Monthly Archives: July 2007

Bing West on Withdrawal from Iraq

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[Flag of al Qaeda in Iraq]

Francis J. “Bing” West is a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and U.S. Marine. He has written numerous articles on the Iraq war for a variety of publications including The Atlantic and Small Wars Journal, and has visited the country 13 times since 2003. Excerpts from Mr. West’s testimony before the Committtee on Armed Services, U.S. House of Representatives courtesy of Small Wars Journal:

The President and the Congress agree about the desirability of a withdrawal of US forces; the issue is under what conditions. It makes a vast difference to our self-esteem as a nation, to our reputation around the world and to the morale of our enemies whether we say we are withdrawing because the Iraqi forces have improved or because we have given up.

That issue towers above any discussion of tactics, logistics diplomacy or even timing…[I]inside Iraq, the Jesh al Mahdi extremists and al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) must be destroyed, not placated.

Separate from AQI, though, there are a dozen other Iraqi insurgent groups. At the local level, there have been productive negotiations with the tribes, undoubtedly including some of these insurgents. These bottom-up understandings, focused against AQI, occurred because military action changed the calculus of the tribes about who was going to win. Successful negotiations flowed from battlefield success, not the other way around.

In Anbar, our commander, Major General Walt Gaskin, believes we have turned the corner, with weekly incidents dropping from 428 in July of ’06 to 98 in July of ’07. In Baghdad and its outskirts, that’s exactly what General Petraeus intends to do with his surge strategy – bring security to the local level and break the cycle of violence.

America is divided between two schools of thought about Iraq. The first school – let’s call them the Anti-Terror Camp – identifies the jihadists as the main enemy. General Petraeus has said that “Iraq is the central front of al Qaeda’s global campaign.” AQI is “public enemy number one” because it slaughters thousands of innocent Shiites in order to provoke a civil war. CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden believes that a US failure in Iraq will result “in a safe haven (for al Qaeda) from which then to plan and conduct attacks against the West”…The Anti-Terror Camp believes that fracturing AQI and the Jesh al Mahdi death squads will set the conditions that enable US withdrawal, leaving Iraqi forces to enforce reasonable stability, albeit with continued violence. Based on my observations in a half dozen Sunni cities and in Baghdad over the years, I subscribe to the Anti-Terror Camp.

The Sectarian Camp, on the other hand, believes Iraq is being torn apart by religion, not terrorism. Removing the terrorists will not remove the root cause of the violence. An intransigent hostility between the Shiites and Sunnis will lead inevitably to a full civil war and sweeping ethnic cleansings – regardless of the current surge. So we should get out, because the situation is hopeless.

It is problematic whether the sectarian conflict has metastasized into the body polity, and the top levels of the Iraqi government have certainly performed poorly. But if we declare we’re leaving on that account, chaos will ensue. When President Thieu in 1975 pulled back just one division, the whole country erupted in panic. If we pull out because we say the Iraqi government has failed, Prime Minister Maliki will pull back and retrench his forces. When he does, the potential for panic flashing across the country in a few days is real.

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UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown Emphasizes “War of Ideas”

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Shortly after the departure of Prime Minister Blair and the appointment of Gordon Brown, junior foreign minister Mark Malloch Brown wasted no time in telling all who would listen that he despised the “neoconservatives” of the Bush administration and that the new British government would not be “tied at the hip” to America. His boss, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, quickly rebuffed the junior foreign minister stating, “Our commitment to work with the American government in general, and the Bush administration in particular, is resolute,” to the BBC.

PM Brown’s recent statements in the U.S. indicate the U.K. is committed to establishing a stable, democratic government in Iraq. This is encouraging. More encouraging still is Brown’s framing of the struggle against Islamist totalitarianism as an ideological and military war similar to the Cold War.

Mr Brown called for the allies to deploy the “arsenal of democracy”, as well as military might, against insurgents. Recalling the cultural battles of the Cold War, he said the West needed to engage schools, universities, museums, institutes, churches, trade unions and sports clubs into nurturing alternatives to terrorist ideology.

“The way ahead is to support all communities in developing a strong identity resistant to violent extremists trying to recruit vulnerable young people,” he said.

We must undercut the terrorists’ so-called ‘single narrative’ and defeat their ideas. At home and abroad we must back mainstream and moderate voices and reformers, emphasizing the shared values that exist across faiths and communities.

Mr Brown’s focus on soft power and the cultural war against jihadism marks a change of emphasis from some of Tony Blair’s more bellicose statements.

