effect elsewhere - an escalation of the Middle East conflict and protest and violence in other Muslim countries, threatening many lives." And then there's the Paris-based Federation Internationale (FIDH), which describes itself as a federation of 115 human-rights organizations from 90 countries. A FIDH press release issued Dec. 10, 2002 (International Human Rights Day) was titled, "IRAQ: No to America's War". It stated, "The FIDH has long denounced the crimes against humanity committed by Saddam Hussein and his regime, who have inflicted appalling suffering on the populations of Iraq. The FIDH supports their aspiration to break free of such a repressive regime. But under no circumstances would the upcoming American war effectively fulfil these aspirations... " "The only reason for this war," the statement said, "is the American administration's opportunism in pursuit of goals that are far removed from any desire to help the victims of the Baghdad regime: geopolitical and economic goals and domestic political concerns. This war would have devastating consequences for the region, especially its most vulnerable and already hardest-hit civilian populations. It would accentuate the problems it claims to solve... " Certainly, human rights advocates have some tough thinking to do faced with this current prospect of fairly devastating war. (See "SHOCK & AWE" below). Every single one of us who have toiled seriously in the rights-defense vineyard is extremely well aware of Saddam Hussein's grave record and ongoing practice of serious abuse.... And now, from time to time, members of the Bush administration trot out the old "defense of the rights of the poor oppressed Iraqis" excuse for their planned war effort. (This an old, old ploy, going far further back than the issue of the "Belgian nuns" in WW1. But hey, where was Rumsfeld, where was Cheney, where were any of them back when Saddam was actually gassing the Kurds and committing the Anfal atrocities back in the 1980s?) Actually, I like Amnesty's position best. Their statements all give appropriate recognition to the horrendous fact that war itself imposes terribly abusive suffering on actual human beings. In HRW's statements, one can almost see some of the authors with their noses eagerly a-twitch, just scenting the war-crimes trials and other "paybacks" that they hope will ensue for Saddam and his henchpeople. (That was why, on reflection, I was actually glad that HRW as an organization did not adopt a formal position for or against the threatened US war effort. It would have been far more likely to have been for, than against.) But another good thing about Amnesty's position is that the organization has come out and proposed a workable, nonviolent way to try to improve the behavior of the Iraqi regime on rights issues-- that is, to win the improvement in the rights field that everyone says they want, but without going to war to do it. In a statement issued yesterday, Kate Allen, the director of the organization's UK branch said, "If the government is suggesting there is a human rights and humanitarian case for intervening in Iraq then the House of Commons must take this opportunity to ask how best to address these human rights abuses - something we have been drawing to the attention of the international community for decades. The government should be pressing the UN to implement its own recommendation, made as recently as December 2002, of putting human rights monitors in place." I think this is a great proposal. People have concerns about both Iraq's WMD programs, and about its human rights practises. Those of us in the anti-war movement have thrown our weight strongly behind the use of UN inspections regarding WMD-- as a way to achieve what needs to be achieved without using war. Surely we should be doing the same regarding human rights monitors? I think I might try to push this idea along a little further in my next CSM column. Meanwhile, another point about HRW. It's not that the folks at HRW don't understand that war is harmful for human beings. They certainly do. In a briefing paper issued Feb.13, they warned that, "Iraqi civilians could face tremendous hardship if war disrupts their access to food and water or forces them to join hundreds of thousands of people already displaced from their homes... " Yes, it's true that HRW's warnings on this score are generally far less dire than those issued by organizations like the U.N. High Commission for Refugees or Oxfam whose main focus is on providing a first response to humanitarian disasters around the world, rather than on the more nebulous (but equally necessary) job of strengthening human-rights protections. But HRW does at some level understand that war is bad for people. But then, in the ever-evolving body of international humanitarian law-- which is the body of jus in bello law that is strongly supported by HRW and all other human-rights organizations-- there is also a principle that if a person can reasonably foresee that serious harm is about to be caused through human agency and is in a position to stop the agent from causing that harm, then he or she has some degree of obligation to prevent that agent from causing that harm... When AI, or come to that the humanitarian-aid organization Oxfam UK engages in a quasi-political campaign to counter the Bush administration's rush toward preventable war, they are, I think, embodying this principle-- that human-rights people preach to, for example, military commanders all around the world-- in a most satisfactory and exemplary way. As for HRW? Well, I wish they would walk their talk in this way a little more effectively.

posted by helena at 2/27/2003 07:37:00 PM | link

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH WATCH: Today, I participated via speakerphone in a lengthy meeting of the HRW Middle East Advisory Committee. It's an admirably diverse group of people. Perhaps a little too diverse? At one recent meeting, a member started talking with anguish about the situation faced by her Israeli friend, "who lives in a settlement-- well of course I mean a neighborhood really, and anyway it's one of those places that, well, definitely will stay attached to Israel under a final peace agreement... " Being Human Rights Watch, everyone there was far too polite to remind this person-- a member of our committee-- of the portion of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that states, "The Occupying Power shall not... transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." Or of the fact that an infraction of this article is specifically described as "grave breach" of the Convention, that is a war crime. So there our fellow committee member was, begging for sympathy for the voluntarily chosen situation of someone who is certainly the beneficiary of a war crime, and quite likely also an accessory to it. If the friend wants to live in the same security that everyone on earth of course deserves, then maybe she could think of foreswearing the subsidized lifestyle, expropriated land, and many other benefits that are given to Israeli settlers? She could even join the many other brave Israelis who still, even in these times, continue to fight to end the entire settlement project... But no. Apparently she wants to continue sitting where she is, enjoying someone else's land, and have our sympathy too.

posted by helena at 2/27/2003 06:08:00 PM | link

February 26, 2003  

MORE ABOUT BRIDGES: In the Ikezawa e-book (see next post), one of the things I liked-- and would have liked more of-- was the specificity of the details he gave about what he saw in Iraq. That's one of the things I really like about the "Dear Raed" blog that I read every so often. I like the edgy attitude of the folks who write that blog-- from Baghdad. And I also love their detail. I've seen a couple of lengthy posts from Salam, who's one of the people who posts on it, in which he writes with affection and knowledge about different parts of his city (and of Basra, in the south.) See his post of Feb. 24-- that was a good one. Feb 21, he wrote, "it is warmer generally and the nights are beautiful with a bright moon when you can see it thru the clouds or sand. The moon started waning now and getting closer to that scary 'dark of the moon' phase. Most people think if anything is going to happen this month it will start during the darkest nights. We’ll see." A blog like this can truly be a bridge across the continents. I'm looking for a similar kind of a blog written from Israel-- one that portrays some of the distinctive flavor, general zaniness, and existential fearsomeness of what it's like to live there. So far, all I've found by Googling on "Israel blog" have been some fairly stridently nationalistic ones, and a rather sad one from a peacenik who apparently gave up doing it in despair sometime last summer. If anyone has some good ideas for how to find one, please tell me!

