The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Sacrifice All Unto the Big Green Blob

There should be an intelligent debate on US policy in Iraq. However, the current debate is so infantile it is insulting. Author Frank Gaffney went on the Washington Journal today arguing that anyone proposing a timetable for withdrawal or redeployment was a “defeatist”. He proposed massive escalation, sacrifice and perhaps a draft.

1 hour video

While claiming that “defeatists” are that way because they don’t understand “the character and complexity of this war”, his explanation of it was the typical ignorantly American conception of “World War” as a clash of ideologies. He equated loss in Iraq with that of “the free world” because Islamo-fascists would “use that as the launching pad to create the Caliphate… from which they will then mount the effort to expand their global domination, truly around the world, including even places like the United States.”

A woman with a southern drawl called in saying that “In Iraq, ya’ll should just give it up.”

Mr Gaffney serendipitously replied that “People were trying to kill us before we went into Iraq. In fact they killed 3000 of us on 9/11.”

Lets be clear, I am not saying that “Islamo-fascists” don’t exist. I am not saying there are not people out there trying to destroy the West. I am saying if they take over Iraq it’s not going to mean another goddamn World War or Cold War… it’s not going to be some big green blob on the map spreading over the whole world.

He wants you to believe this is going to happen:

or this:

These neo-domino theorists (this man, Rummy, generals) are either completely ignorant or totally dishonest. People forget there were enormous divisions in the Communist world (USSR/China/Romania/Yugoslavia/Vietnam). Unity in eastern Europe was only possible because the Red Army was there to make sure. How the hell do you expect possible fundamentalist governments, representing different nations and sects, to be really united? Fundamentalist Iran and the Taliban hated each other. Even when Syria and Iraq were BOTH ruled by Ba’ath parties with the SAME ideology, these two countries remained mortal enemies.

What are these “Islamo-fascists” going to do after taking over a flattened Iraq? Make some half-assed army and try to go after Kuwait or Saudi Arabia and get their ass whooped a la Gulf War I? Perhaps attack Godless Socialist Syria? Maybe try another Iran-Iraq War to take out the theocratic Shia “pigs”?

Be afraid, very afraid, give your taxes and sons and daughters unto the Big Green Blob.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Chad in the News

I've been doing a lot of work on my dissertation this summer, much of which focuses on Chad. Chad? Yes, Chad, it's a country over 3 times the size of California of 10 million people (doubled in the past 25 years) right smack in the middle of Africa. The northern half of the country is empty desert, "useless Chad", while the South "useful Chad" survives by subsistence farming.

Chad doesn't usually get more than passing attention. During WW2 the French colony was prominent for being the largest part of France's empire to stay in the fight. During the 80s Libya fought a war there which eventually led to Chad kicking Qaddafi out killing 5 000 Libyan troops in the process (imagine if the US lost the equivalent of 75 000 troops over 7 months in Iraq...). Chad's been getting attention over the conflict in Darfur spilling over into the country.

Chad, who historically had a national budget smaller than the movie Titanic's, is getting her oil industry setup. Chadian President Idriss Déby has kicked out oil firms ChevronTexaco and Petronas claiming they didn't pay their taxes. This leaves only ExxonMobil and effectively nationalizes (Chavez-style? more like Bolivia...) 60% of Chad's oil production. I think he didn't like the World Bank's rather draconian rules for using the little of the oil profits which would go to Chad primarily on poverty-relief/infrastructure etc. Instead, Déby now can control all profits and spend it as he pleases. If other 3rd world petro-states are any indication, he will use it to solidify his clique's rule, buy arms, make the odd monument to his glory and fill Swiss bank accounts.

Who knows, he might invest enough in education and infrastructure to make Chad's economy viable, but I doubt it. If I were to make a suggestion, I would use some money to upgrade the official website of the govt-owned telecom company (Telecommunications Internationales du Tchad, or Tit). The presidential page, none of the links work and it's garrishly worthy of of an UglyMySpaceShowDown.

