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Archive for October, 2008

Everyone rushing to declare victory in Iraq — and that means both presidential candidates, too — should read the sad story of Najim al-Jabouri, the heroic mayor of Tal Afar, who last month took his family and moved to the U.S. because, he told McClatchy’s Jonathan S. Landay, “there was no other choice”:

‘I had been serving my homeland, the Iraqi people and Iraqi soil my whole life. I decided I had to do something for my own family. I saw that their lives were in great danger.’

Does this mean Iraq will be screwed up for good? Jabouri doesn’t think so:

‘The future of Iraq will be good, but it needs time. [...] We need more education, more election education, and we need to make the right choices.’

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We Interrupt This Program…

I don’t really know who reads this blog, but I’m assuming some of you might be fellow journalists. If so, maybe you can help me:

I’m planning yet another trip to Baghdad and am having unexpected trouble finding a reputable fixer. If you know of someone, and feel comfortable enough recommending him (and me to him), please email me at my private address: jarzuli@gmail.com. Cheers.

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I respect Bing West’s expertise on COIN but I think when it comes to tolerating dissenting views he has become a bully. I wrote about it a while back, and now I’m happy to see my hero Abu Muqawama agrees:

West returned from Vietnam a young Marine Corps captain and dedicted his life to bettering America’s national security. In that way, he set a template for like-minded veterans — myself included — to follow. But this piece in SWJ — like the one in Forbes — is ugly and arrogant and intolerant of a new generation of soldiers, journalists and analysts trying to wrap their heads around contemporary conflicts in the same way West once did.

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In an interview Saturday with Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden, a Florida news anchor attacked Senator Barack Obama for being “socialist”:

“What do you say to the people who are concerned that Barack Obama will want to turn America into a socialist country much like Sweden?”

I don’t know what Sweden she’s talking about. Surely not our peaceful and prosperous neighbour, which incidentally has been run by a conservative government since 2006?

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Seven months after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s much-vaunted offensive to clear Mosul of insurgents, the killing continues. An excellent piece by Sam Dagher in today’s New York Times predicts things will get even worse, as the Kurds and Arabs vie for power in the devastated city (see this blog’s header). Interestingly, the U.S. military has all but decided to sit this one out:

Worry is so high that the American military has already settled on a policy that may set a precedent, as the United States slowly withdraws to allow Iraqis to settle their own problems. If the Kurds and Iraqi government forces fight, the American military will ‘step aside,’ General Thomas said, rather than ‘have United States servicemen get killed trying to play peacemaker.’

I find this approach problematic. It’s exactly this kind of “stepping aside” while playing kingmaker that lead to chaos in 2003. The U.S. can hardly claim to be a disinterested party in the dispute after propping up Maliki politically and having his back in every military operation his poorly performing army has undertaken in Mosul. You need to clean up your own mess, guys — even if it means taking casualties while keeping the Iraqis from ripping each other’s throats open.

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Well — obviously I don’t. But I would if I could, and here’s why:

I like his steadiness, I like his ease with issues, I like most of his proposed policies, and most importantly, I don’t like his opponent.

More precisely: I don’t like the way John McCain has let his campaign be run.

I don’t like the fact that he has surrounded himself with neocon ideologues. I don’t like the fact that he has taken to pampering his party’s extreme right. I don’t like the fact that instead of explaining his policies he has chosen to attack his opponent. And I’m livid that in a fit of populist lunacy he allowed his advisers to pick a vice-presidential candidate who not only is clearly not up to the task but who is also a nepotist, a stretcher-of-the-truth and someone who in my neck of the woods would be called a religious nutjob.

In fact, it’s not only McCain’s campaign I dislike, it’s the man himself. I don’t like his obvious volatility. I don’t like his gambles. And I don’t like the narrative he peddles. Yes, he was shot down and endured torture, and deserves to be called a hero. But try as I might, I can’t find any evidence from his long career of him actually being in charge of anything. As a former magazine editor, I’ve probably made more executive decisions than John McCain. Yet, he keeps presenting himself as experienced, as if flying a warplane would give you the people skills and capacity for lateral thinking necessary to run a superpower.