posted by helena at 2/26/2003 07:06:00 PM | link

JAPAN, IRAQ, BRIDGES: In Quaker meeting the other day, a very vivid image came to me of the Ai-oi Bridge in the center of Hiroshima. That bridge crosses over the confluence of two of the city's rivers and is therefore distinctively T-shaped. When I was in Hiroshima in 2000, I stood a while on the bridge, watching the busy traffic crossing over it, and listening to the trundling sound made by trams as they lumbered across some of its joints. In August 1945, since the shape of the bridge was so distinctive, it was used as 'Ground Zero' for the American pilot whose job it was to drop the world's first operational A-bomb in exactly the right place. Prior to dropping that one, other planes had come in over various parts of Hiroshima to drop sensors. The U.S. military wanted to make sure they knew everything about the effects of the bomb. Detonation was calculated to occur at around 600 metres into the air, for maximum dispersal of the radiation... The upcoming/threatened attack against Iraq is, like the Hiroshima bombing, designed to have a big "demonstrative" effect, as well as to provide operational testing for some of the military's latest gee-whiz gadgets. Indeed, as I wrote in a couple of posts last week (Feb. 19 and 21), it is designed according to a concept that is designed to replcate in a non-nuclear way the effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings on the Japanese... 200,000 people died in those two cities. Today, online, I found a book called On a Small Bridge in Iraq, written by a Japanese writer called Natsuki Ikezawa. Ikezawa, who won the Mainichi Prize in 2000, visited Iraq in fall last year because, as he writes, if the country is going to be dstroyed by war and many of its people killed, he wanted to meet some of them and get to tknow them a little bit before it happens. (At that link I gave, you can download his book for free. It's only 39 pages, and has some really beautiful photos in, too.) In it, he writes about having left one Iraq's many ancient sites, that at Hatra in the north... "On the motorway leaving the ruins, we crossed a small bridge. Hatra was a trading city whose Arab inhabitants were strongly influenced by Hellenism. Situated in the desert, the city flourished thanks to the presence of several small sources of water, one of them a small stream. Although in this season, it was a bone dry river bed spanned by the bridge. "As we crossed the small bridge, a graphic image of war suddenly came at me. At that very moment in the afternoon of 4 November 2002, in the hangars of an American base in a nearby country or on an aircraft carrier on the sea, a cruise missile was standing by, readied with these coordinates. In the not-too-distant future, it would come flying out of the clear blue sky, straight down toward this bridge, explode and destroy it. I could see it all too vividly. The bridge before my eyes was in flames, reduced to sand and ash. "Countless other missiles inscribed with the coordinates for the bridges and municipal offices, petroleum refineries and electrical power stations in every city throughout Iraq are all awaiting their turn... "Moreover, people will die. Some will be killed instantly by bombs and missilies, others will die slowly from lack of food or water or medicine. War makes no exceptions for children or women or the elderly. If war comes, they'll all get the worst of it. "Those firing the missiles definitely do not consider the after-effects. They're soldiers, trained not to picture the horror in their mind's eye... No longer does anyone actually have to see the enemy; the new technologies make it possible to kill without any feelings of guilt... " Read the rest in the book itself. * * * IRONIC TIMING? I've been doing a lot of intensive work researching the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg recently. I have also been thinking a lot about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But it took my recent reading of a book called Civilians at War, edited by Simon Chesterman, for me to put two and two together on these issues. In his own contribution to the volume, Chesterman writes, "In one of history's more brutal ironies, the treaty that established the Nuremberg trials--power's celebrated tribute to reason*-- was signed by the Allies on the same day that the United States dropped its second atomic bomb on Japan." (*The reference there was to Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson's famous bon mot that the establishment of the Nuremberg Court was, "one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.") I think Chesterman may be off by a day. The Nagasaki bomb was dropped, I believe, on Aug. 9, 1945. The Charter for the N'berg Court was signed Aug. 8. The Hiroshima bomb was dropped Aug. 6. So I think the main gist of Chesterman's observation still stands true... * * * THE DRAMA OF POTSDAM: Actually, one of the most illuminating things I've ever read about those tumultuous days was Charles L. Mee, Jr.'s Meeting at Potsdam. And it's really well written, too. So basically, at that summit meeting, which ran from July 17 through August 1, 1945 in a suburb east of Berlin, you had Truman-- who knew that his people were making their last preparations to detonate the world's first A-bomb within the coming days, and could thereby transform not just the strategic balance in Asia but also the shape of world politics. You had Stalin, who knew much more about the Manhattan Project and the imminence and powers of the planned bomb(s) than Truman knew that he knew. And you had Churchill who was sitting there pretending to represent a big power though the other two kept talking over the top of his head-- and anyway, Churchill's Conservative Party was facing a tough race in Britain's elections, July 25, and indeed, they ended up losing... Whooo! What a moment in history that was. Okay, here's a question. Is this the same Charles Mee who's a playwright still writing great plays these days? If so, did he ever write a play about the Meeting at Potsdam? If not, why not?

posted by helena at 2/26/2003 06:53:00 PM | link

NEW IMPROVED DOMAIN NAMES: Check 'em out: www.justworldnews.org and www.justworldnews.org will get you here any time. They are easier to remember than all that "blogspot" business, plus less embarrassing to tell your friends about. So tell your friends, okay? Thanks!

posted by helena at 2/26/2003 05:50:00 PM | link

February 25, 2003  

LESSONS FROM JOHN WOOLMAN: Yesterday I was writing about people, including yes, our Prez, being able to make a choice between acting out of a sense of fear, or acting from a sense of optimism, possibility, and yes even grace. Today, for completely another reason, I re-read a little portion from the Journal of John Woolman which describes a nice instance of such a choice. John Woolman was an American Quaker in the days before there was a United States. (He died in 1772.) He is one of my heroes as a social activist and an acute analyst of the evils of the social system of his day-- engagement in slaveholding and slavetrading by many whitefolks, including Quakers; encroachments by whitefolks on the lands and resources of the Indians; perpetuation of a war-based system which allowed those other ills to continue; etc etc. So in June 1763, most of Philadelphia was ablaze with war fever, as the Anglo colonists became increasingly "outraged" at news of atrocities committed by those heinous Indians and the French (who else?) Even some Quakers on the city council were starting to swing behind the raising of war taxes... John Woolman had a different idea. He decided to set out and actually meet some Indians in the west of Pennsylvania, face-to-face. Journal entry for June 12th: "It being a rainy day we continued in our tent, and here I was led to think on the nature of the exercise which hath attended me. Love was the first motion, and then a concern arose to spend some time with the Indians, that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them, or they be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of Truth amongst them... " This is such a powerful passage! "Love was the first motion" is a phrase much loved by Quakers, including myself. Simple, direct, and powerful. No complicated theology needed. Then, "that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in"-- just the desire for a simple human encounter, to feel with the Indians, that is, to share their life and burdens a little and strive for empathy with them. "... if haply I might receive some instruction from them... " This is truly mindblowing. Here's JW, the product of centuries of European culture-- and he is hoping that he may learn something from the brownfolks?!? What a guy! Are there many people in the U.S. or other rich cultures today who truly think they could learn anything much of value from poor people in the "Third World"? And finally, very simply, "... or they be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of Truth amongst them." I love that. Note that he writes "my following the leadings of Truth", not "my preaching the leadings of Truth". In other words, he is not going there explicitly to preach any Gospel, but rather, quietly to live its teachings... But the whole venture of his trip was also, above and beyond all that, predicated on a deep and serious belief in the power of optimism and possibility. JW sincerely believed that just going to meet the Indians, to reach out to them and talk to them, and to find out what was up with them and in their lives, what their concerns were-- that that was a better way to respond to the general climate of insecurity than succumbing to the climate of whipped-up fear and hatred, and joining in the preparations for war. And I think he was right about that-- just as he was right about the evils of slavery. He was a simple Quaker fruit farmer. But he could see all around him, in his daily life and dealings, that most of the whitefolks in and around his community near Philadelphia had enough material goods to give them the basis for a decent respectable life. They didn't need more "stuff". (Indeed, he was one of the first to point out that material "stuff" creates its forms of bondage.) And meanwhile, he saw that the same system that gave the white colonists such material assurance was based on taking lands, resources, social integrity, and personal dignity away from the "Indians", as well as on taking all the essential attributes of personhood away from the enslaved Africans. So he worked to understand all the different kinds of people caught up in this system as well as he could. But more than that: he sought through persistent efforts at persuasion to persuade the power-holders in the system-- that was, the whitefolks themselves-- to see the error of their ways, and to behave differently. With respect to the Quakers and slavery, he and a small group of fellow-activists succeeded in making a serious difference through persuasion alone. He, Antony Benezet, and other Quaker abolitionists successfully persuaded most American Quakers to dissociate themselves from the institutions of slavery; and it was that development, that happened at around the same time as American Independence, that laid the basis for the Quakers' heroic involvement in the broader anti-slavery campaigns of the 19th century. But JW's work with respect to the American "Indians" is less well remembered. With the U.S. now all set to enter a new phase of trying to impose its will on broad swathes of the "Third World", it might be good for would-be Americans reformers to remember some of the essentials of Woolman's approach to the "Indians". Above all, his simplicity, his humility, his respectfulness, and his rough-hewn sense of grace.

posted by helena at 2/25/2003 06:51:00 PM | link

February 24, 2003  

ACTING FROM FEAR-- OR FROM A SENSE OF OPTIMISM AND POSSIBILITY? A couple of readers have asked why I keep scolding the administration hawks like a nanny and urging them to "take a deep breath", "step back", etc. Mainly, the reason is that I see these guys just acting out of a very primitive, very counter-productive mindset dominated by fear. They may seem to be acting like folks who are so purposeful, so dominating, so confident, so competent, so much in command of the world-- But I'm afraid that what I mainly see when I see them strutting around is people who have no idea at all about the real possibilities that really are present in the world. Possibilities to build good productive relationships with nearly all of the world's people who definitely seek such relationships, rather than confrontation and war. Possibilities to hold productive discussion of differences that can enlarge everyone's understanding of what the issues are. Possibilities of re-building a world based on reason and cooperation, in such a way that the tiny minority of people who can't accept a world of tolerance and sharing themselves become totally marginalized. The U.S. is such a rich country, so overflowingly full of resrouces and possibilities in itself! Why can't our leaders, okay, take that deep breath, thank the Creator for all their blessings, and then set about marginalizing the men of violence using reason, cooperation, a willingness to share responsibilities and blessings, and a calm, respectful approach to expanding the international rule of law? That route just seems to me so much more doable, so much more productive, so much better for all of us than this shrill revving up of the machinery of war. I guess I'm surprised, sometimes, that Bombs-away Don and the rest of them just can't seem to see it my way. But then I take my deep breath, and remember that nearly everyone who lives in Washington DC is acting right now out of a place of fairly serious trauma. They had the 9/11 crash into their very own Pentagon, losing friends and colleagues there. They had the anthrax scare, which I guess really was pretty scary for many residents of the national capital. Then, they had Greater DC's long-drawn-out sniper scare, which would have been bad enough anywhere, but probably had an even more traumatic effect for the already doubly-traumatized Washingtonians. And now, they have Tom Ridge with his constant stream of color-coded disaster warnings... So yes, I can understand a little, perhaps, of where many Washingtonians coming from. (Though I note that many, many folks from the city have done a grand job of rising above feelings of traumatization and victimhood.) But to understand where people like Rumsfeld and Co. are coming from doesn't mean we should just roll over and let them proceed with their fantasies of a violence-based revenge. Oh no! But it does mean, though, that we probably need to spare a thought and a prayer for their mental/spiritual wellbeing, along with that of everyone else we're concerned about these days. For their own good, yes. And I really mean that. But also because those guys' continued suspension in their present web of trauma and fear is extremely dangerous for the rest of us.

