Tom Friedman on Iraq

Ballots and Boycotts,” by Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times,, 13 January 2005.

Tom Friedman is a genius. Author of both From Beirut to Jerusalem and The Lexus and the Olive Tree, his take is always fascinating. He so understands and explains the world than even people who disagree with him, or don’t even care about his beliefs, end up using his terminology.

This week he has a more practical piece in Nyt calling for the elections to be held as scheduled

It is on the basis of these rules that I totally disagree with those who argue that the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections should be postponed. Their main argument is that an Iraqi election that ensconces the Shiite majority in power, without any participation of the Sunni minority, will sow the seeds of civil war.

That is probably true – but we are already in a civil war in Iraq. That civil war was started by the Sunni Baathists, and their Islamist fascist allies from around the region, the minute the U.S. toppled Saddam. And they started that war not because they felt the Iraqi elections were going to be rigged, but because they knew they weren’t going to be rigged.

They started the war not to get their fair share of Iraqi power, but in hopes of retaining their unfair share. Under Saddam, Iraq’s Sunni minority, with only 20 percent of the population, ruled everyone. These fascist insurgents have never given politics a chance to work in Iraq because they don’t want it to work. That’s why they have never issued a list of demands. They don’t want people to see what they are really after, which is continued minority rule, Saddamism without Saddam. If that was my politics, I’d be wearing a ski mask over my head, too.


The End of the Nation-State

Why ‘Liberal Hawkery” is Oxymoronic’,” by “Ben P,” MyDD,, 18 January 2005.

nonsense,” by “josheylon,” MyDD,, 18 January 2005.

MyDD hosts a fascinating thread that makes one wonder: are sovereign nation-states anachonistic?

Now one may argue that Iraq (at least under Saddam Hussein) was not a freely self-constituted body like the ones I describe above, but this is a thin reed. The point isn’t ultimately Saddam, but the integrity of Iraq as a freely self-constituted nation-state. Unless the idea of the nation-state no longer has meaning, and that we are all citizens of some kind of pan-global community, this justification does not pass muster, because at this point, under such a theory, no nation (the United States included) has a right to its own internal politics. At which point, either we live in some utopian UN-style global superstate or international relations are simply anarchistic. And this is a philosophical situation I don’t think to many here – liberal, “liberal hawk,” conservative, whatever – would find tenable and/or realistic.

I believe there is still a purpose for nation-states, but it is less in the past. It is too dangerous for us and the world to allow any country to do whatever it wants to itself whenever it wants. Fortunately with globalization we can peacefully tie the states of the world together in a common system for common prosperity. But for the nonglobalized, war is still an option.

Dr. Barnett has written on how tiring the “He’s got a gun!” rationale for the Iraq War is. He’s right. Whether or not the thug is armed is besides the point. He’s a danger to his community and the entire town. Let’s get him.

Josheylon makes a similar point

If I round up five million people into a concentration camp, and call my concentration camp a “country” because it’s so large, are you going to say, “oh, it’s a country, and a country has a right to its own internal politics?”

What is comes down to is this: do you care about the rights of “Iraq,” or do you care about the rights of Iraqis? As far as I’m concerned, the rights of Iraqis trump the rights of Iraq, because Iraqis are real human beings and Iraq is just an abstraction. I don’t care about “Iraq” being free to do what it wants. I only care about Iraqis being free.

Now don’t take any of that as an endorsement of the Republican plan to replace “rule by dictator” with “rule by roving packs of teenage punks with machine guns.” I don’t think that’s a particularly good swap.


Let Peace and Freedom Reign!

Social Honesty

A Question of Numbers,” by Roger Lowenstein, New York Times,, 16 January 2005 (from slashdot).

Political Divisions Persist After Election: Nation Unsure, Hopeful About Bush, Poll Finds,” by Richard Morin and Dan Balz, Washington Post,, 18 January 2005 (from The Corner).

Amid the New York Times’ dishonesty

The C.B.O. assumes that the typical worker would invest half of his allocation in stocks and the rest in bonds. The C.B.O. projects the average return, after inflation and expenses, at 4.9 percent. This compares with the 6 percent rate (about 3.5 percent after inflation) that the trust fund is earning now.

The “trust fund”‘s 3.5 percent return is meaningless. Nyt is conflating two different types of returns. In the second sentence the CBO projection of an average adjusted 4.9% return is for a “typical worker.” The 3.5% adjusted return is for the trust fund as a whole. It ignores the effective return of a typical worker under the current social security return.

