Thursday, December 27, 2007

Another Kind of Iraq Blowback

Negar Azimi explains how, rather than continuing to pressure Egypt on human rights and democratic reform, the Bush administration has reverted to supporting Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship, treating it as an ally in the "war on terror" and a bulwark against the growing Iranian and Islamist influence which has resulted from the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Isn't that wonderful? By agreeing to be a recipient of extraordinary rendition detainees, you too can get the heat off your authoritarian regime.

There's no overstating how deeply dispiriting this sort of thing is to Arab political reformers, or how strongly it confirms al-Qaeda propaganda about American methods and intentions in the Middle East. Ayman al-Zawahiri was himself radicalized by the torture he endured in Mubarak's prisons, and now, after a head fake in the direction of political reform, the U.S. is back to underwriting that torture. Ring, freedom, ring.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blatantly Foolish

This bit from Peter Galbraith's article on how George W. Bush helped establish Iran as the Middle East's new regional hegemon deserves more attention:
"In May 2003, the Iranian authorities sent a proposal through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, Tim Guldimann, for negotiations on a package deal in which Iran would freeze its nuclear program in exchange for an end to U.S. hostility. The Iranian paper offered "full transparency for security that there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess WMD [and] full cooperation with the IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments." The Iranians also offered support for "the establishment of democratic institutions and a non-religious government" in Iraq; full cooperation against terrorists (including "above all, al-Qaeda"); and an end to material support to Palestinian groups like Hamas. In return, the Iranians asked that their country not be on the terrorism list or designated part of the "axis of evil"; that all sanctions end; that the United States support Iran's claims for reparations for the Iran-Iraq war as part of the overall settlement of the Iraqi debt; that they have access to peaceful nuclear technology; and that the United States pursue anti-Iranian terrorists, including "above all" the MEK. MEK members should, the Iranians said, be repatriated to Iran.

Basking in the glory of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, the Bush administration dismissed the Iranian offer and criticized Guldimann for even presenting it. Several years later, the Bush administration's abrupt rejection of the Iranian offer began to look blatantly foolish, and the administration moved to suppress the story. Flynt Leverett, who had handled Iran in 2003 for the National Security Council, tried to write about it in the New York Times and found his Op-Ed crudely censored by the National Security Council, which had to clear it. Guldimann, however, had given the Iranian paper to Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, now remembered both for renaming House cafeteria food and for larceny. (As chairman of the House Administration Committee he renamed French fries "freedom fries" and is now in federal prison for bribery.) I was surprised to learn that Ney had a serious side. He had lived in Iran before the revolution, spoke Farsi, and wanted better relations between the two countries. Trita Parsi, Ney's staffer in 2003, describes in detail the Iranian offer and the Bush administration's high-handed rejection of it in his wonderfully informative account of the triangular relationship among the United States, Iran and Israel, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States."

Parsi was quoted in a June 2006 Washington Post article on the Iranian offer:
"Parsi said that based on his conversations with the Iranian officials, he believes the failure of the United States to even respond to the offer had an impact on the government...Iranian officials decided that the United States cared not about Iranian policies but about Iranian power.

The incident "strengthened the hands of those in Iran who believe the only way to compel the United States to talk or deal with Iran is not by sending peace offers but by being a nuisance," Parsi said."

In other words, the aggressive unilateralism of our hardliners strengthened their hardliners. It bears repeating: Here we had Iran offering not just to talk, but even agreeing in advance to the U.S.'s main demands: transparency in Iran's nuclear program, cooperation in Iraqi security and reconstruction, and ending support for terrorism against Israel. Not only didn't the Bush administration pursue it, they didn't even respond. In a presidency almost completely defined by its successive foreign policy blunders, this will surely be remembered as one of the worst.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The New Order

Writing in Salon yesterday, Peter Galbraith goes into great detail about Iran's new role as regional hegemon. The LA Times reported on Mahmoud Ahmedinajad's growing popularity throughout the Middle East, a result of his steadfast opposition to the U.S.'s continuing occupation of Iraq. I think the latter story is very significant in that it suggests the troubling prospect of a scenario in which the U.S. is allied with authoritarian Sunni Arab governments against popular Arab movements increasingly inclined, if not specifically toward Iran, then at least toward the Shi'i ethic of resistance which Ahmedinajad, along with Hizballah's Nasrallah and Muqtada al-Sadr, have come to represent.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

On Tequila

Scott’s liquor blogging got me thinking about one of my own current hobbies: Tequila. As I wrote in comments over there, most of my formative tequila experiences, like probably many people, involved shots/margaritas with Cuervo Gold or worse, and then later, in the morning, writhing in pain in bed, clutching my flaming skull and screaming at god to kill me. A few years ago a buddy of mine brought a bottle of fresh mezcal back from Mexico, and I loved it. In trying to find something like it, I began sampling 100% agave tequilas, and have been a convert ever since. Though I do occasionally enjoy a nice, big margarita (I would not have survived this summer in DC without them) I tend to think that any tequila worth putting in a margarita is better taken neat, in a lowball glass, or, if you're a big fancy-pants, in a snifter.

I generally prefer the blanco (also known as plata, platinum, or silver), clear, unaged tequila. This is where the agave flavor comes through the strongest. I like a few reposados ("rested" in charred oak barrels between two months and a year) and fewer still anejos (aged a least a year), though some connoisseurs insist that the latter represents the height of the tequilero's art. I disagree. While there's no question that quite a few reposados and anejos achieve a very impressive balance of flavors, for me there's nothing like the crisp, peppery finish of a good blanco.

As for brands, my number one fave is El Tesoro de Don Felipe. Interestingly, this bottle is less expensive than some of the other top-shelf brands like Don Julio, Casa Noble, and Herradura, all of which are great tequilas, but, in my opinion, don't come close to El Tesoro's flavor. Even in El Tesoro's anejo, the agave is right up front. A few other good brands to look for are Corralejo, El Charro, and Cazadores.

Irony: A Tool, Not a Raison D'Etre

On their blog, the Bad Plus defend their choice of modern pop and rock cover tunes from the charge of "irony":
"Irony -- and its allies: surrealism, sardonicism, and dementia -- do occasionally play roles in our music, just as it does in the work of many artists we admire. Consider some famous performances of jazz standards: What is more ironic than Thelonious Monk's "Just a Gigolo?" What is more surreal than Duke Ellington's trio version of "Summertime?" What is more sardonic than Charlie Parker's quote of "Country Gardens" at the end of many ballads? And what is more demented than Django Bates' "New York, New York?"

But just like with those artists, irony is just a small part of the story in The Bad Plus. Here's our real story: We love songs. We believe in the power of song. We write songs as well as we can. There is not anything in TBP's repertory that is not based on melody, originals included. Thinking that we are not serious about the melodies we play is incorrect.

Once, a very straight-ahead jazz player came up to us after a gig and said, "You know, I'm surprised! 'Heart of Glass' is actually a good song!" Hell yeah it is."

Hell yeah it is. One of the reasons I think a lot of people find jazz so inaccessible is that it tends to rely on a reportoire of "standards" that were never experienced by modern audiences as popular songs in the first place, and thus provide no entry point for audiences to appreciate what the musician is doing with it. That's why I really like what the Bad Plus does with their choice of "new standards," taking familiar pop songs and recognizing them as compositions worth exploring, (I think the greatest example of a modern artist doing this is probably Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner") and why their approach has never struck me as overly ironic. That they get tagged so often as "ironists" says more about critics' inability to approach music on its own terms, and their fear of being seen as "not getting the joke," than about the band.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Jeff Beck.

Let the Outrage Begin

Pop Matters rates the 100 Best Country Music songs. It seems obvious to me that a Hank Williams tune should be at the top, but apparently not.

Don't Let's Stay the Course

Victor Davis Hanson, promoting the carnival shooting game model of anti-terrorism:
"One of the untold stories is just how many of the al Qaeda kingpins who started this war on 9/11 are now dead, arrested, or in hiding. It is not just the likes of Zarqawi or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or Mohammad Atef or Ramzi Binalshibh who are not longer free or alive. On August 31, the U.S. military announced that the Egyptian and Afghan veteran senior al Qaeda leader Abu Yaqub al-Masri was killed.

I think that this is the same al-Masri whom Sheik Mohammed, in a transcript of his testimony, said was responsible for setting up recruiting protocols for al Qaeda prior to 9/11 in Afghanistan. Although it is taboo to say so, it really is true that Afghan veteran terrorists like al-Masri and Zarqawi did flee from Afghanistan to Iraq where they often ended up dead."

It's not "taboo" to say that Masri and Zarqawi fled from Afghanistan to Iraq, it's just more relevant to point out that they did so because they saw the U.S. invasion of Iraq as a great opportunity to expand their jihad. Yes, they were both eventually killed there, but not before they'd facilitated the arrival, indoctrination, and training of scores of new Salafist mujahideen. I don't think this can be considered a success for the war on terror.

