Saturday, April 16, 2005

 

Houses of Glass


"If your house is made of glass, do not throw stones at people."

This old Iraqi saying is so apt in this discussion: So many of our ‘belief houses’ are made of glass!

All of our value structures are imperfect and incomplete. All, of our ideals leave a lot to be desired when it comes to application to reality and to complex human nature or social development: Religions, Communism, Liberalism, Atheism… you name it! We all (without exception) hold contradictory beliefs.

… Yet most of us choose to close our eyes to our own contradictions and imperfections and prefer to attack other beliefs… yelling that our beliefs are undoubtedly superior.

So, if all our houses are made of glass, why are we all throwing stones at other houses and other people?

The simple reason is that most of us believe that our own houses are not made of glass… but all the others are!

Sometimes we think we can throw stones to larger distances than they can. Sometimes we think that making all other houses look like our own is worth the risk. Sometimes we just want to own and dominate the other houses for economic or ego advantage. Sometimes we do it out of fear of the unfamiliar.

And because we usually turn our backs to our own houses in our attempt to defend them, we cannot see the dirty corners or the incomplete constructions in them. Facing those other houses, we can see all their ‘dirty linen’, all their un-swept corners, all their non-fitting joints and, above all, the ugly residents.

I am not talking about rational discourse!

So many of us are “flatlanders” - people who can only see in two dimensions. How can a flatlander see the other side of the coin? Few flatlanders even realize that they live on one side of a coin. And there are so many coins!

Very few people can see the other houses objectively, though many pretend.
Fewer people can see the beautiful things in other glass houses.

***


A notable exception that we all can learn from is modern 'natural science'. There was a time when 'scientific' laws were sacred. Modern physics has also gone through the pains of transformation but has finally accepted the fallibility of its own laws… that are now seen as only approximations to the truth… and has already begun to crawl carefully and incrementally towards better approximations. Mathematics has already moved even further ahead and has complete sets of ‘alternative axioms’ and whole systems of thought built upon these. Some of these look exceptionally odd… such as systems in which the sum of a triangle’s angles need not be 180 degrees!

Yet nobody is fighting wars or killing other people over these differences!

***


The above remarks are not meant as attacks on all those beliefs and different value systems. On the contrary! They are all part of the great, stumbling human experiment and mankind’s march towards perfection (or towards knowing God, if you like).

All these systems are towing forces pushing and pulling the wagon of human development in different directions that they think will lead to the right course. The human development is the result of all that pushing and pulling. But within each force, protectiveness and prejudice blind us to the merits of the ‘other side’.

People talk of compromise all the time and how important it is. Yet, how many of us are prepared to have a peek at other value systems and compromise our own beliefs? Yet, how can we be aware of other visions and other means of looking at life without talking to people from other ‘worlds’? It doesn’t help to label them as ‘enemies’ and call it a day.

Would it help to look at all those various ‘alternative systems’ of belief and see that they all had their adherents who believed their systems were better to the extent of going to war and risking their lives to ‘spread the word’? This is true for most of the alternatives now held dearly by large segments of mankind: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Communism, Socialism, the Mighty Dollar… and of course Freedom and Democracy.

Has any one of these systems of thought led to Utopia? Some of them have been trying for thousands of years! The best system will probably be the end result or the resultant sum of all those results? We are not there yet.

To bring the issue closer home, consider Communism for example. It was for half a century the leading global enemy of the USA and many other countries. But how many people are aware of its influence on our present perception and on our view of economic injustices present in most societies? [Neo-Reds, Please don’t jump to that keyboard yet! I am not a communist!]

But this painful and blood-soaked process that has taken thousands of years has created a very large ‘grey’ area of common human heritage which billions of mankind share. It includes the large human bank of knowledge, an almost universal sense of right and wrong, a sense of justice and even some shared sense of beauty manifested most visibly in art and architecture.

It is truly a vast, common area.
Yet, so many cannot see it!
They have to win; their system is the best!

That grey, common area is sufficient to accommodate most of mankind. In fact I believe that’s where most of them want to be. They like their glass houses there. Most think that their glass houses are the best and they like to grumble about the ugliness of the others. What’s wrong with that? (In this last remark I am asking for trouble!)

Let humanity’s scouts, free-spirits and independent thinkers venture out of the grey area into the fascinating world of colors and uncharted territories. But let them not invite everybody there until the color of the new territories becomes grey!



A poet with the name of Abul Ataheya who lived in Baghdad more than a thousand years ago, said:

As Times polish me, they show me more of my ignorance…
…And the more I know, the more I grasp the defects of my mind.


Comments:

Well Abu Khaleel,

Very thoughtful post. But one of us is over simplifying as usual - and I'm sure you think it's me...

But what if one of the founding principles of democracy was the acceptance of our human imperfection? And the values of freedom, tolerance, etc., protected by the rule of law, within a system of power derived from constituents, are the conditions required to minimize our 'stumbling' as you call it?

Maybe its just a better mechanism to help us along the rutted road towards "knowing God."

Does my belief that this system is better than say, the system imposed by Saddam Hussein, make me one of those people living in a glass house lobbing rocks at poor Saddam's house?

Of course you may be right. In the end all things are equal. We will all die. And nothing really matters all that much.

In lumping democracy in among the other utopian ideologies (and some not so utopian), I think you are confusing the concepts of a static dogma with that of a dynamic mechanism.
 
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Charles,

I am talking about major systems of belief. Where does it mention Saddam Hussein?

Is this another attempt to derail the discussion from the main subject matter of the post?

You have been reading my posts long enough to know that I am passionate about democracy and completely against Saddam Hussein’s regime. This makes me wonder why you make these remarks!!!

I may be over-simplifying... but I am still not being able to make my presentation simple enough.

Anyway, thank you very much for so clearly demonstrating the main thesis of this post.

In appreciation, may I offer a word of advice re. your comment to Pete on the previous post: Stop banging your head against that brick wall; it could give you a headache. Try instead to raise it a bit… you might be able to see what’s on the other side.
 
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Finished with religions for the time being have you Abu? Who won?
Throwing stones at glass houses reminds one of the Polynesian king who had a large throne built for his coronation. Afterwards he found it was too big for his palace, which after all was just a glorified grass hut. So he decided to stow it away in the roof space. But when they hauled it up there, it was so heavy that the palace collapsed.
See, people who live in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones.
Sorry about that, but it is slightly relevant - part of what you are saying is that it is still a world of considerable diversity, some parts of it aren’t suitable for thrones. I saw it described the other day as a multipolar world.
What the Iraq fiasco has shown, if you ask me, is the complete absurdity of the neo-con "New American Century, world’s only superpower" nonsense in this diverse world. The New American Century is over almost before it has begun - the inability of the US military to deal with a few thousand die-hard Iraqi insurgents revealing the "paper tiger" nature of US pretensions to world leadership or hegemony. Basically its military might is well suited to full-on invasion of smaller countries, but no use at all for bending populations to its will, forcing them to think its way, or winning their hearts and minds with its untrained shoot-first soldiers.
I mean, realistically, the EU is now a larger economic entity than the US, collectively not at all impressed by its military might because it would never be used in Europe; and its politicians by and large have come to just ignore the crude Bush attempts at diplomacy.
India and Pakistan are doing deals to pipe Iranian natural gas. Condi Rice has made disapproving noises, but that’s all they are, just noises - she doesn’t frighten them a bit.
Same of course with China, dickering for Iranian gas and oil, and Venezuelan oil - the US can’t push China around at all, its Central Bank holds too many Treasury Bills.
Nothing terrible happened to Turkey when it refused the US transit facilities for the invasion of Iraq.
With the CIA more or less defunct under its new leadership, the US now has little influence in South America.
(Which incidentally, like most of Europe and the rest of the civilised world, is heading generally in a centre-left direction while the US lurches ever further into the ideological wasteland of the far right.)
Then of course there’s the Arab world, including Iran which has been singularly unimpressed by the Iraq mess. The madmen in charge in the US may eventually bomb Iran’s perfectly respectable nuclear power plant, but even they are not lunatic enough to contemplate invasion now, after the Iraq experience.
All in all, in this multipolar world, it is becoming increasingly clear that the US, dominated by the extreme right, most recently demonstrated by the appointment of Bolton, of all people, to the UN ambassadorship, is actually the isolated rogue state: and most countries are just ignoring it, indifferent to the bluster and muscle-flexing.
And its only taken Bush four years to achieve this, with a fair bit of help from the Iraqi people.
Goodness knows what shambolic mis-steps he will contribute to the "great stumbling human experiment" in the next four. Or whether there’ll be any glass left in his country’s windows.
Circular (getting a bit carried away)
 
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Circular,

… and I didn’t mention George Bush either!

You are not being fair:

1. Did you expect someone to win? Everybody think they did… as usual.

2. I remember you asking several questions about religion (Islam and democracy etc.) I was only trying to oblige!

I was actually hoping to proceed to religious revival, terrorism – roots, possible solutions etc… but perhaps the medium is too acid for such a subject (… and you’d be too bored?)
 
