Monday, February 28, 2005


What America Believes!

In a Harris Poll conducted this month, I found some of the results quite surprising:

44 % actually believe that several of the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on September 11 were Iraqis.

47 % of adult Americans believe that Saddam Hussein helped plan and support the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001.

36 % believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded.

Please think about these figures for a minute. They refer to something like 100 million adult Americans. These results are not just surprising… they are quite disturbing.

After two years of Iraq being constantly a top item in the news, with all these issues being thoroughly covered by all media, how is it possible that so many millions do not know? In this age of the freedom of the press, of the huge news networks, of hundreds and hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations… and the Internet…. How can that be possible?

Can someone tell me how this is possible after all the media coverage and after all that has been written and said? What news do all these people watch? What newspapers do they read? What radio stations do they listen to?

Are all those people mad? That certainly cannot be true! They have to be misinformed. But who has been doing that…and why?

If it is possible to mislead so many Americans so easily, and for so long, then of course it is possible for the US administration to do what the rest of the world sees as unacceptable. This being the case, then of course it is not difficult to see that many millions of Americans may willingly support any administration in targeting Iraq, Iran, Syria, France or even Britain… or practically do what they like. Unbelievable?

How can a democracy work with so many people grossly ignorant of simple, basic and important facts?

What hope is there for ‘reaching America’ or discussing finer points if such basic blatant facts are held in error by so many?

What am I doing, wasting my time and yours?

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Binary America

The New (Package) Deal

There seems to be a significant mood for polarization in America. I don’t know whether it is old or new, but it seems to be widespread. I see it exemplified by President Bush’s repeatedly iterated stance of “you are either with us or against us”.

If you are not with us, then you have to be against us. Since we are good, you have to be bad. Even if you are with us in principle and final objective but do not approve of ‘our’ approach to solution, then you are also against us. Simple logic… but wrong.

There is no possibility of compromise. There is no middle ground.

With us, or against us. Good or evil. White or black. Red or blue. It is a binary perspective: 0 or 1.

Our administration is good. If you are against any of its policies, you are bad.
Our administration is pro-democracy. If you oppose it, you are anti-democratic.
Our administration is religious. If you don’t like it, you hate religion.
Our administration represents the people of America. If you do not approve of it, you hate America.
Our administration is fighting a global war on terrorism. If you do not like its approach or its methods, you are a ‘terrorist-hugging dirt bag’.

It is not black and white in the wider sense. Old black and white movies were not strictly pure black and white. They had a wide range of shades of gray. Otherwise they would have been quite annoying to the eye.

It is not even a binary system. In a binary system, combinations of 0’s and 1’s can produce an astonishing variety of shades. Witness these very words you are reading and the images and colors you can get on your monitor.

No. This is like a two-state multi-bit binary system. Something like either 111111111111111 (us) or 000000000000000 (them). Generosity is sometimes shown by allowing a few 0’s on the less significant bits.

It is like a ‘package-deal’: If you are with us, you have to be pro-democracy, pro-war-on-Iraq, anti-terrorist, pro-religion, anti-abortion, pro-Rumsfeld, pro-Sharon, anti-social-welfare, anti-France, anti-UN and so on and so forth.

This is worse than McCarthyism. What is so worrying is that this mood seems to be prevalent in America to the point of being epidemic.

It is this mode of thinking that has alienated much of Western Europe (a traditional ally) and most of the rest of the world. They did not approve of our actions in Iraq. Therefore, they must be enemies.


Problem: French Fries. French, bad, 0. Fries, good, 1. Result: 01.
Can’t have that!
Solution: Freedom, good, 1. Therefore, we have “Freedom Fries”.

Well, life is not as simple as that! Life is too complex, rich and varied to be described by a few 0’s and 1’s. Personally this creates a problem for me. If I am forced to use this system, being pro-democracy, pro-freedom, not-against-religion but against the present administration’s policies in Iraq, against their approach to war on terror against crony-cracy in Iraq… I would be something like:


Very bad indeed!

The problem is… many, many hundreds of millions of mankind, including a couple of hundred million Americans, have similar problems.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Talking to Terrorists?

There are now reports that the US administration could be having talks with segments of the Iraqi ‘insurgents’.

For the past 20 months we were constantly told that there was no such thing as a nationalistic resistance in Iraq. There were only mindless killers attacking almost everybody at random, including Iraqi civilians and children.

Is the US administration talking to and negotiating with terrorists?

We all know that it is a firm and constant US policy not to negotiate with terrorists. We can therefore assume that the administration is negotiating with the resistance (or at least one or more factions of it).