posted by helena at 2/24/2003 01:16:00 PM | link

COLIN, DON, AND WOLFIE PLAY MUSICAL CHAIRS: Last week, Tom Friedman pointed out helpfully that when his boss (oops, I mean leaker-in-chief) Jim Baker was running State back in 1990-91, Baker used to actually visit other countries, a lot, as he worked to build and strengthen the anti-Saddam alliance of that era. (Tom didn't point out how glad he must have been about that fact. More face time for him, on all those airplanes, with the guy whose virtual mouthpiece he thereby became.) Anyway, Tom pointed out the evident contrast between Baker's s.o.p.'s and the present administration's practise of having the Prez and all top cabinet members here sit back like Queen Elizabeth I and have all the minions and satraps, a.k.a. the leaders of furrin nations, come groveling to them-- well, that wasn't exactly how Tom put it, but you get the drift. I guess Tom's piece got Powell's people fairly much steamed. Within hours, they were giving all kinds of reasons why the Secretary had not been traveling much recently. (Although of course this week, he's doing a fly-through to Asia.) Only one of the many "reasons" given was that the Secretary also has many important things to do back in Washington, too. Of course he does, poor guy. Mainly, watch his own back, as the vultures from the Pentagon continue to circle around the city in the hope of picking up some tasty meat from the plate of political/diplomatic chores that in any reasonably run administration would be the responsibility of the State Department. Oh, like commenting on the novelty or decrepitude of various different forms of government in Europe... Since when did making pronouncements on such matters as that fall into the Secretary of Defense's job description??? And of course, Bombs-away Don's comments on that score, a couple of weeks back, complicated Colin's coalition-maintenance task considerably, as we know. Not that Don seems to give a fig for "the coalition", anyway... And now, for some more insidious mission creep from the Pentagon suits, we need only read about hyperactive Deputy SecDef Paul Wolfowitz, off there in Dearborn, MI yesterday, trying to build bridges with 300 fervently anti-Saddam Iraqi Americans there. Interestingly, the W. Post's account of this (Tom Ricks, p.A16) reads as a little more skeptical of the encounter than the NYT account (Eric Schmitt, p.A10). Ricks reported that the meeting was "strongly pro-war". But he also wrote that Wolfie "found himself peppered with with skeptical questions about the reliability of U.S. promises, given what the questioners portrayed as a poor U.S. record in the Middle East." Ricks also reported-- as Schmitt didn't-- that at one point, "the session's moderator, Maha Hussain... who is president of the Iraqi Forum for democracy, pointedly asked why U.S. assurances of support for Iraqi democrats should be trusted, 'considering the history of the U.S. government' in not supporting the 1991 uprisings [in Iraq], among other things." Wolfowitz, Ricks reported, "seemed momentarily nonplused by the question, but then responded by noting that the U.S. government repeatedly came to the aid of embattled Muslims in recent years [in a list of places that notably did not include Iraq, or indeed Palestine.]" Maybe, instead of rushing around the U.S. and the world trying to force this war to happen right now, and regardless of the consequences, Wolfie would do better to take a deep breath, step back, and study history a little. Why on earth should he be "nonplused" when a survivor of Saddam's brutal, U.S.-enabled counter-attack against the 1991 uprisings still wants to talk about that ugly episode in world history? Does he want everyone simply to forget about what happened then? Anyway, I've found a(nother) great blog, written by a doughty footslogging (as opposed to hotel-dwelling) reporter called Christopher Allbriton, who has a lot of great firsthand and collated background material on the degree to which many different segments of the Iraqi democratic opposition are now feeling extremely betrayed by Washington. You might want to check out his blog some more. Also, Allbriton and some other experienced bloggers have put together a really interesting site called Warblogs:cc that is a sort of meta-blog giving headlines and links for a number of war-skeptical bloggespondents. (This latter term is my own coining. But a blogging foreign correspondent is one thing I'd like to be at some point soon, so I thought the job description deserved a job title, too.) Allbriton describes Warblogs as being a "sort of coalition of the unwilling". You reckon he'd let me join?

posted by helena at 2/24/2003 09:26:00 AM | link

February 22, 2003  

FRED HALLIDAY MISINFORMED? Is this another example of transatlantic differences in perspective? In Salon.com earlier this week, the veteran British Middle East specialist and prof at the London School of economics Fred Halliday was quoted as having said that, "Anyone who wants a just Palestinian solution should be supporting a war in Iraq... It would be good for Palestinian aspirations." His reasoning on this was that, "We are far more likely to see real progress on Palestine if there is a war in Iraq... The Americans will push on it and compromised Arab leaders will probably try to revive the Saudi proposals that came through the Arab League last year and have since been on ice." He pointed to a notable precedent: the fact that the aftermath of the last Gulf War in 1991 led to the convening of the Madrid Middle East Peace Conference. "There was this positive linkage," he said... I strongly demur. In fact, if Halliday really said what he was quoted as saying, I would wonder what planet he's been living on over the past two years?? Has he left his LSE ivory tower recently and ventured across either the Atlantic Ocean or the Mediterranean Sea to see what the true situation regarding W's Middle East "policy" has become since January 2001? What I've been reading in Ha'Aretz pretty consistently over the past few months, what I certainly found out in numerous places during my two trips to Israel/Palestine since last April, and what I continually read and encounter all the time here in the United States is that this administration ain't at all your father's Bush administration when it comes to Arab-Israeli peacemaking. Egged on by his friends in both the U.S. evangelical-Christian-Zionist movement and in the strongly pro-Likud branch of the Jewish-American community, W has aligned his agenda almost totally with Sharon's. He has given Sharon carte blanche to do what he wants in the occupied territories (which Rumsfeld even once described as "the so-called occuped territories"). The much-awaited speech of last June 24 in which W laid out his approach to Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking was greeted with huge delight by Sharon and his aides-- not surprising, since they practically wrote it themselves. And W has even, disgracefully, incorporated many aspects of Sharon's ultra-tough-guy policies on dealing with perceived opponents into the practice of the U.S. government: extrajudicial killings, disregard for international humanitarian law, use of massively escalatory policies, contempt for broad alliances, etc etc. None of which policies, as applied by Sharon on behalf of the Israelis, has brought them even one whit closer to the security and wellbeing for which they long. And nor can such policies be expected to work any better for W... But what I'd love to hear from Fred Halliday-- if he really did utter those quotes cited above-- is where on earth can he find any evidence at all that Bush may be headed in the direction of moving, post-Iraq, toward the kind of serious and fairminded engagement in Arab-Israeli peacemaking that might help meet the Palestinians' aspirations? I certainly haven't found any such evidence. And with the likes of Elliot Abrams, Doug Feith, Richard Perle, etc running Washington's Middle East policy it is highly unlikely that anyone could do so. I can understand that maybe from London things might look a little different. Tony Blair has been rushing around trying to reassure the Palestinians, the other Arabs, and the Europeans that he, at least, is serious about getting the Palestinian-Israeli "road map" moving well forward both before and after the war against Saddam. Poor Tony. He believes he can make a difference! He believes he can help steer the juggernaut of Bushian militarism in a direction where it might do some good. Maybe he's sincere in believing all that. But the rest of us, who have seen the reality and strength of the organic link between Sharon and the Bush administration from close up, also need to make our own judgments. Fred Halliday, who I'm assuming is not totally Blair's lapdog (can a lapdog have his own lapdog, I wonder?) should make his own informed judgment on this too.