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Hell, Abu, it’s your Blog - you write about religion as much as you like, don’t mind me! It’s the attempts by all and sundry to evangelise for one religion by putting down the other that get up my nose - it’s too much like a school playground argument about whose parents are richer.
Your thoughts on the roots of terrorism would be interesting - always bearing in mind that the original use of the term related I believe to Bolshevik revolutionaries in Russia and anarchists in Europe before WWI? And that the Nazis routinely referred to the Russian, French, Polish etc Resistance fighters as terrorists? What differentiates Arab ones from these?
Circular
 
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Hello Abu Khaleel,
I like your departure from the 'hot-button' universes of religion and politics for the 'meaningless' realm of mathematics in search of metaphors of truth.

The famous Incompleteness Theorem of Godel concerning the impossibility of air-tight mathematical logic comes to mind. Although this theorem can be stated and proved in a rigorously mathematical way, what it seems to say is that rational thought can never penetrate to the final ultimate truth.
But different story came to mind.
Around 500 B.C., Hippasus of Metapontum showed that the square root of 2 is irrational. Pythagoras likely discovered this fact earlier, but kept it secret. Hippasus, then, revealed this secret knowledge of the Pythagoreans to the Greek world.

There are many stories about what happened to Hippasus after that. One story is that, in an act of divine retribution, he died in a shipwreck. Another is that the Pythagoreans, or even Pythagoras himself (although because of the date, this would have been unlikely) killed him. It was also written that the Pythagoreans sacrificed a hecatomb of oxen because of this discovery. At any rate, these people were very enthused about this discovery. Due to political pressure, the sect was disbanded shortly after, but the Pythagoreans then went to Tarentum and elsewhere in southern Italy.
 
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Circular:

Can you give the Anti-American diatribes a rest? We already understand that you despise the Bush Administration. Is there no other topic that interests you?

Abu Khaleel's post raises very interesting issue concerning the broader arc of history and human ideology. All you can do is repeat your another variation of your main theme: George Bush is the "devil" and Americans are becoming like-minded right wing ideologues. The whole subject became excruciatingly boring about the twentieth time you rehashed it.

Abu Khaleel:

You have raised in my mind two subjects that I find extremely interesting, that it, (1) whether human societies are perfectible (or even capable of improving) and (2) whether human nature has changed over time. It is my view that human nature has not changed since men are still prone to the same base desires (e.g., greed, envy, lust, acquisitiveness,) and frailities (e.g., racism, intolerance, bigotry, etc) that they have faced throughout history. Those desires and frailities can lead to unethical, self-interested behavior that we commonly call “sin” or “evil.” As human nature is not changeable, to my mind, the best that can be hoped for is that human societies evolve superior methods of channeling such base desires toward positive ends as well as developing improved methods of coping with the negative consequences of those desires and frailities. All this must be done without trampling on important values like freedom of expression, the right to dissent, etc. They are daunting tasks.

In my opinion, Iraq is poised at a historic cross road. Perhaps, Iraq can emerge from the current chaos and use this opportunity to form better political, governmental and societal systems, which other countries will one-day seek to emulate.

Mark-In-Chi-Town
 
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Mark:
Although Abu Kahleel’s thoughts wander far afield, his Blog is still essentially about Iraq, what has happened and is happening there.
In the simplest terms: if the US had gone into Iraq with purity of motive, and with thorough planning for reconstruction and independence, and with greater respect for the sanctity of innocent lives, you wouldn’t be getting "Anti-American diatribes." They’re not really anti-American anyway - everyone acknowledges the ideals on which America is founded - they’re anti the leaders who in so many ways are betraying those ideals.
I don’t think Abu is talking about perfectibility - he says "Has any one of these systems of thought led to Utopia? Some of them have been trying for thousands of years! The best system will probably be the end result or the resultant sum of all those results? We are not there yet." he is mainly talking about diversity and tolerance.
I think your view of world progress is far too bleak. You say "As human nature is not changeable, to my mind, the best that can be hoped for is that human societies evolve superior methods of channeling such base desires toward positive ends." Maybe human societies could form an international body which could try a bit of channeling, with such things as a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an International Court, a World Health Organisation, etc. Etc. Hey, I know, they could call it the United Nations!
But isn’t your leadership strongly opposed to such a body? Isn’t their attitude that, because they are the biggest and toughest kid in the playground, they’re not too interested in the other kids’ efforts to keep the playground a little bit orderly? The big kid will do what he feels like, and the rest will just have to go along? Isn’t that the idea?
Surely that’s Abu’s point about glass houses? Be different if the big kid was perfect, but as you say perfectibility is probably unattainable for anybody. Meanwhile, big kids with pretensions to lead should surely be wise, moderate, temperate, generous, flexible and tolerant - not just big and tough and determined to hog all the best lollies? Isn’t that what Roosevelt hoped for?
Here endeth the diatribe for today.
Circular
 
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Abu Khaleel,

Don't be so hostile. Peace brother.

I brought up Saddam as a rather blatant example of malevolent autocratic rule to create a contrast with imperfect democracy and its imperfect manifestations.

Your post clearly combines both religious and secular belief systems and ideologies in one big pot and your premise is that 'one should not throw stones' because they are all guilty (the same).

A common trait among autocracies, theocracies, and just about every other form of ideology or political organization for probably 99% of human history has been overt economic and social oppression. Saddam is in fact not as much of an abberation as you might think.

But back to my point. There ARE qualitative differences between political and social systems/ideologies. Some ARE better than others. Maybe it is WRONG to pretend that everything is relative. Maybe it is OK to throw stones sometimes.
 
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Circ,

"Maybe human societies could form an international body which could try a bit of channeling, with such things as a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an International Court, a World Health Organisation, etc. Etc. Hey, I know, they could call it the United Nations!"

Sure, but wouldn't we still be the ones paying for it and enforcing the rules? No one else seems interested.

Honestly, I think its a good idea to increase sovereignty powers at the UN. I could support that in principle. But O N L Y if the UN is made up exclusively of countries that adhere to all of our cherished principles, etc.

Let's make a 5 year plan (like in Soviet times). All countries are provided with minimum standards they must meet if they want to be a part of the UN (this new glorious international arbiter). Democracy for all. Separation of church and state, womens rights, etc., etc. They have the budget to figure it out. If China wants in, they need to make some changes. Russia? Iran? Libya? Saudis? Make a list and check it twice. Also, voting rights would have to be proportional based upon some complex of criteria that include economic weight, population, and some periodical review of adherence to all of the aforementioned standards, etc., etc.

If you don't make the grade you may attend on the balcony and listen politely - but you sure as heck will not exercise any decision making power.

Alas, that is not practical. Some might even consider it an affront to their sacred religious or other right to oppress, pillage, or socially engineer their people. In the end we will have an organization that votes to let Saddam run the non-proliferation efforts, and Sudan to handle international refugee crises, etc.
 
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Charles
"Sure, but wouldn't we still be the ones paying for it and enforcing the rules?"
Someone may like to clarify this for me - I hope I’m wrong, but I’ve read several times that unlike law-abiding countries like NZ, the USA hasn’t paid its UN dues for years?

Regarding standards for admission, I believe this already happens with the European Union.
Turkey is seeking admission, but is having to revise its laws regarding the status of women before it can get in, is that right? The US presumably would not be admissible to the Union because of its capital punishment stance - also because of its current policy of detaining people indefinitely without charge or trial. That’s illegal under UN rules and EU laws.
I take it what you are implying with your final paragraph is: because the UN is not perfect, it is better to have no UN at all. Is that right?

Abu, just belatedly read your latest in "Glimpse of Iraq," about your farm and home being searched by US troops. Congratulations on making such a large point with such economy of illustration.
Are you quite sure you are not some famous novelist in disguise?
Circular
 
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Circular,

I have been accused of many things in the course of writing this blog: an American hater, being part of a Democrat plot, an American liberal disguised as an Iraqi… (I think you may have read some of these) but not a novelist. A novelist? Me?? I thought novelists usually wrote fiction.

Seriously though, thank you. I know it was meant as a compliment. I worry more about making my posts short, clear and simple than about anything in an effort to get my message across to people. Even then I think the difficulty I’m having is quite evident. In fact, for some people, my failure is total!

By the way, I have added a sad update to the post before. The man who brought me the news of that good man’s son being found dead actually broke down in tears. Incidentally, I don’t think I mentioned that Nihad’s father and all his brothers, except a very young one, have been jailed in Abu Gharib for more than two months, uncharged!


Mark-in-Chi-Town,


I once read a translation of a Sumerian clay tablet, written almost 5,000 years ago. Apparently it was written by a grumbling old man (like someone I know) for it was saying things like “A nagging woman in the house is like a toothache!” or “Today’s young generations are worthless; they have no desire to work; they have no respect for their elders”, etc. Imagine, 5,000 years ago! That sort of thing makes you wonder how much we have changed in some aspects!

However, no reasonable person would challenge the fact that humanity has made great moral and ethical strides. Our present status is THE RESULT of all those contributions by all those other systems.

What bothers me at times is that so many Americans genuinely seem to believe that history started sometime in 1700; that they have actually invented democracy and most moral values. Now, everybody has to play by our rules because we are the best and strongest! This is sad.

Some people in America it seems don’t think that it is possible that other people or countries may have other (possibly valid) points of view. I am sure they would be surprised (probably even shocked) by how low the US under the present administration would score on international ethical scales… Using as a criterion its actions as seen (not by the America public alone) but by the world at large.