The lesson to be drawn from the "untold story" of the capture or death of various al-Qaeda kingpins (each of which is celebrated in Right Blogistan as proof that we've turned yet another corner) is how little effect each has had on the level of violence in Iraq, or on the growth of al-Qaedism internationally. The simple, unavoidable fact, which has yet to penetrate Hanson's secure bunker of a skull, is that Bush's anti-terrorism strategy is creating terrorists faster that the military can kill them.

Everybody Can Take It Easy, We Got The Toyman

Michael Goldfarb notes the killing of reputed al Qaeda car-bomb specialist Abu Yaqub al-Masri, and links to this wonderful post that I think perfectly captures the deliriously triumphal macho-geek essence of the species warblogger:
"Important that we don't understate how important of a kill this was... if Al-Qa'ida Iraq was structured like the Legion of Doom, this clown would be sitting somewhere between Bizzaro Superman and the Black Manta. I bid a fond farewell to all terrorists, but for this guy I'd be willing to break out the champagne and party poppers, and hire a band to belt out the Axl Rose version of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"..... all while steely eyed soldiers usher him along to meet Allah."

Yeah, remember when the we got AQI's Lex Luthor, and then the Iraq war was over? That was awesome.

It's great that we've gotten rid of a guy who was blowing up civilians. It's tragic that we created a situation where he could practice and perfect his craft, and teach it to others. Before popping the corks over the death of the Toyman, we should consider that he's created dozens of other Toymen, who will in turn create dozens more.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Steady as a Rock

Jonah Goldberg, on the inconstancy of President Bush's war critics:
"Perhaps the answer is that when it comes to bashing Bush about the war, no accusation is inaccurate -- even if it contradicts all the accusations that came before. Some say it's all about the Israel lobby. Others claim that Bush was trying to avenge his dad. Still others say Bush went to war because God told him to.

Which is it? All of those? Any? It doesn't seem to matter. It's disturbing how many people are willing to look for motives beyond the ones debated and voted on by our elected leaders."

Right, on the other hand, President Bush's justification for invading Iraq has always stayed the same: Saddam has WMD. Or, Saddam has connections to al-Qaeda. Or, Saddam wanted to develop WMD, and might could possibly have had connections to al-Qaeda. Or, we're building democracy in Iraq. Or, now we're fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here. Or, now we're fighting Iran in Iraq.

Why can't Bush's critics be more consistent?

Redneck Chic

Is there anything more pathetic than the spectacle of the wealthy conservative pundit, that creature of millionaire-funded think tanks, TV studio green rooms, and catered symposia, trying to establish some red-state cred by pretending to be down with redneck culture?

Michael Ledeen:
"Barbara and I went to Indianapolis for a Toby Keith concert, where we partied with something like 25,000 happy rednecks, most of them young, most of them wearing boots and cowboy hats (and cheering Keith's great song "I Should Have Been a Cowboy"). It's a great show, and he's a wonderful performer, not least because of his deeply moving patriotic songs like "American Soldier," "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," and " The Taliban," etc.

It's great to get out of the Washington culture of narcissism and spend some time with the rednecks, a.k.a. real Americans. And it's simply great, as the encores end, and a downpour of red, white and blue confetti covers the crowd, to see Toby say "don't ever apologize for your patriotism," and then lift the middle finger of his right hand to the skies and say, "F*** 'Em!"

Which, after a week of disgusting anti-Americanism in Washington, nicely summed up our feelings.

You ought to try it. Does wonders for the spirit."

The condescension of Ledeen's little paean should be obvious, as he treats his visit to flyover country as if he had just been swimming with the dolphins ("Does wonders for the spirit"!) There's also a pretty clear racist subtext to his assertion about "real Americans" (Read: white, conservative Americans.) What, Michael, the people who cater your speaking engagements, clean your office, and park your car aren't "real American" enough for you? (I wonder if, when, at long last, his very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care is finally released, Jonah Goldberg will have anything to say about the tendency of fascist propagandists to locate the authentic soul of the nation among the rural volk, away from the corrupting, cosmopolitan intellectualism of the cities, and, if so, whether this tendency is more characteristic of Democrats or Republicans?)

Bottom line, rednecks and caterers: Whether he considers you a real American or not, Michael Ledeen has no problem with your being sent to fight and die in his next war.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Dream Palace of the Neocons

Fouad Ajami yesterday in Tigris Beat magazine, err, the Wall Street Journal, remembering Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Reisha:
“This was the dashing tribal leader who emerged as the face of the new Sunni accommodation with American power, and who was assassinated by al Qaeda last week. I had not been ready for his youth (born in 1971), nor for his flamboyance. Sir David Lean, the legendary director of "Lawrence of Arabia," would have savored encountering this man. There was style, and an awareness of it, in Abu Reisha: his brown abaya bordered with gold thread, a neat white dishdasha, and a matching headdress.”

The air was heavy with cardamom and fatoush, the palms beat gently in the breeze...or was it my heart? The rest of Ajami’s piece shows Abu Reisha as someone who had mastered the art of telling Americans exactly what they wanted to hear, and Ajami as someone completely committed to playing along. Given Ajami’s reputation as an analyst and interpreter of high-flown Arab rhetoric, it’s astonishing how credulous he becomes when that rhetoric accords with his own political beliefs. As tragic as Abu Reisha’s death is, at least we’ve now been spared the spectacle of conservative pundits inevitably turning against him after it finally became apparent to them, long after it had become apparent to everybody else, that Abu Reisha actually had his own political agenda, and it was quite different from theirs.

I should mention that Ajami’s The Foreigner’s Gift is actually a pretty good book on Iraq. Ajami writes about the various elements of Iraqi society, particularly modern Iraqi Shia history and political thought, with an elegance and depth that is to be found nowhere else among the various experts upon whom neoconservatives usually rely to consecrate their aggression. That Ajami employs this elegance in the service of a fantastically simplistic and transparently self-serving thesis, Iraqis stupidly refused America’s gift of freedom, is unfortunate, but it’s also key to understanding Ajami’s role in the neoconservative vanguard.

In his most popular work, Dream Palace of the Arabs, Ajami criticized modern Arab writers and intellectuals for having created a fictional sense of their own modernity and secularism, which Ajami claims has promoted a chauvinistic and conspiratorial worldview throughout the Arab world. Consider this quote from the book:

“In an Arab political history littered with thwarted dreams, little honor would be extended to pragmatists who knew the limits of what could and could not be done. The political culture of nationalism reserved its approval for those who led ruinous campaigns in pursuit of impossible quests.”

Heh, indeed, those deluded Arabs and their ruinous campaigns in pursuit of impossible quests. Luckily, we in the modern, civilized, freedom-loving West have abandoned such things. The ramifications of this kind of analysis should be clear: We don’t really have to listen to what Arabs say, they’re dishonest with themselves and with us, and thus we can ignore their protestations and warnings as we set about remaking their societies.

I don’t particularly disagree with Ajami that much of modern Arab political and intellectual discourse has been constrained within a series of rhetorical edifices, nationalist mythologies, and self-justifying victimization narratives. I disagree, however, that there is anything profoundly or uniquely "Arab" about this. The construction of rhetorical edifices is not just a feature of Arab politics; it is a feature of politics. The fact that Ajami’s quote above could serve as an accurate description of George W. Bush’s Middle East adventurism bears this out. Fouad Ajami has been a tireless propagandist for that adventurism, and, I would argue, given that he’s one of the very few neoconservative writers who possesses more than basic knowledge of the region, an invaluable one. He has consistently employed his literary and rhetorical skills to help the neocons construct and maintain a picture of the Middle East, and of America, that is a fantasy in the service of folly. It’s deeply ironic that, having notably attempted to deconstruct the Arabs’ "dream palace," Ajami has so enthusiastically laid stone for the neocons’ own.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Israel Bubble

Via Ezra Klein , Tony Karon has an excellent, detailed post that gets at a lot of what I've been thinking about the tendency of some liberals to damn Walt and Mearsheimer with faint criticism, and to resist engaging with the actual facts of Israel's occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.
[Mearsheimer and Walt] share with Jimmy Carter that ability to call forth a rather unfortunate habit among sections of America’s liberal punditocracy, in which sharp and fundamental criticisms of Israel must be discredited and squashed, even at the cost of the cool reason for which the pundits in question are usually known. To put it unkindly, when Israel is under the spotlight, many liberal commentators feel compelled to embarrass themselves in its defense.

I noticed this phenomenon last year when Jimmy Carter made the entirely valid comparison between Israel’s West Bank regime and the apartheid system that prevailed in South Africa until 1994. That prompted Michael Kinsley — a well-known and generally smart liberal pundit — to denounce Carter’s comparison in an op-ed that only served to show how little he knew about either the Middle East or apartheid South Africa. Clearly, though, the idea that Israel was committing crimes equivalent to apartheid clearly made Kinsley so uncomfortable that he felt compelled to blurt out something — anything, really, to negate Carter, and make the discomfort he caused go away. (I critiqued his lame response to Carter in an earlier post.)