posted by helena at 2/22/2003 09:15:00 AM | link

February 21, 2003  

TRULY SHOCKING AND AWFUL (and also rather sad):  Well, I did get hold of a copy of the 1996 book in which Harlan Ullman and others laid out the concept of Shock & Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance, and it was just as bad as-- or perhaps worse than-- I had gathered from reading Mark Conversino's review of it (see post of Feb. 19.) This was the book, you may recall, that laid out what is widely considered to be the dominant strategic "concept" that the Bushies are hoping to implement against Iraq--and who knows who else, after them? This book contains great gobs of constipated, and incredibly repetitive, military prose.  People who communicate mainly through slideshow presentations tend, perhaps, to think in a particularly sclerotic and limited way. But I guess someone has to plough through it. What the authors--Ullman and six others, mainly retired military brass-- were trying to do with it was to design a new strategic concept that would aim not at classic "force-on-force" dominance, but at dominating and manipulating the adversary's will to the extent that the adversary judges that "all resistance is futile". In the annals of military history, of course, this concept is by no means new.  (One is tempted to comment that, "It ain't rocket science"... ) The authors cite, correctly, such historic authorities on their topic as Sun Tsu and Clausewitz.  But among the many authorities whom they don't cite is General Giap.  Not surprising, since their bios indicate that nearly all of them were actively engaged in the futile fight against Giap's forces in 'Nam, back in the '60s and '70s. Indeed, amazingly, when they try to list historical instances in which Rapid Dominance has succesfully induced Shock and Awe, they even have the chutzpah to adduce Nixon's "Christmas bombings" of 1972-73 as one such success story!?! Hey, a few more strategic "successes" like that and the U.S. military would be in fine shape. Among several other decidedly questionable examples of S&A "successes" that the authors cite was the action of U.S. AC-130 gunships in Somalia.  Those gunships, they wrote, "earned immediate respect from potential troublemakers...  The methodical drone of AC-130s circling in the air was enough to restore some order, although a few civilians found the noise unsettling." (p.81) In both Somalia and 'Nam, such "Shock and Awe" as was induced in adversaries was short-lived indeed.  In both cases, the more lasting effect of the U.S. forces' attempts at "overkill" was to steel the adversaries' determination to resist; and in both cases the U.S.-- as we know-- ended up "losing" the wider war. (One of the co-authors of the book was Jonathan Howe, the hot-dogging admiral whom Clinton installed as head of the US/UN operation in Somalia, in 1993.  Soon enough after Howe took over from his wily, judicious predecessor, Bob Oakley, the U.S. started getting into deeper and deeper trouble in Somalia.  Howe decided to demonize clan leader Mohamed Farah Aideed; bombed a gathering of highly respected clan leaders; and earned the disgust and opposition of nearly all Somalis.  We had the "Black Hawk Down" episode, and the dragging of U.S. airmen's bodies through the streets...  It wasn't long before the Clintonites decided de-escalation might indeed be more effective-- at which point, they brought Oakley back in to make a political deal with the clan bosses.  Sic transit gloria mundi.) But I digress.  My main objectives in reading the S&A book were: (1) to see if it was true that Ullman and Co had actually cited the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Nazi blitzkrieg, and even the Holocaust as previous examples of the kind of S&A policy they were advocating, and (2) to see what they had to say about any possible humanitarian or humanitarian-law limitations on the kinds of actions they were advocating. Well, the answer on the first score is Yes (Hiroshima and Nagasaki), Yes (the blitz), and Not exactly (the Holocaust).  The answer on these authors' view of humanitarian  limitations will have to wait, I'm afraid, for a future post, though all you smarties among my readers can no doubt guess the answer. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are referred to in the book not merely in passing, but as the prime exemplars of the kind of action that the authors are advocating.  "The magnitude of Shock and Awe [that] Rapid Dominance seeks to impose (in extreme cases) is the non-nuclear equivalent of the impact that the atomic weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on the Japanese," they write.  "The Japanese simply could not comprehend the destructive power carried by a single airplane.  This incomprehension produced a state of awe.  We believe that, in a parallel manner, revolutionary potential in combining new doctrine and existing technology can produce systems capable of generating this level of Shock and Awe.  In most or many cases, this Shock and Awe may not necessitate imposing the full destruction of either nuclear weapons or advanced conventional technologies but must be underwritten by the ability to do so." (pp.12-13) On the blitzkrieg (which is one of numerous words that our fearless authors systematically mis-spell), they write, "The lesson for future adversaries about the Blitzkreig example and the United States is that they will face in use as opponent able to employ technically superior forces with brilliance, speed, and vast leverage in achieving Shock and Awe through the precise application of force."(p.54) On the Holocaust, I did not find any point at which the main text cited that as any kind of example of the application of S&A.  But the book has three addenda, each written separately by one of the authors.  And in one of these, we find retired admiral L.A. "Bud" Edney writing, "The holocaust was a state policy of Shock and Awe that stunned the world in its brutality and inhumanity." (p.160) I confess I find this statement totally incomprehensible.  I had gathered up till then that a Shock-&-Awe policy was designed to destroy the adversary's will to resist.  The Holocaust, by contrast, was designed to destroy as completely as possible all members of the target groups (Jews, Roma, gays, people with disabilities).  I suppose you could say-- though this is a fairly obscene extension of the argument-- that the destruction of these people's will to resist was some kind of "collateral damage" of the physical destruction of the people themselves.  But however pliant and servile the Jews, Roma, etc., had decided to be, they would still have been obliterated. In addition, the intention of undertaking the Holocaust was not to "stun the world", which was perhaps the particular sense in which Edney was thinking it might qualify as a Shock&Awe operation.  Far from it, the Nazis went to great lengths to keep the truth of what was happening in the death camps quite hidden from the outside world.  It had nothing of the evidently "demonstrative" quality of something like, say the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Edney seems to be, quite simply, a nut-case. Not that his six colleagues come across as much saner. My main reaction on reading their book was to think how deeply tragic it is that the authors of plans as inhumane as theirs are not given the kind of treatment that perhaps they need.  When we encounter such people, shouldn't we tuck them up safe and sound in bed, give them some hot chocolate, and tell them, "It's okay, you poor fellow, I'm sure you'll feel better in the morning"? Maybe give them some meds to calm their fevered and deeply alienated imaginations? Instead of which, our strange old society here in the United States actually feeds these people's sick fantasies of total world domination, tells them it's okay to indulge these fantasies even further, and gives them comfortable jobs and access to huge amounts of lethal hardware in order to implement their sad and disgusting plans.   And then we wonder why people elsewhere seem not to like American policies? My gosh-- what IS those furrners' PROBLEM?

posted by helena at 2/21/2003 11:03:00 AM | link

February 19, 2003  

'SHOCK AND AWE': I've been doing a little research on the hottest strategic concept being talked up by the Washington hawks these days. 'Shock & Awe' is a strategic concept advocated most ardently and publicly by former naval commander Harlan Ullman. It involves throwing large numbers of allegedly "smart" cruise missiles into Baghdad in the first two days of a war, with the goal of causing total psychological collapse in "the enemy". Ullman recently told CBS News that, "We want them to quit. We want them not to fight... So that you have this simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but in minutes." He invited his listeners to engage in a thought exercize: "You're sitting in Baghdad and all of a sudden you're the general and 30 of your division headquarters have been wiped out." Apparently switching sides to then talk about the Americans, he added, "You also take the city down. By that I mean you get rid of their power, water. In 2,3,4,5 days they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted." How much do we need to unpack these statements? Like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima? ... You get rid of their power, water? We could just dismiss Ullman as a sad old blowhard, a swaggering schoolyard bully. And yes, it is evident that a lot of the Pentagon's "information policy" these days is aimed at trying to intimidate potential Iraqi opponents. So we could perhaps say that Ullman's utterances are in themselves "just another example" of this effort at psy-war. But I also think we should take people's statements seriously. Actually advocating perpetrating something like another Hiroshima, or the intentional disabling of the power and water systems for an entire city is a serious business. In fact, the latter kind of an action clearly qualifies as a crime against humanity under the definition agreed on in Article 6 of the Charter for the Nuremberg Tribunal. (Crimes against humanity: namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war...) I cite the Nuremberg Tribunal definition because it was developed mainly by the Pentagon's own lawyers. Since then, the Nuremberg Principles, including its definitions of these kinds of crime, have been adopted by the entire international community. Cutting of power and water to an entire city would, I think, count by anyone's definition as an "inhumane act" committed against a "civilian population." Ullman's words must be held to have weight. And inasmuch as many people in the Pentagon claim that Shock&Awe is their doctrine of the day, I think we need to get the official word from the Pentagon and the White House as to whether the U.S. government will disavow these statements from Ullman, or whether they actually plan to go ahead and implement these inhumane threats. I've been trying to get hold of a copy of the 199-page book, published by the National Defense University in 1996, in which Ullman and six colleagues first laid out the S&A concept. The book is called Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance. The work on it was sponsored by NDU's "Advanced Concepts, Technologies, and Information Strategies group". (So yes, my fellow-Amurrcans, your tax dollars have been generously at work here.) I think I can get to a microfiche copy of the text in the next couple of days. But in the mean-time, I found a review of it, published in the Naval War College Review in 1998 that makes some intriguing points. The author of the review, an Air Force Major called Mark Conversino, clearly didn't like the way the book was written. "Unfortunately, it is the reader who is 'shocked'," he huffed. "While the authors are all eminently qualified to expound on military affairs and strategy, the text is rambling, repetitious, and at times incoherent." Moreover, "a number of egregious errors call its credibility into question." He goes on to list a few of those. A little later comes the really tanatalizing part: "The authors make a strong case for Germany's blitzkrieg campaigns as an example of shock and awe... As in blitzkrieg, rapid dominance produces shock and awe through four elements, including 'rapidity.'" [Well yes, Mark, rapid dominance might indeed seem to be endowed with that quality.] Then, he has this to say about Ullman et al's study: "In an incomprehensible leap of logic, the Nazi Holocaust is classified a 'state policy of Shock and Awe.'" So let's hear it for 'Shock and Awe', shall we? A strategic concept that, its authors claim, promises us not only all the fine qualities of Hiroshima, but also those of the blitzkrieg and the Holocaust. Who on earth are these people? I did notice that if you go to the CSIS website, you can find a bio for Harlan Ullman that includes a phone number and an e-address. Maybe tomorrow I'll give him a call.