The number of workers per retiree has been steadily decreasing over the long haul, while the years worked before receiving benefits has been increasing (every modern worker will have paid into SS for his entire working life, while the first social security beneficiary worked only three years before collecting). So while the lock-box’s adjusted return has been relatively steady, each worker’s return has fallen from many tens of thousands percent to much, much less.

But Nyt’s faces an uphill battle in its propaganda

At a time when Democratic leaders are preparing to challenge many of Bush’s major initiatives, nearly seven in 10 Americans agree that Bush’s victory means that congressional Democrats should compromise with him — even if it means compromising on their party’s principles.

But by 54 percent to 41 percent, the public supported a plan that would include a reduction in the rate of growth of guaranteed benefits and private savings accounts financed with a portion of payroll taxes. A proposal with those elements is under consideration by the Bush administration.

Americans divide equally over Bush’s proposal to index Social Security benefits for future retirees to increases in the cost of living rather than to wage growth as is now the case, a change that would effectively mean benefits would be lower than currently projected. A clear majority of Americans — 55 percent — support the president’s proposal to allow younger workers to put some of their Social Security savings into stocks or bonds. When packaged together, the two components draw the support of 54 percent of those surveyed.

The survey suggests that Democratic leaders may be out of step with their rank and file on the severity of the problems facing Social Security. Those leaders are attempting to thwart Bush’s plans by saying there is no immediate crisis. But two-thirds of all Democrats said they worry that there is not enough money to keep Social Security funded until they retire.

Depending on how the question is asked, polls can give different results. And I believe President Bush is not inclined to follow popular opinion much, in any case. But it’s heartening to see that even with a formerly reputable paper like Nyt abandoning honesty, the President can, at least for now, count popular opinion as a friend.

Red State Welfare?

Community Development,” by Chad M. Schuldt, Clean Cut Kid,, 18 January 2005.

Chad over at CCK criticizes Bush for allegedly cutting support to South Dakota, and other states

Bush’s plan would cut funding for the Community Development Block Grant program by up to 50%. That would translate into a $3.5 million loss of funding for community development in the state.

These grants were made for items such as water projects, waste treatment plants, ambulance and fire service, and employment services for disabled individual

I say “allegedly” because of Clean Cut Kid’s unreliable reporting of the facts. But let’s assume it’s true.

So what?

What right does one city have to loot the wealth of another? What right does one state have for welfare over another? There is a time and a place for public support of uneconomic institutions, but I am saddened that CCK’s support for sound budgeting collapses so easily.


Split in Martin Luther King’s own family reflects larger debate over gay marriage,” by Louise Chu, The Press-Enterprise,, 16 January 2005 (from The Corner).

Racism and homosexuality were invented at roughly the same time in roughly the same place — the middle-Modern Era in western Europe. It is wonderful that they have the same enemies

Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest child lit a torch at her father’s tomb last month to kick off a march advocating a ban on gay marriage, creating a strong image linking the slain civil rights icon to today’s heated social debate.

The Kings’ youngest child, Bernice King, helped lead thousands of people in an Atlanta march last month that had an anti-gay agenda.

The march, organized by Bishop Eddie Long and his 25,000-member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, also advocated issues such as education reform and affordable health care, but its listed first goal was an amendment to “fully protect marriage between one man and one woman.

Will we end both problems in this generation? I doubt it. Can they both fester and grow worse? Yes. But can we make progress toward a happier world? Absolutely.

I am thankful we have civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King III. I do not agree with everything he has said, but he sees clearly.

Peacefully Rising

Archbishop Freed in Iraq, but 8 Chinese Are Captives,” by Jeffry Gettleman and Edward Wong, New York Times,, 19 January 2005.

Given that

1. Most Middle East Oil goes to the Far East, including China
2. China needs more and more oil every year
3. China is stronger every year
4. China has a long and proud history of killing Muslims

One might think that Muslims might take special care to avoid making waves with the Chinese.

You’d be wrong

BAGHDAD, Jan. 18 – Insurgents on Tuesday released a Syrian Catholic archbishop they had snatched from the streets of Mosul the day before, but a few hours later a new hostage drama opened when eight Chinese construction workers were shown forlornly staring at a video camera with masked men pointing guns at their heads.

The eight Chinese workers are still missing, and the only clue to their whereabouts is a hazy video shot in front of a brick wall and broadcast Tuesday on several Arab television channels. The insurgents said in a statement that the Chinese men were working for the American military and demanded that the Chinese government, which has stayed relatively quiet on the issue of Iraq, declare its opinion of the occupation.

The Ba’athi strategy is clear:
Remove Sunnis from the transitional government, get multinational forces out of Iraq, kill off the Shia leadership, kill off the Salafist leadership, and seize the country.

