Wednesday, October 30, 2002

The Times runs a tacit correction

The demonstration on Saturday in Washington drew 100,000 by police estimates and 200,000 by organizers', forming a two-mile wall of marchers around the White House. The turnout startled even organizers, who had taken out permits for 20,000 marchers. They expected 30 buses, and were surprised by about 650, coming from as far as Nebraska and Florida.

A companion demonstration in San Francisco attracted 42,000 protesters, city police there said, and smaller groups demonstrated in other cities, including about 800 in Austin, Tex., and 2,500 in Augusta, Me.

Complete article here.

The prowar types would love to play this down, I'm sure, but this is huge. It took years for the Vietnam era protests to reach this level.

Stand down

Max Sawicky has asked me to take part in Nowarblog, a group effort featuring antiwar commentary from both the left and the right. You are cordially invited to check it out. (Scroll down to the bottom for details on how you can participate.)

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Some weird blogger glitch is causing a popup in some browsers this morning when you log on to thismodernworld.com--a window asks you to "enter user name for buttons at blogger.com." I don't know what it is, I'm checking into it, but if you just hit "cancel" it seems to go away.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2002

War and peace

The New York Times downplayed the DC antiwar march, noting vaguely that "thousands of protesters marched through Washington's streets," while the Washington Post gave a more accurate accounting of 100,000 Americans from all walks of life coming together to oppose the Administration's march to war. I'm not sure how the former fits into the conspiratorial worldview of the anti-Raines crowd, but the latter paper presumably had no choice but to present a more accurate picture, given that many of its readers would have actually witnessed the event firsthand.

And in an article about the march in yesterday's Salon, Michelle Goldberg writes:

What (the peace movement) doesn't appear to have is a powerful affirmative message to match its scathing critique of American foreign policy. If war isn't the answer, what is? "No Justice, No Peace, U.S. Out of the Middle East" doesn't cut it, unless we intend to abandon the Kurds to Saddam.

The phrasing of the question puts the onus on those who oppose war to come up with a suitable alternative. It declares that we must have an answer, a presupposition which automatically hands the advantage to those who are willing to pretend that they do have an answer: bomb Iraq. Or, excuse me, Saddam--this isn't a war with Iraq, it's a war with Saddam, as the latest facile piece of prowar reasoning would have it. And never mind the unfortunate civilians who happen to be standing on the wrong streetcorner when the daisy cutters start falling out of the sky, the human beings whose only crime was to have been born into the wrong society. Tough luck, champ. Sorry about your wife, your infant son. That's the breaks. We had to do something--you just got in the way.

Except, of course, that our moral outrage concerning the Kurds is a little late--about fourteen years late, actually. As Amnesty International reports:

The human rights situation in Iraq is being invoked with unusual frequency by some western political leaders to justify military action. This selective attention to human rights is nothing but a cold and calculated manipulation of the work of human rights activists. Let us not forget that these same governments turned a blind eye to Amnesty International's reports of widespread human rights violations in Iraq before the Gulf War. They remained silent when thousands unarmed Kurdish civilians were killed in Halabja in 1988.

Amnesty is, incidentally, launching a campaign against widespread human rights abuses in the Russian Federation. Torture is routine in police stations, conditions in prisons are barbaric, and in Chechnya, "Russian forces have reportedly attacked civilians, and carried out disappearances, extrajudicial executions, rape and other torture, without fear of punishment." And of course, they've got more than a few weapons of mass destruction. Shouldn't we declare war on Russia, pronto? Are you suggesting that we do nothing?

And then there's North Korea, a brutal dictatorship with weapons of mass destruction. Not to mention our close friend and ally Egypt, where 63 year old Saad Ibrahim has just been sentenced to seven years hard labor, for the crime of promoting democracy by teaching Egyptians how to vote and monitor elections. And Pakistan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia--the list goes on and on. Don't you interventionists care about the suffering and oppressed peoples of those countries? Shouldn't we send in the troops, as soon as possible?

Of course, we're not just ignoring the abuses of those regimes--we're actively aiding them. As Jim Hightower notes:

Bush is not merely befriending thuggish dictators, he's arming them! He has quietly lifted restrictions banning U.S. arms and other military resources from being sold or given to these unsavory and unstable regimes. In the past year the Bushites have dumped some $3.5 billion-worth of military hardware and support into explosive regions and into the hands of evildoers who'll use the weaponry to prop-up their own dictatorships. This includes equipment for Yemen's special dictator, Hellfire missiles for Kuwait's repressive monarchy, and surveillance equipment for Kyrgyzstan, as well as arms shipments to governments fighting their own people in Azerbaijan, Colombia, Ethiopia, and the Philippines.

Thirty-two of the regimes getting U.S. firepower have been denounced by Bush's own state department for having "poor" or worse human rights records, and these arms will only make life more miserable for the people.