Chadian identity is pretty artifical, or at least, recent. It's just a big square in the middle of the desert named after a shallow lake it shares with several other countries. A square shared by Muslims, Christians and Animists with about a zillion languages. I recently found a site designed for young Chadians (who, if they have an internet connection, must be fairly wealthy or maybe even cosmopolitan American-schoolers) dedicated to Chadian athletes, rappers and general culture. The site puts a lot of stress on a certain Miss Chad 2005 who was until recently going to contend for Miss World 2006 (the page also has entries for a blind guitarist, Chadian international reporter and the N'djamena town crier). They've yet to update the site :-/

The page has text saying that Chad now competes alongside traditional African fashion-leaders Angola, Ethiopia, Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria... "The barrier is now broken!" This was going to be an opportunity to assert a little Chadian pride and identity in the world.

Now, I'm not saying the lovely Miss Aché Myriam Commelin isn't pretty. But where the heck is she from (one of the photos as "MabuhayBeauties.com" written on it... perhaps she is part-filipino?) Now, it's worth noting that there is a substantial Arab minority in Chad, but ethnic labels are always very parochial and like in Sudan, it's not what Westerners usually have in mind when using the word "Arab":

Chadian Arab boy

I googled "Chadians" to which google replied "Did you mean Canadians?" (I could see how you could confuse the two vast wastelands...) and got this. I tried again with "Tchad fille" and got:

(Cool page "Faces of Chad" with lots of photos)

If you're going to trump up a representative of your country abroad to young people as an example, especially in a competition based completely on esthetics, it'd help if she were actually representative.

Chad's got a long way to go. At the current population growth rate (currently 3% per year), a 15 year oil-cushion for the elite will not mean any real change.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Chirac: 2k to Lebanon and Fall of Pluto

Chirac has just announced that France will be contributinga total of 2000 troops to Lebanon. This is bare minimum amount for it to be considered a "respectable" force, roughly equal to Italy's potential contribution (2000-3000) and will probably allow continued French command, at least for some time. (for some reason Le Monde ran a guess today saying there would "probably" be less than 2000 troops sent)

Chirac made lots of calls to the international community to contribute too (notably EU, UNSC and Asian Muslim countries). He said France's conditions for a decent UN mandate, chain of command and rules of were met. He did not make any explicitly "Gaullist" reference, but did argue that France was meeting her "responsibilities" in Lebanon. EU ministers are supposed to declare tomorow how much individual countries are contributing.

It's the bare minimum, respectable. But I doubt the "cold-feet" thing was necessary to get the boosted UN mandate. Italy seems the real actor here, her contribution pushing the France to mimick, establishing 1/3 of the force.

Pluto has officially become a so-called "dwarf planet" (really a sham-planet). The words on everybody's lips: if it can happen to anyone. These astronomofascists have no mercy, are we next?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Update on ME

Looks like things are going to shape up in Lebanon while things break down with Iran.

French officials stated that the revised UN mandate for Lebanon (which seem very technical to me) are "going in the right direction". While the French military has been skeptical of a Lebanese intervention (still stinging from Bosnia), an unnamed French high military source said that "We are arriving at soldiers' rules of engagement." French PM Dominique de Villepin stated that France is "the most engaged and most present" in Lebanon and would go further when "the conditions were met."

In short, I think France will declare very soon exactly what her real contribution would be after her (feigned?) hesitation. Villepin's comments, and traditional French esteem, would suggest the contribution will be at least 2500 in order to avoid the proposed transfer to Italian command.

Meanwhile it looks like Iran has not met US or UN Security Council obligations on her nuclear program. Various right-wing intellectuals/talking-heads (notably Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan and AEI fellow Reuel Gerecht) have been beating the drums of... well not quite war, but at least some sort of military intervention (probably air raid) to end Iran's nuclear program. I am befuddled by two issues:
1) Iran's nuclear program is so far behind, all this talk strikes me as a tad "pre-emptive".
2) If it *really* gets bad, won't Israel (first in line to get nuked) attack Iran like it did Iraq's nuclear reactor in the 80s?

Seems like empty talk to me.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Car, Kudos Italy and France Tries to Make Up


Thanks for everybody using the comments!

CB made a comment saying that I was an insecure jerk covering my inadequacies by blaming them on a nameless stranger! And fair enough I'm not the best driver as I'm sure Kev/Stev will tell you.