But the new Prime Minister also used the article to reassert his belief in close ties between Britain and the US, saying the two countries were “united by the streams of history and the strengths of our ideals”.

“This partnership of purpose matters now more than ever,” he said.

Writing in the New York Sun, Nicholas Wapshott reports that Mr. Brown’s recent statements disappointed critics of the war in Iraq and those who hoped the new prime minister would dramatically change the close relationship between the U.S. and U.K. Sure to raise the ire of the radical left on both sides of the pond, Mr. Brown claimed, “We are at one in fighting the battle against terrorism, and that struggle is one we will fight with determination and with resilience and right across the world,” and acknowledged a “generation-long battle” against Islamist totalitarianism.

This does not represent a major change in position for Brown, he was saying similar things in 2006. Here is an excerpt from his Labour Party speech that year:

[L]et us be clear: the renewal of New Labour will be founded on that essential truth – the need for global cooperation in the fight against terrorism, never anti-Americanism, recognising that the values of decent people everywhere are for liberty, democracy and justice not just for ourselves but for everyone, not least for the poorest countries and peoples of the world.

YouTube Debate: Analysis and Punditry

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The Moderate Voice provides good coverage of the recent Democratic Party debate held by CNN and YouTube. Joe Gandelman asks if the questions provided by YouTubers upstaged the candidates:

So now The New Era in American political debates is finally here.Or IS IT?

Not only did the “new media” You Tube participate in last night’s Democratic presidential hopefuls’ debate, but some pundits said the questions from You Tubers were for the most part knowledgeable and to the point.

Would some media types who may have felt debates were a plum for star journalists start feeling as seemingly resentful as some journalists do about anyone-can-publish weblogs these days? By some accounts, many of the You Tube questions were blunt and solid ones.

Of course, then there were the talking snowmen.

But since political debates usually feature snow jobs, what was new about that?

Some press reaction to the debate and You Tube’s role in it…

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For other perspectives see The Guardian and Rightwing Nuthouse.

Tisha B’Av Post

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[Romans Seizing Menorah from the Temple

Rabbi Yonah @ Jewlicious writes:

Get out of bed, cry out in the night; pour out your heart like water before the face of Hashem…(Eicha 2:19) 

Todays is a national day of mourning observed for nearly 2000 years on the anniversary of the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. Basically, both Temples were destroyed because of human error. There was no computer malfunction. There were no acts of “god”. There was no overloaded control systems, and no faulty wiring.

While human nature is to always blame others when things go wrong – the Jewish way of remembering the human error which destroyed the Temples is to accept responsibility for what happened. And I don’t mean in the “I take full responsibility for what happened” way that public figures say when they are caught cheating, which almost sounds like they are sorry, but they are not. No, we actually accepted responsibility for the errors, established a day of mourning and fasting, and seek atonement even today.

And while much attention is rightly focused on the destroyed city of Jerusalem and other national tragedies over the last 200 centuries, the only way to go about fixing the errors is with corrective action today and in the future. The past human errors cannot be erased. Only future human error can be avoided. The human error which caused the hard drive to crash and meltdown, the security breach, the data loss, and the system malfunction, can be fixed with a simple do-it-yourself patch, and software upgrade.

The patch is Ahavas Yisroel aka love your fellow Jew i.e. network sharing and open sourcing , and the the upgrade is available by free download. Simply pour out year heart like water before God about so much trouble in the world – your own, your peoples, the world’s – and the software will be installed automatically.

Also see “Post-Tisha B’Av Ramblings.”

Ron Coleman at Dean’s Word notes that Jewish tradition teaches that on Tisha B’Av (the Ninth day of the month of Av) , five national calamities occurred:

  1. During the time of Moses, Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the ten spies, and the decree was issued by God forbidding them from entering the Land of Israel. (1312 BCE — traditional Jewish dating)
  2. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar. 100,000 Jews were slaughtered and millions more exiled. (586 BCE)
  3. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, led by Titus. Traditional sourcest teach that two million Jews died, and another one million were exiled. (70 CE)
  4. The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The city of Betar — the Jews’ last stand against the Romans — was captured and liquidated. Over 100,000 Jews were slaughtered. (135 CE)
  5. The Temple area and its surroundings were plowed under by the Roman general Terentius Rufus. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city — renamed Aelia Capitolina — and access was forbidden to Jews.

Coleman lists other grave misfortunes throughout Jewish history on the Ninth of Av, including:

  1. The Spanish Inquisition culminated with the expulsion of Jews from Spain on Tisha B’Av in 1492.
  2. World War One broke out on the eve of Tisha B’Av in 1914 when Germany declared war on Russia. German resentment from the war set the stage for the Holocaust.
  3. On the eve of Tisha B’Av 1942, the mass deportation began of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to Treblinka.

