Thursday, January 06, 2005

AWOL no more

Well, the grades are finally in, and the Daily Show is back on the air (and I even saw Stephen Colbert at the coffee shop yesterday!), so I can return to my post. If you don't like your grade go to and complain! I have been begging students to give me a chili pepper, but so far to no avail.

While I hadn't finished grading I felt that blogging would be an unseemly, guilty pleasure, so I held off; but I have been reading. Here is a sampling of stuff I have read recently and recommend:

From today's NYT, Mark Danner's aptly titled, We Are All Torturers Now. The things to remember about the Gonzalez nomination are two, as I see it: first, the obvious, that he gave the legal opinion rendering the Geneva Conventions "obsolete" and "quaint," making us -- who don't seem care -- all torturers, as Danner says, and endangering our troops in the process. There is a whole lot to say about that, but can't really add much (see Danner's work in the New York Review of Books and Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker for excellent coverage of the issue). But, the other issue that too often gets lost in the discussion is how Gonzalez's memo declared the President above all law. I hope this very serious constitutional issue will be raised in the hearings, but I don't hold out much hope.

Mark Danner has also written the best piece I have seen on the election: How Bush Really Won in the New York Review of Books

Other fine New York Review articles:
Jonathan Raban, The Truth About Terrorism
Michael Massing, Iraq, The Press, and the Election
Thomas Powers, Secret Intelligence and the 'War on Terror'
Chris Hedges, On War

The brand new issue of the Atlantic has some fascinating reading (but I don't know if it is all available online to non-subscribers):

Richard Clarke submits a fictional speech delivered on the 10th anniversary of September 11th -- chilling reading, based upon a plausible series of events, about the future of our country -- Ten Years Later: "Then the second wave of al-Qaeda attacks hit America. A leading expert on counterterrorism imagines the future history of the war on terror. A frightening picture of a country still at war in 2011

James Fallows, Success Without Victory: America won the Cold War because Americans embraced a set of strategic principles and pursued them steadily, decade after decade. Here's the outline of a "containment" strategy for the age of terror

Finally, William Langewiesche's chilling Letter from Baghdad. Some excerpts:
Several days before the U.S. elections in November, American officials revised their count of hard-core insurgents upward to as many as 12,000—or 20,000 if active sympathizers were included. [Update: the head of Iraqi intelligence now estimates the number of insurgents at 200,000; see Iraqi insurgents now outnumber coalition forces] Leaving aside the question of how isolated bureaucracies can derive such numbers in the midst of a genuine and popular insurrection, the cap at 20,000 elicited grim disbelief among ordinary Iraqis, frontline soldiers, and others with a sense of a struggle on the streets that has spun out of control. There are six million people in Baghdad alone, and another 10 million in the angriest areas of central Iraq, and many are young men with a taste for war. Meanwhile, foreign fighters continue to arrive from throughout the Middle East, across borders that are unpoliceable not merely because they are long and wild but, more significant, because of the support these travelers receive once they cross the line and mix into the local populations. Moreover, though they probably number a few thousand, the foreign fighters constitute only a small fraction of the forces now arrayed against the United States. As for the tactics involved, some are indeed crudely terroristic—the ongoing assassination of university professors, for instance, and the occasional car bombings of innocent market crowds in the cities. For the most part, however, the insurgents' attacks are less nihilistic than they are logical and precisely focused, whether against the American coalition and its camp followers or their Iraqi agents and collaborators. The truth is that however vicious or even sadistic the insurgents may be, they are acutely aware of their popular base, and are responsible for fewer unintentional "collateral" casualties than are the clumsy and overarmed American forces. Rhetoric aside, this is not a war on terror but a running fight with a large part of the Iraqi people. It is a classic struggle between the legions of a great power and the resistance of a native population. It is infinitely wider and deeper than officials can admit. And the United States is on the way to losing it.

Tragically, this was not the necessary outcome of the American invasion. After Baghdad fell, in the spring of 2003, the mood of the people was cautious but glad for the demise of Saddam Hussein, and open to the possibility that an American occupation would be a change for the better. By most measures it has not worked out that way. Though some of the blame lies with the immaturity and opportunism of the Iraqi people, these were factors that needed to be handled, and were not. The Iraqi people are far from stupid or unaware. But in the isolation and arrogance that have characterized the American occupation, never have we addressed them directly, explained ourselves honestly, humbly sought their support, respected their views of solutions, of political power, of American motivations, or of the history and future of Iraq. Even short of the killing we have done, we have broken down their doors, run them off the roads, swiveled our guns at them, shouted profanities at them, and disrespected their women—all this hundreds or thousands of times every day. We have dishonored them publicly, and within a society that places public honor above life itself. These are the roots of the fight we are in. Now Saddam himself is re-emerging as a symbol of national potency.
It is a new day in Iraq, yes. In the space of just a few months the interim government of Ayad Allawi has gutted many of the earlier reforms and has lost any hope of legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people, who see it as a flimsy construct propped up by the United States, and powerless in the face of their own disdain. Corruption is rife on every level, and with it cynicism. The courts are bowing to political pressure. The Iraqi security forces are riddled with insurgents, not because the vetting is poor, or because agents have been planted, but because hatred of America has grown within the ranks just as it has in Iraqi society at large. There is still some hope attached to the coming elections—if only because most Shiites have so far stayed out of the fray. People have different thresholds for crossing over into the resistance, and different capacities for violent action, but even some of my old friends, once so welcoming to me as an American, are telling me that they are approaching those lines. The question is no longer who is against the United States in Iraq but who is not.[emphasis added]

No comments: