Diigo Links

Saturday, February 22, 2003

what I do on rainy days

Was just listening to ABC (Australian Broadcasting...) news radio and they had a funny little story about a big thermometer in Queensland - actually a proposed and contested big thermometer.

You know how in the US we have the Corn Palace and "Wal Drug" and the Cadillac graveyard (TX) and various other manmade (and usually tacky) tourist attractions? Well, in Australia there seem to be a lot of "The Big..." things. The Big Sheep, The Big Banana, The Big Yabbi (like a prawn), The Big Prawn, The Big Pineapple, and so on ad infinitum.

Proposed for Stanthorpe is a Big Thermometer. Not really that funny of a story until you interview the guy who did a documentary on Australia's "Big" things and he puts the definitive Australian wordsmithing on it:

"you do wonder where they're going to put the big thermometer, and what the ramifications of that would be"

On a more serious note, I've started listening to ABC Radio National - which isn't just all news. It's more like your local NPR affiliate with stories and shows and some listener call in. I've found it very informative to hear the opinions of so many Australians in light of current events. Without getting into it too deeply, I think it's important that Americans understand their place in the world. There's a lot of responsibility that comes with "superpower" status and listening is part of that responsibility.

Listen to a fun interview show Late Night Live - the host, Phillip Adams, is well informed, gets amazing guests and has a good sense of humor:

NSW, Australia Mon-Fri 4pm ( which is Tue - Sat 9pm California time)

Archived shows here

And if you want to hear how downright angry a lot of Australians (left and right) are at the diplomatic tactics (or should I say tactlessness) of George W.

Australia Talks Back

NSW, Australia Mon-Fri 6pm (you do the math)

Again, without getting too deeply into it here, while I have an easy time supporting our troops and find that my patience has run out with Saddam's shell game and the UN-as-debate-club - I also feel that George W. has done a terrible job at coalition building and currently has US foreign policy in a tailspin (which is putting our troops at greater risk). Oh, now I'm getting into it, aren't I?

It's ironic, but GW's ineptitude may show our way to peace (call me an optimist on this front). As I see things currently, Saddam has a window here where he can save face by giving total cooperation to the UN inspectors and in essence "win" the war. With France and Germany (remember, Iraq stopped doing financial transactions in US dollars sometime last year, instead uses Euros) being key partners in the European Union - and being somewhat united against the US - Saddam could freeze the US out and leave George W. without a victory, without oil contracts, without the regime change (that is meant to make a point to N. Korea, S.Arabia, etc.) and create a new Castro (how many US presidents have Saddam/Castro/Gadhafi already outlasted?).

The differentiator between a post-conflict Castro and a post-conflict Saddam would be that Iraq has a great deal of oil wealth, and no proximity to the US. Where Castro has beaten the US through mere endurance, Saddam's victory could make Iraq rich and influential again. (and if you want to argue whether Castro -has- beaten the US by pointing out the poverty and human rights violations in Cuba consider first the track record of most of the other similarly sized countries in the region - El Salvador, Guatemala, Columbia, the list goes on. And b.t.w. the common denominator here is not Communism or Castro, it's largely unregulated exploitation of 3rd world resources by 1st world countries- which is also at the roots of what's going on in the mid-east at present. The basis for "free trade" needs to be an international treaty on human rights.)

Saddam could win by backing down right now. Even though the US media would trumpet it as an allied Victory, in actuality it would be a failure of stated US foreign policy (i.e. regime change) - and the unstated "strategic" goal regarding oil/influence in the mid-east region (which b.t.w., I think is somewhat valid, but is being poorly executed).

There are a lot of things that are said about Saddam, but rarely is the point made that he has a great deal of experience and aptitude in leading. It's very dangerous to underestimate an opponent. I think George W. could do to read Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" - "To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence. Supreme excellence consists of prevailing over the enemy without fighting." (see this Tai Chi Rules of Fighting site - simple, basic rules of engagement that minimize risk) Saddam is on the verge of winning this battle with supreme excellence. And while there's no way of knowing if Iraqi pride will get in the way of sound strategy (as it seems US bravado is), it's unwise to assume US "overwhelming force" can outflank a true survivor like Saddam.

Watch this movie of much smaller Ozeki(lower rank) Tochiazuma taking out the massive Yokozuna(top rank) Musashimaru
Fighting isn't about brute force - it's about "correct force" and balance. George W. has the whole 1000lbs. of the US gorilla on the front foot. One step to the side by Saddam and the US will end up on its face.

I'm traditionally not an advocate for the French - or the Germans for that matter - and I'm actually pretty pissed off at them right now for not providing a unified "threat of force" (especially Jacques Chirac for the name-calling he's directed at eastern European leaders for siding with the US), but I understand their reluctance to get behind the George W. gambit (Gambit: An opening in chess in which a minor piece, or pieces, usually a pawn, is offered in exchange for a favorable position. Pawns are usually represented on the chess board as faceless soldiers).

It may not have been reported in the US, but it's been made clear here that there's been little effort on the US's part to include key European nations in forming a strategy to disarm/control Iraq. The leaders of Germany and France both heard the phrase "regime change" for the first time on TV news - just like you and me. In diplomatic circles that's considered an extreme violation of protocol.
It's this sort of bankruptcy of diplomatic ability that is simultaneously causing the US so much trouble in attaining its goals and providing Saddam the ability once again to escape accountability.

The people who have the -most- to loose here aren't the Iraqis, Saddam, or George W. The people who have the most to loose here are our soldiers - who, as I said before, I support 100% - who like Colin Powell have sworn to stand by their president, but unlike Colin Powell have little power to influence their president. It's for our soldiers that I feel the most helpless. The ethical conflict and moral ambiguity surrounding this war mirrors closely the issues around the Vietnam conflict and I fear will bear similar psychological consequences for all involved. Where WWII and the Gulf War were fairly clear calls to arms, this conflict seems to be taking a lot of pains to justify itself and manufacture UN/public consent.