This phenomenon is reflective of a trend that has been confirmed to me anecdotally dozens of times, both in the U.S. and at home in South Africa, where some Jewish liberals of faultlessly progressive politics on every other issue turn into raving tribal belligerents of the Ariel Sharon hue when the conversation turns to Israel.

Karon takes on David Remnick's confounding snipery in last week's New Yorker:
In response to Mearsheimer and Walt, New Yorker editor Remnick offers a fresh specimen of the denial pathology.

What is most strking about his piece, however, is that it is more of a kvetch, designed to discredit M&W in the eyes of New Yorker readers, than a serious engagement with their argument.


While denying that M&W are anti-Semites, Remnick nonetheless questions the bona fides of their intervention. His message to his readers is, don’t worry about what these guys are saying, they’re just grinding an axe. Wink. “Taming the influence of lobbies, if that is what Mearsheimer and Walt desire, is a matter of reforming the lobbying and campaign-finance laws,” but he suggests that, intead, the authors are a product of a polarized political moment, reducing all ills to a single cause — the Israel lobby. But Remnick hasn’t honestly engaged with their arguments aside from clucking over the settlements: Does Remnick agree, for example, that the U.S. should leave Israel no choice but to withdraw its West Bank settlements, by threatening to cut off the spigot if it doesn’t stop and reverse its colonization of the West Bank? Should the U.S. not use its considerable power over Israel to march it back to its 1967 borders? That, really, is what’s at issue here.


But he’s substantially correct in challenging the M&W idea that the lobby is singularly responsible for policing America’s public discourse on Israel. After all, nobody asked Remnick to write these pieces. Nor did anyone tell Kinsley to try and shoot down Jimmy Carter’s apartheid argument. Just as important as challenging the Israel lobby is drawing attention to the deep-rooted tropes of knee-jerk defensiveness in sections of the liberal-Jewish intelligentsia that allows them to avert their eyes and cling to fantasy when Israel is an agent of oppression.

Indeed. Just as the U.S.-Israel special relationship is an anomaly in terms of Mearsheimer and Walt's realist model, so, I think, reflexive support for Israel is an anomaly in the worldview of many otherwise liberal pundits. Even recognizing that opinions and degrees of support vary among this group, I don't think there's any question that the general and continuing failure of the liberal punditocracy to deal honestly with the consequences of the U.S.'s unquestioning support for the Israeli occupation is a critical component of the lobby's efforts to keep that support coming.

UPDATE: In regard to the broader mainstream media's role in maintaining a state of denial about the Israeli occupation, last Tuesday the Washington Post ran an editorial offering Israel's detainee policy as a model for how the U.S. could "fight terrorism without sacrificing due process." I'm at a loss to really convey the Alice in Wonderland quality of the Post's description of the various rights and privileges enjoyed by Palestinian detainees, which is utterly at odds with the vast majority of reportage on the subject. The "due process" afforded Palestinians, who are rounded up on the flimsiest charges and whose detention can be renewed indefinitely, is so superficial as to be meaningless. There are literally thousands of Palestinian men who spent the better part of their young adulthoods in Israeli detention, essentially for the crime of being a Palestinian nationalist. Do you think this has made them less radical, or more radical? (Unfortunately, I think Israel's detainee policy already does serve as a model for the U.S.) But hey, it's in the Washington Post, so it must be true.

Ironically, or maybe just sadly, on the same day, the Post published this story, entitled "Persistence of Myths Could Alter Public Policy Approach." Heh.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Apropos of my review of the new Van Halen biography at TAP: Eddie Van Halen

Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

John Lee Hooker.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Cultivating His Only Constituency

Following on last Saturday's "Put me in, Coach!" op-ed from Ayad Allawi, Iraq Slogger reports today that Allawi has retained Haley Barbour's lobbying firm in his bid to be installed as the Iraqi Pinochet. (As if Maliki hadn't gotten the message yet, yesterday Bush called him a "good man," putting Maliki in the august company of such political success stories as Bernie Kerik and Michael Brown.)

Juan Cole relays rumours of a coming coup, and a two-year security plan involving the installation of a "military commission," presumably to keep the lid on Iraq while Bush sallies forth into Iran, and even greater disaster.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Faithful

Last night's CNN documentary on Israeli religious extremists, and their Jewish and Christian supporters in the U.S., was something we don't often get in U.S. media: An honest look at institutionalized and systemic Israeli violence against Palestinians, and the way that violence is directly supported by American money, rhetoric, and policy. There's simply no credible argument for classifying Hamas as a terrorist organization, but not Gush Emunim.

The section on NY Assemblyman Dov Hikind surprised even me. Here's a man, a legislator, who openly and proudly raises money to expand and construct new illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, in clear, blatant violation of U.S. law. If he were raising money for Palestinian kindergartens, you can bet the FBI would be all over him. But thanks to the double-standard which exists in regard to Israeli violence against Palestinians, as well as general American ignorance of the nature of the Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, Hikind has no reason to fear any repercussions from going on national television and essentially declaring his support for ethnic cleansing.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Special Scrutiny

Via Richard Silverstein, a play by play of the attack on Debbie Almontaser and the Khalil Gibran International Academy. Anyone familiar with the NY Post will be unsurprised to learn that the paper completely misrepresented the sequence of questions and answers given by Almontaser about the Arabic word "intifada" in the article which eventually led to her resignation. Anyone familiar with Daniel Pipes will be unsurprised to learn that the man is a shameless bigot:
The Arab-American community right now — and any Arabic language and culture school — should be subject to “special scrutiny,” [Pipes] said.

“I believe such a school requires scrutiny beyond that of any other group’s school, he said. “It fits into a larger pattern in which Muslim officials require greater scrutiny, whether they be chaplains [or] law enforcement officers. There is a tendency to sympathize with Islamism that we ignore at our peril. ... When law enforcement is looking for a rapist, it looks at men, not men and women. If you’re looking for terrorism you must give special scrutiny to this community.”


“What I am arguing for — special scrutiny — is often done,” he said. “But it’s done in an unofficial, underhanded way. It’s lying basically. It’s a disservice to Muslims who don’t believe law enforcement when they say you’re not being singled out.

“Let’s make it overt. Let’s say there is a difference. It would be healthy to have a debate about it.”

Asked if he would have favored “special scrutiny” of the immigrant Jewish community teeming with socialists, communists and anarchists on the Lower East Side in the early 20th century to deal with terrorist bombings by some anarchists during that period, Pipes replied, “I’m happy to apply this wherever it’s useful.”

Wow. You almost have to be impressed at the stones on someone who tries to present overt anti-Muslim prejudice as a service to Muslims.

People, It's Bad

Shorter cross-section of national security experts (as well as Daniel Pipes, who was disappointed that the poll contained no question like: How seditious are American Muslims? A) Very seditious; B) Extremely seditious indeed; C) Michelle Malkin is a half-stepper) polled for the Center for American Progress's latest Terrorism Index:
"Sh*t's all f'ed up!"

More later.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Guilt by Assertion

Reporting from Iraq, Michael Totten writes about how Muqtada al-Sadr's Jaysh al-Mahdi have infiltrated the Iraqi security services. Totten makes some interesting observations, talks to some Iraqis, but then gives us this:
The Mahdi Army is Iran’s major proxy in Iraq. It is, in effect, the Iraqi branch of Hezbollah.

The Iranians know what they’re doing. Lebanon was their proving ground. The Revolutionary Guards built Hezbollah from scratch along the border with Israel and in the suburbs south of Beirut during the chaos of civil war and Israeli occupation. In Iraq they’re simply repeating the formula, only this time more violently.

I've seen it repeatedly asserted that Sadr is an Iranian tool, usually by right-of-center types who are trying to gin up a war with Iran, but have never seen any evidence for it, and Totten offers none. Most of the reporting I've seen from Iraq doesn't support that contention, and my own research on Sadr and his movement strongly argues against Sadr's being an Iranian agent.

The problem here is that Totten throws his assertion into the middle of some actual reportage, and then Powerline parrots it, and on up the food chain until it's simply an article of faith among conservatives, just like the Saddam-al Qaeda connection and the WMDs to Syria nonsense, to be folded into the larger argument for war with whomever, all the time. (In one of those delightful examples of unintentional irony that continually crop up like leafy spurge amid the defiant know-nothingism of rightwing blogdom, a later Powerline post is entitled "Never let the facts stand in the way of a meme." Heh, indeed.)