posted by helena at 2/19/2003 06:34:00 PM | link

February 18, 2003  

WHAT IF DUBYA had to shovel his own sidewalks? Thoughts of civic virtue were flying around in my head at 9:30 this morning as I struggled to shovel a path along the 100 ft or so of sidewalk that fronts our property. As someone who jogs, I certainly appreciate the civic virtues of those of our neighbors who work to keep a path along their sidewalks. On ours, today, the snow was 10-18 inches deep, with some driftsnow having come in and of course those unmanageable chunks of ice thrown up by the city's plows over the past two days. So what if the Prez had to-- either literally or metaphorically-- shovel his own sidewalks in life? Clean up his own messes? Make his own appropriate contribution to the wellbeing of the global community? In so many places, he just acts unilaterally and expects someone else to shovel out the resulting mess. In both foreign policy and domestic policy. For starters, our kids and grandkids are going to be struggling for decades into the future to clean up after Dubya's blitzkrieg on the federal budget. And then, this war????? Who on earth is going to be able to clean up after that? Well, I guess we briefly lived in the same neighborhood as W and Laura back in DC. Our kids all went to Horace Mann Elementary together. I confess I never saw him out there shoveling his walk. (Back then, we didn't have one. To be quite fair, I don't recall if they had one either.) Anyway,my own little commitment to civic virtue today received an unexpected and welcome reward. A very pleasant guy walking by offered to help. Taken aback, I said Yes, and went off to find a spare shovel. We then spent half an hour finishing the job together. When I thanked him he said he walks along here nearly every day, so he will be one of the beneficiaries. Wow! Random hunks coming at me from all directions, it feels like. (And here's me, a happily married woman.) Last week on Tuesday, when I was driving to New York through horrible weather, at one of those very expensive toll-booths along the way, as I shivered to roll down the window and fumble for the required number of dollar bills, the attendant waved me on. "The guy in front of you paid for you," she said. "He did? Goodness, why?" "Oh, he just said he wanted to do a good for someone-- and he was kinda cute-looking, too..." So here's a thought, dear Presidente: How about a few significant acts of random kindness from you? Or even better, a serious commitment to global civic virtue?

posted by helena at 2/18/2003 07:49:00 AM | link

February 17, 2003  

IRAQ DEMOCRATS DISAPPOINTED: Back last summer, I got into a heartfelt exchange with a friend of mine who's an Iraqi democrat. His name is Siyamend Othman. He's a wise and good person, an Iraqi Kurd who's lived in exile for many, many years, and who worked for a bunch of them as a researcher for Amnesty International in London. Understandably, he loathes Saddam Hussein. In our exchange last August or so, I was commenting critically on articles he was writing about how an American military victory over Saddam could usher in an era of democratization in Iraq. I wrote to him, based on my experience of having lived in a war-zone--in Lebanon--for six years back in the 1970s: "I have never believed that democracy can be brought to any country on the tips of bayonets (or the nose-cones of cruise missiles, come to that). I guess for me it is also, to a major degree a human-rights question, since I consider that war itself constitutes a massive assault on people's rights, and always, always, brings in its train conditions that constitute a continuing assault on human rights for a very, very long time after..." He wrote back, "I understand where you are coming from and respect the proposition that 'war (I presume you mean any war) itself constitutes a massive assault on people's rights'. However, would you hold the same position regarding World War II - the bloodiest confrontation in the history of Mankind? But that was different, I am repeatedly told. Hitler was a menace to humanity; Saddam is a small-time Third World tyrant who has been effectively 'contained'... Needless to say that establishing the foundations of democracy in post-Saddam Iraq is by no means a foregone conclusion. In all likelihood, it would be a long and painful process with no guaranteed outcome. In my opinion, much will depend on American attitudes. That is why I keep repeating that winning the 'Battle of Washington' is as important as winning that of Baghdad. In this endeavour, Iraqi democrats are in dire need of all the help they can get from their Western counterparts, yourself included." As I said, Siyamend is a wise and good person. We agreed to disagree-- but not before I warned him that putting any faith in the idea that this U.S. administration might have any commitment to democratization or democrats seemed an improbably long bet. The most recent message I got from Siyamend indicated that he and his Iraqi-democratic friends feel they may now have lost the 'Battle of Washington'. It included an article his friend Kanan Makiya wrote in the London Observer on Sunday, as well as an Observer article about the growing disillusionment of Kanan and Iraqi opposition boss Ahmed Chalabi over Washington's recent pronouncements for their plans for a post-Saddam Iraq. "The United States," Kanan wrote, "is on the verge of committing itself to a post-Saddam plan for a military government in Baghdad with Americans appointed to head Iraqi ministries, and American soldiers to patrol the streets of Iraqi cities. The plan, as dictated to the Iraqi opposition in Ankara last week by a United States-led delegation, further envisages the appointment by the US of an unknown number of Iraqi quislings palatable to the Arab countries of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia as a council of advisers to this military government. The plan reverses a decade-long moral and financial commitment by the US to the Iraqi opposition... " This whole business is truly tragic. It is true that the "Iraqi opposition" is a diverse conglomeration of people. Ahmed Chalabi has been on the lam from Jordan for years for bankrupting thousands of Jordanians through the collapse of his Petra Bank more than 15 years ago. Kanan Makiya got catapulted to fame and fortune in August-September 1990 after he published--under the pseudonym Samir Khalil--a lengthy indictment of Saddam's misrule that was a tad short on documentation if very long on emotion. In addition, there are ayatollahs-in-waiting massed in their hundreds in exile in Iran. There are Kurdish tribal leaders who wouldn't even speak to each other for most of the past decade... And then, there are also among the opposition many serious people who are sincerely committed to building a real democracy in their country. Why on earth did the Iraqi democrats ever put any faith in George Bush? Makiya, for his part, may well have grown to love the attention he got from being lionized by some segments of the administration. In his Observer piece, he asks coyly, "Is the President who so graciously invited me to his Oval Office only a few weeks ago to discuss democracy, about to have his wishes subverted by advisers... ?" Well yes, Kanan, maybe the Prez had any "wishes" he ever had for "democracy" subverted a long time ago. But seriously: discussing democracy-- with George W. Bush??