The Left and Israel: Irreconcilable Differences?

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[Emad Hajjaj, Alquds Alarabi, 5 17 04]

I intended on writing a longer response to The Nation columnist Eric Alterman’s hit-piece on Martin Peretz and The New Republic when it appeared in The American Prospect last month (“My Marty Peretz Problem and Ours”). But teaching and other responsibilities have allowed less time for this blog, which is not necessarily a bad thing. A friend forwarded me an article by Jonathan Mark from The Jewish Week that addresses some of my issues with Alterman’s piece. Reading the comments that follow “My Marty Problem,” many readers agree with Alterman’s assessment that Peretz is a liability for American liberalism in allowing TNR to become a neoconservative mouthpiece.

[D]uring his reign, Peretz has also done lasting damage to the cause of American liberalism. By turning TNR into a kind of ideological police dog, Peretz enjoyed the ability — at least for a while — to play a key role in defining the borders of “responsible” liberal discourse, thereby tarring anyone who disagreed as irresponsible or untrustworthy. But he did so on the basis of a politics simultaneously so narrow and idiosyncratic — in thrall almost entirely to an Israel-centric neoconservatism — that it’s difficult to understand how the magazine’s politics might be considered liberal anymore.

You can hear the indignation, “Ask yourself: Have you ever — ever — read an editorial in The New Republic that does not take the Israeli government’s side in a dispute?” For some liberals and especially centrists like myself, the editorials in TNR were simply an antidote to the never ending tirade of anti-Israel editorials coming from the anti-Zionist left. Unfortunately Alterman, like so many on the left, has equated strong support for Israel with neoconservatism. A visit to liberal-left blogs like DailyKos or Moveon.org, to say nothing of more radical websites like Indymedia, reveals a similar Manichean mindset.

This was made clear to me when I voiced support for Israel to my radical friends. They subsequently identified me as a Zionist and a neoconservative. I wasn’t sure which diagnosis was worse but they apparently were both bad, very bad. One individual refuses to discuss these or any matters with me while others just think I’ve gone over to the “other side.” Has support for Israel become, in Mark’s words, “a litmus test for the left”? In many quarters, it has. This has been the case for the radical left for decades.

Why this is the case is up for debate. Some blame the situation on Israel. If Israel only offered more land and territory for peace, if Israel were more “proportional” in its response to terrorists, if Israel stopped the occupation, then leftists would support Israel. I suspect Alterman would place himself in this camp. However, the anti-Zionist element, the segment of the left that not only wants Israel to retreat to the pre-1967 borders but wants Israel to be eliminated as a political entity, is the predominant perspective on the radical left. This radical anti-Zionist left, while weak in the United States, is more prominent in Europe. This is especially the case on the continent, but is also true of the U.K., as evidenced by the recent boycott motions passed by British trade unions.

Thankfully, these boycott motions have been condemned by American trade unions. Their resolutions have no purpose other than demonizing Israel ,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Jewish Labor Committee, an alliance of Jewish union leaders and supporters which is soliciting support for a statement opposing these boycotts.

The JLC’s effort has been endorsed by the president of the AFL-CIO; the chair of Change to Win; presidents of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; American Federation of Teachers; United Food and Commercial Workers; Communications Workers of America; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Masters, Mates and Pilots / ILA; Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union / UFCW; American Postal Workers Union; International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; UAW; American Federation of School Administrators; Office and Professional Employees International Union; American Federation of Government Employees; UNITE-HERE; United Mine Workers of America; Sheet Metal Workers International Association; International Union of Painters and Allied Trades; Transportation Communications Union; American Federation Musicians; Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union; the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers, and the Transport Workers Union of America.

But among the younger left–especially on college campuses–anti-Zionism and anti-Israel activism is, if not fashionable, at least tolerated as part of the broader movement for “social justice.” This is the case with the “anti-War movement” as well. Some of the most vocal activists have claimed that the War in Iraq–and the GWOT generally–is a Zionist plot hatched by neconservative “Likudniks” in Washington. It is among these “progressive” (actually reactionary) leftists that support for Israel is a litmus test.

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Does Anti-Imperialism Trump Anti-Authoritarianism?