To be fair, this is not an American invention. This has been the norm in most up-and-coming young countries throughout history (including my own country which was several times guilty of this). However, one would have wished that we have moved past that. As the rest of the world sees it, America is only wrapping those basic aspirations with noble ideals such as Freedom and Democracy. I know that most Americans disagree with this view, but I’m telling you how other people see it. It is up to America to prove them wrong. So far, you have not been particularly successful.
 
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Abu: yes well maybe I should have said "writer" rather than "novelist."
But the post illustrates (a) how interesting the Internet is in enabling such easy communication between people in very different circumstances, and (b) how fairly small things can underline the diversity of the world.
What struck me about your post was the casual way you mentioned that you and all your share-croppers had an AK47 on the farm, and how you and your son both had an AK47 at home.
Can you imagine a society of 4 million people in which nobody at all owns an AK47? A society in which, to the best of my recollection, there has been precisely one criminal homicide by handgun in the last 40 years? (Because in this country firearms aren’t registered, owners are licensed by the Police. And they simply don’t issue licences for handguns or automatic weapons, under any circumstances, because there is no sane reason to do so.)
It’s basically a disarmed society - there’s actually a lot of rifles and shotguns in the hands of farmers, and professional and recreational hunters, but they’re all out in the backblocks. The Police don’t carry guns openly - I think I can accurately say that in 40 years of living in the largest city, I have never seen a person carrying a gun, except of course at military parades.
Yet 60 years ago, NZ was one of the most highly militarised nations on earth. (I remember as a small schoolboy having to learn to use the standard military rifle - the .303 Lee Enfield. Damn thing was longer than I was, and shoved me back several feet every time I fired.)
Diversity indeed. (And I gather many European nations wouldn’t be much different.) Relates to what Charles says: "There ARE qualitative differences between political and social systems/ideologies." If NZ became the fifty-fourth state of the USA, doubtless the arms manufacturers and the NRA would soon see to it that we were all armed to the teeth. Call me old-fashioned, but I wouldn’t see this as a "qualitative" improvement. I prefer the way we are.
What were the rules of firearm ownership under Saddam?
Circular
 
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AK;
Karl Popper is the man who brought the new viewpoint into science; a fascinating man. Here are a couple of short, informative articles about him: biography, philosophy. He wrote a great deal on social and political matters, too.

That saying in English is, "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."

Democracy is the one political system that explicitly accepts that no state of affairs or government has it exactly right, and trusts in the gradual betterment of life through accumulated choices by the people themselves. Or, as Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst of all systems, except for the others which have been tried from time to time."

:)
 
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Mark --

You wrote this, which to MY mind is very interesting:

“(1) whether human societies are perfectible (or even capable of improving) and (2) whether human nature has changed over time. It is my view that human nature has not changed since men are still prone to the same base desires (e.g., greed, envy, lust, acquisitiveness,) and frailities (e.g., racism, intolerance, bigotry, etc) that they have faced throughout history. Those desires and frailities can lead to unethical, self-interested behavior that we commonly call “sin” or “evil.” As human nature is not changeable, to my mind, the best that can be hoped for is that human societies evolve superior methods of channeling such base desires toward positive ends as well as developing improved methods of coping with the negative consequences of those desires and frailities. All this must be done without trampling on important values like freedom of expression, the right to dissent, etc. They are daunting tasks.”

You are addressing a very complex question. Essentially, the answer to that question is two other questions: “What makes us human?” and “Is it possible to change human nature?”

Some societies have undoubtedly tried to “perfect” humanity, and are remembered infamously for it – take Nazi Germany for example.

You state that human nature is not changeable, yet I might add the caveat “in our time frames”. We ought to be comparing man from say 20 000 years ago with man today. I do believe that with the enormous time spans that evolution works in, artificial social pressures might someday produce a type of human that is more altruistic and ‘moral’ than us present specimens. Assuming, naturally, that “morality” is something that is genetically coded to some extent in ourselves, and not merely the product of upbringing and social pressures.

(Of course, the counter-argument to that is that evolution favours those who try to ‘bend the rules’ and indulge in selfish behaviour that takes advantage of other’s good will.)

That is one of my critiques against unfettered capitalism for example – the system is SO stacked to favour the unscrupulous and those that seek to exploit others to the maximum possible extent. The question might be raised: are we products of the system, or does the system reflect us?

Of course, if one goes the opposite route, and adopts a wholly Communist type of system, then one is essentially banking on the goodwill of other humans to work as hard for their fellows as they would for themselves. As we have well seen, this system leads to indifference and apathy. (And ultimately collapse?)

Hmm.

Just some modest thoughts on the subject. Sorry if they seem meandering.
 
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Circ;
"the other kids’ efforts to keep the playground a little bit orderly?" Is that how you see the UN? How does putting Sudan in charge of a Human Rights Commission advance the cause of "orderliness"? How does decades of demonizing of Israel by tin-pot Arab dictatorships and their Coalitions of the Bought advance world order?

Here's a much better international institution in the making. Is that what you were thinking of, Charles?

Bruno;
biological evolution of human form and nature has been displaced by social and "meme" evolution, which is thousands of times faster. Within a century or less biological form and function will be under deliberate control, too. What that means we are as yet unable to guess or gather.
 
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Brian H.
Probably it’s due to sheer ignorance, but I’d never heard of this CD thing before. It sounds as though it might have some positive goals, but Chile? Mali? Really?
Moving away from the UN, which in a sense is a rather defenceless whipping boy, you appear to be of a similar mind to Charles, who apparently believes that "democracy," in the sense of implementation of the will of the majority, is the gaol and highest achievement of civilisation.
I won’t repeat what I’ve said before, about some of us taking mild exception to being lectured about democracy by citizens of a country which we regard as rather less free, democratic and representative than our own. But could I take this opportunity to question the absolute sanctity of the will of the majority, more just to invite discussion about Abu’s glass houses than to be deliberately contentious.
An example from our own history in NZ: from 1977 to 1984, while we still had essentially a two-party system, we had a Prime Minister who was a very effective populist. He was also a domineering bully, and the verdict of history now is that by his dominance of his party he did more harm than good to the country - introducing as an election-year bribe an absurdly expensive and over-generous pension scheme, staving off our exposure to economic reality by propping up the underperforming agricultural sector with subsidies, attempting to achieve energy self-sufficiency with ludicrous "think big" projects, etc. Yet he won three elections in a row on the strength of his personality - the will of the majority?
Another example: I bet that if Hitler had held genuinely democratic elections in Germany in 1940, after the victories over Poland and France, he and the Nazi party would have received an overwhelming endorsement. The will of the majority? What if the majority has got its aims and ideals all wrong?
In terms of Mark and Bruno’s thoughts about the possibility of progress in human affairs, I’m inclined to wonder whether what is necessary is the evolution of democratic structures, presumably of a multi-party and proportional nature, which genuinely reflect the spread of opinion within a society, and require accommodation and compromise to function, rather than simplistic two-party "winner take all" systems such as the US currently operates.
(Sure, it can be inefficient and messy - look at the history of Italy’s government since WWII. But Italy’s still there and functioning, its a civilised and basically law-abiding society.)
After all, that seems to be what the Coalition, perhaps unintentionally, has introduced in Iraq?
In a sense it’s the absolute opposite of the "grassroots" approach to democracy that Abu advocated. But in another sense, it may in the long run get him more of what he wants than if just one party ruled absolutely?
Circular
 
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Brian,

I have never heard of CD but its pretty much in line with my thinking.

Circ,

We all know that NZ is the finest country on the planet. I'm not being facetious. A friend of mine just spent a few weeks there and said its a bloody paradise.

"Charles who apparently believes that "democracy," in the sense of implementation of the will of the majority, is the gaol and highest achievement of civilisation."

Feeling dramatic are we Circ? Nah - I won't bother, other than to say that in general, democratic structures are better at working out long term political solutions than non-democratic structures. Do you prefer the rule of a minority that is not accountable to the majority?? This is a dumb argument. Before you get upset, please keep in mind that I referred to the argument as dumb and not you.

I do think its important to compare different political systems because little refinements here and there could certainly improve things. Maybe even some big refinements. A two party system certainly adds stability in very large countries. I wonder what opening things up to many parties would mean for the US? Politics here are pretty centrist. They may look very divisive from abroad, but that is not the case in reality. I know the media played that record over and over for a while - far left - far right - clash of civilizations, etc. I really don't think many blue stater's moved to Canada or France.

If you do have any bright ideas on how to improve America please let me know and I'll put them in the suggestion box.

In direct relation to our two-party system, I think your historical reference to Hitler was way off target with regard to a populist/fascist takeover. Weimar Germany was a weak multiparty system.

With regard to your left wing populist leader who tried protectionism and government funded programs to woo the people, it just shows that even people in paradise can be dumb. But that's the nice thing about democracy, you can learn a hard lesson and vote republican the next time around.
 
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Charles, you do try to communicate, but boy it's uphill work getting through.
1)If you read carefully, you'll see that my reference to Germany was nothing at all to do with Weimar: I was saying that in 1940 a majority of Germans would have endorsed the Nazis in a free election. This was an example of the views of the majority not necessarily being always the best thing.
2)Don't jump to conclusions on the basis of inadequate assumptions: the NZ politician I described was right-wing, not left-wing.
3)My whole point was that in the US, as in most western countries, there is a spectrum of opinion from far right to far left (not much of the latter in the US, admittedly) with the actual majority viewpoint somewhere round the centre. The two-party setup in the US, particularly with the Republicans in power in both houses, has allowed excessive power to be in a sense hijacked by the far right. Probably things will swing back more towards the centre in time, but a more proportional system may tend to prevent such extreme swings. You say you've got stability from your two-party system, but have you really got democracy, to the extent that we and many European countries now have?
Circular
 
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Circ;
You got most of that bass-ackwards. (BTW, it's spelled 'goal', not 'gaol'.)