I wish Americans would’ve been presented with more choice. And I don’t mean a third party. I mean a serious conservative candidate with ideas, charisma and fortitude to stay afloat in the Sargasso Sea of neocon garbage. But that was not to be, and judging by the calls for Palin 2012, it won’t happen in the near future. So, my friends, you know what to do. Don’t let us down.

Pledge to my nonpartisan readers: After Nov. 4, this blog will revert back to being nasty and cynical towards the U.S. administration regardless of its colour.

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About the New Header

The new header photo was shot by Petri Kaipiainen during our trip to Mosul, Iraq in April 2008. My thanks to Petri for kindly giving me permission to use it.

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How do we climb out of the morass that Afghanistan has become? Hell if I know, but for those foolish enough to advocate negotiating with the Taleban, Christian Bleuer’s new post at CTLabs is required reading. Money quote:

The Taliban leadership, if one can speak of a single entity (which one really can’t these days), does not feel the need to negotiate honestly with Shia ‘heretics’, former communist ‘atheists’ and ‘hypocrite’ mujahideen. I think it is safe to put foreign ‘infidels’ and Afghan government ‘puppets’ in that same category. And, most definitely, the Pakistani government has a horrible record of guaranteeing anything in regards to the Taliban.

Traveling in the U.S. earlier this month I was struck by how far under the radar these issues have fallen. It’s almost as if the two wars didn’t exist. Neither one of the two presidential candidates has a plan for Afghanistan, and neither has shown a comprehensive understanding for the challenges at hand. In fact, so far have we come from the days when Bush’s War on Terror topped the headlines that not even rudimentary knowledge of the conflict is required. The GOP vice-presidential candidate thinks Gen. McClellan has risen from his grave to assume command in Afghanistan, while the top of the ticket, himself a former soldier, mistakes CENTCOM commander for the Chairman of the JCS. But so what, who wants to nitpick, right? Yeah, well — just imagine the ruckus if one of them had gotten Hank Paulson’s job title wrong.

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I’ve admired Nir Rosen’s work in Iraq and Lebanon and have regularly used this blog to call for independent, non-embedded journalists to get in and provide us with another view of Afghanistan. I had high hopes for Rosen’s Rolling Stone feature on the Taleban, but it’s a devastating disappointment. While I don’t share Dave Dilegge’s view that journalists shouldn’t embed with “the enemy” — I’ve always thought we have to cover both sides of a conflict — I find it equally distressing that someone would call this “an instant classic of war reporting”. Elizabeth Rubin’s Korengal piece was a classic; Dexter Filkins’s Falluja dispatch was a classic; Rosen’s own “The Myth of the Surge” was a classic. The Taleban story isn’t. It’s an extended travelogue with little narrative power and even less insight. It doesn’t tell me the war is lost; it just tells me the Taleban think it is. And, apart from dropping vague hints that they’re not who they seem to be, it tells me very little about the Taleban themselves. In fact, what it really amounts to is a left-wing Michael Yon story — instead of patriotic bluster it’s just laden with endless gloom, and instead of victory it celebrates defeat. I fail to see the big difference.

(Josh Foust’s detailed critique is here.)

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For journalists, Bosnia was the Iraq of the 90s. I still have nightmares of entering dark, cold and sniper-infested Sarajevo after a harrowing drive down Mt. Igman. Of course, Kabul was equally dismal right around that time, but for a European, Sarajevo held special significance. It was sad as hell, and no one wishes it to happen again. Yet, here are former peace envoys Richard Holbrooke and Paddy Ashdown writing today in a Bosnian daily:

As in 1995, resolve and trans-atlantic unity are needed if we are not to sleepwalk into another crisis. [...] It is time to pay attention to Bosnia again, if we don’t want things to get very nasty quickly. By now, we should all know the price of that.

I don’t profess to know what the hell is going on in the Balkans, but whatever it is, I hope someone’s taking care of it.

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