Posts about Mideast

Hoder’s op-ed

Hossein Derakhshan, now blogging from Israel, wrote an op-ed for The Times blaming the Bush Administration for bringing in radical Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by supporting a boycott of the election: “But the real problem here is that boycotting semi-democratic elections ultimately will not make such a system more democratic.”

: ALSO: Lisa Goldman blogs about Hoder’s visit in Tel Aviv, with links to other blogs writing about it.

The Saddam show

The New York Times this morning has a picture of Saddam Hussein shouting at the court in his trial (the picture’s not online; the story is here). I wonder how this is playing on television in Iraq.

Here’s a hint. Salam Pax is writing an election diary for The Guardian and in a post the other day he reviewed the Saddam trial:

All the news about elections got upstaged yet again by a huge TV event – the second session of Saddam’s trial. If there is one thing that gets Iraqis glued to their televisions, it’s the sight of Saddam behind bars.

It still makes me speechless. Well, until he says something, and then everybody starts shouting at their TV sets. It’s strange how, after three years, seeing him on TV still brings up an odd mixture of fear and disgust. He still does the arched brow look when he doesn’t like what he hears and, unlike the rest of the accused sitting with him in that court, he doesn’t look broken.

For many of us, the proceedings at the Iraqi Special Tribunal are just not going fast enough, and the appearance of Ramsey Clark, a former US attorney general, seated along Saddam’s defence team was slightly baffling.

Many Iraqis have already made up their minds about what Saddam’s fate should be, and it seems the current government has made up its mind as well.

The state-owned TV station broadcasting the trial showed a little operetta, sung by kids, during the court’s recess. It is set at the trial, and the singing lawyer demands that the sentence be “a thousand deaths, a thousand deaths, for he is a war criminal”, calling Saddam’s lawyers men without honour.

The judge, after some musical deliberations, sings: “We sentence you to death, to death to death”. Case closed. And the official newspaper used the lower part of the front page on the day of the trial for a montage of pictures including a sign saying “death to Saddam”. There is no question what the people want.

And before you write long dissertations on human rights to me, try to consider, for a moment, how absurd the talk about human rights is to those who had had to suffer under Saddam’s total disregard for those rights – those who had their tongues cut off for talking badly of him, ears cut off for refusing to fight his futile wars, and the thousands who spent years in his prisons. It’s a tough one, but this trial was never going to be easy.

My fellow Americans

In the Wall Street Journal, Historian John Q. Wilson writes the speech he thinks George Bush should deliver on Iraq:

We are winning, and winning decisively, in Iraq and the Middle East. We defeated Saddam Hussein’s army in just a few weeks. None of the disasters that many feared would follow our invasion occurred. Our troops did not have to fight door to door to take Baghdad. The Iraqi oil fields were not set on fire. There was no civil war between the Sunnis and the Shiites. There was no grave humanitarian crisis.

Saddam Hussein was captured and is awaiting trial. His two murderous sons are dead. Most of the leading members of Saddam’s regime have been captured or killed. After our easy military victory, we found ourselves inadequately prepared to defeat the terrorist insurgents, but now we are prevailing.

Iraq has held free elections in which millions of people voted. A new, democratic constitution has been adopted that contains an extensive bill of rights. Discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, or politics is banned. Soon the Iraqis will be electing their first parliament.

An independent judiciary exists, almost all public schools are open, every hospital is functioning, and oil sales have increased sharply. In most parts of the country, people move about freely and safely….

The progress of democracy and reconstruction has occurred faster in Iraq than it did in Germany 60 years ago, even though we have far fewer troops in the Middle East than we had in Germany after Hitler was defeated.

We grieve deeply over every lost American and coalition soldier, but we also recognize what those deaths have accomplished. A nation the size of California, with 25 million inhabitants, has been freed from tyranny, equipped with a new democratic constitution, and provided with a growing new infrastructure that will help every Iraqi and not just the privileged members of a brutal regime….

We made no mistake ending Saddam’s rule. We have brought not only freedom to Iraq, but progress to most of the Middle East. America should be proud of what it has accomplished. America will not cut and run until the Iraqis can manage their own security, and that will happen soon.

I got into lots of blog hot water once when I said that much of Bush’s problem is a PR problem. Yes, that was too glib. But I am still amazed that for all the spinning he does, he’s still bad at it. He should hire Wilson as his speechwriter.

: Meanwhile, Dave Winer points to a speech his father, Leon Winer, says Bush should deliver (both blogging and bluntness are hereditary, one way or the other). It is matter to Wilson’s antimatter:

1. I have put my expected gain ahead of the well-being of the people of the United States. In seeking to maximize my wealth and the wealth of my family and close friends, I have ordered our military to invade Iraq. My objective was to grab half the Iraqi oil – worth $50 billion per year, and rising.

2. In implementing my attempt to grab Iraq’s oil, I have caused the deaths of more than 2000 Americans and uncounted tens of thousands of Iraqis. I have also caused the maiming of thousands of Americans and Iraqis. I have also wasted hundreds of billions of dollars of US Treasury funds in fighting the war in Iraq.

This is why wikitorial was doomed to fail. This is how far apart we are on our interpretations of what is happening in Iraq.

When they attack the reporters

Wonder whether the flavor of coverage from Iraq will change now that the insurgents/terrorists/murderers are attacking journalists.

Iraqi democracy

I will fully confess that I have been remiss in not linking to reports of the Iraqi constitutional vote. My fault.

But I will link to reports that voter turnout is even higher than it was in January and that there was opposition — what democracy does not? But it appears the constitution will pass.

These are a people who are dying to build a democracy. And we continue to have an obligation to help them. How we got there is not an excuse to abandon them and their quest to secure their freedom.