Representative democracy, which is what even towns have these days, is divided between various parties. Even minority groups get to play, and object loudly if abuse is threatened. Secondly, European representative democracies are derivative; the US was first. Protection against tyranny of the majority was written into it in many ways: see the design of the Senate, the independent judiciary, and explicit limitations on what governments could do. And many of the Euros have very recent hierarchical control system history, and are thus inclined to yield far too much authority to the Big Man, just like Africa. Russia is but an extreme example.

For those interested, this Anglosphere article might give a further clue about what's going on.
 
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Brian
1) Abu likes us to maintain a reasonably civil tone on his Blog.
The second line of my post that you refer to shows that I do, in fact, know how to spell goal. The second instance is obviously a typing error, not a mis-spelling. Could I ask what compels you to make this sort of unnecessary, snide, supercilious dig? What does it contribute to the discussion, beyond perhaps indicating some sort of character flaw?
2) I guess I must have been misreading all my life when I thought I was seeing references to the Mother of Parliaments in Britain, or the ideals of Liberty, Egality, Fraternity being born in France, etc. It is very useful to learn that it really all began in the USA.
3) In that regard, perhaps you can comment on this: Germany is now as democratic as anywhere, but you don’t hear them boasting about it. Perhaps their awareness of their unfortunate history promotes a certain humility or reticence among them?
I mean, the Preamble to the Constitution, or whatever it is, sounds great, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ... etc. For most of your history, it should actually in practice have read "... all men are created equal, ‘ceptin of cawse fer Nigras and Injuns ..." It wasn’t so much slavery, in which many nations were complicit, it was the way the Negroes were treated in the American heartland, the South, for a hundred years after the Civil War. One does wonder whether there wasn’t some deep sickness in the American soul that bred such hatred and unfairness among so many whites.
I believe Negroes were generally considered unfit to be used as fighting troops during WWII, although I understand there was an effective armoured division and fighter squadron at least.
In my country, Maoris fought and died alongside their white countrymen in both World Wars, without distinction of race. (The separate and very devastating Maori Battalion being a special arrangement to do with Maori cultural pride, not white racism.)
Isn’t humility meant to be a virtue, particularly when we have something rather nasty in our past to be humble about?
I have mentioned, and Charles has sort of endorsed, that we in our simple country way pride ourselves on being perhaps the most fair and democratic society on earth, and on having been so for a very long time - first country to give women the vote, most recent country to radically overhaul its democratic system in the pursuit of greater representation, etc.
Ever hear about trying to teach your grandmother to suck eggs?
Circular
 
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I'd better go away now, don't want to hog the blog.
But I've just realised that Charles has said something that must be corrected, when he quotes his friend describing NZ as a paradise.
In Paradise, a jihadi martyr is rewarded with the services of 72 virgins, isn't he?
Charles, NZ can't be Paradise. You would never find 72 virgins here - not meek submissive ones anyway.
More's the pity!
Circular
 
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With regards to that "caucuses of the democracies" that Brian H linked to:

*******

This article on the “caucus of democracies” was indeed very interesting.

Bravo!

Finally there is somebody willing to take a stand on dictatorships and the hardships that they cause. Indeed, authoritarian rule has generally (not universally – there are always exceptions) been a blight on humanity.

However, a cursory analysis of this article reveals significant shortcomings and confused thinking that really ought to be resolved before this idea of a “caucus” is taken any further.

Foremost amongst the deficiencies is the sad reality that this paper does not nearly go far enough to combat dictatorships. It is all very well pontificating against them; what do they intend on DOING about the problem? For example, many of these corrupt dictators are propped up by rogue states that have only their own interests at heart. For these rogue states, dealing with a single pliant subordinate dictator is far easier than wrangling with an unstable (ie- with a changing government) democracy that may well have its own interests at heart rather than the foreigner’s.

For concrete examples of this attitude one needs look no further than Egypt, which receives literally billions of dollars in military and other aid from the largest of these rogue states, which it uses to suppress its populace with. Egypt is hardly a multiparty democracy. Other dictatorships that need serious attention are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, Kuwait – these being some Middle Eastern examples alone , supported by this same large rogue state.

Now, surely it is not enough to remove these dictatorships, surely one must deal with the roots of the problem and not only exclude, but also isolate the foreign supporters of these regimes from any democratic caucus?

History has amply shown that these foreign rogue states are quite happy to subvert a democracy in order to implant their own ‘groomed’ rulers. Simply take Iran in 1953 for a prime example of a home-grown democracy being subverted in the name of profit. What is to prevent these same states from subverting the democratic process in newly democratized countries? Their agenda can simply be accomplished through the wielding of their considerable military and monetary influence in order to direct the process into a direction favourable to themselves. This attitude has amply been demonstrated in the foreign interference shown in recent “elections” in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thus, I advocate the isolation and marginalisation of rogue states that are prone to supporting these despicable authoritarian systems. It is not enough to cut the tree of dictatorship down, one must also poison the roots from whence it springs.

Secondly, surely it would be better to ascertain oneself that a country is truly a democratically minded country before allowing admission. Perhaps it would be best if countries that wish to join the “caucus” both apologise for any previous undemocratic and oppressive conduct, (such as in the case of the Sykes-Picot agreement, for example), and furthermore pay reparations for damages and material wealth expropriated under these imposed agreements.

Naturally, in the spirit of fairness, the payment of the entire amount may cause their ailing economies to collapse, so perhaps a lesser, but still substantial sum, could be levied.

The second important point is the ambiguous light in which the authors of the article view the UN. A single example is their stance regarding Israel.

On the one hand they applaud the world body for legislating the formal creation of the state of Israel in 1948; on the other hand these authors take the UN to task for numerous resolutions against that country. It is almost as if the authors select in a most biased manner, the resolutions that are pro-Israeli as being “right” and those against Israel as being “wrong”. In other words, they appear to equate the moral correctness of the UN as hinging on whether a given resolution is pro or anti Israeli. Surely if the UN is wholly corrupt, then its recognition of Israel as a state is invalid? The authors of the article ignore the fact that the possibility exists of the UN judging on a case by case basis each individual action of a state, and that this has led to the seemingly contradictory resolutions.

This partisan view of the UN is very worrying, in that it reveals that the drafters of this “caucus for democracies” document have an agenda, and it reveals that they are not shy of manipulating world bodies such as the UN in order to achieve their agenda. In fact, given that the drafters of the document so obviously are biased towards the US and Israel, might it not be fairly asked of them if their agenda is to have a new world body that is Pro-America rather than Pro-Democracy? Indeed, their very own article admits that “Secretary of State Colin Powell called it "a new tool in the U.S. policy tool bag."”.

And is it not ironic to note the stress laid on the halting of human rights abuses and the stress laid on human dignity when the US itself is drifting away from these ideals in the form of aggressive, borderline torture interrogation techniques, intrusive security laws and a modus operandi in foreign countries that suggests that as far as democracy and human rights are concerned, lip service is ample service.
 
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Hello Abu Khaleel,
It is ironic that poor Iraq is currently, the 'test kitchen' of many neocon ideologies right now, most of which appear to run strongly counter to Iraqi history and culture. Once the US leaves we can see how successful (lasting) these 'innovations' are. They seem to be disasterous now.

There is the question of how universal are so-called 'human values'. For example, what is the 'value' of becoming rich (capitalism)? If these values are not the same for everyone, then 'stone throwing' becomes reckless and indefensible.
The worse aspect of stone-throwing behavior(polemics) is the way we are distracted from extremely serious problems like unemployment, development mismanagement and the environment.

Charles,
You do raise some interesting issues(to me) but I feel a little embarrassed responding to you as it may be seen as an endorsement of your continual hijacking of this blog. You are always more than a little 'off-topic'. Let me suggest to our host that future topics be 'what is democracy' or 'democracy and free markets',etc, so you can exhaust your ideas that limited subject.
 
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Bruno;
My design would be more robust: Only governments that had been changed twice in open elections (i.e., different parties in power) in the last 25 years qualify for full votes. Candidates with shorter histories get one half vote. Others get none. Full members are obligated to defend each other if attacked, or join in any attack on non-members. Any member can attack any non-member at any time for any reason. :)

Dues paid to the UN are to be reduced by ½ the amount paid into the new organization. Any member can be expelled by 2/3 vote at any time.

Further, Bruno, you will notice that the "drift" you find ironic is actually being reported and curtailed in the light of day, with considerable excessive hyperbolic comparisons of the "moral equivalence" sort being thrown at it. More abuse goes on in any given day in Turkish, Iranian, or Syrian jails than all the accumulated abuses in Iraq or world-wide by US authorities or forces in a year, I betcha. But where is the squawking about that? Hypocrisy makes criticism so much more fun, doesn't it?
 
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Circ,

"introducing as an election-year bribe an absurdly expensive and over-generous pension scheme, staving off our exposure to economic reality by propping up the underperforming agricultural sector with subsidies,"

Hmmmm. If that guy was conservative, what does your left look like?

