A Little Something to Fight the Poison

Saturday, April 12, 2003
NOT SO FAST WITH THOSE "NAH NAH NAH NAH"S, PEOPLE: Jane Finch, the dovish, lefty, wiser-because-among-things-she-owns-a-cat half of The Daily Rant has some smart yet appropriately snark-laden comments for hawks who are already gloating about Iraq:
The latest warblog thing is to start polling all the antiwar bloggers to see when they'll "admit they were wrong" or some variation. I got my own special mention here. What is this, the World Series?

Geez, sorry I didn't take a staged statue lowering as a sign that war was "over" when there is chaos in the streets and those young, sweet-faced POWs are still unaccounted for...The great Rumsfeld himself (or should that be Himself?) has said it's not over....what [is] he, an inconvenience in the victory celebration or the guy who should know?

And now that I hear they're going to beam subtitled Fox News to the Iraqis, I wonder how the Iraqis are going to deal with the great disconnect between what they hear on tv and what they see outside.
Jane is dead on: coalition forces have done what so far appears to be a dazzling job in achieving the primary military objective of toppling Saddam's regime, although a final evaluation of this phase still requires an accurate accounting of civilian casualties. But also remember that the coalition's main goal is ultimately political--to win enough hearts and minds to produce a stable, cooperative Iraqi regime. That side of the struggle, which probably involves years of rebuilding, has only just entered the mid-game.

And good heavens, first Saddam's Ba'athists and this war, and now Arabic Fox News. Have the Iraqi people not suffered enough?!?

Finally, Jane concludes with what I think will be a sadly accurate rhetorical question:
This isn't football and it isn't over. Wonder how many of the vicarious victorious will be around blogging the peace?
I hope more than the number of them who are still blogging about Afghanistan right now (chorus: remember that?), but I wouldn't count on it.
AXIS OF MEDIEVAL: According to Amnesty International's annual death penalty report, the United States is once again a member of an elite club:
The report, Death Penalty Worldwide: Developments in 2002, said 1,526 people were known to be executed in 31 countries in 2002. China, Iran and the United States accounted for 81 per cent of all [known] executions.

[I]n China...[t]he total fell to 1,060...

Iran had the second-most [known] executions last year, 113, followed by the United States with 71, according to the report. The U.S. total was an increase of five from the previous year.

Cyprus, Serbia and Montenegro abolished capital punishment, while Turkey abolished the death penalty in practice, according to the report.

Last year, the United States was the only known country to execute people who committed crimes as juveniles. (via The Globe and Mail)
Serbia, huh? Wasn't it just yesterday that we were bombing their dictator? They sure learned this democracy/human rights thing fast! I only hope that the same thing will happen in Iraq.

Now, of course Amnesty can only count known executions, so the killings that happen in really nasty countries like Syria and Saddam's Iraq and secretive ones like happy coalition partners Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia go unnoticed. But, still, AI counts 111 countries that have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. That means that on this issue, the United States is in the minority, sharing company with only a third of the world's nations--and it shouldn't surprise anyone that this list has a lot of common with the bottom third of the world's nations when it comes to respecting human rights. Tea with Egypt, North Korea, and Sierra Leone, anyone? And, oh look, now that Turkey has in practice stopped executing people, the only other OECD country (there are 30) besides the U.S. that still uses the death penalty for ordinary crimes is Japan. What exemplary leadership.

P.S.: This is also an invitation to Anglospherians out there to contort themselves in explaining how this disparity fits into their conception of "shared values."

Friday, April 11, 2003
REGIME CHANGE OF THE VERY BEST KIND: To me, at least. According to a recent poll reported by The Globe and Mail, Jean Charest is poised to lead the Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) out of its decade of suckiness with a majority win against the governing Parti Québécois (PQ) in this Monday's election:
In a sudden turnaround, Quebec Liberal Party leader Jean Charest could form a majority government in Monday's provincial election after rehabilitating himself among francophone voters, a new poll suggests.

The poll indicates that the eagerness of Quebeckers for change has initiated a major shift in party allegiance, bolstering Liberal support. Voters now view Mr. Charest as the leader in whom they have the most confidence and who is running the best campaign after his strong performance in the recent televised debate. A majority of those surveyed concluded he was the most convincing leader.

The Liberals lead with 38 per cent among decided voters over the Parti Québécois at 30 per cent, the poll conducted by CROP Inc. for The Globe and Mail, La Presse and Le Soleil shows.
The PLQ is staunchly federalist, advocating the expression of Quebec identity through a Canadian federal union, so it's safe to say that most people in English Canada really hope they manage to knock off the sovereignist PQ next week. If they do, we Canadians will get a reprieve from the sovereignist threat for another 4 or 5 years.

American empire watchers should also take note that a PLQ win also implies that it also reduces the chances that the imperium will get to add any pieces of us to it in the same period of time...
WHAT PRECEDENT? Those hawks who didn't take seriously the idea that a pre-emptive strike might create more conflict in the world need to start answering some questions:
Defence Minister George Fernandes reiterated Indian warnings that Pakistan was a prime case for pre-emptive strikes.