The question is when did they discover that there was a ‘resistance’? Have they discovered recently that there was more than group of fighters in Iraq… or did they know all along? If they knew, why did they mislead America and the world? If they had only discovered that recently, that can only be due to gross incompetence.

First, there was no resistance; those killers were just remnants of the old regime. Then there were 4,000 of them, then 20,000… then the head of the new Iraqis security put the figure to 40,000 full time combatants and 200,000 in all. The administration did not confirm…or deny.

Have the original estimates been wrong… or has the resistance increased?

If the original estimates were wrong, that indicates a degree of professional incompetence. If, on the other hand, resistance has increased, it indicates incompetence at the policy level. Will anybody admit either? A lot of Iraqi and American blood has been shed during those 20 months. If those estimates or those policies were not so incompetent, could that blood had been less? Isn’t that important?

Another important question is why? And why now… after 20 months of blood and turmoil?

Having said all that, I think it is a good thing if it is true and if taken seriously. I have already alluded to this in my last post: Iraq, America and the world need to clearly distinguish between people willing to fight for what they see as a legitimate cause and ‘forces of darkness’ that have other, mostly evil agenda.

But for now, let us be grateful for this small step.

Friday, February 18, 2005


Journalists and Terrorists

Most violence in present day Iraq is generally attributed to ‘insurgents’. It seems that in most people’s minds in America, the word ‘insurgents’ means only one thing: ‘terrorists’.

I have often wondered how this conviction took hold of these people’s minds. I can only find one answer: the mass media. But this is only a partial answer!

I don’t know exactly how many daily acts of violence are taking place these days. But we were told that before the elections the figure was around 100. (My personal belief is that the actual figure is higher.) We are further told that around 80 of these acts are directed at the US army. But which ones do you get on your news? Mainly acts of terrorism. It’s the media.

Many wrong things have been done in Iraq by a multitude of parties. Many Iraqis knew of these things. But it is the mass media that can make the international public aware of them. Examples are many. The few that caught the attention of people worldwide, such as Fallujah, the devastation of Najaf and Abu Ghraib… have been exposed by the media.

It only stands to reason that any patriotic force operating in Iraq in opposition to what they see as an occupation should desire maximum media exposure of what is happening on the ground. This would serve their purpose of exposing wrongdoing and making people aware of the resistance to the occupation to rally support for their cause. It is in the interest of any such national resistance to have maximum media coverage.

The result of the lack of such coverage was that the resistance was associated in the minds of many people (even inside Iraq) with acts of terrorism… those acts that get media coverage. That certainly does not serve the purpose of such a resistance movement.

All this leads one to think that it would be a central objective of the resistance not to attack the media and the journalists working inside Iraq. But the media and those journalists have been viciously attacked for the past two years. Some of those attacked were people who were dedicated to giving the world a better picture of what was going on in Iraq, at considerable personal risks.

I have mentioned in a previous post that the nature and magnitude of attacks on Iraqis going to polling stations on Election Day had clearly separated the terrorists form the national resistance. I now contend that attacking the media and journalists is another parameter.

Who has been abducting the journalists? I hope that the answer to this question is evident by now. Some people may still argue that there is no such thing as a nationalistic resistance in Iraq and that all those people are terrorists and fanatical suicide bombers. They are entitled to their opinion of course. But the consequences of such a view to both Iraq and America can be disastrous.

Another, equally important question that is more difficult to address, naturally follows: Who has been attacking the media in Iraq and making its work of covering events on the ground more difficult? … and why?

Saturday, February 12, 2005


A Lesson from History

Britain also "liberated" Iraq 90 years ago. They landed in Basra in 1914, took Baghdad in 1917 and reached Mosul in the north in 1919. During that campaign, the Iraqi people were also divided. Some wanted to get rid of the Ottoman occupation at any cost; some saw the British as "infidels" and preferred the Muslim Turks.

The first thing they did when they took Baghdad was to declare that they came as "liberators" not conquerors. They put the country under direct rule but used a collection of people to form a government (Governing Council – Interim Government)!!

In June 1920, the whole country was up in arms; towns and countryside; south; center and north – all corners of all the triangles. Casualties and expenses mounted to convince the British that they should let the people govern themselves.

They too decided to make the country "in their own image" – A constitutional monarchy. A national assembly convened in 1924. Large segments (following the advice of leading clerics) boycotted it. It resulted in what looked like a democracy (parties, elections, opposition), but it was basically dominated by cronies: a cronycracy.