I do recognize the fact that your Hitler reference was 1940. But he did come to power as head of a party in 1933 elections. Of course he then proceeded to retire/kill/bully any potential rivals into submission and overturn their constitution, which made it unlikely that a hypothetical 1940 election would have been fair. You presented a very extreme hypothetical.

@ Socialist Anon,

Funny how any position you disagree with becomes a 'hijacking' of the discussion. I was responding to Circ who brought the issue up. Its especially funny considering you brought up "extremely serious problems like unemployment, development mismanagement and the environment" writ large in the same breath.

Please clarify, is the neocon test kitchen of establishing democracy in Iraq bad because the Iraqi's prefer a despot? Is it 'democracy' that is wrong for Iraq (based upon their history/traditions)? Or the fact that the evil neocons got rid of Saddam? Have we disrupted their despotic political predispositions?

Oh - the horror!

Democracy certainly could fail in Iraq. Not too many people are helping that is for sure. A beautiful future full of nice things like freedom and tolerance will have to be fought for. It always has to be fought for and protected. There are no guarantees.
 
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Charles,
I am rising to your bait, against my better judgement. My apologies to you, Abu Khaleel.

I brought up neocon ecomonic policy as an example of how poorly US concepts of democracy (whatever the hell that means) and free markets fits with Islamic civilization, which has a consultative democracy model-more like the Japanese consensus building model than the conflict-mongering US model( maybe Japan isn't a real democracy?!).

"Its especially funny considering you brought up "extremely serious problems like unemployment, development mismanagement and the environment" writ large in the same breath."
So the above issues are really only issues of democracy?
So unemployment is just a political problem, not a matter of economic inequality and allocation of resources. Even you're not so dull-witted as to believe that air pollution is a political issue-it is a technological one. Not everything is about 'democracy', or as the Japanese used to say 'demo[nstration]-crazy'. Interesting that economically you 'free market-political-democrats' are either liberatian anarchists or outright fascists( military industrial complex).

"Democracy certainly could fail in Iraq. Not too many people are helping that is for sure."
A foreign idea will be rejected in the end which is why Iraqis must determine every element of their democracy. But thanks for the TAL!
"A beautiful future full of nice things like freedom and tolerance will have to be fought for. It always has to be fought for and protected. There are no guarantees."
LOL, pure democracy like pure[adolescent] love! I wanna cry!
It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.-Voltaire
 
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@ Anon,

"Islamic civilization, which has a consultative democracy model"

Whoo-hoo! Just brilliant. I'm sure Saddam, Khadaffi, Taliban, and just about every other Islamic leader would be just giddy if they could see you describe their regimes as consultative democracies! History is just chock full of Islamic consultative democracies. Thanks for clearing that up.

If you are referring to how local towns and administrative districts handle politics, then you have made a moderately obvious point - but that is a rhetorical gift to you. In case you didn't know, that is how most local administrations in the US are run - town hall meetings, citizens bring up their ideas/complaints, and the issues are compromised. at the state and federal levels it actually functions the same way. Dems and Reps negotiate, cut deals, and compromise on issues to get things done. What was your point about 'consultative democracies' again?

I'm not sure what the environmental rant was about...

"outright fascists"

Yeah - and Saddam loved to consult... suuuuuuuure.

"A foreign idea will be rejected in the end which is why Iraqis must determine every element of their democracy. But thanks for the TAL!"

Goodness - you mean it wasn't perfect? Thanks for your input. I'm sure Iraq would have been better off without it. But we all do hope thatthe Iraqi's will determine their own form of democracy that works best for them. Of course its a process of refinement that will go on indefinitely - we can only hope...

"LOL, pure democracy like pure[adolescent] love! I wanna cry!"

Pure democracy? Suuuure. I guess your point is that until perfection falls from the sky like mana from heaven, we should all just sit back and complain. Very constructive strategy.
 
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Hello Abu Khaleel,
The following is not directed at you.
Arrrgh..Why is blogger.com eating my comments again??????
Charles,
I had you in my sights, but thanks to blogger.com you live another day...dagnabbit.
 
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Anon,

Mwaaaaaaahaaaa haaaaaa haaaaaa

(evil fascist laugh)
 
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Brian H –

[Brian h]” […] you will notice that the "drift" you find ironic is actually being reported and curtailed in the light of day, with considerable excessive hyperbolic comparisons of the "moral equivalence" sort being thrown at it. More abuse goes on in any given day in Turkish, Iranian, or Syrian jails than all the accumulated abuses in Iraq or world-wide by US authorities or forces in a year, I betcha.”

Any statistics on that? No, I don’t suppose so. I’m sure that your defence of the system is of great comfort to the 17 000 mostly uncharged Iraqi detainees in the tender care of the US military in Iraq right now. I mean, its not as if the army itself has previously admitted that 70-90% of all detainees in its custody were innocent of any crime, and its not as if they are rioting due to the abominable conditions in which they are being held, is it?

Apart from this, my point is that if the US matched its rhetoric with umm, ACTION in line with what it spouts the net effect would be massive. The continual cozying up to dictators that the US is prone to not only seriously undermines its image as a force for freedom but furthermore enforces the trend of dictatorial types (have you checked on your central Asian allies lately) selling their own people down the river for the sake of US support.

The American attitude of “do as I say not as I do” reinforces the image of it being a hypocritical power with dictatorial aspirations; this is really sad, when in reality it could be so much better.
 
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Abu Khaleel:

Your observation that many Americans are ignorant concerning the historic democratic traditions of other countries seems accurate. The American founding fathers were, by contrast, extremely cognizant of the British democratic conditions and were well read in the history (particularly, Adams, Madison, etc.) of democratic government traditions in the ancient Greek city-states as well as in certain periods of ancient Roman history. That being said, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights have had wide influence on the legal and political systems of other countries.

As to world public opinion, perhaps you have never been personally involved in democratic politics, unfortunately, for my own sanity, my wife and I have (thankfully only on a local scale). The one thing that became crystal clear, after a very brief period of responsibility for government action is that, even the most benign, well intentioned action, meets with a certain level of complaint and dissatisfaction. Further, the satisfied tend to be far less vocal than the dissatisfied so that it often difficult for the politician to assess the true level of support for any given action. Still further, the initially dissatisfied are often persuaded in the fullness of time that their initial complaints were misguided.

For these reasons, the short term swings in public opinion (whether domestic or international) on U.S. policy, while relevant, cannot be allowed to drive it. Otherwise, policy will flap back and forth with each unpredictable gust of the political winds. Accordingly, I do not find current world opinion on U.S. policy as worrisome as others.

You are correct that the fullness of time will better illuminate true U.S. intentions. Further, the more militaristic and muscular policies of the Bush administration are likely to be discarded by the next administration whether it is of the left, right or center due to national fatigue with the human and material costs (although this could change if there is a 9/11, act two).

Bruno:

The implied standards for judging U.S. conduct set forth by you and Circular are completely unrealistic. U.S. policy, just like in any other country, will reflect an element of self-interest, as well as, in most case, some altruism, respect for the rule of international law, or the rights of others. The judgments need to be made on the relative balance of those factors which underlie each action or policy.

As to propping up despots and dictators, what is your current solution to dealing with such potentially hostile sovereign governments? Remove them, hostile confrontation, encourage internal rebellion, or attempt to influence by carrots and sticks? Each approach has its own merits and pitfalls. Should you put any value on the human suffering that might be caused by encouraging political instability into your decision matrix? How much influence can a government hope to have on another one for which it has expressed open hostility or condemnation? The solution to removing despots does not appear to lie in current International law or the U.N.

The U.N. is not designed to, nor is it politically capable of, effectively dealing with despotic leaders. If such a despot stops just short of genocide, there is little the U.N., as currently designed, can even attempt to do. Mere "human right violations" concerning political rights, which might bring censure in the International Court of Justice, are very unlikely to precipitate international military action to remove a despot. As you know, the U.N., like the pope has exactly "zero" armored divisions. It therefore must rely on either its moral standing or on the forces of nation states for enforcement actions. Even cases of outright genocide (e.g., Rwanda, Bosnia, Sudan), there is little international interest in military intervention unless some nation-state has strong national interests to protect. As a result, one can see that "world government" with the requisite military power to enforce its will is a long way off. What to do in the interim?

Mark-In-Chi-Town
 
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Abu Khaleel:

Your observation that many Americans are ignorant concerning the historic democratic traditions of other countries seems accurate. The American founding fathers were, by contrast, extremely cognizant of the British democratic conditions and were well read in the history (particularly, Adams, Madison, etc.) of democratic government traditions in the ancient Greek city-states as well as in certain periods of ancient Roman history. That being said, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights have had wide influence on the legal and political systems of other countries.

As to world public opinion, perhaps you have never been personally involved in democratic politics, unfortunately, for my own sanity, my wife and I have (thankfully only on a local scale). The one thing that became crystal clear, after a very brief period of responsibility for government action is that, even the most benign, well intentioned action, meets with a certain level of complaint and dissatisfaction. Further, the satisfied tend to be far less vocal than the dissatisfied so that it often difficult for the politician to assess the true level of support for any given action. Still further, the initially dissatisfied are often persuaded in the fullness of time that their initial complaints were misguided.

For these reasons, the short term swings in public opinion (whether domestic or international) on U.S. policy, while relevant, cannot be allowed to drive it. Otherwise, policy will flap back and forth with each unpredictable gust of the political winds. Accordingly, I do not find current world opinion on U.S. policy as worrisome as others.