posted by helena at 2/17/2003 05:48:00 PM | link

February 16, 2003  

NEW YORK DEMONSTRATION: I was one of the lucky ones yesterday, at the anti-war demonstration in NYC. That is, New York's finest (the cops) actually graciously allowed my daughter, her fiance, and me to join the stationary "rally" for which a permit had been given... That is, after the courts had denied a permit for an anti-war march. We wanted to join a small "feeder march" being assembled by the Quakers at 53d St & 2nd Ave. We arrived on the V-line subway from Brooklyn, got out at 51st and 3d Ave, hoped to cross easily to 2nd Avenue to find the Quakers. ("We'll just listen carefully for where there's a big silence," I told the future son-in-law.) Fat chance. The cops were not letting anyone cross to 2nd Ave, even. (The rally was in 1st Ave.) At every intersection they had closely guarded barriers, and they funneled us ever further north with promises that we could cross eastward one or two blocks further up... Thousands of anti-war demonstrators from many parts of NYC and elsewhere were being herded north-- away from the rally--but moving along good-naturedly. We became quite a large group of people moving north along the broad sidewalks. Why, it even looked like a march! At 59th St, they finally let us cross east. By then, it was too late to join the Quaker group, so we walked right on over to 1st Ave and walked a couple of blocks south to join the main body of the rally between 56th and 57th Sts. We "arrived" there at just about noon, the time the event was scheduled to begin. We could not see the head of the rally at all, but watched the whole event on a large screen half a block ahead of us. The prayers and invocations at the beginning were very moving: a black Baptist Bishop, a Muslim imam, a woman rabbi, a Hispanic Catholic, and the keening prayer of the Chief of the Lakota Sioux. Then, there was an amazing constellation of speakers, including my old favorite Archbishop Tutu. Pete Seeger came out, despite the intense cold and his advancing years, and led a song. The crowd around us stamped their feet or jogged in place to try to get warm. Some notable signs I saw: "Stop mad cowboy disease", "Duct and cover!" and even a quote from Ovid pinned to someone's backpack. Shortly after 2 p.m., I needed to leave. Getting out of the pens the police had made for us was almost as hard as getting in. When I did make it back to 2nd Ave, and then again at 3d Ave-- each time, there were barricades up with the police still preventing people from moving east to 1st Ave. Some of those people had been trying to get through for the past two hours. Mostly, the police just seemed businesslike and very firm, stamping their feet and exchanging grimaces about the dire cold. At one of the intersections I passed on my way out, however, the police were all in riot gear, unlike all the others I'd seen. They were standing around seemingly just spoiling for a fight. Nearby were parked coaches from the prison department, ready, I surmised, to be loaded with arrestees. I didn't have time to stop and make a clear assessment, however. And just about all the way over to where I got on the F train at 63rd and Lexington, the traffic was at a complete standstill... The effect of the court order banning a march, and of the way the police then played their role, was that a lot of people who had come to join the event, including some who'd come hundreds of miles to do so, were prevented from exercising their right to assemble peacefully. Probably, the effects on traffic and on non-demonstrating New Yorkers, were just as bad or worse than what would have been caused by allowing a well-planned march. The police ended up making a hundred or fewer arrests. But they certainly cleaned up on their overtime. * * * DRIVING HOME WITH GARRISON KEILLOR: After the rally I drove south. I had dinner with a family friend at Haverford College, in Philly; drove some more; got in late to the home of another friend in DC; left the car outside; went to bed totally knackered This morning, I found DC magically blanketed in 7 inches of fresh snow, and more coming all the time. I was eager to get back to my hearth and home here in Charlottesville, Va., and figured the going would only get worse for the next couple of days. It took 40 mins to dig the car out. I knew the drive would be tough but I had warm clothes, food, water, a cellphone, and set off around the beltway to I-66. The first couple of hours, I had "Prairie Home Companion" on the radio. Garrison Keillor was hilarious. I really haven't listened much to him recently. The most hilarious parts were when he was skewering the Bush administration. Lots of jokes about duct tape-- of course. And then, a great riff when they were talking about reports that the "Rapture" long awaited by the evangelicals had just taken place. (Asked whether this was true, the 'President' said, "Well, I'm still here, aren't I?") I shouldn't spoil the suspense, in case you're waiting for the re-runs. But I will just reveal that most of the truly righteous souls taken to glory in the Rapture turned out to be Lutherans... Here's the thing, though. If even fairly mainstream entertainers like Garrison Keillor are so openly mocking of the Bushies' present war preparations and scaremongering, shouldn't the Bushies be paying a lot more attention to that? Here's another thing. I wasn't around in the US during the Vietnam war. And I know the American involvement there grew up differently from the assembling and possibly imminent activation of a massive invasion force that we see around Iraq today. But it strikes me that the kind of coalition that I saw firsthand in New York-- labor unions, black and Latino organizations, churches and other faith groups, public intellectuals, members of the US Congress, etc etc-- is a pretty impressive anti-war force to have assembled already... and thus far, the "really big" phase of the war hasn't even been launched. Plus, the international dimension of the peace movement is very evident, and very important. We were trying to rally near the U.N., where just the day before French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin received unprecedented applause for his plea to try to avoid war. We were rallying, too, on the same day as millions of other folks from all round the world... This is not the 1960s. The worldwide anti-war forces are, I firmly believe, in far stronger shape today. And then, duct tape??? These guys simply can't be serious.

posted by helena at 2/16/2003 06:10:00 PM | link

February 14, 2003  

FROM NEW YORK, Valentine's Day: I've had a busy couple of days of work here, talking to some really interesting folks about my 'Violence and its Legacies' project, and starting to make plans for the research trip I'm planning to Africa in April, as part of the project. From time to time, the idea of going to Africa in April seems weird. Shouldn't I be concentrating more on this terrible Bush War in (and around) Iraq?? But I think its important not to become too, too distracted by the Bush War. Other parts of the world do still matter-- a lot. And this project I'm working on, which looks at how effective three countries in Africa--Mozambique, South Africa, and Rwanda--ended up being when they sought, eight to ten years ago, to deal with legacies of atrocious violence, is certainly one with lessons that will have relevance everywhere. Including Iraq. Yesterday, I talked to Alex Boraine, who worked with Archbishop Tutu as Executive Director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. He's now head of an organization called the International Center for Transitional Justice, that seeks to advise countries in transition on setting up their own TRCs.  Well, since I was focusing on my African research, we didn't specifically talk about the idea of a TRC for Iraq.  But it's not a bad idea. What the S. African TRC did was significant because it helped to allow the white-minority regime to give up power to the democratic will of the (non-white) majority--and to be reintegrated into the new S. Africa as part of Mandela's new 'Rainbow Nation'. In Iraq and in Syria, we also have the problem of minority-based regimes hanging onto power-- with one great motivation for them to do so being their fear of how the majority might treat them if the majority were given a democratic order. In South Africa, the TRC, and the broader black-white negotiation of which it was a part, allowed the white South Africans to cede power to the majority without fear of bloody retribution... Wednesday, I talked for the first time to Andrea Bartolli, an Italian national now at Columbia who first came to NYC in the 1980s as the representative at the UN for a Catholic lay-based social-justice organization called Sant' Egidio.  In that role, Bartolli played a significant behind-the scenes role with the rest of the Sant' Egidio team who were helping to bring an end to Mozambique's long-running civil war.  They succeeded in 1992. Talking to Bartolli was fascinating.  One of the key factors he mentioned that allowed the negotiations between the two sides to the Mozambique war to succeed was the fact that they proceeded largely out of the public eyeof the world's media, big governments, etc.  Another factor was that at that time, "No-one was even thinking that criminal prosecutions for past atrocities should be part of a peace negotiation-- unlike today." So instead of criminal prosecutions etc (which became the international flavor-of-the-decade just a few months after Mozambique's October 1992 agreement), what the Mozambicans did at both the national and local levels, was to state clearly that "the era of war and violence is past", and to get on with the job of healing and rebuilding. Bartolli told me he thought it was really important to have a consciously transformative event like the one where the leaders of the two sides there made a joint announcement that the war had ended.  He also noted that while most Westerners have a view of war that is purely instrumental-- that "man uses war for his own purposes, a la Clausewitz"-- in Mozambique the most common view is that war and violence are forces that themselves take hold of and use people. Hey, George W, are you listening?? * * * UNCLE VANYA:  We went to a great production of Brian Friel's version of the play last night at BAM's Harvey Lichtenstein Theater.  It seemed as though friel had cut/adapted the play well.  It moved right along.  A wrenching performance by Emily Watson as Sonya; and both Friel and Sam Mendes, who directed, had really succeeded in keeping/capturing Chekhov's general gestalt of inescapable social decline. Of course, New York is exhilarating and fun!!!  I guess the anti-war gathering tomorrow is not getting a permit to move, so we'll be standing around freezingat the rally, listening to Tutu and others speak. Yesterday, walking around the financial district, we passed a vast, slowly-moving convoy of fully-filled police vans.  The police presence on the subways was not as heavy as the NYT seemed to have portrayed.  In general, the security measures around the city seem to have settled back somewhat from when I was doing similar kinds of meetings here in March '02. * * * NOTES OF 2/13 (but posted a day late):  In New York.  Front pages of most tabloids screaming about Bin Laden's latest tape.  Audio-tape, that is.  Then, there's the issue of duct tape: photos of people cleaning out the store shelves of this item which will-- Tom Ridge assures us-- save our lives in the event of chemical attack. Mainly, though, New Yorkers seem to be stayng indoors because of the icy grip of winter here. Today, my latest column in The Christian Science Monitor.  A challenging one indeed.  I wrote it Monday, seeing as how Tuesday I would be driving here to NYC.  The main argument I was making was that in his Feb 5 speech to the UN Colin Powell definitely did NOT establish w/ any credibility that there is a 'nexus' between OBL and Saddam (see my previous musings on this, below.) So the drive here from Virginia was a toughie: swirling snows etc etc.  I heard a few scattered news reports on the car radio, but mainly listened to some Hemingway stories on CD.  I was focusing 100% on driving safely.  Got in maybe 10:30 p.m. Wed. morning my editor at the CSM calls early, in a panic about the piece. She was right, my careful argumentation did look a little OBE (overtaken by events) in light of the new Osama tape, and the use Colin and his friends were making of it.  (Did you see Maureen Dowd's great column on that in Wednesday's NYT? Fabulous!) So I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and tried to write a new head-and-foot for the piece.  It probaby wasn't the greatest piece of work I've ever done.  But I was under a very tough deadline at that point The arguments I was making in the piece are little complex.  But duh!  The world is complex!  It cannot be reduced to the war hawks' simple Manichean view of things.  Jerking the American public into this quite avoidable war on the basis of the administration's phony argumentation about an OBL-Saddam nexus is still a really dangerous path to follow. Plus, as I wrote in the column, by talking up the alleged OBL-Saddam nexus so much, the Bushies seem to have ended up virtually daring OBL to try to make it a reality. A challenge which-- surprise, surprise-- he seemed eager to take up. Except he never shook his utter distaste for Saddam and Baathist socialism...