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In the 1990s the global anarchist movement was facing increasing relevance and prestige in relation to a plethora of new social movements (some, truth be told, not so new) in the United States and abroad. This was best observed in a sequence of anti-globalization protests that reached their zenith in 1999’s “Battle of Seattle” and nadir in the wake of Carlo Giuliani’s death in Genoa in July, 2001. By the time of the Islamist terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, sporadic and poorly-attended demonstrations persisted in the U.S. and Europe but the movement was essentially stopped dead in its tracks. For example, the protests against the World Economic Forum in New York City February 2, 2002, paled in comparison with previous demonstrations. While those within the movement readily blamed exogenous factors for the movement’s decline—9/11, creeping “fascism” and government crackdowns, etc.—few were willing to address endogenous ones.

Something that became apparent to me, as a participant and activist over the years since the terrorist attacks, is immensely unfortunate. At the risk of over-simplification, it seems to me that most left libertarians allow a vague left-wing anti-imperialism to trump any sort of rigorous libertarian anti-totalitarianism. What does this mean and why does it matter? It means that individuals, organizations and publications that should know better side with totalitarian movements against liberal capitalist regimes. This is a recurring theme so it’s instructive to point out incidences in the past which will be familiar to most libertarian leftists, the Russian, Spanish, and Cuban Revolutions.

After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, left-wing activists and authors flocked to the insurgent Soviet Union to view the accomplishments of the revolution first-hand. John Reed is the most well known but numerous authors, intellectuals and journalists made their way to the USSR. Anarchists, slowly but surely, crafted a cogent critique of communist totalitarianism. The first-hand experience of life under communist rule, as penned by revolutionaries like Vsevolod Mikhailovich Eichenbaum (better known as “Volin“) as well as one-time fellow-travellers like Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman led many anarchists to make an about-face in their assessment of the Bolshevik government. Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman both penned numerous articles, pamphlets and books decrying the emergence of a totalitarian regime in Russia (Goldman’s My Disillusionment in Russia was published in 1923, Berkman’s The Bolshevik Myth in 1925).

A similar process occurred during the Spanish Civil War. Duped again by the grandeur of revolution, Cenetistas—termed “anarcho-Bolsheviks”—adopted authoritarian methods against their fellow workers. Later, their erstwhile communist allies would have the anarcho-syndicalists detained, imprisoned and shot.

Again, after the Cuban Revolution in 1959, many anarchists in the United States praised the July 26 Movement. A few mavericks like Sam Dolgoff, not coincidentally actually in contact with the Cuban libertarian movement, tried to bring attention to this contradiction to no avail. In the last case, under the influence of emerging anti-colonialist movements in the developing world and their protégés in the U.S. like the Black Panther Party, American anarchists derided Cuban libertarians as stooges of imperialism and the C.I.A. Dolgoff was that rare voice that stood with the Cuban anarchists, pointing out that Che Guevara and the revolutionaries the New Left lionized were responsible for decimating the democratic and libertarian left after the triumph of the revolution.

In short it seems that left anarchists are doomed to repeat the same mistakes—albeit in different places and contexts—time and time again. This need not be the case. However, as long as anarchists view liberal capitalist states as a greater foe than totalitarian movements, I’m afraid this sorry state of affairs will continue to play itself out again and again.

Two authors who used to be popular with anarchists—not sure if they are anymore—are George Orwell and Paul Avrich. During WWII (after the Spanish Civil War) when faced with communist and fascist totalitarianism Orwell went to work in the British intelligence services. In a similar fashion, historian Paul Avrich worked for military intelligence after WWII. Avrich actually received the highest military decoration given to non-combat officers for his efforts in identifying the number and type of every Soviet aircraft in Europe. In other words, both not only supported liberal capitalist regimes in the struggle against totalitarianism, they worked for the state, for the military no less. The decisions they made are viewed negatively by most leftist anarchists today. Most see capitalism as a greater threat to libertarians than totalitarianism. I don’t. I think both Orwell and Avrich did the right thing given the circumstances and the nature of Stalinism. They did not think neutrality in the face of totalitarianism was an option, let alone actually siding or befriending totalitarians against liberal capitalist states.

It is a huge mistake for libertarians to align themselves with dictators. First and foremost because of the threat they pose to libertarians and libertarian movements but also because they stand diametrically opposed to everything libertarians are supposed to stand for. This is not to argue that liberal capitalism is the end all, be all. However, liberal capitalism at least provides the opportunity for the construction of that free space that libertarians strive to provide as an example of building a new world in the shell of the old, to borrow that wonderful I.W.W. slogan. Liberal capitalism provides the potential to start a revolutionary-syndicalist local, infoshops, and other counter-institutions that many libertarian socialists view as necessary.

A small segment of the libertarian left thinks this is a false dichotomy. You can read their perspectives here and here.