Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

What We Can Learn from History

Posted by Gerald on August 2, 2007

I was reading an article earlier today that I’m considering having my students read this fall when I came across this quote that seems very relevant for today:

“We must bear in mind that in ancient Greece, as in the world of today, democracy cannot be “installed” like air-conditioning or central heating.  It calls for the unlearning of old ways, for the gradual response to new conditions, and for a radical change in the relations between man and man, and between individual and community.  There are no short cuts.”
– from How Democratic was Ancient Athens? by Robert Browning

We cannot bring democracy to Iraq.  We cannot bring democracy to the Middle East.  We can’t bring democracy to the world.  All we can do is stay out of the way.

Posted in Diplomacy, History, international relations, Iraq War, Middle East, opinion | 2 Comments »

A Really Smart Move

Posted by Gerald on July 21, 2007

Israel has released 255 Palestinian prisoners.

If there is anything that might strengthen the appeal of Fatah relative to Hamas among Palestinians, it would be some type of concrete successes in dealing with Israel.  Let us just hope that this is the first of many such gestures.  If the Israeli government were also to address illegal settlements on the West Bank, that would go even further.

Of course, if Fatah were to seriously address issues of corruption in the Palestinian Authority, that wouldn’t hurt either.

Posted in Israel, Middle East, news, opinion, Palestinian, Palestinian Authority | Leave a Comment »

Found It!!! (Meaning My Sense of Moral Outrage)

Posted by Gerald on July 12, 2007

I was saying earlier that I wasn’t able to find my sense of moral outrage.

Then I read this in the Washington Post.

This is one interesting story that simply highlights all of the problems with the administration and its Iraq “policy.”  Last November we have Bush giving a “Churchillian” vision of victory in Iraq to the Iraq Study Group.  “‘A constitutional order is emerging,’ he (Bush) said.”  (“T’ings is looking pretty bad dere right now, but dere seems to be hope for a constitutional settlement.”)  Bush’s own CIA director was telling him it ain’t happening.  All of this before the “surge.”  Here is the quotes that really struck me:

“Our leaving Iraq would make the situation worse,” (CIA Director) Hayden said. “Our staying in Iraq may not make it better. Our current approach without modification will not make it better.”

“The levers of power are not connected to anything,” he (Hayden) said, adding: “We have placed all of our energies in creating the center, and the center cannot accomplish anything.”

“It’s a legitimate question whether strengthening the Iraqi security forces helps or hurts when they are viewed as a predatory element,” he said. “Strengthening Iraqi security forces is not unalloyed good. Without qualification, this judgment applies to the police.”

To me, though, the most important quote from CIA Director Hayden was:

“The Iraqi identity is muted. The Sunni or Shia identity is foremost.”

I think this is the most important realization we need to have about the situation in Iraq – identity.  There is not going to be any sort of national reconciliation or unity unless more Iraqis see themselves as Iraqi first and Shia or Sunni second.  I’m not saying they should or shouldn’t see themselves that way, I’m just saying that an Iraqi nation can only be built if its people want it.  Unless the Sunni, Shia, and Kurds WANT to be in the same country with one another, there is no way that political stability is going to emerge.

I’ve said this before in this blog.  WE (America) cannot make this happen.  It isn’t a matter of our will or of our ideals or of anything else about us – this is something that only the people in Iraq can decide.  What is important to them?  Where do their primary loyalties lie?  Who do they believe they are?  Who do they want to be?  We cannot force an answer on them – and I do not think we can even help them find an answer.  I do believe that our presence there – even with the best of intentions (which may or may not be the case) – is making the internal struggle over national identity more difficult by involving a foreign occupation and strengthening the hand of the militant Islamists.  No matter how good their intentions, if you are watching soldiers from another country and another culture walking armed down your streets and kicking in the doors of your neighbors (even the ones you do not like), you cannot help but feel belittled, provoked, and irritated.  Add in the inevitable mistakes and misconduct that will happen when you have armed human beings, with all of our flaws and vices, trying to police someone else’s home and you have a recipe for a spiral of hatred and violence.

Will there be violence if we leave?  Absolutely.  There is violence right now.  Things are gone too far for that not to happen.  But it is ultimately going to be up to the people in Iraq to decide when they no longer want to fight each other.  All we can do is decide whether we are going to continue to provoke the violence we are involved in by our very presence there.

Will Al-Qaeda be able to recruit in Iraq and operate there?  Yes.  We’ve already guaranteed it, and every time some Iraqi kid watches our soldiers leading his Dad off in handcuffs, we are helping swell the ranks.  Our only real hope at this point is to stop doing anymore damage ourselves and then to be ready to provide non-military help on an almost unconditional basis to those who ask.  Maybe, just maybe, that will eventually lead to whatever government or governments emerge from the aftermath being willing to forgive us one day and to not actively support our enemies.