The system had a large number of good aspects. It made the country stand on its feet. Many good institutions were established; there was some accountability; management of resources was acceptable. But people were not convinced of its legitimacy. It took many political stands with its friends the British (but against some national sentiments and so-called "national constants"). The British embassy in Baghdad meddled too much in local politics. They had their reasons of course: oil, WW2, the undeclared Anglo-American conflict for influence in the area and, finally, the cold war. For a long time, many of the national politicians (some of whom were good people) were looked at as traitors or collaborators… and were detested.

Ultimately, 37 years later, it was toppled in 1958 by a coup of military officers using a small military force. The people did not defend it. For the next 10 years, Iraq spiraled down a path of military coups that ultimately led to the previous regime.

In this short account, I have deliberately overlooked many other important (local) economic and (regional and international) political factors that had significant effect; but my aim is to remain focused on the issue being discussed.

I can see so many similarities with the present situation. Why can't people learn from past lessons? If everything goes well and according to plan, under the present course, then the US administration could still end up making the same mistake as good old Britain.

Friday, February 04, 2005


Declaration of Independence

Why is this Iraqi angry with America?

When I read the American Declaration of Independence I am moved by the noble humanistic ideals expressed. I can sense the noble spirit behind it. The word ‘independence’ takes a meaning beyond the political independence of country from a colonial one… more like an independence of the human spirit.

And when I examine the Constitution, I see those words taken from the rhetoric domain and transferred into political reality in the most impressive practical idealism… complete with checks and balances.

On top of that, when I look into the biographies of some of the people involved, I feel that their honor and integrity still shine after more than two hundred years. My personal favorites are Franklin, Jefferson, Washington and Adams, in that order.

Those people were imperfect human beings like the rest of us but had visions that transcended their own narrow and immediate interests and tailored a system for the good of the whole, yet preserved individual aspirations. Many were religious people, some of them deeply so, yet they did not allow religion to dominate society in a rigid fashion.

The result was that the foundation they designed endured and supported a massive political and economic structure that was built upon it for more than two centuries.

But now, when I look at America I see a nation that has retained the form of that system yet lost much of its spirit and true content.

I look at the some of the issues deemed important by the electorate… and I feel sad.

I look at the politicians, and I mostly feel dismay and disappointment. I look at the candidates and I see actors, more worried about their “image” than about what they want to say; compromise artists and appeasers for those forces that hold the throne and control the coffers. When was the last time you had a truly grand statesman running America? Why?

The answer is simple. Would any idealist visionary, true to the spirit of the Founding Fathers have a chance to be elevated by the major party machines or funding contributors? My contention is that the initial filters discourage, even expel, people of the required caliber.

What chance did “outsiders” have against the gigantic red-blue polarizations and their huge spending machines? How many Americans had a chance to hear what those people had to say? How many Americans were interested?

Complex, varied life is packaged in two colors, in two huge containers, with all the wide range of social, political, religious, economic issues (each of which itself a complex maze of issues).

Is this abnormal? It is more like the normal course of evolution of a system… to fine-tuning if you like. But the problem is that these complex stratification and filtering stages produce mediocre results.

What has this got to do with Iraq? How insolent is this Iraqi attacking the system that produced the world’s sole hyper-power?

My grudge is this:

Because these people have lost sight of the original American ideals (that I personally cherish and respect) but they retained the form and the rhetoric without the substance, practical, shortsighted, we-versus-them cold-war mentality. These people are now playing God and tailoring Iraq “in their own image”. I wouldn’t have complained if that “image” were based on the original ideals. But it is based on the form with an ugly content.

I contemplate our new ‘major players’ on the Iraqi political arena, made or incubated in foreign lands and I see anything but Founding Fathers. Perhaps “Foundation” Fathers or ‘Fund’ fathers… but not Founding Fathers. The new deal and the new democracy were designed around these people.

These people will entrench. No, they have already entrenched. They will write a constitution to maintain this status quo; A compromise, half-baked solution that reflects not the true spirit and the richly diverse mosaic of the country… but the three or four external colors from the dark ages.

And you, no matter how well-meaning you may be… you cannot give what you no longer have!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Iraqi Elections - The Day After

The People Have Spoken

I had, and I still have, many reservations regarding the ‘rules of the game’ of the elections we have just had in Iraq.

But all these are secondary now. The key fact in all this is that it seems that more than 50% of the Iraqi people have cast their vote. I may not like the results, but this is immaterial now. The people have chosen to accept the game and play within it. This is what matters. If we accept the basic principle of democracy, then we have to accept that the people are the final arbiters. As simple as that!

They went out in large numbers against eminent dangers to say just that. Some were killed or injured doing that.

In the comment section of my last post written on the eve of the elections and which was full of anxiety and misgiving, someone wrote “You've got to trust in collective wisdom. I know this has been a flawed, tragic, some would say criminal process, I wish I could make it otherwise.” These words wisely sum it all up.

I was against the rules of the game, as defined by the unfortunate Transition Administrative Law (TAL) which was supposedly written by the Iraq Governing Council.

Sistani was outspoken in his opposition to that law. He made such a strong stand against it to the extent of writing to the UN Security General during the drafting phase of Resolution 1546, asking for TAL not to be mentioned in the resolution text (using rather strong words). And so it was. He was accommodated. Sistani was declared a winner.

The leaders of the two major Kurdish parties were furious. They wrote a letter to president Bush and threatened: “If the TAL is abrogated, the Kurdistan Regional Government will have no choice but to refrain from participating in the central government and its institutions, not to take part in the national elections, and to bar representatives of the central Government from Kurdistan.”

What happened later was that Sistani endorsed the intended elections – based almost totally on TAL.

I was also against the ‘major players’ presented to the people by the power of occupation as representing them. Many do not meet my definition for people to be entrusted with looking after the country in these difficult times and writing a constitution that will last. I still am.

I am still “fearful of the long-term damage being done to Iraq and to America”. I still believe that “ True, representative democracy is the only hope”. Democracy, not elections! I still stand by every word that I have written for the past 9 months since I first wrote those words.

The last time I went against the prevailing current, it took 22 years. It was 1982 when I was convinced that the previous regime was leading the country to ruins. When that was proven correct, it was then too late. The country was already in ruins. I can still wait. But this time I hope that the waiting is shorter; I may not live that long. I certainly also hope that the country is not in ruins when that happens. Above all, I hope that I am wrong!

My feelings at the moment are probably similar to the feelings of many people in America and around the world at the end of the US presidential election. No, I feel like someone whose long-awaited newborn turns out to be defective due to some genetic manipulation. Most people have accepted that new-born baby. I hope that with tender care it survives and thrives. I humbly bow to the will of the people… and to collective wisdom!

That was my personal position. I had to make it clear.

Two important observations need to be made on the election itself. They were not mentioned on the media because they refer to things that didn't happen:

1. There were no skirmishes, fights and sectarian or neighborhood battles in the many “mixed” areas of Iraq between people who wanted to vote and those who didn’t. This was a very significant thing that did not happen and was therefore unnoticed!

2. The violent attacks were far less than I expected and feared. They certainly did not reflect the strength of the “insurgency”. One reason of course is that “insurgency” strongholds did not vote. Nevertheless, forces capable of carrying out some 80 daily attacks against the US army could have mounted more and larger attacks on people at the polling stations. Also, we know that "insurgents" have a strong presence in "mixed" areas. My belief is that most of those attacks were carried out by ‘forces of darkness’ who have no qualms about killing Iraqis. This was another good sign.

Will these elections solve the multitude of problems in Iraq, unify the country, end the occupation, bring your boys and girls back home? That is a different question.

With large segments of the country underrepresented for a variety of reasons, how can their integration, already being talked about, into the process be possible (democratically) with the whole country designed as one gigantic electoral district? It may be said that these people gave away their right to have a say in the shape of Iraq by not voting. In theory this may be true and acceptable, if the elections were not polarized and seen as ethnic and sectarian even by those who took part in them. With the question of ethnicity, particularly to public Sunni participation, this takes a new dangerous turn.

At this point, I would like to refer readers interested in some serious analysis to an excellent study from the Project on Defense Alternatives entitled ‘The Iraqi election “bait and switch”’. I am grateful to a reader for the link. It is worth reading carefully. Please keep in mind that that report was compiled before the last elections. A small quote:

The legitimizing effect of the electoral exercise will rest on a simple misperception: Balloting is the most conspicuous element of the democratic process and can be easily mistaken for the whole of it. The world and the media will be enthralled when millions of Iraqis go to the polls on 30 January 2005 to cast votes in the country's first multiparty legislative election since 1953. Some Iraqi voters will have to fight their way, literally, to the ballot box; and some will be killed in the process. This mass expression of democratic passion will be proffered and broadly accepted -- at least outside Iraq -- as a realization of democracy's promise. But to judge the true worth of the event requires us to pay attention to a subtler issue: Will the balloting and the government it produces fairly represent the balance of interests and opinion in Iraqi society?

I hope that the post-election planning is better than the post-invasion planning.

I still have faith in my people who never stop surprising everybody.

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