posted by helena at 2/14/2003 07:16:00 AM | link

February 11, 2003  

OFF TO NYC: So much to write, so little time... This afternoon, I'm driving from my home in Charlottesville, Virginia, up to NYC. Going to do some interviews for my continuing research project on "Violence and its Legacies"; also, to see my daughter who's just moved to Brooklyn. I'll make a quick foray into DC on the way up. Not sure if I'll need a gas-mask to protect against the swirling miasma of toxicity in which the city seems to have become gripped. Yes, yes, I know there are many good people there. Anyway, being on the road will be my test of the Blogger system... The next post will come to you from the Big Apple.

posted by helena at 2/11/2003 07:43:00 AM | link

February 10, 2003  

BOSTON REVIEW: The paper copy of the latest (Feb/March) issue of BR dropped into my mailbox today. Hey, there's still something special about hard copy-- like the way you can mark it up with a real red pen or read it in the bathroom. Anyway, this one is a Special issue on the theme of "War and Democracy". Okay yes, I draw it to your attention because there's a piece by me in it: a fairly long piece of reporting about my December trip to Damascus, and some info about the imprisonment of my Syrian friend and colleague Ibrahim Hamidi. But in addition, there's a lot more good stuff, including a piece by John Dower, an excellent, wise historian of modern Japan. Dower directly takes on the arguments heard from some members of the current pro-war crowd, to the effect that "General" Rumsfeld's war can end up having the same salutary effects for Iraqis as the post-WW@ occupation of Japan had for the Japanese. (Talking of Rummy, where's Cheney these days? Back to the secure location?) Anyway, Dower's warning for the gung-ho crowd is dire. "The lessons we can draw from the occupation of Japan all become warnings where Iraq is concerned," he writes, noting the many, many differences between the two cases. Well, obviously you should read it. (And mine! And mine!) Trouble is, BR don't seem to have updated their website yet. So maybe wait a couple of days. Either that, or call 'em and start subscribing to the paper edition... Someone else who should maybe read Dower's piece is Rend Rahim Francke, the longtime head of the DC-based Iraq Foundation. January 13, the Washington Post ran an interesting, human-interest-y story by former Middle East reporter Caryle Murphy, who had trailed around Greater DC's Iraqi-opposition community with her notebook at the ready. One of her interviewees was Francke, who joked that she would be "on the first U.S. tank" going into Baghdad. Francke confessed to Murphy that she had recently picked up a book at Second Story bookstore about the history of the U.S. occupation of Japan, to learn as much as she could from it. Maybe that was one of Dower's excellent books on the subject? Maybe she should talk to Dower as well? * * * Also significant in Murphy's piece was her report that, "Of more than a dozen Iraqi [exiles] recently interviewed, none said they plan to permanently return to Iraq if Hussein is removed." And yet, these people are taken seriously as they sit around in their comfy georgetown exile making plans for how Iraq will be governed in the future? Does something smell funny here? Even Francke told Murphy that she planned to establish only part-time residence in Baghdad after she'd gotten there on her tank.

posted by helena at 2/10/2003 06:30:00 PM | link

February 09, 2003  

Yesterday, I wrote about how amazing it is to get news from all round the world via the internet. (I won't mention that the i-net was first brought to the grateful public by DARPA, the Pentagon shop that most recently won fame by sponsoring the Return of John Poindexter and Total Information Awareness. I put that fact in the category of "unintended consequences", aka "collateral benefits".) But here's an even more amazing thing: blogs from Baghdad. And in the lead-up to this terrible juggernaut of a war... The one I've been reading is 'Where is Raed? by Raid Jarrar. What I like about Raid's blog is how immediate, how quotidien, yet how vivid some of his writing is. I guess some people up to 120 yrs or so had ham radios they could use to communicate across front-lines in a war. When I lived in Lebanon in the 1970s, many people would speak by ground-line phone across that front-line. (My husband at the time, a Lebanese national, had family on both sides of the "Green Line".) I also remember at the beginning of the Very First Gulf War-- the one that started when Saddam invaded Iran, back in 1980-- that my then-spouse was covering the Iran side and I was covering the Iraq side, and we would occasionally communicate by telex, through a helpful operator in Kuwait who would re-key our messages from one machine to another. (Kids today don't even know what a telex is??) Cumbersome click-clacking that was, too. But now, with cyber-comms, we can get almost real-time communications, multi-media, that cross "front-lines" even halfway around the globe... And in the run-up to such a potentially disastrous war... What does this mean about the human condition? I'm still trying to figure this out. All help appreciated. If you don't have time to go to Raid's blog, here's a small excerpt from a Jan 31 posting that for some reason I found very poignant: "a car ride to al-mansour to get sandwiches, late at night. 10 new sandbag protected trenches seen on the way. appetite totally ruined by thoughts of who will use them and what will happen along these roads. maybe exploration journey tomorrow to see what else is being done to baghdad. I am either angry or scared i can't make up my mind."

posted by helena at 2/09/2003 06:33:00 PM | link

February 08, 2003  

I guess it's Sunday in Japan already... Sun quite high in the sky already over that magnificent semicircle of hills that surrounds Hiroshima... So Ramesh Thakur, a wise Indian scholar who's the vice-rector of the U.N. University, headquartered in Japan, has a piece in Sunday's Japan Times that's worth reading. "Time was when those threatening to go to war had to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt," he writes. "Today we are asked to prove to the powerful, to their satisfaction, why they should not go to war... There is a sense of helpless anger about hurtling toward a war no one wants. In Canada, Europe and Asia, the depth of alienation from U.S. policy on Iraq is quite striking. In India, people dub it 'dadagiri': bullying by the neighborhood tough in a global neighborhood." I get so much great email from around the world. What an incredible thing. (And by the way, thanks, Ramesh, for sending me that piece.) Couple of weeks ago, I got a couple of emails from a Kenyan Quaker pastor called Malesi Kinaro . One of them expressed his real excitement at the results of his country's mid-January elections. The next one had more about President Bush's almost unstoppable push toward war against Iraq. "As I have listened to these tough pro war utterances by Bush I have felt a deep sadness," Pastor Malesi wrote. He also wrote about a young woman called Doreen Mayaka, whom his family helped to finish raising after her mother died in the Qaeda bomb attack against the U.S. Embassy (and surrounding buildings) in Nairobi, back in 1998. Doreen was 18 when her mother died, and Pastor Malesi let her write some of her own feelings into his email. Here's what she said about Bush's war plans: "The war between American and Iraq is really scaring me because of the implications it will have on innocent human beings. I refer to my own experience of angered revenge by terrorists toward Americans that left us without our mother who worked for the American Embassy during the 1998 Nairobi Bomb. She was the sole breadwinner of our family. Life without her has been very traumatizing to my brother two sisters and me. Being the first born, I had to immediately take up the role of a mother without any preparations or anything. My sister Debra was only four when our mother died. She never had a chance to know what having a mother means... When I can't take it any more, the pain of her death becomes too heavy to bear and I always wonder if we really deserved this. "I don't understand why innocent Kenyans had to die! Especially my mother who had nothing at all to do with Americans apart from the work she had been given. When it finally hit the Americans, they were now able to understand what we in Africa had experienced and decided to take action, but their move this round is dangerous. Does it not mean anything to Bush when innocent human beings die? Do we want more deaths when we can choose a different path to get the same needed results? Do we need to prove to the world that we can hit harder than the terrorist or is it better to seek peace and pursue it? "Yes the terrorists killed my mother and I have forgiven them. I can never be any better if I revenge by involving myself in violence with them... I strongly believe President Bush can [better] seek peace and bring reconciliation than revenge, which will cost more innocent lives." So if you're reading this on a Sunday, give a thought or a prayer to Doreen and everyone else who's had to struggle with losing a family member to political violence. Come to that, you don't even have to wait till Sunday... And then, give a thought to how it is that though a vast majority of people around the world-- people like Doreen, Pastor Malesi, Ramesh, or literally billions more like them--are strongly opposed to this war, somehow Prez Bush thinks it's going to be good for humanity???