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So why are we so focused on Iraq, when there are abuses and outrages and oppression all over the world? What sets Iraq apart, and necessitates a commitment of billions of dollars and untold lives?

Well, gosh, this isn't rocket science, is it?

Iraq has the world's second largest oil reserves, and U.S. oil companies are already salivating at the prospect of divvying them up. A study sponsored by Council of Foreign Relations (which I mentioned a few posts back, and can be read in PDF format here) easily refutes the canard that since most U.S. oil comes from sources other than the Middle East, this war can't possibly be about something as mundane as oil, noting that "The global nature of oil trade and pricing means that it matters little if Gulf oil flows to Asia or the United States. Middle East Gulf pricing and supply trends will affect energy costs around the globe regardless."

It's also worth noting that Ahmed Chalabi, the "silk-suited, Rolex-wearing" London-based leader of the Iraqi National Congress--and Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle's puppet-leader-of-choice for a conquered Iraq--is not only busily drawing up plans to parcel out Iraq's oil to U.S. multinationals, but is also "spinning scenarios about dismantling Saudi Arabia, seizing its oil and collapsing the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)." (The American Prospect has a long article on this guy, and it's well worth reading.)

It's nice to imagine that this buildup to war is motivated by nothing other than our concern for the Kurdish people, just like it's nice to imagine that our little intervention in Afghanistan was about nothing more than our concern for the poor oppressed women of that country--especially given that our stated goals, destroying al Qaeda and capturing Osama bin Laden, were not realized. But in the case of Afghanistan, even if your recollection of recent history is so fundamentally shaky that you are able to accept the revisionist version of events at face value, things aren't looking so good. Also on Salon yesterday (in the Premium section, unfortunately) was an article by Phillip Robertson which is also well worth reading:

The seeds of the current government's destruction were sown by the American-backed victory over the Taliban, and nourished by the Bush administration's failure to devote the necessary resources to rebuilding Afghanistan. Before the bombing ever started, those knowledgeable about Afghanistan warned that massive postwar reconstruction would be necessary to prevent the nation from once again becoming a terrorist breeding ground. They warned that ancient ethnic and tribal tensions, in particular between Tajiks and Pashtuns, could quickly rage out of control. All of their grim predictions of postwar anarchy are coming true -- and America is doing nothing.

The point is, war is always subject to the law of unintended consequences, and the onus must always be on those who desire war to justify its need. And, for god's sake, to learn from the lessons of the past. Remember what happened after we installed the Shah of Iran? You know, that business with the fundamentalist Islamic uprising, which pretty much leads in a straight line to the current jihad against the West? Gosh, that one worked out well, didn't it?

Do I have all the answers to the world's problems? No, I do not. And neither do you. But I know when I'm being treated like a mushroom--i.e., kept in the dark and fed a steady diet of bullshit--and it's utterly clear that that's what's happening now. We must set the bar a hell of a lot higher before we instigate a bloodbath whose outcome is extraordinarily uncertain--and right now, that bar seems to be about two inches off the ground.


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Monday, October 28, 2002

History, recovered

From the FAIR website:

The U.N. orders its weapons inspectors to leave Iraq after the chief inspector reports Baghdad is not fully cooperating with them.

-- Sheila MacVicar, ABC World News This Morning, 12/16/98

To bolster its claim, Iraq let reporters see one laboratory U.N. inspectors once visited before they were kicked out four years ago.

--John McWethy, ABC World News Tonight, 8/12/02
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The Iraq story boiled over last night when the chief U.N. weapons inspector, Richard Butler, said that Iraq had not fully cooperated with inspectors and--as they had promised to do. As a result, the U.N. ordered its inspectors to leave Iraq this morning

--Katie Couric, NBC's Today, 12/16/98/

As Washington debates when and how to attack Iraq, a surprise offer from Baghdad. It is ready to talk about re-admitting U.N. weapons inspectors after kicking them out four years ago.

--Maurice DuBois, NBC's Saturday Today, 8/3/02
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The chief U.N. weapons inspector ordered his monitors to leave Baghdad today after saying that Iraq had once again reneged on its promise to cooperate--a report that renewed the threat of U.S. and British airstrikes.

--AP, 12/16/98

Information on Iraq's programs has been spotty since Saddam expelled U.N. weapons inspectors in 1998.

--AP, 9/7/02
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Immediately after submitting his report on Baghdad's noncompliance, Butler ordered his inspectors to leave Iraq.

--Los Angeles Times, 12/17/98

It is not known whether Iraq has rebuilt clandestine nuclear facilities since U.N. inspectors were forced out in 1998, but the report said the regime lacks nuclear material for a bomb and the capability to make weapons.