Is all of this a thin strand of hope?  You betcha, but all of the really good options disappeared during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Now we are just left with the possible – with bad and worse.  We need to choose while we still have even this little amount of choice left.

Posted in al-Qaeda, America, Bush administration, Diplomacy, international relations, Iraq War, Middle East, news, opinion, politics, thoughts, United States | Leave a Comment »

“The Economist” on Palestine

Posted by Gerald on June 26, 2007

The Economist had a very interesting write-up on the situation arising from the fighting between Hamas and Fatah.

The authors ask some very useful questions.  What does this division mean for Palestinian statehood?  Answer, nothing good.  Is the Western hope that the division between Fatah and Hamas will lead to the end of Hamas realistic?  Answer, probably not.  Will Western aid do more to polarize the situation than to prop up Fatah?  Answer, probably.

Read it here.

Posted in Diplomacy, international relations, Israel, Middle East, news, Palestinian Authority, politics, reviews | 1 Comment »

America’s Nukes

Posted by Gerald on June 22, 2007

The Atlantic has an article in the newest issue dealing with America’s nuclear arsenal and the growing possibility of a new arms race.  The article details how America’s nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities have improved since the end of the Cold War.  US missiles are much more accurate than their Cold War predecessors.  B-2 bombers give more flexibility to the delivery of weapons.  US warheads are much more powerful now (for example, the article notes that most of the Navy’s nuclear submarines have been re-equipped with the more accurate Trident II missiles and most of those missiles carry 455 kiloton warheads in place of older 100 kiloton warheads.)  There has also been extensive research into non-nuclear weapons with increased yields.  China, meanwhile, has about 80 warheads and only about 16 missiles capable of hitting targets in the US – and those are slow-to-launch liquid fuel missiles.

The authors argue that this has created a huge strategic imbalance with the Chinese and that the imbalance creates a real temptation for a US administration facing a confrontation with China to take very aggressive action.  US “counterforce” capabilities mean it is possible to launch a pre-emptive strike that could destroy China’s entire ICBM arsenal while inflicting relatively minimal casualties (perhaps as low as 6000 people.)  The desire of the Chinese to even this imbalance creates the possibility for an arms race and increasing tension between the US and China.  The question then becomes whether continuing to maintain this sort of coercive capacity when dealing with the Chinese is worth the distrust and tension its existence will create.  Thus, might it be worth lessening the US advantage in hopes of easing future tension?

I found two things mildly terrifying as I read this article.  First, our beloved Vice-President (from his position of NOT being in the Executive Branch) has been harping on the fiendish Chinese menace for awhile now.  Add this to the temptations that the article’s authors mentioned (pre-emptive strikes, etc…), and all I can do is pray that there won’t be any problems with China during his watch.

The other thing, the one that REALLY that terrifies me, is how all of this fits with the “Bush Doctrine” – i.e., that the US stands ready to smash anyone we suspect might become a threat someday.  A frightening picture starts to emerge.

The immense military capacity under the administration’s control, and the temptation to use it for “clean” strikes.

The administration’s promotion of a doctrine of pre-emptive war.

The administration’s frequently demonstrated lack of concern with international law, or even Constitutional restraint.

The willingness of those surrounding the President to use war as a tool for domestic political advancement.

The evangelical certainty these men have in their own rectitude.


Posted in China, international relations, Iran, Middle East, opinion, politics | 1 Comment »

Dick Cheney subverts American Policy

Posted by Gerald on June 18, 2007

This story in the New York Times details the current squabble within the administration over its Iran policy.  Evidently Cheney and his Satanic Minions figure two wars aren’t enough.

I’m not sure what bothers me more, the way in which Cheney’s current aides are trying to subvert support for the official diplomatic policies of the U.S. government (bothered, not surprised) or that it turns out that Condy is the DOVE in this story.

Posted in Diplomacy, international relations, Iran, Middle East, news, opinion, politics, United States | Leave a Comment »

Divide and What?

Posted by Gerald on June 18, 2007

The US and EU have lifted the sanctions they imposed on the Palestinian “Unity” government in the wake of the recent fighting between Hamas and Fatah.  You can read more details here.

I’m not sure how this is supposed to help?  All signs seem to indicate that if a completely open election were held for leadership of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas would probably get the whole show.  I don’t see how rushing American and European aid to Fatah is going to do anything but deepen the divisions and tend to weaken the Abbas government by association with the hated Americans.

Certainly it is good to see food and humanitarian aid going to those who need it, I’m just wondering in the long run if this is just going to cause more problems than it solves?  On the other hand, I believe it was John Maynard Keynes who observed that “in the long-run we are all dead.”

Oh, why isn’t this being called a “civil war”?  It sure looks like one to this history teacher.

Posted in Diplomacy, European Union, international relations, Israel, Middle East, Palestinian Authority, politics, United States | Leave a Comment »