Deals with devils

Ruth emails me appropriate outrage over this news:

President Bush decided Wednesday to waive any financial sanctions on Saudi Arabia, Washington’s closest Arab ally in the war on terrorism, for failing to do enough to stop the modern-day slave trade in prostitutes, child sex workers and forced laborers.

What do we stand for?

Dear Cindy,

Clifford May, the head of the Foundation to Defend Democracies — a private charity that got Department of State funding — writes an open letter to Cindy Sheehan.

So let me suggest an alternative: Come visit with me. Our meeting probably won’t get much publicity but I can promise you an interesting discussion. I’ll invite to join us some of the many Iraqi freedom fighters with whom I’ve been working for the past several years – many of them women — as well as democracy and human rights activists from Syria, Iran, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon and other countries.

You say you want to know, “What is the noble cause that my son died for?” They would answer: Your son died fighting a war against an extremist movement intent on destroying free societies and replacing them with racist dictatorships.

The Iraqis will want to tell you what life was like under Saddam Hussein – the mass murders of hundreds of thousands, the women and girls who were gang-raped by Saddam’s cronies, the creative forms of torture that were ignored by the “international community.”

I know several Baghdadi businessmen whom Saddam suspected of disloyalty. He had their right hands amputated. Want to meet them? The doctors who were forced to perform these amputations are worth chatting with as well.

The letter will run as a full-page ad in Waco’s paper.

The FDD also has a blog (full disclosure; a friend and former colleague helped them put it together); it includes ongoing commentary on the Iraqi constitution.

Do not build that. Not there.

The NY Daily News exposes another questionable angle on the International Freedom Center that is still insisting it should be part of the memorial at the World Trade Center. The News says the IFC had…

…”drawn inspiration” and received “important practical advice” from the International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience.

Now before we get to the advice this coalition has given, let’s make this clear: What we build at the World Trade Center is not a “musuem of conscience.”

If you want to build museums of conscience regarding terrorism, go franchise them in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan and Pakistan and all over the Middle East.

What we build at the World Trade Center should be a memorial.

This coalition joins museums at places where evil was concocted and executed: apartheid, the Holocaust, gulags.

The evil of 9/11 was not concocted at the World Trade Center. Innocents died there that day because of an evil born elsewhere.

That is why it is so inappropriate to turn the place into a why-they-hate-us pavillion, to import political debate about unrelated ills: about slavery or concentration camps.

The World Trade Center is the place where 3,000 heroes and innocents died and the role of a memorial is to remember them and tell their story.

Further, if you go to to the coalition’s site, they do not list terrorism — only “state terrorism” — as a “contemporary human rights issues.”

So I don’t know why the IFC is seeking not only advice from but also inviting exhibits and debates from this coalition.

Now here’s some of the advice that coalition is giving to the IFC:

“Don’t feature America first,” the IFC has been advised by the consortium of 14 “museums of conscience” that quietly has been consulting with the Freedom Center for the past two years over plans for the hallowed site. “Think internationally, where America is one of the many nations of the world.” …

“No one in the civilized world would ever defend what happened on 9/11,” said Sarwar Ali, the coalition’s chairman and a trustee of the Liberation War Museum in Bangladesh.

“But what happened after 9/11 – with restrictions placed on human rights and the cycle of revenge and the allegations of human rights abuses in prisons – must also be explored,” Ali said in a call from London.

Coalition members gathered for their annual conference at a Holocaust site in the Czech Republic in July 2004 – and assailed the United States for “reasserting its power in an arrogant way,” the conference report shows.

Among its suggestions for the place where the United States was attacked and nearly 3,000 innocents massacred: “The Freedom Center must signal its openness to contrary ideas.”

Philip Kunhardt, the Freedom Center’s editorial director, was in attendance at a session called Bringing Conscience to Ground Zero and was given this advice:

* “Help distinguish between American people and the U.S. government in exhibits …”

* “Use reports from human rights organizations to examine contemporary abuse of rights.”

* “Involve the United Nations, UNESCO and other international bodies.”

* “Use the museum as a venue for international meetings, where all views are welcomed and considered.”

At the conference, the coalition also leveled barbs at the IFC: “The Freedom Center is a caricature of the typical American response to everything [telling every story from an American viewpoint].”

Members of the coalition also expressed these concerns:

* “It seems that whatever Americans want, Americans get!” the conference report states. “Is the definition of the ‘struggle for freedom’ simply defined by the victors, or also by those engaged in ongoing struggles? Will Americans really create a balanced vision of freedom?”

* “The WTC was attacked because it was a symbol of power and influence. In building the Freedom Tower, the U.S. reasserts its power in an arrogant way: Does this mean the U.S. will not only build the biggest building, but also define freedom for the world?”

* “Many nonsecular Muslims may be very skeptical about the intent of this museum (e.g. the average Bangladeshi condemns the Sept. 11 attacks, yet at the same time feels his/her human rights have been violated by the U.S.).”

Kunhardt, an ordained Episcopal minister and the writer of the PBS series “Freedom: A History of Us,” mostly listened. He agreed with some things that were said, disagreeing with others, an observer said. He didn’t return calls.

The News also editorializes against this offensive insanity.

I’ve been saying that the IFC should be built, just not at the World Trade Center. And if someone wants to build this thing, they should build it. But judging by the company they keep, I can’t say that I’ll ever see any good reason to go there.

The Lower Manhattan Develoment Association is waiting until Sept. 23 to decide the fate of the IFC at Ground Zero. I agree with Take Back The Memorial: We must not wait until then. To have this hanging over the memorial events on the fourth anniversary of the tragedy would be an insult to the memory of those who died that day.