I don't think it's correct that the Pasdaran (Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) built Hezbollah from scratch. The Pasdaran trained and indoctrinated several breakaway extremist Lebanese Shia factions which became Hizb 'Allah ("Party of God.") The claim is even less true of the Mahdi Army, which developed, like Muqtada's entire movement, out of the clerical activism of Muqtada's father, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadeq al-Sadr. A central element of the elder Sadr's program, and now Muqtada's, is opposition to Iranian influence. While his pro-Arab nativist rhetoric has alienated Muqtada from a significant portion of Iraq's Shia clerical hierarchy, many of whom, including Grand Ayatollah Sistani, are of Persian origin, it has endeared him to Iraq's Arab Shia underclass, which is where he finds his greatest support.

If any group can be said to have been created by the Pasdaran "from scratch," it is the Badr Brigade, the militia wing of SIIC (formerly SCIRI), formed out of Iraqi exiles and defectors, and POWs from the Iran-Iraq War. It is the Badr Brigade that continues to serve as "Iran's major proxy" in Iraq, constantly battling the Mahdi Army for control of Shia neighborhoods in southern Iraq. However, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, head of SIIC (and former commander of the Badr), is now George W. Bush's friend , so it won't do to point this out.

This isn't to say that Sadr receives no Iranian support, he certainly does, as do various groups in Iraq, directly and through proxies. After their offers to help stabilize Iraq were rebuffed by the Bush administration, elements in the Iranian government clearly foresaw the coming chaos, and starting hedging their bets, getting their fingers into different pies, betting on various horses to win, and mixing every possible metaphor, as a way to produce the best possible outcome for Iran. It is true that Sadr admires and emulates Hezbollah. Like them, he has fashioned a political identity that combines sometimes contradictory elements of populism, nationalism, pro-Arabism, and pan-Shiism. The tendency of some to elide these elements in favor of a "Iranian tool" narrative indicates a failure to appreciate some of the complexities of Iraqi-Shia identity, and, of course, an attempt to gin up a war with Iran.

There is one thing Sadr and Iran undoubtedly do share, however. The U.S. has effectively done for Sadr in Iraq what we've done for Iran in the wider Gulf region: Pursued a series of policies which seem to have been designed in a lab to facilitate his becoming the dominant actor.

Update: Eric Martin has some other observations.

Be Very Afraid

Rob Farley takes a first look at Norman Podhoretz's...err, Rudy Giuliani's foreign policy manifesto in Foreign Affairs.
[The] piece offers a pretty faithful recitation of what I'll call the Neoconservative Romance. According to this narrative, the United States began the Cold War with a vigorous challenge to the Soviet Union that was made all the more pure by virtue of American beliefs in the evangelical power of "liberty." (The key elements to the romance would include, for example, the Truman Doctrine or the Berlin Airlift.) Over time, however, true believers watched as the nation's leaders fell into apostasy, drawing the nation farther from its Original Purpose; rather than challenging the Soviets directly, the US reigned itself to an unacceptable status quo that stifled the aspirations of half the planet. At the darkest hour, Ronald Reagan ascended to the presidency and retrieved history from the drainpipe.

It goes without saying that, in the neocon fairy tale of Good King Ronnie, the rescue of History Itself was not the culmination of decades of diplomacy, engagement, containment, negotiation, and occasional confrontation. (And don't even think of suggesting that it had anything to do with the inherent weaknesses of the Soviet system. What are you, some kind of historian?) Reagan's single-handed victory over the Evil Empire represented the repudiation of anything other than confrontation, and thus justifies the confrontation of all subsequent Evil Empires.

It's obvious why Rudy is embracing the very kinds of policies which have proven so disastrous in the last years: "Toughness" is all he has to run on, especially in the primary. It speaks volumes about the Big Strong Daddy issues of the evangelical Republican base that a thrice-married, occasionally cross-dressing, pro-choice New Yorker even has a chance, let alone is one of the top contenders.

The Vilification of Language

Last week I read this story about Debbie Almontaser, the principal of a new Arabic-language school in NYC, who, after having the bad form to discuss in public the actual meaning of the word "intifada," was mau-maued into first apologizing, and then resigning:
The principal of a new Arabic-themed public school in Brooklyn resigned under pressure, days after she was quoted defending the use of the word “intifada” as a T-shirt slogan.

Debbie Almontaser, a veteran public school teacher, was hired to lead the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a middle school that was scheduled to open this fall. An immediate replacement was not announced, and Ms. Almontaser’s abrupt exit left the future of the school in question.


The remarks that made her the focus of criticism were in response to questions from The New York Post over the phrase “Intifada NYC,” which was printed on T-shirts sold by Arab Women Active in Art and Media...

Here is The Post’s account of Ms. Almontaser’s comments:

“The word [intifada] basically means ’shaking off.’ That is the root word if you look it up in Arabic,” she said.

“I understand it is developing a negative connotation due to the uprising in the Palestinian-Israeli areas. I don’t believe the intention is to have any of that kind of [violence] in New York City.

“I think it’s pretty much an opportunity for girls to express that they are part of New York City society … and shaking off oppression.”

Ms. Almontaser issued an apology the next day, saying that she regretted her remarks. “By minimizing the word’s historical associations, I implied that I condone violence and threats of violence,” she said in a statement.

But the apology was followed by criticism from Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers. Ms. Weingarten stopped short of calling for Ms. Almontaser’s resignation, but called the word intifada “something that ought to be denounced, not explained away.”

The Palestinian intifadas, which encompassed actions both violent (front page of the NY Times) and non-violent (tucked deep inside, if reported at all, as student boycotts and general strikes just don't sell papers like exploding pizzerias do), were uprisings against, the attempt to "shake off," what is widely recognized (everywhere but in the U.S., anyway) as an illegal, dehumanizing, and brutal Israeli military occupation. As with the term "jihad," right-wing elements have sought to define "intifada" solely in terms of its association with terrorist violence. Debbie Almontaser had the temerity to challenge these misrepresentations and misunderstandings, and to defend the term's proper use in the context of social activism. The fact that she has now had to resign over this, indeed that she felt she needed to apologize at all, indicates the almost complete dominance of the Israeli narrative in American media, and the ability of hardline pro-Israel and anti-Muslim activists to manipulate the ignorance and fear of Americans about Islam and Arabs to quell discussion and debate, and to make verboten the expression of certain ideas and opinions.

Speaking of ignorance and fear, here's Daniel Pipes:
Almontaser's departure, however welcome, does not change the rest of the problematic school's personnel, much less address the more basic problems implicit in an Arabic-language school: the tendency to Islamist and Arabist content and proselytizing.

To reiterate my initial assessment in March, the KGIA is in principle a great idea, for the United States needs more Arabic-speakers. In practice, however, Arabic-language instruction needs special scrutiny.

Bigotry rarely comes so blatant as this. Offering no evidence, because, of course, his audience requires none, Pipes simply asserts that an Arabic language school would obviously tend toward Islamist and Arabist proselytizing. This "madrassa," a term he employs as a pejorative, must be monitored for righthink. (I'm picturing Pipes sitting in a tiny little chair in a kindergarten classroom, pad and pen in hand, perpetual scowl on his face, as children learn the Arabic alphabet.) Yes, Pipes supports, in principle, the learning of Arabic language and culture (after all, we need spies, don't we?) provided there is nothing taught which might deviate from the Likud Party platform.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Standing Athwart the Center Wicket, Yelling Stop!

I'm troubled by this article, which describes the Xtreme-ization of the noble and wonderful game of croquet.
For the last two years, Jim Grupe has tried to stir up local interest in his favorite extreme sport. It’s not something you’ll come across while watching skateboarders or cyclists fall from the sky during the ongoing X Games.

Grupe’s game of choice, actually, is among the last you’d think would be suited to the sort of extremism that’s taking over so many established pastimes.

It’s croquet.

“I was looking for something new,” he says, “and this is what I found.”

Grupe, 60, is the founder and force behind the DC/MD/VA Extreme Croquet Club. Once a month, he invites folks to his home in Brookeville, Md., to take a whack at the new version of the old lawn game. His 17-acre spread has all the fixin’s that separate an extreme croquet course from that of its genteel predecessor, including a pond, a stream, lots of trees, lots of mud, and various livestock.

In my opinion, physical exertion (like, say, walking around on 17 acres) is anathema to the very spirit of croquet. No croquet field should be so big that you are ever, at any time, more than ten steps away from the makeshift bar or the cooler filled with beer. The beauty of croquet is that you can play it, and play it well, without spilling your drink. If polo is the sport of kings, croquet is the sport of kings' lazy, good-for-nothing brothers. Like vegetarian barbecue and smooth jazz, extreme croquet completely misses the point.

On the Beach

The battle over modern Muslim identity is being fought on the shores of the Mediterranean. This article in today’s International Herald Tribune about beaches in Egypt and the increasing pressure on women to dress more conservatively reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend who lives in Turkey. He told me that many Turkish resorts are going Islamist, putting up curtains to divide the beach between men's and women's sides, or else simply requiring the head-to-toe burquini. These resorts aren't being forced into this, they're simply responding to the market, catering to an increasingly wealthy, and increasingly devout, Turkish middle class. As in Egypt, the number of beaches where women and women and men can swim together, and where women can wear Western-style bathing suits without fear of harassment, is growing smaller.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Nels Cline (w/ Wilco).