"There are enough reasons to launch such strikes against Pakistan, but I cannot make public statements on whatever action that may be taken," Fernandes told a meeting of ex-soldiers in this northern Indian desert city on Friday....

Fernandes said he endorsed Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha's recent comments that India had "a much better case to go for pre-emptive action against Pakistan than the United States has in Iraq. (via AFP)
You would think idealistic hawks would understand the following much better than their realist predecessors: words and precedent matter because legitimacy--or its near equivalent, the appearance of legitimacy--matters, even in international relations.

The perception of legitimacy especially matters in India, because it is a liberal democracy. Previously, the thought that a pre-emptive strike by India into Pakistan would flagrantly violate international law and induce economic sanctions would have reduced popular support for such a move among the Indian population. But as there is no coherent way that the U.S. can justify pre-emptive strikes as legitimate for itself but not for any other country, it is safe to say that the precedent it has created has made one of the world's most dangerous situations even more precarious.
Thursday, April 10, 2003
SELECTED FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS: Le Monde reports that according to Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, the U.S. has only invited the three coalition allies who officially contributed troops to the Iraq campaign to its first conference on rebuilding Iraq (scroll down to the entry at 18h20):
"The first conference on the economic reconstruction of Iraq will take place very soon, with the participation of only 3 invited countries [by the U.S.]: the U.K., Australia, and Poland," declared Mr. Miller to Polish public television. This meeting "will be held at an appropriate level," in a country "other than the United States," the Polish head of state added, while refusing to specify the meeting's date and place. Poland has firmly supported the American policy toward Iraq and has deployed around 50 soldiers to Iraq to fight with the Anglo-American-led coalition. Around 2,000 Australian soldiers are also participating.
I don't know if this is just the Polish PM tossing up unconfirmed rumours to boost his domestic popularity, but if it's true, scoring A-List status with the U.S. seems pretty cheap these days--acceptance or willful ignorance of the U.S.'s new pre-emption doctrine and 50 soldiers. It also says something about the qualms much of the world still has about the precedence of pre-emption that so few of them were willing to pay even this slight price to get a piece of the action.

And I bet Spain's Jose Marie Aznar must be thrilled to hear this news. I wonder if leaving Spain out of the first phases of the reconstruction party was part of the deal when Aznar risked his party's political future to back the U.S. and U.K. in the UN Security Council negotiations?

Oh, a kingdom for the political leverage to sneak few squads of Spanish marines into the gulf!

All of this further proves that life is always full of surprises when you're a geopolitical ally of the Bush Administration...
Monday, April 07, 2003
The first skirmish against the Axis of Evil begins on Wednesday.

The Leafs take on the orange menace from Philadelphia (and hopefully flatten them like so many over-ripe pumpkins);

The mighty Senators have something to prove against the prima donna Yashin and the Islanders.

The teams switched first round (slam-) dance partners from a year ago -- last year, the Leafs fought off the Isles in a nasty, seven-game, tong war; the Sens cleanly dispatched the Flyers, giving up only one goal in regulation time during the whole series.

(The picture looks a little darker out West, though. Vancouver slipped to fourth on the last day of the season, and their reward is a Blues team that just reacquainted itself with Chris Pronger. And I think we all have a bad feeling about Edmonton v. Dallas.)
RANDOM NEWS UPDATE: If you just happened to be up and checking out my site, I thought I'd give you an uncharacteristically timely war update: Reuters reports that U.S. forces say they are in control of 3 Baghdad presidential palaces, including the main two at the center of the city (the third is near the airport and fell without resistance). They sent two batallions of tanks and one batallion of mechanized infantry (65 tanks and 40 armoured vehicles) from the 3rd Inf. Div.'s 2nd Brigade to capture the ones within the city. No U.S. casualties reported.

Oh, and if you want more in this vein, see The Agonist, to whom I'm sending in occasional tips. They live up to their popularity and they actually are pretty "fair and balanced," unlike some other sources we know...
Sunday, April 06, 2003
A neat article on David Cone's comeback with the Mets. My fondest memories of Coney are from the '92 season, when his hired gun of an arm took the Blue Jays to their first World Series championship -- but he has starred in nearly every stop of his big-league career.

[via Cooped Up]
What's good for the goose...

CalPundit asks why it's OK for U.S. soldiers to dress as civilians, when the Iraqis are accused of perpetrating war crimes when doing the same thing.
The NatPost, predictably, on the dire consequences of Canada's decision to sit this war out:

* our independence may be threatened;

* we've let down the Americans;

* we've let down Alberta??

A little perspective, people. During the Vietnam War, Canadian PM Lester Pearson criticized the American war effort while on a trip to Washington. Lyndon Johnson called our diminutive PM into the Oval Office, grabbed him by the lapels, and instructed him not to "piss on his rug." U.S.-Canada relations survived that, and they'll long outlast either Chretien or Bush.

