August 19, 2005

Khalid's story

Khalid, the Iraqi blogger who was jailed by the Mukhabarat for two weeks last month, has the story of his captivity online. He believes he was accused of being a terrorist, jailed, and slapped around solely because he was seen reading Raed's blog in a university internet cafe. Welcome to the New Iraq.

Posted by BruceR at 05:15 PM

The trials of Cressida

Offered without comment:

BBC News, May, 2002:

"Commander Cressida Dick, head of the Metropolitan Police's diversity directorate, said relationships with ethnic minorities had improved significantly in recent years but said building confidence remained a high priority.

"She added: 'We have come a long way and continue to strive to improve our service to all of London's diverse communities.'"

BBC News, September, 2002 (not online):

"Asked if there were still racist officers, she [Dick] said: 'I joined the Met in 1983 and racism was rife.

"'There were very many racist officers and it was an extremely uncomfortable environment for many colleagues to work in.

"'I think there are very, very few around now. It is extremely likely that if you have racist attitudes you will betray that in your behaviour and if you betray it in your behaviour you can be pretty sure one of your colleagues will report what has happened and you will be rooted out."

BBC News, 13 November, 2002:

"Police investigating allegations of racism, homophobia and domestic violence have raided about 150 addresses across London...

"Commander Cressida Dick, director of the Diversity Directorate, denied the operation was simply a publicity stunt.

"She said: "We want the offenders who hate, hurt and harm others to know the Met will do everything in its power to find them out and put a stop to their crime.

"People should not have to go through life being subjected to abuse because of who they are or what they believe in."

The Mirror, today:

"The Daily Mirror understands that Met Police Commander Cressida Dick - a controller in the anti-terrorist operation targeting Jean Charles' [Menenzes'] flat - ordered: "Intercept him".

"The word, which the dictionary defines as "to stop, deflect, or seize on the way from one place to another", was intended to have that meaning by Cdr Dick.

"But somewhere along the chain of command, in the confusion of the moment the day after the failed London bombings, it was taken to mean "kill".

Posted by BruceR at 04:24 PM

A sad day in history

Sixty-three years ago today, the newly formed Canadian Intelligence Corps suffered its first five combat fatalities, at the Battle of Dieppe.

Rest in peace, Capts. T.M. Insinger and F. Morgan, CSM J.S. Milne, and Sgts. J. Holt and W. Corson.

Posted by BruceR at 03:36 PM

Once again, proving walking the walk is a foreign concept to them

Note to Americans: if you want some clues why people from other nations sometimes tend to think you're collectively a bunch of jerks, here's a couple:

One: Canadian Rachel McAdams is not "America's new sweetheart." Yes, I know you expropriated Mary Pickford the same way. It's really, really annoying.

Two: Signing free-trade agreements means obeying them. Even when it will cost you $5 billion and make regular Americans' furniture cheaper. This, right here, is an example of why the majority of the world does not trust America (again, speaking collectively, not individually, of course): it simply doesn't honor its agreements. Which, as the reigning hyperpower, it doesn't have to, I know. That some of its citizens persist in thinking it does in all cases is inexplicable to me, though.

Any time the U.S. government claims to be involved in diplomacy these days, I'm reminded of Darth in The Empire Strikes Back: "I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further."

Posted by BruceR at 11:22 AM

What is/was to be done?

In comments to this post, Jim Henley asks me what was to be done after Iraq was kicked back out of Kuwait in 1991. Here's an attempt at an answer, which also inevitably touches on what should be done in Iraq now.

Ideally of course, it would have been better to roll on into Baghdad with a true UN mandate and an international coalition behind you, then to do it lacking both those things 12 years later. Military victory would likely have come just as easily, especially with the ongoing Shiite and Kurdish revolts at the time. However, it's possible such a move would have ended Egyptian/Syrian/Saudi support for the enterprise, and fractured the coalition. And there would have been no more of an occupation plan on the books then than now.

Drawing up coalition troops on the border, forbidding Iraqi military flights, and demanding Hussein's resignation as a condition of peace would likely have been enough for the Iraqi rebels to win out, it would seem... the fear with that, of course, was Kurdish autonomy and Iranian hegemony, same as now. But I still believe either alternative timeline would have been preferable to the current.

But I think the real turning point with regard to Iraq came later in the 1990s. After the mistake of perpetuating Hussein, the no-fly zones and sanctions were almost an inevitable consequence.

I really believe the American mistake these last 15 years has been the obsession with the preservation of Iraq as a unitary state, above all other principles. It's not just Iraq... it's implicit in all U.S. (and Canadian) foreign policy, that the state borders of 1945 or 1919 should be preserved at all costs. This misguided foreign policy aim has contributed to the agonies of Bosnia, Palestine, and the Congo. In the process, it's lost any connection with its original purpose, to prevent wars and the triumph of armed force.

It's not just that conditions on the ground change over time. It's that the trend of history may now be in favour of smaller principalities. There's abundant evidence the ease of transnational trade and communication is leading humans generally to feel more loyal to their locality than their nation-state.