You are correct that the fullness of time will better illuminate true U.S. intentions. Further, the more militaristic and muscular policies of the Bush administration are likely to be discarded by the next administration whether it is of the left, right or center due to national fatigue with the human and material costs (although this could change if there is a 9/11, act two).

Bruno:

The implied standards for judging U.S. conduct set forth by you and Circular are completely unrealistic. U.S. policy, just like in any other country, will reflect an element of self-interest, as well as, in most case, some altruism, respect for the rule of international law, or the rights of others. The judgments need to be made on the relative balance of those factors which underlie each action or policy.

As to propping up despots and dictators, what is your current solution to dealing with such potentially hostile sovereign governments? Remove them, hostile confrontation, encourage internal rebellion, or attempt to influence by carrots and sticks? Each approach has its own merits and pitfalls. Should you put any value on the human suffering that might be caused by encouraging political instability into your decision matrix? How much influence can a government hope to have on another one for which it has expressed open hostility or condemnation? The solution to removing despots does not appear to lie in current International law or the U.N.

The U.N. is not designed to, nor is it politically capable of, effectively dealing with despotic leaders. If such a despot stops just short of genocide, there is little the U.N., as currently designed, can even attempt to do. Mere "human right violations" concerning political rights, which might bring censure in the International Court of Justice, are very unlikely to precipitate international military action to remove a despot. As you know, the U.N., like the pope has exactly "zero" armored divisions. It therefore must rely on either its moral standing or on the forces of nation states for enforcement actions. Even cases of outright genocide (e.g., Rwanda, Bosnia, Sudan), there is little international interest in military intervention unless some nation-state has strong national interests to protect. As a result, one can see that "world government" with the requisite military power to enforce its will is a long way off. What to do in the interim?

Mark-In-Chi-Town
 
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Mark
Although you have taken exception to my repetitive "Anti-Bush diatribes," you seem to be addressing me by lumping me in with Bruno in your post above, so presumably you won’t mind if I respond, even if my response does contain some reference to what you call "the more militaristic and muscular policies of the Bush administration."
I had found you one of the more sober and intelligent of Abu’s correspondents, so it’s a bit disappointing to find you apparently repeating the simple-minded propaganda line espoused by the likes of Charles - ie that Dubya’s Iraq adventure was nothing to do with oil, hegemony, exploitation, it was just a totally altruistic enterprise to bring democracy (and unbridled capitalism) at the point of a gun.
When you say "world government" is a long way off, and ask what to do in the interim, the implied answer appears to be to rely on the "militaristic and muscular policies" of the world’s only superpower to maintain order, mainly by attacking, or at least intimidating, tyrants, despots, dictatorships, autocracies, etc.
Am I being naive in wondering whether the reducing number of repressive, truly undemocratic regimes are really the world’s greatest problem, to be sorted out by hook or by crook before the end of Dubya’s second term? I mean, where were you guys twenty or thirty years ago? Much of the "non-democratic" world has moved away from autocracy and towards greater freedom and representation since then, without the assistance of the US Marines storming ashore - the list is quite impressive, most of the former Soviet Union and its satellites, the Iberian peninsular, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Africa, etc. Hell, even China, nominally still a Communist dictatorship, seems by and large to let its citizens come and go as they please, and do what they like, as long as they keep their mouths shut. And of course Bruno’s your man if you want details of unashamedly hypocritical US support for undemocratic Arab regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria.
The few remaining true extreme despotisms - like North Korea, Burma, Cuba and Iran if you like - seem frankly to be more likely to just "wither on the vine" if left alone rather than by being provoked and attacked. (Until you can extract yourselves from Iraq you don’t really have the boots on the ground to conduct any more invasive attacks anyway?)
Meanwhile there are so many other world problems to be addressed: whatever your scientific convictions, it seems clear that the pollution/global warming problem is not imaginary; the problem of Aids in Africa, the problems of Sub-Saharan in general, will only be alleviated with world assistance; the world-wide empire of drugs and associated crime just keeps on growing;
and other correspondents could doubtless add many of their own favourite nightmares. (Can the world really progress towards a more enlightened future while 5 percent of its population, on the North American continent, continue to consume a hugely disproportionate share of its resources - what is it, 30%, 50%, I forget? - and while more and more global wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands?)
I’m sorry, but I just don’t like living in a world where the sole superpower seems to by motivated increasingly by pure self-interest and an instinctive hostility towards virtually everyone else. I don’t think Abu does either, when it leads to his farm and home being searched by the superpower’s soldiers. He doesn’t seem to have done or said anything to deserve that.
I think we’d both prefer a more friendly and moderate "big brother."
Circular
 
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Circ,

"the simple-minded propaganda line espoused by the likes of Charles -"

Ouch. I mean sure I'm not the brightest fellow, but please...

"ie that Dubya’s Iraq adventure was nothing to do with oil, hegemony, exploitation, it was just a totally altruistic enterprise to bring democracy (and unbridled capitalism) at the point of a gun."

For someone so much smarter than me (and most other Americans), you seem to have trouble supporting your point unless you use hyperbole to present an opposing point of view.

What if the US self interest had less to do with pillaging, exploitation, etc., and more to do with protecting the general interests of the free world - AS WE HAVE BEEN DOING FOR WELL ON 60+ FRIGGIN YEARS? Eh?

It isn't always pretty. It isn't always perfect. It NEVER will be.

Yes it is in US interests that the ME democratizes, that it doesn't fall under the control of either communists or Islamic fascists, or just plain megalomaniac dictators. But it is not just in our interests. The world is heavily dependent upon this region.

We are not stealing from Iraq, pillaging its wealth, or raping its daughters.
 
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Charlie mate
Don’t get your toga in a knot! I was calling the propaganda line "simple-minded," not you personally.
Several points raised, actually.
"What if the US self interest had less to do with pillaging, exploitation, etc., and more to do with protecting the general interests of the free world - AS WE HAVE BEEN DOING FOR WELL ON 60+ FRIGGIN YEARS? Eh?"
Fine, like I said, most of the world is now "free," or better than it used to be, anyway. You’ve done it, great! Why not cool down a bit, take it easy for a while? What’s the big rush to get it all sorted RIGHT NOW. Your country is under no immediate threat of invasion or attack by anyone (except a few terrorists, I admit.) Why not let your National Guard get back to doing what they signed up for, protecting the Homeland at home, not abroad in a non-emergency. Why abuse the loyalty of your troops with stop-loss policies when you don’t really need cold-war levels of world-wide deployment any more? 9/11 was a bit like a home invasion, I guess, and you were justified in going after the guys who did it, but does everyone else in your street really want you patrolling the neighbourhood indefinitely as a heavily-armed, hyped-up self-appointed vigilante?
"Yes it is in US interests that the ME democratizes, that it doesn't fall under the control of either communists or Islamic fascists, or just plain megalomaniac dictators. But it is not just in our interests. The world is heavily dependent upon this region."
Fine again, but again what’s the rush, what’s wrong with old-fashioned diplomacy, the softly-softly approach? I refer again to Abu’s post about his experiences with US troops. One thing he’s implying is that nobody likes being bullied - and my understanding is that that is where a significant element of the Iraq insurgency is coming from.
In any case, promoting "democracy" in the Middle East is not going to help much with the sort of international, whole-world problems I mentioned, like pollution and drugs. I mean, as I understand it the main industry in Afghanistan now is growing opium?
Big tough cops are fine. Wise, calm, empathetic, reasonable cops are even better. And infinitely preferable to vigilantes.
"We are not stealing from Iraq, pillaging its wealth, or raping its daughters."
Do you include Halliburton and Bechtel in "we?" And haven’t you bombed and shot quite a few of Iraq’s daughters in the last few year? Including the one’s at the Makr AlDeeb wedding massacre, which was what got me interested in this whole thing.
Circular
 
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I was calling the propaganda line "simple-minded,"

And your claim that the driving force behind US policy was the motive of pillage, plunder, and exploitation is not simple minded? "Unbridled capitalism?"

You have been reading far to many of those "World Socialism" newspapers. The same arguments have been regurgitated over and over against the US for decades.

"Why not cool down a bit, take it easy for a while? What’s the big rush to get it all sorted RIGHT NOW."

Well, the immediate issue post 9/11 is that it is clear that ME radicals will use any weapon at their disposal to wreak havoc on US civilians (or anyone else they see as the enemy - which turns out to be just about everyone except for themselves). 100 killed, great, 1,000,000 killed - even better. You may doubt their will but I do not. You may think it's just propaganda (from your beautiful green hillside swarming with furry creatures in the calming shade of some snow capped mountain in the land of far far away), but I do not. A "few" terrorists can cause a lot of damage. They will not need to assemble a vast armada, and they will certainly not provide warning before their attack. We must kill them, and use all other means at our disposal to eliminate the foundations of their power base (ME despots, and the general absence of democratic principles, economic prosperity, and tolerance that would mitigate radical elements).

I think it was Bruno who recently criticized the US sponsoring peace between Isreal/Egypt to the tune of several billion per year.

We can't use carrots - we can't use sticks. We ought to just sit our arses down and hope for the best - eh?

Not likely. Show me a realistic option.
 