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Denier for Hire

Following up on this article on the Armenian genocide lobbying war currently taking place in Congress, Michael Crowley blogged this video starring Clinton impeachment casualty Bob Livingston, who is now employed by the Republic of Turkey to lobby against official U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide. Words really don't do justice to Livingston's pathetic, unprinicipled propagandizing ("Historians disagree...No one really knows...There were atrocities on all sides...") over what is, at this point, a rather overwhelmingly accepted historical fact: Between the years 1915 and 1918, around a million and a half Armenians were killed in an organized campaign of ethnic cleansing, transfer, and extermination by the Ottoman forces. It's certainly true that official recognition of this historical fact by Congress would seriously complicate the U.S. relationship with Turkey, a very important relationship which is on shaky ground right now because of Iraq, among other things, but I'd have a hell of a lot more respect for Livingston, which is to say I'd have some, if he'd just make that argument rather than attempting to "teach the controversy" over the systematic murder of 1.5 million human beings and the destruction of Turkey's Armenian community.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Angus Young.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Your Autographed Copy of "Left Behind" Won't Get You Into Heaven Any More

Following up on last week's post about Christians Impatient for Armageddon, here's an article about a letter written by group of moderate Christian evangelical leaders who support the creation of a Palestinian state, and a more even-handed approach by the United States to the Israel-Palestine conflict. By "moderate," I simply mean that they don't subscribe to a brand of eschatology that mixes populist ressentiment with a plotline drawn from a prog-rock concept album, and that they believe Jesus probably wouldn't be in favor of Israel's colonization of Palestinian land, and the misery which this produces among the Palestinians.

CUFI's ruling cleric, Rev. John Hagee, responded:
"Bible-believing evangelicals will scoff at that message.

"Christians United for Israel is opposed to America pressuring Israel to give up more land to anyone for any reason. What has the policy of appeasement ever produced for Israel that was beneficial?" Hagee said.

"God gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a covenant in the Book of Genesis for the land of Israel that is eternal and unbreakable, and that covenant is still intact," he said. "The Palestinian people have never owned the land of Israel, never existed as an autonomous society. There is no Palestinian language. There is no Palestinian currency. And to say that Palestinians have a right to that land historically is an historical fraud."

Now, of course, you can hear precisely this sort of thing from hardline preachers and demagogues on al Jazeera and Hezbollah-run al-Manar television all the time, in regard to the Jews and Israel: They have no legitimate claim to the land, Palestine is Islamic waqf, "true" Muslims reject compromise witht he Zionist entity, and so on. When Islamic leaders say these things, however, they are appropriately condemned in the U.S. media as extremists. When John Hagee says them, he is invited to the White House, embraced by the Republican leadership and AIPAC, and compared to Moses by Joe Lieberman.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Reimagine This

Amongst the various commercials shown to me last night as I waited for the Simpsons movie to start was a five minute spot on the new Bionic Woman, which is apparently "getting the Battlestar Galactica treatment." That is, a hokey TV show of yore is being revamped, er, excuse me, "reimagined" as serious television. (This was obvious even before I learned that BSG's executive producer David Eick is producing the show.) At one point in the ad, actor Miguel Ferrer even said "This is not your parents' Bionic Woman," as was said by every other reviewer of BSG when it premiered. (No word yet whether Lindsay Wagner will be brought on to play a conniving politician with questionable loyalties.)*

Surely, there are a host of other TV series that could use the BSG treatment, shows which at the time were treated purely as escapist entertainment, the moral and political implications of their premises left woefully unexplored. Here are some possibilities:

The Beverly Hillbillies
In this "reimagining" of the beloved 60's series, Jed Clampett, a poor, humble farmer, strikes oil on his land, gets rich and moves to LA, where he and his family struggle with the pressures of newfound wealth and power. Jed becomes active in conservative politics, eventually buying a formerly liberal magazine and using it to call for war in the Middle East. Jethro and Elly Mae are almost destroyed by drugs and cliquishness at their new high school. With nothing left to do but sit around drinking, and steadily losing her sight from a lifetime of moonshine, Granny goes slowly senile, becoming an angry prophet of doom, her physical blindness a metaphor for the moral darkness which increasingly engulfs the Clampett family. This is not your grandparents' Beverly Hillbillies.

Knight Rider
Brilliantly anticipating the looming midlife crises of this show's original demographic, in this "reimagining" of the beloved early 80's car commercial, a mortally wounded good-looking cop in tight jeans is given a new name, a gooder-looking face, and even tighter jeans, as well as a souped-up, penis-shaped sports car, which goes 200 mph, has a full bar, and talks in the voice of Demi Moore. Michael Knight travels the country, arguing with his car/lover/self, saving young kids from gangs and drugs, and then bedding their mothers. The psychological dimensions and consequences of satyriasis are explored. This is not your older brother's Knight Rider.

The A-Team
In this "reimagining" of the beloved mid-80's Hollywood stuntman full-employment program, instead of Vietnam, the team served in Iraq. This is not your second cousin's A-Team.

In this "reimagining" of the beloved occasionally moderately funny 80's comedy series, a disillusioned high-powered executive, tired of a life of moral compromise, leaves Wall Street to run a cozy little hotel in a small Vermont town. His dream of rural tranquility is shattered when he runs afoul of Larry, Darryl, and Darryl, local psychotic inbred marijuana-smugglers who rule the town. While initially packing up his Benz and running for his life, Bob soon recognizes the clear moral choice before him, and is reborn as a shotgun-wielding avenger/hotelier in a place where violence is the only law, and everybody's baked. This is not your uncle from North Jersey's Newhart.

*My snark should not be taken to indicate that I will not totally be watching the new Bionic Woman.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

B.B. King.

Misunderstanding Muqtada

I have a new piece on Muqtada al-Sadr over at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Who Would Jesus Ethnically Cleanse?

Max Blumenthal just posted this documentary taken at last week's Christians United for Israel rally in DC. As Blumenthal's footage makes abundantly clear, these people are extremists committed to bringing about the Apocalypse. Think I'm kidding? You really have to watch it to understand the bigotry, zealotry, and resentment which powers Christian Zionism. And then shudder at how many conservative leaders were in attendance.

Here's the text of Joe Lieberman's speech to the rally, in which he compares CUFI founder John Hagee to Moses. What do you think would be the response if a U.S. Senator had spoken before a gathering of Muslim fundamentalists who refused to recognize any Jewish claim to Palestine, who who claimed all of Palestine for Islam? An organization that was actively raising funds to support the expulsion of Jews from Palestine? Why do I think we'll never find out?

The mutually cynical relationship here is stark: The largely secular Israeli right cultivates support of loony American Christian fundamentalists in order to help maintain the unquestioning support of the U.S. Congress for the occupation. Loony American Christian fundamentalists support the expanionist policies of the Israeli right in order to speed the return of Jesus, at which time the Jews will be given the opportunity to convert, or go to hell. No, really, literally: Hell. At one point the rally organizers approach Blumenthal and request that he not engage attendees in discussions about eschatology, lest anyone out themselves as barking mad, I suppose. Oops, too late. In a brief interview with former Sharon adviser Dore Gold, Gold perfectly embodies Frankfurt’s definition of bullshit by denying that CUFI is at all concerned with "moving the clock of eschatology forward," claiming that "the only one who believes that [he can do that] is Mahmoud Ahmedinejad." Gold clearly knows what he's saying is false, he just doesn't care.

For the effects of the policies supported by CUFI, see this morning's Washington Post article on life in Israeli-occupied Hebron in the West Bank. Hebron provides us a view of the Israeli occupation in perfect miniature: Palestinians are coralled within a series of ghettoes, watching from behind barbed wire and concrete as their crops die, as their homes and lands are taken over by radical Jewish settlers, enduring daily harassment and violence by those settlers who are supported by the Israeli army. Any resistance by Palestinians is immediately labeled "terrorism," brutally suppressed, and used to justify more closures, stricter curfews, and the expropriation of more land. It's a considerable understatement to say that U.S. support for this sort of thing doesn't win us friends, at least not the friends that we want.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Helping the Enemy

Reading about President Bush's latest attempt to defend the Iraq war by presenting al-Qaeda as SPECTRE reminded me to link to this Abu Aardvark post from a couple weeks ago. In discussing the various groups fighting the US in Iraq, and criticizing the way that Bush and his flacks try to conflate them all into al-Qaeda ( i.e. "The folks who attacked us on September 11"), Marc Lynch made this point:
The real harm comes in the wider Arab and Muslim world, where the exaggeration of al-Qaeda's role works directly and devastatingly against American goals. It magnifies al-Qaeda's perceived power, strengthening its own media campaign and feeding its most powerful propaganda instrument. Attributing all these attacks to al-Qaeda certainly doesn't hurt al-Qaeda's image: Iraq is the one place where al-Qaeda's violence is actually widely supported in the Muslim world (a recent PIPA survey found that over 90% of Egyptians thought that attacks on American civilians were against Islam and illegitimate, but over 90% of Egyptians thought that attacks on American troops in Iraq were legitimate). The administration in effect claims more power and military success for al-Qaeda in Iraq than al-Qaeda claims for itself - for which the al-Qaeda leadership can only be bemusedly grateful. Forget al-Hurra - if you're looking for a real public diplomacy fiasco, you'll be hard pressed to do worse than the US acting as al-Qaeda's agent in promoting its Iraqi success.