The Salafist strategy is clear:
Remove Sunnis from the transitional government, get multinational forces out of Iraq, kill of the Shia leadership, kill off the Ba’athi leadership, and seize the country

Both groups have been pretty successful at the first step, and are trying their luck at the second.

The luck that the terrorists in Iraq have had in removing Turkish, Jordanian, and Filipino nationals have been disturbing. But China is made of stronger stuff. China did not flinch when neoTaliban captured their nationals in Afghanistan.

Reality determines our policies. To win and spread freedom and peace, the civilized world must stand united against the terrorists. The Chinese are with us.

Concrete Proof

U.S. Building Forts On Iraq Border: 32 Forts Being Built,” by Cami McCormick, CBS News,, 18 January 2005 (from DU).

The most telling sign yet up a U.S.-Iranian entente

Securing these borders is a priority of Task Force NAHA, based at Camp Korean Village near the town of ar Rutbah. And at the remote Al Walid border crossing, just over two dozen Marines work with the Iraqis, overseeing their inspection of cars and trucks.

The U.S. military is also supervising a complex of 32 forts being built along the borders with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. The Marines move the Iraqis into them as quickly as possible, because in the past the forts have been looted and destroyed before they could be manned.

That’s three of Iraq’s six neighbors.

1. Syrian border – forts being built
2. Jordanian border – forts being built
3. Saudi Arabian border – forts being built
4. Kuwaiti border – U.S. presense from Perisan Gulf War
5. Turkish border – Kurdish peshmerga on both sides of border
6. Iranian border – ???

This literally concrete proof of U.S. and Iraqi intentions toward Iran. Both the U.S. and Iran have a firm interest in maintining a Shia-Kurdish Iraq. And both have interests in a free flow of migrants across the border — Iran wants to allow easy passage to the Shia Holy Cities in Iraq, while the U.S. belives free movement into a democratic Iraq will convince Iranians of the benefits of freedom in their own nation.

The shift of Iraq from a sun of a Sunni solar system to a satellite in the Shia sphere is stunning. We are succeeding in changing their world. We are altering things forever.

The other thing to notice: Syria and Iran are/were allies, but we’re watching the Syrian border closely. The Syrian-Iranian entente was built on two pillars: joint support for the Christian-Shia factions in the Lebanese civil war against the Palestinians and later the Israelis, and their use to each other as counterweights to Iraq.

Why would Iran want a counterweight to a Shia Iraq?
What use are Syria’s factions in Lebanon anymore? Of the original fighters — the U.N., U.S. Marine Corp, Syria, Israel, PLO, the only one still in Lebanon is… Syria. Why would Iran want a strong Syria, with a foothold in Lebanon and insurgent ties in Iraq, considering…

Iran and Iraq are now natural allies just as Iraq and Syria are once again natural enemies.

What an interesting world!

Charles Graner

Embracing Defeat, by John W. Dower, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, pg 446, 1999.

Many Iraqis Say Graner Abuse Sentence Too Lenient,” by Mussab al-Khairalla, Reuters,, 16 January 2005.

Charles Graner, an army reservist accused of mistreating prisoners at the Abu Gharib prison, was sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

By way of comparison, Japanese convicted of vivisecting American prisoners of war served five.

But then, Mr. Graner made the prisoners feel bad. Some were probably embarrassed.

Barnett Watch (NPR)

The Pentagon’s New Map,” interview of Thomas P.M. Barnett by Steve Inskeep, Morning Edition,, 18 January 2005.

Dr. Barnett is a former researcher at the Naval War College, and joined NPR morning edition to talk about his book, The Pentagon’s New Map. Some excerpts:

On Rumsfeld famous quote on Iraq

Rumsfeld’s answer was sometimes you go to war with the army that you have, not the one that you want. Not exactly. You go to war with the army that you’ve been wanting.

On the People’s Republic and oil

The second question is really the question of rising China. We have to look at them much like the British looked at the United States in the first several decades of the twentieth century. We have to see them as a rising power to be co-opted, not confronted. Because I think if you look at their strategic interests and you look at our strategic interests the overlap there is absolutely tremendous. Its Asia whose energy requirements are going to double in the next twenty years. So in many ways our quest for a more stable connected Middle East serves the interests of a rising China far more in a direct sense than it does the United States.

On Iran

I think there are ways to co-copt Iran because I think strategically in the region we have a lot of similar interests if we look at the situation with more objective eyes.

There’s a lot more for a seven-minute interview. Give is a listen.