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PS - I just saw the clip where the 'freedom fighters' murdered the wounded bulgarian helicopter pilot. They talked to him, helped him stand up - A few ala akbars and then they pumped him with about a dozen rounds. He was just standing there - not wounded too badly - fully coherent. They continued to riddle his dead body with bullets.

Hurrah for your freedom fighters!

Won't it be swell if they take over again? I'll bet they will take care of global warming right quick!
 
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Calm down, Charles, think of your blood pressure! We don’t want to lose you!
"We can't use carrots - we can't use sticks ... Show me a realistic option."
Well you probably can use some carrots, actually, but getting into that would be a long and complicated discussion. But just as an example, it would be nice for the world if SOMEONE in the Bush family, or the Bush administration, would SOMEDAY say SOMETHING about that planeload of Saudi royals who were whisked out of the USA the day after 9/11. Even if just to deny it! They clearly knew that something was in the pipeline from their countryman Bin Laden, and they recognised it as soon as it happened. Have you maybe been giving carrots to the wrong bunnies? Isn’t honesty and openness a nicer carrot?
And you can and should use sticks. But not bloody huge clubs, on the wrong heads!
Realistically, there can only be I dunno maybe a few hundred thousand mad Mullahs and fanatics who actually pose a direct danger of lunatic and suicidal attacks on the US and its citizens abroad. Say a million tops - out of 1.2 billion Muslims. Less than .01 percent. I’ve probably got less tolerance for the crazier aspects of their religion than you have, but I just can’t see the sense in beating up on, and antagonising, the whole bloody lot of them in order to get at that half million. Bullying innocent people just doesn’t work, it only makes enemies and demeans the bully. I’d be more inclined to use the stick on the Saudi royals myself - they could control their Mullahs if they were given enough incentive. Beating the daylights out of Iraq doesn’t seem to be the right sort of incentive for them.
Remember the girl GI on Abu’s farm, who called out "We want to be your friends." And the Marine General who said that killing is fun.
Sitting here in the paddock, surrounded by all my woolly mates - not now, Bessie, I’m busy, perhaps later dear - I’m damn sure which one I prefer.
Circular


.
 
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Circ,

I think you've been watching too many Michael Moore films. Let me just hazard a guess that it probably wouldn't be too safe for members of the highly respected Bin Laden family and other Saudis to dally about the countryside in the days after 9/11.

Are you insinuating that people who left the US were somehow behind 9/11? And that we knew that all along but still let them go? meaning that we too were behind 9/11? In fact it was a Bush /Cheney plan all along so that they could invade Iraq and give contracts to Cheney's company Haliburton? Eh? is that your story line?

I would love to see a pole on how many people worldwide believe that kind of stuff.

"And you can and should use sticks. But not bloody huge clubs, on the wrong heads!"

I think Saddam and his ilke were long overdue for ouster. Is there any reason on earth why he of all people should be leading a country, killing his people, starting wars, etc., etc.? There are others like him as well. Based upon what moral principle should they remain in power? If the civilized world would stand up but once or twice against these people the problem would disappear very quickly.

The slaughter we see in Iraq is caused by terrorists. Why aren't the kiwis up in arms - or at least providing the occasional pat on the back to reassure the general Iraqi populace that the world is behind them 100% and supports them against the terrorists? Why not send over a battalion of 'good' cops?

Why is it that the majority of international sentiment is directed against the US - when Saddam was the brutal dictator and terrorists are deliberately slaughtering civilians? Doesn't that strike you as odd? I find it ludicrous.

You don't approve of the Marine General who took pleasure in killing terrorists? While I probably would not have chosen those same words, I would think that a trained soldier probably does get some satisfaction from prevailing over an enemy who is trying to kill him. I would be awfully concerned if a Marine General got all teary over the battle deaths of his murderous enemies.

Do you honestly think that if a platoon of Kiwi special forces defeated terrorists in battle that they wouldn't be elated? Should a well trained cop feel bad for shooting a murderer? I don't see your point other than to yet again drop in a bit of propaganda.
 
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"Are you insinuating that people who left the US were somehow behind 9/11? And that we knew that all along but still let them go? meaning that we too were behind 9/11? In fact it was a Bush /Cheney plan all along so that they could invade Iraq and give contracts to Cheney's company Haliburton? Eh? is that your story line?"
No, you idiot. I don’t need to insinuate extremist fantasy. Isn’t it enough to insinuate that the Saudi royal family were not totally divorced from Bin Laden, and that the Bushes were cosily in bed with the Saudis, who to my mind are no better than Saddam. Clinton with his "101 Things a Bright Boy Can Do With a Cigar" was sleazy enough, but he was a Boy Scout compared with the Bushies. Neither of them reflect much credit on their nation. No senior politician in this country has ever been involved in a sexual scandal, and certainly not in a corruption scandal, not for 100 years anyway. Isn’t it about time the US grew up?
"Do you honestly think that if a platoon of Kiwi special forces defeated terrorists in battle that they wouldn't be elated?" They did, in Afghanistan, two years ago. Bush gave them a Presidential Unit Citation for doing it. They probably weren’t especially elated - just doing their job. But they were doubtless happy that they didn’t kill lots of innocent civilians in the process. Sticks, not clubs.
Circular
 
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Circ,

The only people happy about killing civilians are the Iraqi and foreign jihadi terrorists and 'freedom fighters'.

Stop with the 'simple minded' propaganda.
 
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Charles,
You are indeed profoundly simple-minded and dull. Even stupid doesn't seem to be an adequate description.

There IS an economic-reality based reason for invading Iraq and it isn't because Bush loves those dear Iraqis. It is that finite resource called petroleum (also natural gas). As we merrily blog together, we are in fact reaching the begining of the end of the age of petroleum, having passed the high point of production, with all future sources being too small or to difficult to extract cost effectively(e.g. Athabascan oil-sand). The peak has been reached or will be in the next 2-5 years according to petroleum engineers, not the world socialists. (Your fat ass lifestyle will end soon.) The effect will be more dramatic than 1979. The hoped-for technologies are barely practicable(only short-life, expensive fuel cells burning coal derived syn gas hydrogen or methanol even has a chance). Bush invaded to free up Iraq's oil to temporarily smooth out the transition but he has failed to convince Iraqis. All the morons like you who have attacked the old world order represented by the UN should note that the new world powers are making special deals to secure their supplies-India and Iran, China and Central Asia, Venezula even.
What will happen when the peak oil tsunami hits finanical markets? Remember when 5% temporary reduction of natural gas supplies(Enron) hit California. What happens when #1 producer Russia stops selling oil and natural gas to Europe in 2010 as recently threatened? Mexico, Saudi Arabia, etc. supplies are falling even now, with heavy water pumping(field recovery). I wonder if Bin Ladin will see his prophesized $200 per barrel price.
In 2003, the US east coast got an unexpected glimpse into a world without energy-and Bin Ladin had nothing to do with it. Also since 2003 Iraqis got an unexpected glimpse
into a world without energy with the failure of Bush's reconstuction programs.
Think the unthinkable..America, without money??????
Yes, Charles there are more important problems facing America than a couple of thousand terrorists who frighten you. Ask Dick Cheney.
 
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Now I'm firghtened! Is the sky really falling? Oh - goodness.

Please enlighten this dull, stupid American, where the Russians intend to sell their oil? Will they just hoard it as their economy booms from the revenue generated from their prolific economy? Will the Chinese buy it all? But why, surely their economic growth spurred by exports would stall if they had no one to export to. It also begs the question why the Europeans wouldn't be more supportive of Bush if all the illuminati knew that Europe would have no fuel in 5 years time...

I guess the fat ass Americans and every other developed country is really in for it...
 
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I wish I had gotten here first.

I just wanted to say that this was a great article. It attacked no one, but held up a mirror so we could all view ourselves.

I have never said America was perfect. Far from it. There are many problems in America, and if they are not addressed soon our country will continue to divide along economic and political lines, even while healing the rifts between race and region. We have created a new feudal system, where no man is King, and every man thinks he is. Rather than a nation where its people are responsible for electing leaders that are best for the job, we have degenerated to flipping a coin.

Oh, there are several options on every ballot, but only two that truly matter if you want your vote to count. Whether you vote Republican or Democrat, you are minting the same coin. Every coin has two sides. What aspect of human nature has only two sides? Which can be viewed from only two perspectives?

A house of glass may be weak and prone to attack, but it's strength is that it allows you to look out and view the world unobstructed.

If we can remember that the walls are there, and that they hem us in, and perhaps need a lick of windex to clear the dirt and debris of prejudice and hate that cloud them; the cobwebs of past wrongs and imagined slights that obscure our vision, we have the chance to expand our lives far past our own, small world.

It is only when you try to cover your glass house with brick, to block out any view but the one you are comfortable with that you make a prison of your mind. Brick might keep the rocks out, but they also shut out the sunlight.

If someone throws a rock at my house, I catch it and keep it. I look at it from every angle, study it, polish it up till it shines like glass, and use it to fix the hole, and tell the person who threw it I understand why they did so.

None of us are perfect. None of us are "right." What is right for one of us may be wrong for the person next door, much less across the world. The internet has made the world a small place. It has made it so that, when we look out of our glass house, we see not to the horizon, but to the ends of the earth.

You can chose to brick up your walls and shut out your view, or you can break out the windex.

I love this article. Those of you who were looking so hard for some attack on your views, fell right into the trap. Rather than evaluating your own selves, as the article asks, you threw stones.