We constantly hear conservatives condemning talk of withdrawal as "helping the enemy." We don't want to withdraw from Iraq and "hand bin Laden a propaganda victory," or some such. Leaving aside that it's almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, whenever that may occur, is not spun as a victory by Islamic extremists, as Lynch makes clear, the propaganda victory that Bush is handing al-Qaeda is not a matter of prediction. It is happening. By continuing to cling to and defend a failed policy by inflating al-Qaeda's power in Iraq, by treating al-Qaeda as a top-down organization with command and control capability, rather than a loosely affiliated ideological network, Bush is effectively waving al-Qaeda's flag for them. He got us into Iraq by misrepresenting Saddam Hussein's capabilities, and he's keeping us there by doing the same with al-Qaeda. We know the tragic consequences of the former; we haven't begun to grasp the consequences of the latter.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging: Special Drums Edition

Buddy Rich vs. Animal.

This Has Been Tried Before

Charles Krauthammer:
Maliki & Co. are afraid we are arming Sunnis for the civil war to come. On the other hand, we might be creating a rough balance of forces that would act as a deterrent to all-out civil war and encourage a relatively peaceful accommodation.

Blackadder Goes Forth :
Blackadder: You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent a war in Europe, two super blocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast, opposing armies, each acting as the other's deterrent. That way, there could never be a war.

Baldrick: Except, well, this is sort of a war, isn't it?

Blackadder: That's right, there was one tiny flaw in the plan.

George: Oh, what was that?

Blackadder: It was bollocks.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Heads, He Wins; Tails, We Lose

While reinforcing my point from last week about Muqtada al-Sadr's significance in Iraqi politics, the deep roots of his movement, and the utter folly of attempting to stand up a government which doesn't accomodate it, this article in today's NY Times also sheds some light on Muqtada's "insider/outsider" strategy:
After months of lying low, the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has re-emerged with a shrewd strategy that reaches out to Iraqis on the street while distancing himself from the increasingly unpopular government.

Mr. Sadr and his political allies have largely disengaged from government, contributing to the political paralysis noted in a White House report last week. That outsider status has enhanced Mr. Sadr’s appeal to Iraqis, who consider politics less and less relevant to their daily lives.

Mr. Sadr has been working tirelessly to build support at the grass-roots level, opening storefront offices across Baghdad and southern Iraq that dispense services that are not being provided by the government. In this he seems to be following the model established by Hezbollah, the radical Lebanese Shiite group, as well as Hamas in Gaza, with entwined social and military wings that serve as a parallel government.

The Sadrists exhibit a quiet confidence, and are pulling ever more supporters into their ranks. “The Sadr movement cannot be marginalized; it is the popular base,” said Sheik Salah al-Obaidi, the chief spokesman and a senior strategist for Mr. Sadr’s movement in Najaf. “We will not be affected by efforts to push us to one side because we are the people. We feel the people’s day-to-day sufferings.”

A number of working-class Shiites reflected that sentiment in conversations about the Mahdi militia and Mr. Sadr. Their relatives and neighbors work both for the Sadr offices and for the militia, blurring the line between social programs and paramilitary activity.

Mr. Sadr’s offices are accessible storefronts that dispense a little bit of everything: food, money, clothes, medicine and information. From just one office in Baghdad and one in Najaf in 2003, the Sadr operation has ballooned. It now has full-service offices in most provinces and nine in Baghdad, as well as several additional storefront centers. In some neighborhoods, the militiamen come around once a month to charge a nominal fee — about 5,000 Iraqi dinars, or $4 — for protection. In others, they control the fuel supply, and in some, where sectarian killings have gone on, they control the real estate market for empty houses.

Sadr essentially has the best of both worlds here. His staunch and consistent opposition to the U.S. presence and the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, and the confrontational stance which the U.S. continues to take toward him, allows him to credibly criticize the failure of the government to deliver services and security. At the same time, his loyalists' control of the Health and Transportation ministries provides access to government funds and resources, which can then be distributed as patronage and charity under the banner of his movement. Clever.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Arafat, AIDS and the Clown Choir

The various bozos of the wingnut circus have had their little chortle about the rumor of Yasser Arafat's having died of AIDS (much like their sporadic concern for women's rights, wingers care deeply about homophobia if and when it can be used as a weapon against their political enemies), but leave it to Marty Peretz's Mini Me to go the extra mile and try to spin the story into a slander of the Palestinians in general. I give you James Kirchick:
Of course, no amount of evidence will convince the Palestinians that Arafat was a homosexual, or that his death was caused by anything other than Israel's machinations. I found this out a few weeks ago in the West Bank, where everyone I spoke to told me that Israel killed Arafat. The denials that will inevitably spill forth about the causes of Arafat's death will mirror the rejection of a two state solution: both are part and parcel of the Palestinians' self-delusion.

Yes, those silly, delusional Palestinians. It's amazing how people whose leaders have been assassinated by Israeli bullets, missiles, bombs in telephones, poisoning, and secret lethal injection ambush will believe any damn thing. Sure, Ariel Sharon had openly declared Israel's right to kill Arafat if Israel so desired, but to actually suspect Israel of having gone through with it? That's just another example of the conspiratorial anti-Semitism which infects Palestinian society. As for the Palestinian's "rejection of a two state solution," given the fact that a substantial majority of Palestinians have for over a decade been in favor of just that, I suggest that the thing that's actually mirrored here is James Kirchick's bigotry.

Rumours about Arafat's homosexuality have been around for a long time. A number of Israeli scholars I've spoken to over the years, as well as a few Palestinians, simply acknowledged it as fact. Obviously, if true, it would be very interesting to consider how this was kept secret, or at least mostly secret, for so long. I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that quite a few people knew about it, but said nothing or ignored it because they considered Arafat's leadership indispensible.

To be sure, this particular story has a suspicious provenance. To say that I was initially wary of something that I first saw posted on the Corner after it had been picked up from Little Green Footballs is like saying I would be wary of eating a ring-ding that I first saw on the floor of the Newark bus station men's room after it had been transported through customs between Bill O'Reilly's ass cheeks. Ahmad Jibril, who apparently floated the rumor in an al-Manar TV interview translated by the hatefully anti-Palestinian MEMRI, and linked by LGF, is the head of the rejectionist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command, a longtime rival of Fatah's, currently based in Damascus. It's easy to see why he might want to slander and discredit Arafat, and by extension the current Fatah leadership, by outing Arafat as having been "infected." That's not to say that the story isn't true, just that not one of the links in the chain is a source that I consider particularly, or even nearly, credible.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Misunderestimated, Again

Others have ably dismantled Kimberly Kagan's unconvincing defense of the Kagan Family Surgeshow, but I found this bit particularly amazing:
The larger aim of the new strategy is creating an opportunity for Iraq's leaders to negotiate a political settlement. These negotiations are underway. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is attempting to form a political coalition with Amar al-Hakim and Kurdish political leaders, but excluding Moqtada al-Sadr, and has invited Sunnis to participate. He has confronted Moqtada al-Sadr for promoting illegal militia activity, and has apparently prompted this so-called Iraqi nationalist to leave for Iran for the second time since January.

“So-called Iraqi nationalist”? Sadr is unique among Shi'i leaders in that his nationalist credentials are not in any serious dispute. His representatives relentlessly hammer at the fact that while many other Shi'i leaders, most notably the Hakims, chose the safety of exile, the Sadrs stayed in Iraq, and were executed for their activism. This is one of the main sources of Muqtada's political strength: He stayed and suffered with his fellow Iraqis. SCIRI was renamed SIIC and realigned away from Khameini and toward Sistani for exactly this reason, to make up for its nationalist deficit vis a vis Sadr, and combat the perception that it is an Iranian instrument.