And as for this silliness about how the Americans would come to an ungrateful Canada's rescue, should the need ever arise -- I'd say that after our participation in Gulf War I, Kosovo and Afghanistan, the U.S. owes us one.
TROUBLE IN THE LAND OF LIBERATION: Maybe the rally cry for internationalist liberals in demanding a more realistic assessment of the war on Iraq should have been "Afghanistan, remember that?" The AP reports that the Taliban are getting active again in the south and that a close ally of President Hamid Karzai was just killed.

Why is the U.S. is still refusing to support an expansion of the UN security force in Afghanistan (ISAF), an international deployment that's primarily there to defend U.S. and humanitarian interests? One obvious answer is that the U.S. doesn't want to overstretch its military commitments while it's doing "Iraqi Freedom" and possibly other Middle Eastern adventures (see the recent speculation on Syria and Iran). Plausible, but completely irresponsible.
CRACKS IN THE ANGLOSPHERE: Ha'aretz correspondent Thomas O'Dwyer on the divide between the British and American attitudes toward the war:
The United States and Britain have for long been two countries divided by a common language. This week we see how they are divided by a common war....

The most disturbing illustration was that of two different soldiers, a young British guy whose vehicle had been attacked - twice - and his friend killed, by an American A-10 tank-busting plane, and an American soldier whose vehicle had been slightly damaged by an Iraqi shell. The wounded English youth gave a pensive and lucid account of his ordeal, but his anger was intense. He branded the U.S. pilot a trigger-happy cowboy who came back for a second strike on the clearly marked British vehicle, with a callous and cavalier disregard for human life.

In a separate clip, we saw an American soldier on top of his damaged vehicle, dancing, waving his arms, whooping and yeh-ha-hooing like a moron at boot camp and proclaiming what great fun it all was. "You can see why the Iraqis are not welcoming us with open arms," said a British officer. British Army commander Gen. Sir Mike Jackson was more blunt at a news conference: "We have a very considerable hearts and minds challenge. We are not interested in gratuitous violence."
I don't know whether I buy O'Dwyer's argument that the Brits' heightened sensitivity is a result of the lessons they learned during their long colonial experience, but I think the overall contention is sound in this case: unless you think that the British and Americans are so joined that they're putting on a co-ordinated show of "Good Cop, Bad Cop" (unbelievable if you understand that they're, um, different countries with very different institutional incentives), then it's easy to see that Bush and Blair already have very different approaches in play.

Blair is already trying to pull the UN back in to take over the reconstruction of Iraq while Bush is keeping mum about the legions of U.S. businesspeople and political allies gathering in Kuwait to create what looks to be a U.S. administration. Progressives who want to do some practical good for ordinary Iraqis should stop protesting against the war now and calling Blair a poodle and instead start working this very real lever against further U.S. neocon influence. Ensuring that Britain, the democratic middle powers, and the UN get to determine the future of Iraq, rather than the Bush Administration can do a lot to improve things when Baghdad falls.
LITTLE LIES AND BIG LIES: I've been a little unsure as to how to react to this story about Brian Walski, a L.A. Times photographer covering the war who was fired for submitting in a composite photo to his editors, which they only discovered after publishing it.

The editors' reaction to Walski's boneheaded mistake may very well be warranted--I don't have the experience to judge as all of my experience in journalism occurred as a student. But I have to admit I'm more than a little puzzled at the amount of indignation that has been directed at Walski in the general public. Look carefully at those images and consider the marginal impact of the lie that Walski perpetrated.

Exactly how many people do you think would have changed their view of the events happening in Iraq by even one iota if Walski's "deception" had gone undetected? Maybe someone else could argue otherwise, but I just don't see myself reacting any differently to the altered photo as opposed to either of the originals.

Contrast the Times' treatment of this altered photograph with the mainstream media's treatment of the big lies that have been spread by war-enthusiasts over the past 12 months--most notably, the connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda that have been continually insinuated by the Bush Administration and fanned over and over by various "respectable" hawkish commentators, such as William Safire's continually unfounded speculations over the Prague meeting of Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence agents (nevermind his egregious "French Connection" series).

These lies and insinuations are so big and general that they can't be definitively disproven as Walski's deception was. With enough repetition, this kind of lie is treated as a legitimate "side to the story" that is continually given oxygen for the sake of "balance," and as a result the lie gains free play in the media without censure.

And do these big lies have an effect on public opinion and knowledge? Oh yes, they do:
Nearly eight in 10 Americans now accept the Bush administration's contention — disputed by some experts — that Hussein has "close ties" to Al Qaeda (even 70% of Democrats agree). And 60% of Americans say they believe Hussein bears at least some responsibility for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — a charge even the administration hasn't levied against him.
That's right, the number of Americans who believe that Saddam's highly secular and decadent regime had close ties to religiously fundamentalist Al Qaeda is greater than the number of Americans who believe in evolution.

And this story clearly shows that the media is culpable for this ignorance: "Disputed by some experts?" The hell?!?

Sort of like how the contention that the moon landings actually took place in a Hollywood soundstage is "disputed by some experts."

The moral of the story: if you want to manipulate the media and the public, don't bother with the little lies--Go Big or Go Home.