This made me feel sad...

...and even some existential angst.

I'm sure he wasn't a bad guy, but he didn't do much to endear me to him. He left 5 minutes after the cops did and didn't even recognise we'd been clipped on the left side (which was absolutely certain from my POV) before being hit head on. It's not like that necessarily meant he was at fault (it was compatible with his story that I'd pulled out in front of him) but suggests he hadn't seen or felt us when we were clipped.

Luckily I was on my mom's insurance, and if I understand correctly because I was driving they won't jack hers up. Though obviously if I ever need car insurance in France (Europe?) I'll have to declare the accident and it will make mine more expensive.


As Israel recently attacked Hezbollah despite the ceasefire (allegedly to stop probable Syrian-Iranian rearmament of Hezbollah) , and it looked as though France would scuttle efforts to build the Multinational Force, Italy has boldly offered a very respectable 3000 troops for Lebanon (1/5th of the total required force). I can't think of any particular Italian interest in the country other perhaps that Prodi's personality who generally seems in line with good-internationalist centre-left parliamentarians (like old French socialist leaders like Jean Jaures who tried to stop WW1 through a general strike and Leon Blum who started France's rearmament for WW2).

At this point, I can't imagine any French president with Gaullist (= France should be important) pretensions not committing at least as many troops as Italy. Interestingly Chirac has become much more active in recent weeks (after a rather depressing past few years of high unemployment, unilateral America, failed EU constitution, lost local elections, the riots bladebla) appearing more in public, an active diplomacy, no vacation and generally taking over from his floudering PM Dominique de Villepin. Le Monde even suggests he's doing it in a serious bid to put himself to the fore for another presidential election (if that's what he's thinking it seems absurd to me, he's still got abysmal approval ratings and would mean he's trying to rule for 17 consecutive years, beating Mitterrand's record of 14, crazy).

France has recently called for an EU summit on Lebanon (to convene probably Wednesday) to coordinate contributions. France called for "European solidarity" and Finland, who currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, immediately accepted. Given Italy's bravery and all the pomp of an EU summit I can't conceive of Chirac asking for so much attention and not making a more substantial contribution than the current 400. This summit would be a good opportunity to stress European unity on a foreign policy issue (!!!) which he might be able to take credit for.

If France seemed to be looking for a graceful opt-out of Lebanon a few days ago, calling for an EU summit makes that impossible.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Shadow Comments: Hillary + Crash

Thanks to dad emailing everybody whenever I make a decent post, people have made a number of "shadow comments" with the relative secrecy of the email.

Aunt Berta: If she would let us see it, how well endowed would Hillary be?

Given her support for war (Strong on Defense TOO), opposition to video-game violence and preaching of "very old-fashioned ideas"...

(psst: she's a girl)

Uncle David: Craig enough liberal crap! We want hear about how you totalled your mom's car!
Well, lets see. I live here. I was taking my friends to the beach (all survived) in Antibes until about here (there was multiple lanes):

At this point we got bumped by a truck...

...on the back-end of the left-side and were "hooked" for a few seconds (his is the red paint):

This made my car's back end get pushed towards the right, turning the car 90 degrees and ending up smack in front of him. We were hit there and pushed along for a distance doing the most damage:

We made our way across his front until our back end was pushed by him making us do a 180 while crossing lanes in the opposite direction and crashing tail-first in a blue fence (hence the paint).

The cops came about 45 min later. They made sure everyone was OK and took our details. The driver was Portuguese, and that was the first thing he pointed out to the cops (fair enough).

He had rotten teeth and slick greasy hair combed back. The cops quickly left and told us to sort ourselves out. He didn't like my version of events (couldn't even agree on which part of my car got hit first) so he left within a few minutes.