I don't know how I can say this any more clearly: There will be no settlement in Iraq without Sadr. It's almost comical how many times Muqtada has gone to ground, and the usual suspects have declared him politically dead, over, dealt with. After four years of trying to marginalize Sadr, crowing every time he suffers a perceived setback, and running home for dinner every time he returns, stronger, more defiant, with bigger crowds, and even more juice than before, we must understand that A) Muqtada al-Sadr represents a genuine and extremely formidable Iraqi constitutency, one with organizational roots that go back decades, B) The survival of the Iraqi government, and probably of the Iraqi state, depends to a great extent on the government’s accommodation of that movement, and C) After four long years, the people defending Bush's Iraq policy apparently still don’t know very much about Iraq.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


There have been some reports that Israel is considering releasing Marwan Barghouti as part of an exchange for Gilad Shalit, to bolster Fatah against Hamas. While this should have been done years ago, it's certainly a positive development now.

Israel's Ha’aretz editorialized last month:
One of the leaders of the Palestinian people has been incarcerated for approximately five years now in Hadarim Prison, in central Israel. The time has come to release him. For years, Marwan Barghouti has tried to persuade Israelis to end the occupation through negotiation. He has gone from one Israeli party headquarters to the next, meeting with politicians across the political spectrum. He tried to persuade them in order to preempt the next confrontation.

During his years in prison, Barghouti has acted to restrain the armed struggle and bolster his people's moderate leadership, using envoys to achieve this goal. Barghouti never left his native West Bank, never took to the habits of power characteristic of the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership in Tunisia. He became a popular leader - especially in the West Bank, and to a lesser degree in the Gaza Strip.

Modern history - including Israel's - has known national leaders who turned to violence and were jailed for years, until they were released to become political leaders who marched their peoples toward independence peacefully. Nelson Mandela is one such example. The leaders of the Zionist undergrounds in prestate Israel are another. Now, Barghouti's turn has come.

The Mandela comparison is apt. Briefly, Marwan Barghouti is a leading figure among the Fatah "new guard" who came of age in the occupied Palestinian territories in the late 70's and 80's, and took a leading role in the first intifada. In 2004 he was convicted of plotting terror attacks, and received several life sentences. He has continued his activism in prison, and was one of the proponents of the 2006 "Prisoner’s Agreement” which sought conciliation between Palestinian factions.

Barghouti features prominently in Sari Nusseibeh's memoir, Once Upon a Country. A student of Nusseibeh's at Bir Zeit University, Barghouti was active in campus government, and was committed both to non-violently resisting the occupation, and to building institutions which would support a modern Palestinian state. Like countless others of his generation, Barghouti spent his youth in and out of Israeli prisons for the crime of being a Palestinian nationalist. Nusseibeh effectively uses Barghouti's increasingly militant stance, and his eventual embrace of violence in response to the continuing Israeli occupation and colonization, to track the growth of radicalism among young Palestinians.

Moshe Elad, writing in Yediot Ahronoth, condemns the idea of Barghouti's release. Elad writes:
The crowning era is over. Reality in the Territories shows that those released on the initiative of the Israeli government are tainted as collaborators and as such become a target for assassination or are destined to be forgotten. Alternately, such a person would become more radical than he was before just so he can clear the collaborator stain. The early release of Barghouti just because Israel is searching for an agreeable partner for negotiations on the future of the Territories would no doubt taint Barghouti as the "ultimate collaborator." In the early 1980s Israel already "crowned" the "Village Committees" in the West Bank and supported several local leaders and mayors.

The crowning era never existed, except in the minds of a few Israelis. The idea that Israel could install its chosen leaders over the Palestinians was always a fantasy. The Village Committees were, from their very beginning, undersood by Palestinians as an attempt by Israel to create leaders subservient to the goals of the Israeli occupation. The bitter irony that these committess almost directly reproduced British efforts to divide and control Palestinian activism during the mandate period was lost on no one, except perhaps the Israeli occupation authorities.

There is no doubt that some elements, hardline Islamists and motorcade-addicted Fatah officials, would try to tar Barghouti as a collaborator, but the fact is that he continues to enjoy more genuine support among Palestinians than any other leader. He combines nationalist credentials with a non-corrupt reputation, having eschewed the trappings of power which many other Fatah leaders embraced during the 1990's, and which led to Hamas's electoral victory in 2006. Barghouti is not a magician, and it's very possible that it's to late even for him to make a difference. It should also be understood, however, that if the occupation, house demolitions, and settlement construction continue unabated, it really doesn't matter who the Israelis release.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Wages of Flypaper Strategy

Quote of the day from Mohammad Bashar al Faidi, via Conflict Blotter:
"The Arabs went to Afganistan and got a masters in violent Jihad, but in Iraq they’re all getting PhDs."

Friday Guitar Blogging

Matt Murphy.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Television. A very nice rendition of "1880 or So" from their underrated 1992 self-titled reunion album. (Richard solos at 1:50, Tom at 4:05.)

Sources report that Richard Lloyd, after missing the band's performance at Central Park's Summerstage last week due to being hospitalized for penumonia, "will, after 34 years, be amicably severing all ties with the band Television."

I was lucky enough to catch Television live twice, in 2001 and again in 2003. Both of the shows were among the best I've ever seen. As you can gather from the video, a band featuring either Tom Verlaine or Richard Lloyd by himself would have been very impressive; a band with them together was transcendent.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Objectionable Smell of Blowback

In Sunday's Outlook section, Warren Bass wrote a short profile of Hamas, and about the competition between it and Fatah which has now boiled over into a Palestinian civil war. For some reason, however, while noting that Hamas grew out of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, he did not mention the role that Israel played in cultivating the Brotherhood as a pan-Islamic alternative to the secular nationalist Fatah. While the true extent of Israeli support for the Brotherhood is not known, that it took place is not questioned. Sari Nusseibeh, whose memoir Bass recommends, writes about this in some detail, noting that while the Israel occupation authorities harassed and detained Palestinian activists of every stripe, Sheikh Yassin and his organization were left strangely unmolested, as Brotherhood-run social services and study centers went up at a peculiarly high rate throughout the territories. In addition to being rather relevant to Hamas’s story, you’d think that a bitter irony such as this, Israel now frantically trying to prop up Fatah against Hamas as it earlier propped up Hamas's precursor against Fatah, would be attractive to any writer.

Curious at why Bass ignored this low hanging fruit, I wrote and asked him about it. He responded that because of “limited space” he was not able to include every little bit of information on Hamas than he might have wanted. You will notice, however, that he devoted some of this very precious space to referencing a satirical Onion article about Hamas. Heh, indeed.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Otis Rush.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Just Because Alan Dershowitz Agrees Doesn't Mean You're Wrong

I wrote last week that I don't think the boycott of Israeli universities is appropriate. Having considered Alan Dershowitz's argument against the boycott, however, I have concluded that I'm still against it.

I do think it's interesting, though, that, according to Dershowitz, when British academics undertake a boycott against Israeli universities for their alleged support for, and complicity in, four decades of occupation, colonization, and expropriation, that's anti-Semitism, but when the Israeli military undertakes to bomb, displace, and kill thousands of Lebanese civilians for their alleged support for, and complicity in, Hezbollah terrorism, that's tough luck.

Dershowitz claims that the boycott "wildly overstates the significance of the Israel/Palestine conflict," and then goes on to claim that "the fight against the boycott is one aspect, perhaps the most urgent aspect, of the contemporary fight against anti-Semitism." Right. As usual, when defending Israel, or rather, when attacking Israel's critics, Dershowitz permits himself the sort of arguments for which his TA's would fail a freshman.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Oh Yes He Did

Marty Peretz on George Soros:
"His authority comes from nothing more than his money."

Hey, but at least it's his own money, right Marty?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessel, and Grant Green.

The Boycott

I don't endorse everything Martha Nussbaum has to say here, but I strongly agree with her central argument that that academic boycott declared by British scholars against Israel is not appropriate.

I know that I tend to focus in this blog on the abuses of the Israeli occupation regime, but I do recognize that there is a great amount and variety of excellent work being done in Israeli universities, much if not most having nothing whatever to do with conflict with the Palestinians. Trying to subsume all of the Israeli academy under the heading "in service to the occupation," as the boycott essentially does, seems to me kind of bullshit. For those scholars whose work does serve to justify and support the Israeli occupation and settlement project, their work should be (and repeatedly has been, most devastatingly by their fellow Israelis), singled out and refuted. I don't think that boycotting and attempting to silence those scholars, who, by virtue of their being in and of Israel, are in a unique position to produce work on various aspects of Israeli culture and society (which, again, is obviously not reducible to its conflict with the Arabs), will be productive. If anything, Israeli scholars who oppose the occupation should be engaged and supported by those hoping and working toward a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Man We Must Do Business With

I recommend Bartle Breese Bull’s op-ed from last Sunday, in which he discusses the ways in which Muqtada al-Sadr has actually been contributing to Iraqi stability, while also maintaining his steadfast opposition to the U.S. presence.
The Sadrist movement has always been about Iraq for the Iraqis. They might accept help from Iran — and I saw Iranian supplies in their compounds in Najaf in 2004 — but the movement is not for sale. Mr. Sadr gets his strength from the street. And the Arabs of the Iraqi street have no time for Persian bosses.