"You would rather throw stones at a mirror?
I am your mirror, and here are the stones."
 
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From Circular
Glass houses seem to be losing their glitter, Abu.
Few random thoughts to clog up your Blog.
I’ve just watched an excellent TV documentary on the Gallipoli campaign, part of the ANZAC Day hoohah here, jointly made by British, Irish, Australian, NZ and Turkish sources. One high point was a clip, made some years ago, of an old Turk in his 90’s sitting on the same cliff top from which he was shooting down at the ANZACs landing 90 years ago. And a poem from the Turkish leader Attaturk, earlier the mastermind of the Turkish defence, written in the 1930’s, saying to the mothers of the dead ANZACs "Your sons are now our sons also." Talk about reconciliation - I don’t know much about this Attaturk guy, father of modern Turkey, but he must have been a cool dude. And a Muslim.
Another high point was an old "digger" pointing out that most of the ANZAC casualties were ultimately caused not by Turkish fire, they were just defending their country, but by the incompetence of British politicians and Generals. (Specifically, Winston Churchill - he also managed to wipe out a lot of Kiwis in WW2 with his unsound decisions.)
Interesting, because the high point of the NZ year in 2005 is going to be the Tour by the British Lions Rugby team, the first for 13 years. They will be accompanied by the notorious "Barmy Army," 20,000 rabid British rugby supporters, determined to "drink the pubs dry" in every town, to the delight of the tourist and hotel trade. And of the NZ fans, who will do their best to help. There will be no hooliganism - this is Rugby not Soccer - and the grounds will ring to the English rugby anthem:
Swing lowwwwwww, sweet char-iiiot,
Comin’ for to carry me hooooomme ...
I’m no great Rugby fan, but I find the idea of such intense rivalry on the field being matched by even more intense friendship and camaraderie off the field rather moving. How can the world become more like this? Somehow it takes me back to that girl GI calling out to you, "we want to be your friends."
How did it all go so wrong?
Circular
 
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Charles,

There are sharks in these waters, no? Just remember, one can even learn from a shark. I certainly respect them.

Americans are just as intelligent but I see us more as dolphins. And sometimes our intelligence is more relevent in our own waters.
 
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Anon,

Yes plenty of sharks - glassy eyed and destructive. Full of hyperbolized conspiracy theories and glaring insults.

It really doesn't matter how many times you try to explain to them in reasonable terms that overthrowing dictators and promoting democracy in the ME is in the US (and the civilized world's) interest - they will just come back with insults.

Let me say it again to the abusive anon (1:29am):

(read this slowly three times)

It is not pure altruism that led the US and its allies to overthrow Saddam. It is not that Bush just "loves those dear Iraqis". There is no need to keep vomiting up that line. Certainly he believes, as do most reasonable people yourself excluded, that a free society is more compatible with our cherished values of tolerence, human dignity, etc. But the key is that a democratic and prosperous ME will pose less of a threat to the US, its allies, and their interests, than one led by oppressive and criminal dictators.

Yes the US invaded Iraq for selfish reasons. Luckily our selfish reasons are compatible (and rely upon and promote) the values that form the foundation of modern society.

You may prefer dictators to democracy. You may feel free to disagree with the management or the tactics of the operation and yap all you want. But the next time you want to blame it all on naive altruism - I suggest you take the dirtiest sock you can find, and stuff it in your mouth.
 
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Charles,
"You may prefer dictators to democracy."
No, YOU(and your darling Rummy) prefer criminal but energy rich dictators like Aliyev of Azerbaijan or Niazov of Turkmenistan(he has a 100 foot high rotating golden statue of himself for the Turkmen to worship). Rumster is visiting those 'democrats' even as we blog away.
You...naive? No, Charles. You are a transparent liar.
 
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Suuuure.

Not much oil in Bosnia or Kosovo - eh? What a waste...

Perhaps you have a mild bipolar disorder... So do you want us to bomb all the dictators? Or should we also use diplomacy? But just remember, it usually takes 10-15 years after the dictator gasses his people before we will RUSH into action.

I almost get the feeling that you have some sort of grudge against the US.

That Turkmenistan fellow (who ever said he was democratic?) is a real character BTW. A buddy of mine is a Russian from there and he would always bring in new stories about the latest and greatest dictates of the leader. I think at one point he had renamed every day of the week to his wife's name - and added an extra day for emphasis. He did something similar with the months of the year.

Does anyone remember Woody Allen's 'Bananas'?

"All girls who are less than 16 years old...... are now 16 years old."
 
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An annonymos author once wrote:

Within the circularity of it all,
The cosmic riddle of life and death
and life again
A swan is always a swan
with all its beauty and grace
A jay remains a jay
A turtle would not induce a frog to live his way
Perhaps therein lies the secret to
a peaceful co-existance..
 
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Right, we came out of this "war for oil" filthy rich...it has only cost us hundreds of billions of dollars.

What a great deal.

Abu: I've never heard anything from you that doesn't sound like an endless rant about the U.S. and how evil it is. I assume you have at least lived here for many years and understand the U.S. in a context other than what our movies depict, yes? How long did you live here? Where did you learn your English? Where did you go to school? How many of your family members have been killed by coalition forces? Do you think 9/11 was justified?

It'd be nice to get answers, other than insults, for a change...

Pete
 
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Circ:

I don't mind if you answer for Bruno, but maybe he does. Best to check that with him.

In your interpretation of my post, you wrote, "When you say "world government" is a long way off, and ask what to do in the interim, the implied answer appears to be to rely on the "militaristic and muscular policies" of the world’s only superpower to maintain order, mainly by attacking, or at least intimidating, tyrants, despots, dictatorships, autocracies, etc."

Your interpretation of my post is incorrect since I do not approve of most of the more muscular and militaristic dimensions of Bush administration policy. I frankly look forward to a more multilateralism in U.S. foreign policy.

On the contrary, my main point was that International institutions (including, International Law) are not very effective in dealing with despots. My subsidiary point was that, even if the U.N. had the legal authority and the political will to deal with such problems, they lack effective enforcement means to do so. Currently, the U.N. is, in my view, almost entirely toothless. Until the political will exists for the U.N. to grow teeth, nation states will be forced to take on the military burden in times of conflict to enforce the will of the international community.

As a practical matter, the U.S. is the world's only military power that can efficiently project massive military power over long distances. For this reason, if heavy duty fighting is necessary on behalf of the U.N. in a region that lacks a large, cooperative local military power, it will largely fall to the U.S. to undertake that burden. Your denigration of the effectiveness of U.S. forces is unconvincing since I don't get much sense that other national military forces are eager to test their mettle and counter insurgency is, by its very nature, a long, unpleasant process for any military. Until other nations step up to their military responsibilities, particularly with regard to rapidly projecting troops into the next remote hot spots (e.g., Darfur?), there are likely to be few options, but to rely predominately on the U.S. military as the world’s police force.

As to when, or if, the U.N. will ever grow its teeth, I have seen very little political support among nations with relatively strong military forces (e.g., U.S., China, India, Pakistan, U.K., France, Russia) for the creation of a permanent U.N. military force. To the extent there is any support, it seems to come from countries that have not made much of an investment in their military forces. This only logical since those that have made military investments will be loath to lose the enhanced political influence it gives them, and since those that have not made such investments would likely benefit the most from a permanent U.N. force.

Your assertions that despots will naturally die on the vine of their own accord seems a utopian fantasy to me. This is where my point about the immutability of human nature comes in. In my view, the lust for absolute power is buried deep in the darkest reaches of the human heart. For this reason, despots will continue to arise in perpetuity, just as they have throughout history. It is only through maintaining vigilance and military strength that more peaceable nations can assure their continued existence. Whether that strength is truly collective (lodged in a permanent U.N. force) or individual with national cooperation (residing in each nation-state, but acting collectively through the U.N.) is, to my mind, not the most relevant issue. What is vitally important is that there is a credible deterrent from military conquest to discourage future tyrants.

Ignoring aggressive tyrants like Saddam, Pol Pot, Hitler, etc., would not have alleviated the suffering they have inflicted on their people (particularly, dissenters) or made those regimes any less repressive, xenophobic, and militaristic. However, such passive tactics would have likely led to such regimes strengthening themselves to the point they felt comfortable with increased offensive military operations or domestic repression. I am no believer in PNAC or neo-con dreams of serial wars of "liberation," but it is irresponsible to suggest that the best policy is to ignore both the suffering despots inflict on their own citizens and the dangers they typically pose to neighboring nations. If you are going to criticize U.S. policy, you should have a much better answer for containing present and future despots than “ignore them and they might go away.”

In my view, nation states have to deal with the reality that repressive, semi-despotic and despotic regimes exist. Depending upon the regime's nature, they need to be influenced toward good behaviour with a mixture of carrots and sticks, with less carrots for more repressive regimes and more carrots for less repressive regimes. However, without the credible threat of the stick, the despot will typically view the carrot as a sign that his opponent is negotiating from a position of weakness. This is precisely the wrong message to send the power hungry.

Mark-In-Chi-Town
 
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What I wonder, is whether letting people have their "krystalnacht" virtually rather then in reality releases violent intent "safely" withut physical injury, or whether it excites violence in the real world as well. If it does, we as bloggers have failed miserably.
 
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Hi
Nice blog page. It's full of information and well laid out.

Regards
liberty halves
 
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