The car was still drivable... though the driver's door could not be locked or open from the outside. And the car made funny noises whenever there was more than 2 people in it. But, that wasn't good enough and according to the insurance company it was cheaper to get a new car than fix it (and it wasn't safe) so they took it and gave mom 3200 euros compensation. (I had to pay 200 of that). The insurance company couldn't assign blame to truck driver (bastards! he was clearly foreign)

So I've been without transport beyond mom's bike (and parents' generosity) for a while... and Kevin recently destroyed the bike too so now all I got is Steven's small bike. (see how long that lasts, I'll be travelling barefoot if this keeps up). But none of my friends were injured... so I guess all's well that ends well.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible any miscontruance/bad paraphrasing of comments. To avoid thihs in the future use the comments button bellow :-P

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Balliste: Chirac's Mitterrand Moment?

Leaders, especially as it becomes clear they're not going to get elected again, tend to get very concerned about their "Legacy". That is, what people are going to say in the history books "such and such was crap, BUT he did do this one good thing towards the end". For French presidents, this usually involves making the French feel important. De Gaulle did it through nukes, arrogant vetoes and obnoxious theatrics. Mitterrand did it through the Gulf War.

When Saddam invaded Kuwait and the US moved in to defend Saudi Arabia, Mitterrand felt the need to do the same (with a symbolic force of helicopters and boats). When the US changed gear towards an offensive war of liberation (doubling US forces to half a million), so did Mitterrand with the sending of a 11,000 troops. France's military contribution was always paltry, negligeable. But it was important because it helped create the image of a France actively participating in events which captured the world's attention. By having the biggest Western non-Anglo-American force, France became the leading non-American voice, and used this ability numerous times to offer Saddam more generous peace deals, which virtually all of continental Europe and Arab world agreed to, in exchange for withdrawal from Kuwait (usually involving linking it to a conference on Palestine). With a handful of troops and some vigorous diplomacy, he created the image of a France still capable of shaping History (no doubt contributing to Mitterrand-era nostalgia in France, he has higher post-mortem approval ratings than De Gaulle!).

Chirac may be having his Mitterrand moment in Lebanon. France flexed her diplomatic muscle, drafting with the US a resolution agreed to unanimously, bringing a shaky cease-fire and a call for a multinational force. Given how America, is somewhat tied up ATM, He implicitly committed France to being a part of that force, but it was never clear if it would be substantial. Yesterday the French apparently almost declared they would grant only a "symbolic" force, until UN officials stopped this for fear of scaring off other contributors. They argue that to get other countries (Italy, Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia at the top of the list) involved would need France to show real confidence in the force by forming its backbone.

Both France and America have bad memories of a multinational force in Lebanon. 200 marines died and 50 French soldiers in the 1983 Beirut Barracks bombing. Understandably, Chirac wants to make sure if French troops must go in substantial numbers, that they don't simply take hits from Hezbollah or worse, get caught in the crossfire if the ceasefire breaks down. But it would be rather embarassing, an admission of lack of confidence and abdication, not send a substantial force. So far, France has symbolically doubled her contribution to Lebanon to 400 soldiers. 1700 other troops under French command remain ambiguously off the Lebanese coast. The presence, (in accordance with previous ostantatious French military interventions), has even earned its own name opération balliste (ballista). However, simultaneously, it appears that Chirac has made a more substantial contribution contingent on a clarification of the multinational force's mandate, command and rules of engagement.

There could be several reasons behind this. 1) Chirac knows there will not be consensus on the force's role and failure to reach it will be an adequate excuse not to get the French bogged down in Lebanon. 2) Chirac is genuinely concerned that a vague mission will mean France will never be able to leave saying "mission accomplished". No doubt some clarification of command (which will have to be French) and mission would help avoid the kind of trouble we saw last time in Lebanon or in Bosnia and Somalia). 3) Chirac wants to send of a force, but wishes to use the (very plausible) threat of non-intervention to influence the US into accepting a mandate/peace process more favourable to the Arabs.

For now I think 1) is correct (and the Washington Post seems to have this interpretation). We will see how this plays out, if it is 3), it will have meant the greatest potential expansion of French (and really, non-American Western) influence in the Israeli-Arab peace process since... well perhaps since Mitterrand's diplomacy during the Gulf War. However, more likely, France will not go or will go, and get beaten for it.

(will later discuss email comments)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Because It Feels Good!