It's been officially stated that "The war on terror" and the brewing conflict with Iraq are in response to the changed world we find ourselves in post Sept 11. But as a response to Sept. 11, can it be considered well reasoned? If killing 2000-3000 people (as a means to an end) is justification for full scale invasion of two countries, wouldn't it stand that full scale invasion is justification for killing 2000-3000 people (i.e. from the US invasion of Panama ABC-TV news reported at least 1,000 civilians dead. Panamanian human rights workers in December 1991, provided a conservative estimate from objective evidence that over 3,000 Panamanians had been killed. What does this entitle the Panamanian's to do in return? Or does the US argument just boil down to "might makes right"?)

A historical review of US foreign policy in the middle-east reveals the roots of the mistrust and animosity held by the Arab "street" (I'm not talking about militant-Islam here. I'm talking about regular people who want to be free and happy and moderate, but don't trust the US to deliver that ability):

It's well documented that in 1953, the US sponsored the overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian premier Mohammed Mossadegh and installed and then supported the Shah's brutally repressive regime.

"March 17, 2000 - Without apologizing, Albright also acknowledged past American meddling in Iran, including:

• "Significant" U.S. involvement in the 1953 overthrow of leftist Iranian premier Mohammed Mossadegh

• Support for Shah Reza Pahlavi's "brutal repression" of political dissent "

1983 - The Reagan administration improves political and economic relations with Iraq despite Iraq's use of chemical weapons and Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons ambitions

Add to those blunders an unflagging support for the state of Israel -whether one sees support for Israel as justified or not- US policy towards Israel is provocative to the Arab world and should be offset (instead of augmented) by diplomacy favorable to the Arab world. This is a difficult balance to strike. It's a balance no administration can attain without the support of moderate Arab states like Jordan and Egypt. Moderate or not moderate, all Arab states, indeed all of the world's nations need to see the US, as the sole superpower, acting with sound reason and restraint (as opposed to aggression).

It's clear that sometimes force is a necessary and valid conduit to peace. It's also clear that there are dictators and despots in the world that, as a world leader, the US is forced to choose either alliance or opposition.
Franklin Roosevelt reportedly said of Nicaragua's Anastasio Somoza, "He may be a son of a bitch. But he's our son of a bitch." So it may have been with the Shah, and Saddam, and may be with the current Saudi regime. But we should also be clear that with such Faustian deals comes a price - moral high ground. The US has no moral high ground and should not attempt to predicate a war on it. I would be satisfied with an honest discourse on "access to oil" combined with an effective diplomatic alliance with Europe and Saudi Arabia (as with the last Gulf War).

I would also hope that this discourse would lead to a discussion of alternatives to oil. Al Gore recently (Letterman show) floated the revolutionary idea (for a major political voice anyway) that less dependance on oil would discharge the entire middle-East. If the US and Europe were to stop buying oil from the middle-East (I know it's crazy idea) the middle-East would fade into obscurity, a hot and sandy place. They have nothing but oil (economically speaking). There are a great many "green" arguments to make on this front, but mine is economic/Darwinian - but in the interest of keeping this short (ha!) I won't get into it.

The (Australian) left was in favour of going in to East Timor to liberate an oppressed people (all the while the US was supporting Indonesia - not that the general public in the US knew/know anything about this conflict...). Now the Australian left (and many on the right) refuse to entertain the use of force in Iraq largely because they're distracted by the terrifying prospect of allowing "preemptive war" as a diplomatic tool. I've been listening to a lot of debate on the US push to invade Iraq. I wish I were listening a lot to debate on how to deal with Saddam's Iraq instead of George W's America. In the left's fervor to condemn George W. Bush and US foreign policy I have not heard a coherent answer from the "peace movement" to the question:

How would you deal with Iraq? (or for that matter, any rogue state)

Given that we all would rather have peace than war - given that George W. seems to be going about things the "wrong" way. What is the right way? The unfortunate truth is that the peace movement doesn't have a consistent and conclusive answer to this question. Without a clear plan for peace the peace movement is relegated to no movement - mere protest against the status quo, not taking responsibility for providing a working alternative. I don't believe another 12 or 20 years of containment of Iraq is going to be less harmful than a war. I don't believe allowing the UN to ignore rogue states that violate "terms of surrender" agreements is going to strengthen it's role in keeping world order.

The cold hard truth here is that either there's going to be a bloody war that everyone regrets for the next twenty or thirty years, or Saddam will end it now (which will carry its own regrets). At the risk of sounding pro-Saddam (in fact it makes me really angry to feel this way, but), I hope he wins this one (through surrender to the UN) and all our boys and girls can go home having served their countries by boldly putting themselves in harm's way.

George W. should get back to running the US and let his successes/failures on this front judge the fate of his regime come election time. I dare say that it might be more useful for the US to have a "war against corporate corruption" or a "war against poverty" or God forbid a "war against oil" (in which we pit American ingenuity against the greed of the Saudi oil barons. It could be 21st century's answer to the space race.) But I don't suppose a war -against- oil could get much traction with the current administration. (It took the Bush administration until January 2006 to come to this same conclusion)

In conclusion:

Against Bush

For Blair (the only one talking intelligently about this stuff - well, there is Powell, but he's under GW's thumb)

Against The French

Against Saddam

Against oil

For UN taking responsibility for its resolutions

Against Peacenicks with no answers

For our troops (who I think serve best as a deterrent when coupled with clever diplomacy)

For Stanthorpe getting it's big thermometer