posted by helena at 2/08/2003 07:55:00 PM | link

I've been thinking more about whether the pitch Powell was trying to make Feb. 5 at the U.N. was aimed more at a domestic or an international audience. Yesterday evening (Feb. 7) I focused in this 'JustWorld' blog on the point when Powell was trying to establish a link-- through this shadowy Kurdish-Islamist group, Ansar al-Islam-- between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. And I said that argument seemed to be pitched much more to the US public than to "mere furrners". Then I thought more about something my friends Ralph and Corky Bryant and I talked about on the phone yesterday. Establishing that link between Saddam and Qaeda could also be useful, one or other of the Bryants mentioned, to help the U.S. justify to other governments any decision the Prez might make to go to war alone-- or at any rate, in a "coalition of the willing" that might NOT receive a Security Council sanction to go to war. That's because so far the U.S. is still a member-in-good-standing of the U.N. And clearly, Powell, good amigo Tony Blair and other people with influence on the Prez think it would be best to keep things that way. But the U.N.-- can you believe this??-- doesn't really like it when individual states or groups of states go around the world gratuitously knocking off governments or government heads whom they don't like. I mean, how fuddy-duddy can you get? Why don't they just get with the program of U.S. righteousness and invincibility for gosh-sakes??? But here, in the U.N. Charter we find a possible way to try to square this circle. Article 51 of the Charter spells out that, "Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.." Well, it might seem a stretch to describe the threatened U.S. assault against Iraq as constituting an act of American "self-defense" responding to what Article 51 seems clearly to imply should have been a prior armed attack against the U.S. (Quite sensibly the U.N. Charter makes no allowance anywhere for pre-emptive attacks.) So maybe Powell was trying, with his claims about the Qaeda-Saddam link, to lay the basis for future Article 51 claim to other nations-- in the event that he fails to get a specific force-enabling resolution through the Security Council? But I'm sure he was also looking to bring onto the war-wagon as many members as possible of the 9/11-scarred American public.

posted by helena at 2/08/2003 07:33:00 AM | link

February 07, 2003  

Colin Powell's big oral presentation Feb 5 was aimed mostly at other governments-- right? Well, put it this way, not wholly right. In fact, a large part of the speech was, by common consent, aimed much more at the US public than at people or governments elsewhere. That was the portion of the speech where he was attempting to establish a link between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaeda. Scarier still: he argued there's a link between Saddam's regime and Qaedaterrorists who are gaining access to biological and chemical weapons... Very scary stuff for Americans still reeling from the shocks of September 11. But the links Powell talked about, between Saddam and al-Qaeda are not, it turns out, well established by the facts of the matter. Powell's case hinged centrally on the alleged links between Saddam's regime and a predominantly Kurdish Islamic-extremist group called Ansar al-Islam that is based in northern Iraq. (It's also called "the Zarkawi network".) "Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Massad Al-Zarqawi an associate and collaborator of Usama bin Laden and his al-Qaida lieutenants," Powell claimed in his speech to the U.N. He went on to explain that after Qaeda and the Taliban had been routed from Afghanistan, the Zarqawi network--which had previously been running advanced chemical-weapons research and production facilities in Afghanistan, "helped establish another poison and explosive training center camp, and this camp is located in northeastern Iraq. You see a picture of this camp. [shows one of his indecipherable pictures.] The network is teaching its operatives how to produce ricin and other poisons. Let me remind you how ricin works. Less than a pinch -- imagine a pinch of salt -- less than a pinch of ricin, eating just this amount in your food, would cause shock, followed by circulatory failure. Death comes within 72 hours and there is no antidote. There is no cure. It is fatal..." Are you scared yet? You're supposed to be... But here across my electronic transom today comes a report from the International Crisis Group, a sober research-and-analysis outfit run by a former Foreign Minister of Australia and a former President of Finland. The ICG has some analysts on Iraqi affairs who are world-class: objective and well-informed. Their conclusion about "Ansar al-Islam"? "Little is certain about the external connections of Ansar al-Islam, an offshoot of an Islamist movement with a long history in Kurdish politics," the report writes. "What is clear is that the main support for Ansar al-Islam comes from powerful factions in Iran, its sole lifeline to the outside world." Iran? Howzzat again? In the press release that accompanied publication of the report, ICG Middle East Program Director Robert Malley said of the enclave in northern Iraq where the Ansar al-Islam are holed up: "This is a region outside Baghdad's control and we see no evidence that Ansar has a strategic alliance with Saddam Hussein. There is no question that the group has brought misery to many people in the area it controls, but it is highly unlikely that Ansar al-Islam is anything more than a minor irritant in local Kurdish politics". And this is the "evidence" that links Saddam to Qaeda? The ICG report is called, "Radical Islam In Iraqi Kurdistan: The Mouse That Roared?" Go read it. * * * I note, parenthetically, that one of the strongest and most persistent proponents of the Saddam-Ansar-Qaeda link has been our old friend Bill Safire. * * * This kind of "tapping into the general fear regardless of what actually caused it" routine reminds me of what Shimon Peres' government did in Israel in early 1996. Back then, Israeli voters were-- quite understandably-- fearful, angry, and traumatized because Palestinian terrorists had set off a string of very damaging attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Some 60-plus Israelis had been killed. Peres was going into an election. He evidently felt he "had to do something!" So he hit back-- against the poor longsuffering people of south Lebanon who had suffered many, many tough assaults at Israel's hands since 1978. Yes, I know there have been so many Israeli attacks against south Lebanon over the years. Peres's heroic campaign was the one called "Operation Grapes of Wrath". The operation's game plan as articulated by Israeli military leaders involved uprooting as much as possible of the civilian population of south Lebanon, herding them north to Beirut, in the hope that once there they would put pressure on the Lebanese government to start acting against the Hizbollah guerrillas who had been mounting an increasingly effective resistance to Israel's presence in south Lebanon in the preceding years. (And if such deliberate use of civilian suffering to force political goals is not also terrorism, I'd like to know what it is.) The operation backfired badly. Because of the sheer density of Israeli bombs dropped it was not surprising that some ended up hitting a U.N.-protected gathering point for civilians in Kafr Qana. More than 120 civilians were obliterated, wiped out, killed. Oh what an embarrassment for Peres. The Lebanese people united around the slogan of rapid Israeli withdrawal-- and Hizbollah were more popular than ever before. (Note to Rumsfeld et al: that's what military overkill does for you, friend.) And the darnedest thing for Peres, too. He didn't even get re-elected that time! (He has never actually won an Israeli election.) Funny thing about those Israeli-Arab voters: they didn't feel like going to the polls to support Peres that time, but stayed home in droves instead How irrational can you get? Sic tempera, sic mores, I would say (and it's a pity my Dad's not around to check the Latin). Anyway, couple of years later, I go to Israel, meet Peres in his elegant office in the Shalom Center in tel Aviv-- main form of decoration: pictures of you-know-who doing various things, or awards given to you-know-who. He graciously agreed to answer the questions I had on the research I was doing about the Israeli-Syrian negotiations that had run from 1991 through 1996. (Read the book that I wrote about that. It's pretty darn' interesting.) Obviously, His April 1996 campaign against Lebanon played into that... "So tell me, Mr Peres," I say, trying desperately to keep my eyes from lingering too long on his startlingly purple-dyed hair, "--can you tell me exactly why it was that you decided you needed to move so hard against Lebanon's Hizbollah at that time?" "Terror in the south, terror in the north!" was the best explanation he could come up with at the time. I assume he thought I was quite unaware of the fact that Lebanese Hizbollah and the Palestinian groups that had masterminded the suicide bombs were quite separate organizations, and that I would simply take at face value his "explanation" that if one bunch of folks hits you, then the general sense of outrage you feel because of that makes it quite okay-- nay, perhaps even necessary-- to go out and get your revenge against a totally distinct third party. And now, this seems to be Colin Powell's argumentation. O tempora, o mores.

posted by helena at 2/07/2003 03:11:00 PM | link

February 06, 2003  

I listened to Colin Powell's presentation at the U.N. yesterday, read the text carefully. I was sad for so many reasons. Let me count the ways: (1) Sad to see this good person beating the drums of war. (2) Sad to think of the war that his presentation--and his having agreed to play this role-- has brought us that much closer to. (3) Sad, actually, to read the content and see how thin and tenuous his case was. It seemed like an insult to the intelligence of listeners-- especially, the recycling of the tired old 'aluminum tubes' business. Mohamed el-Baradei laid that one to rest a while ago, saying the tubes in question actually could not be helpfully used for nuclear fuel production. So why did Powell drag that one in?? It seems like an insult to Baradei and the rest of us. Look, I know better than many other people how terribly Saddam has behaved in the past-- and most likely, he's still behaving that way. But if containment worked for Joe Stalin, why on earth would we imagine it can't work for this regime, whose raw power is a thousand times smaller than Stalin's?? Feb 4th, I went to see 'Bowling for Columbine'. (Okay, I was late getting around to it.) But it was good to see it the night before Powell's speech. I think Mike Moore got it just about right. There's a huge industry out there dedicated to whipping up the fearfulness of Americans; and that keeps U.S. citizens opting for huge military expenditures, tough police and incarceration, etc-- at the expense of the basic social programs which would make our community healthier and safer.

posted by helena at 2/06/2003 06:13:00 PM | link