I recently had a conversation with Eliza’s dad which was a rather enlightening look into the thought of American hawks. The premise is this: there are crazy people that want to kill us. I don’t think anyone disagrees there. The issue is what to do about it. And, as these people are like commies or nazis or whatever, they can’t be negotiated with. The only solution is to kill them.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. The question becomes how you go about it and who the hell “them” are. Assuming it’s the “terrorists” (nebulous group), one must wonder how insurgents and ordinary Iraqis or encouraging Israel to destroy Hezbollah has any effect on, say, a bunch alienated Muslims on British university campuses or some angry wealthy Jordanian/Egyptian/Saudi Osama-wanabes.

Ze Frank recently mentioned how Bush’s statement that America is safer than prior to 9/11 is based on total ignorance. It’s a fact: we don’t have any terrorist-o-meters. There is no way to know if a bombing here, policy this, or invasion there has any impact on the diverse decentralized and casual terrorist networks and cells across the world. How can be explained the support for aggressive and destructive policies when we have no way of measuring if they work or not? And this, in light of the recent terrorist attempt in London which was defeated through old-fashioned low-tech police efforts.

There’s an old quote from LBJ on his attitude towards Communists that comes to mind. “What I want is a plan where we could trap these guys and whoop the hell of ‘em. Kill some of ‘em. That’s what I wanna do.” And it explains it: it’s a totally emotional, but satisfying to some, response. After all, we are told this is WW3, this is like the Cold War, this is a Clash of Civilizations, surely that means we’re supposed to rise to the occasion when we have to kill the bastards. If you don’t, in line with ignorant WW2 analogies, you’re an appeaser. You’re letting the terrorists win. And so, we must kill the enemy, the enemy being, whoever we’re killing at the time. It doesn’t matter if we don’t know if it’s effective, it doesn’t matter if those we’re killing have any concrete relation to those trying to kill us… another quote comes to mind from the classic Apocalypse Now. Colonel Kilgore expresses his satisfaction after annihilating a stretch of jungle with napalm:

I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed for twelve hours, and when it was all over I walked up. We didn't find one of them, not one stinking dink (Vietnamese) body. The smell - you know, that gasoline smell - the whole hill - it smelled like… Victory.”

Our foreign policy is that of flailing blindly, indiscriminately, at whatever target we hit, and then praising ourselves with the cruel self-deception that that was the real enemy we were after all along. A self-deception as pathetic and dangerous and Blanche Dubois’. It was a very popular foreign policy because it was comforting. It gives the impression that we actually know what to do about the ambiguous and unpredictable threat of terrorism. Unfortunately, we don’t and those Democrats who dare voice dissent have a problem: how can they use the admission of ignorance as an argument to end violence? The partial answer has been to only be vaguely more Dovish than Republicans and not question the premise that the struggle is necessary and vital. But if it is vital, why only go half-way, why not go full-on? The Democrats view of foreign policy is unconvincing. They can publish "We're strong on defense too!!" books as much as they want but they don’t seem to really believe what they’re saying.

Hawks are ignorant and dangerous, emotionally driven to a pathological bloodlust to while pretending to relive WW2 glories. But half-doves… well, I think Tim Kreider's Democrat, the nervous smile and pandering, put it best:

So how can Doves escape the admission of ignorance and the label of “appeaser”? It won’t be easy. Republicans have worked hard to make sure that “strong on defense” and big rock-hard dicks are synonymous with themselves (John Bolton, Newt Gingrich and big Dick Cheney have been pioneers in this regard). So long as they are firm there is no need for withdrawal. How can Doves assert that blindly lashing out has no guarantee of making anyone safer? How can the costs, half a trillion so far and 10,000s of Iraqis be worth it given this uncertainty?

I am optimistic. Doves will simply have to use facts and larger penises. They will have to use champions of the military industrial complex like Congressman Jack Murtha. They will have to use anti-war Iraq Veterans, preferably with limbs missing. They will have to point out that the Bush administration has proved completely and utterly incompetent, despite Conservative control of all 3 branches of government. They will have to point out that the war is wedded to the neo-conservative movement, which is to say, a bunch of snivelling and emasculate ivory-tower theoreticians.

When that is done, the sanity of recognizing our own ignorance will reign, and the cruel lie of confidence through bloodlust will die.