Oftentimes, this means people are identifying more along linguistic or ethnic lines, rather than internationally determined borders. But what has been portrayed by some as a rise in medieval ethnocentricity and prejudice may not be all that.. Before, an isolated sect or clan hemmed in all around, would either grow or disappear. Now, as the Irish, Israelis, Tamils, and many other quasi-nationalities have shown, the interconnectedness of things in our era allows even a small, locally weak ethnic group, drawing on its own diaspora, to have tremendous survivability in their chosen homeland. It may be that we are looking at a very modern phenomena here, one that is enhanced, not defeatable, by technology.

The insistence on preserving old borders leads to bizarre solutions on the ground. No one seriously believes Kosovo is going to rejoin with Serbia, do they? A century ago, the border would have realigned, through the use of force, on the respective military spheres of Tirane and Belgrade. Now, it can't, because the world won't let it. We may have limited warfare, but we have also ruled out any viable alternative to warfare to solve the kinds of problems that wars used to solve: the rending of states and evolution of human allegiances.

Sooner or later, given the perpetuation of the current demographics, Iraq is due to drop, like an electron from a higher energy state, into a two-nation solution, of some kind. (Not three, I don't know where anyone gets that idea). The current power centres in the country are Baghdad, Basra and Kirkuk... Shiites have a claim by population to the first two, and no claim to the third, and Kurds vice versa. Only the massive repression of a Saddam-like figure could keep the lid on this as long as he did. So, the two alternatives are pretty much clear: either the country fissions into a Kurdish-secular Iraqi north and a Shiite-theocratic south (whether loosely joined in a confederation or not), or another strongman arises cruel enough to keep them all together. (The Sunni minority will eventually align, on an individual and clannish basis, with one or the other.) By its insistence on the maintenance of a unitary state, the U.S. is effectively increasing the likelihood of emergent tyranny.

The prospects of tyranny aside, the American presence is undoubtedly serving to keep a lid on things, and encouraging the final two-nation solution to arise non-violently rather than violently. The most likely development at this point involves the current constitution draft proving unacceptable to the north, and under the Bremer provisions the Kurds voting to secede, as they already did overwhelmingly during the last Iraqi "elections." The best American course, now that they're in it, would be to hem and haw as this inevitably happens, and then sit down to negotiate the "interim" border and other arrangements in tripartite talks. The alternative at that point would be to promote some kind of strongmanism, and use American forces to repress one side, or the other, or both. That decision point has not come for them yet, and likely won't until early 2006.

The entangling factors here are U.S. election timetables, which have driven so much of this whole process so far, and American army rustout. It is going to prove increasingly difficult through 2006 to keep American engagement in Iraq at current levels. Because supporting strongmanism will seem easier in the short run, I fear it remains the most likely outcome... Iraq as Egypt, etc. For that reason, I think talks of a fixed withdrawal date now, besides being entirely unrealistic due to unresolved Middle East basing issues, are counterproductive, at least until that ratifying referendum in January.

This, unlike the previous elections, or the "turnover of sovereignty," is likely to be a real turning point: whether the Kurds could accept anything less than full independence in the near term is a huge question, that will be fairly authoritatively resolved at that point (they may choose to defer their leaving for a couple years, or accept a confederal/federal arrangement as sufficiently autonomous... if so, then there is a remote chance of the inevitable two-nation solution becoming, over time, something like the Canadian two-nation solution).

So even though, due to their own PR, there have been a lot of false promises of Iraqi developments leading to pull out before now, I think the best course for the U.S. leadership right now is just try to keep things going until January, and see what falls out from that, before committing to anything other than a continuation of the political process, in as close to a state of peaceable normalcy as possible. (Even the rebuilding of an Iraqi military at this point seems essentially counterproductive... the Shia and Kurds each have their own armies... the most likely outcome for the Iraqi National Army is the strongman's tool. If the Americans show little progress here, it's not really a bad thing now.)

Which of course, brings us back to Jim's hypothetical... what should have been done in the 1990s. Me, I'd have hoped wiser people could have divined the most likely course of action here, and planned around it. I'd have extended the northern no-fly zone into a military exclusion zone at some point in Clinton's term or early in Bush's (the presence of Al Qaeda groups operating in the Kurdish territories would certainly have produced world support for this by early 2002, if not before), killing any Iraqi mechanised units there after a reasonable warning period, and so giving the peshmerga defacto control. If the conditions were propitious, I might have done the same for a 50km radius around Basra, as well, to give the Shiites a footing. Then, around late 2002, I'd have announced my government's recognition of the democratic government of Free Iraq (like the Free French), operating in one or both of the Iraq militarily-excluded areas, and lifted all effects of sanctions on the free areas. If Hussein had responded by doing anything stupid, like making WMDs again, I'd have taken him out immediately. If he didn't, inevitably his rule would have withered: the potential to ratchet up the pressure up by degrees from that point on would be immense. Sooner or later, but probably by about this point in time, you'd end up where you are now... just left to decide whether secular North Iraq and theocratic South Iraq wanted to be two separate states, or one federal one, and hunting a declining Baathist insurgency. The difference is the difference between attempting to impose a solution (and failing that, to belatedly accept one), and accepting the inevitable and, from that point, making it as easy as possible for all involved.

Anyway, that's what I would have tried, in preference to what was tried.

Posted by BruceR at 11:07 AM