--Los Angeles Times, 9/10/02
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The United Nations once again has ordered its weapons inspectors out of Iraq. Today's evacuation follows a new warning from chief weapons inspector Richard Butler accusing Iraq of once again failing to cooperate with the inspectors. The United States and Britain repeatedly have warned that Iraq's failure to cooperate with the inspectors could lead to air strikes.

--Bob Edwards, NPR, 12/16/98

If he has secret weapons, he's had four years since he kicked out the inspectors to hide all of them.

--Daniel Schorr, NPR, 8/3/02
------------------------------------------------------------------------

This is the second time in a month that UNSCOM has pulled out in the face of a possible U.S.-led attack. But this time there may be no turning back. Weapons inspectors packed up their personal belongings and loaded up equipment at U.N. headquarters after a predawn evacuation order. In a matter of hours, they were gone, more than 120 of them headed for a flight to Bahrain.

--Jane Arraf, CNN, 12/16/98

What Mr. Bush is being urged to do by many advisers is focus on the simple fact that Saddam Hussein signed a piece of paper at the end of the Persian Gulf War, promising that the United Nations could have unfettered weapons inspections in Iraq. It has now been several years since those inspectors were kicked out.

--John King, CNN, 8/18/02
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Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov criticized Butler for evacuating inspectors from Iraq Wednesday morning without seeking permission from the Security Council.

--USA Today, 12/17/98

Saddam expelled U.N. weapons inspectors in 1998, accusing some of being U.S. spies.

--USA Today, 9/4/02
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But the most recent irritant was Mr. Butler's quick withdrawal from Iraq on Wednesday of all his inspectors and those of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iraqi nuclear programs, without Security Council permission. Mr. Butler acted after a telephone call from Peter Burleigh, the American representative to the United Nations, and a discussion with Secretary General Kofi Annan, who had also spoken to Mr. Burleigh.

--New York Times, 12/18/98

America's goal should be to ensure that Iraq is disarmed of all unconventional weapons.... To thwart this goal, Baghdad expelled United Nations arms inspectors four years ago.

--New York Times editorial, 8/3/02
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Butler ordered his inspectors to evacuate Baghdad, in anticipation of a military attack, on Tuesday night--at a time when most members of the Security Council had yet to receive his report.

--Washington Post, 12/18/98

Since 1998, when U.N. inspectors were expelled, Iraq has almost certainly been working to build more chemical and biological weapons,

--Washington Post editorial, 8/4/02
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Butler abruptly pulled all of his inspectors out of Iraq shortly after handing Annan a report yesterday afternoon on Baghdad's continued failure to cooperate with UNSCOM, the agency that searches for Iraq's prohibited weapons of mass destruction.

-- Newsday, 12/17/98

The reason Hussein gave was that the U.N. inspectors' work was completed years ago, before he kicked them out in 1998, and they dismantled whatever weapons they found. That's disingenuous.

--Newsday editorial, 8/14/02

If a tree falls in the forest but no one talks about it on the news…

I wasn't in DC on Saturday, but from what I'm reading, the conservative reductivist view of anti-war sentiment in this country--you know, it's just a bunch of old hippies and crazy peaceniks--seems to be mostly wishful thinking.

More than 100,000 Americans rallied together in Washington, D.C. Saturday to protest George Bush’s relentless desire to go to war with Iraq, although you wouldn’t know it if you watched network news or read most newspapers. A demonstration of equal size took place in San Francisco. Again, you wouldn’t know it if you weren’t there…

Men and women, white, brown and black, college kids, baby boomers and men and women well into their 70’s -- some so old they needed canes to walk, anti-war activists from the 60’s and armed services veterans, middle class couples with their children in tow or in strollers, church groups and labor groups, Arab and Palestinian activists along with Jewish sympathizers all marched together. But you most likely didn’t see their faces on TV.

Article here.

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On another note: I almost never agree with Lilek's politics, but I admire him as a writer (and when it comes to his tireless efforts as a pop culture archivist, I am reduced to near-fanboy status) . Today, he takes on what appears to be an unfortunate meme amongst some of the conservative bloggers--in short, pissing on Paul Wellstone's grave. It's a good piece and he gets props for writing it, but it's extraordinary that he even had to, and it speaks volumes about the level of discourse in some chambers of the blogosphere.

I wish there were a way to ratchet it all down a notch or two. I wish so many people did not feel it necessary to call each other "morons" or "idiots" (or, more annoyingly, "idiotarians"), and generally strip their opponents of all vestiges of humanity, and turn them into soulless caricatures completely lacking any sense of morality or decency. And I know, I've probably been as guilty of this as anyone, but I do mostly try to keep it focused on the people with actual power, whose motives are frequently and genuinely suspect.

But still: the hysterical level of a lot of online rhetoric just makes me tired sometimes.

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