Nor do they seem to want to foment an all-out civil war. For all the time I have spent with Sadrist death-squad leaders who focus on killing former Baathists and Al Qaeda’s supporters (Sunnis all), I have spent just as much time with Mahdi men who have been sent by their leaders to protect Sunni mosques after Sunni provocations, lest Shiites retaliate too broadly.

It was no coincidence that in February, a few weeks after the Baghdad security plan started, a Sunni mosque was reopened in Sadr City. Nor is it a coincidence that the current plan, while it has largely failed to stop car bombs, which are primarily a Sunni phenomenon, has for the moment more or less ended the type of violence in which the Mahdi Army participated most: roving death squads.

Why would Mr. Sadr cooperate with the Americans and Mr. Maliki’s government? While he runs the biggest popular movement in the country, his followers are far from a majority. He is doing exactly what any other rational actor would do: He keeps up the angry rhetoric, and he plays ball with the democratic project.

The real story about Moktada al-Sadr is not his exciting sermons but his broad underwriting, both passive and active, of the official project in Iraq. Since he stood down his forces in August 2004, he has provided the same narrative time and again. It is what we should expect from the canniest politician in Iraq: the rhetoric of the dispossessed, and the actions of an heir to power.

Sadr's fierce Iraqi nationalism is always what made accusations of fealty to Iran transparently ridiculous.

This is also worth noting:
It is no accident that he preaches from the Kufa mosque rather than the more prestigious one at Najaf. As the site of the tomb of Imam Ali, the great martyr of Shiism, Najaf is the center of the Shiite clerical hierarchy, a Vatican of sorts for the faith. It is a rich city.

But Moktada al-Sadr leads a movement of the poor, inherited from his father, who inherited it from an uncle. His singsong exhortation in Kufa last week was a direct reference to the most famous cry from his father’s epic, and ultimately suicidal, sermons under Saddam Hussein in the 1980s: “Yes, yes, to electricity. Yes, yes, to water.” Young Mr. Sadr speaks not for the elites but for the biggest and most deprived group of people in Iraq: the Shiite lower orders.

Kufa also has special significance Shi'i history. Kufa is where Imam Hussein, grandson of Muhammad, was travelling when his party was intercepted near Karbala by the forces of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid. Hussein had been traveling to Kufa at the request of the town's inhabitants, intending to lead a revolt against what they saw as the illegitimate Umayyad Caliphate. Yazid found out about this, sent his forces to crush the revolt in Kufa, and then to lay in wait for Hussein. Nearly all of Hussein's group were martyred, and Hussein's head was brought to Yazid as a trophy in Damascus. When Shi'is mourn the death of Imam Hussein during the Muharram observances, one of the rituals and themes is the lamentation and acceptance of the guilt of the Kufans for not coming to Hussein's aid in his hour of need.

Being based in Kufa, in addition to representing those who bore the brunt of Ba'athist tyranny, poor Shi'is, Muqtada is also able to place himself squarely within the Shi'i martyrdom narrative, and present himself and his movement as instruments of long-awaited Shi'i redemption and justice.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Things Dennis Forgets

Dennis Ross’s op-ed in this morning's Washington Post is, to my mind, sadly typical of the U.S. media's treatment of the Israel/Palestine issue. Read it: Nowhere in his discussion of the conflict between Hamas and Fatah does he make a single mention of the Israeli occupation. I tend to think that if someone were writing about the violence between Sunni and Shi'i factions in Iraq, it might be considered important to mention the fact that the U.S. invaded Iraq, toppled the government, and has occupied the country for the last four years. If it were also the case that the U.S. Army were bulldozing Iraqi neighborhoods, constructing huge American settlements, and diverting vast amounts of Iraqi water to service those settlements, one might consider that relevant as well. One might even be inclined toward the idea that this were contributing to Iraqi unrest.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Carrying the Torch for Constantine XI

Mark Krikorian, living in a small, rough lean-to and feeding on roots, berries, and moss out beyond the farthest frontiers of Wingnutistan:
We shouldn't let May 29 pass without noting the anniversary of one of the great tragedies of history, the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Sure, the Byzantine Empire was already finished at that point, but its final snuffing out by the Turks was an important milestone in the jihad we continue to face.

Wow. Does this mean that we should celebrate our allies', the Mongols', sacking of Baghdad in 1258 as a victory in the war on terror? Or lament the Quraishi defeat at the Battle of Badr in 624 as the moment when 9/11 really became inevitable? Here we have incontrovertible proof that education and knowledge do not necessarily make one smarter; in many cases they just provide a grander framework for one's preexisting resentments and prejudices, a larger stage upon which to rehearse one's stupidity.

Also, I think Krikorian is letting those damn back-stabbing Paulicians off too easy. If only they hadn't weakened Byzantine resolve in the 9th century, we wouldn't all be speaking Turkish now.

How I hate the Paulicians.


Mark Steyn objects to the president's suggestion that those against the immigration bill "don't want to do what's right for America":
I respect the President and I appreciate that his sincerity on this issue has been obvious for his entire political career. But I don't think he should impugn the good faith of those who, equally sincerely, disagree - not on "narrow slices" but on the central proposition: that drive-thru legalization for millions of people subject to desultory background checks by an agency without the resources to conduct them is not "what's right for America".

Uh huh. I'm pretty sure Steyn still considers it okay, though, to impugn the good faith, and patriotism, of those who sincerely disagree (and who have been largely vindicated in their disagreement) on the central proposition: that invading and occupying Iraq will not inspire democratic reforms throughout the region, and will serve as a recruiting poster, boot camp, and proving ground for violent, radical jihadism.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Merle Travis.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ignatius J. Peretz Has A Posse

Regarding the rather entertaining dustup between Matt Yglesias and a small confederacy of dunces, let me just say, first, that having your views on Palestinian politics recommended by Marty Peretz and Jonah Goldberg is a bit like being hailed as the world's greatest living poet by Jewel and the person who cleans Jewel's pool.

Second, any analysis of the Fatah-Hamas conflict which attempts to ignore or exonerate forty years of Israeli occupation, and the cultivation of Palestinian disunity which has been a central goal of that occupation, is, quite simply, not to be taken seriously. Blaming the factional violence in Gaza on the supposedly inherently violent nature of Palestinian Arab society (which, remember, doesn't really exist, according to Peretz), while turning a blind eye to the myriad ways in which the Israeli occupation has proscribed, manipulated, and handicapped Palestinian political life during the last four decades, is as racist as it is daft.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Missed Him By That Much

Patrick Cockburn, on the recently revealed U.S. attempt to assassinate Muqtada al-Sadr:
[Mowaffak al-]Rubai'e had gone to Najaf in August 2004 to try to mediate an end to the fighting. He met Mr Sadr who agreed to a set of conditions to end the crisis. "He actually signed the agreement with his own handwriting," said Dr Rubai'e. "He wanted the inner Najaf, the old city, around the shrine to be treated like the Vatican."

Having returned to Baghdad to show the draft document to Iyad Allawi, who was prime minister at the time, Dr Rubai'e went back to Najaf to make a final agreement with Mr Sadr.

It was agreed that the last meeting would take place in the house in Najaf of Muqtada's father Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr who had been murdered by Saddam's gunmen with two of his sons five years before. Dr Rubai'e and other mediators started for the house. As they did so they saw the US Marines open up an intense bombardment of the house and US Special Forces also heading for it. But the attack was a few minutes premature. Mr Sadr was not yet in the house and managed to escape.

Although Dr Rubai'e, as Iraqi National Security Adviser since 2004 and earlier a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, is closely associated with the American authorities in Baghdad, he has no doubt about what happened.

He sees the negotiations as part of a charade to lure Mr Sadr, who is normally very careful about his own security, to a house where he could be eliminated.

The cloddishness on display here, the utter ignorance of history and symbolism, is no less staggering for being unsurprising. Attempting to kill Muqtada as he entered the house of his revered, martyred father Grand Ayatollah Sadeq al-Sadr(assassinated by Saddam in 1999), under a flag of truce, in Shi'ism's holiest city...Like so much else having to do with this war, it seems like it could have been designed in a lab to produce precisely the opposite of the the desired result: Increased distrust of the U.S. Coalition by majority Shi'is, massively enhanced street cred for Muqtada.

Even if the assassination attempt had succeeded, I doubt it would have made things better, and could very likely have made things worse. The success of Muqtada has less to do with his own political acumen, though it's become increasingly apparent that that is a factor, more with the deep resonance among poor Shi'is of his father's populist-nationalist program, which even before 2004 was supported by a large network of clerical activists. At least, in Muqtada, you have a figure who can draw together a substantial majority of the groups identifying as "Sadrist," rather than it devolving into a contest between Sadrist leaders to see who's more hardcore.

Also, the Israelis have been killing "key" Palestinian leaders for decades; if you want to know how well that's worked out, note that they've been doing it for decades.