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The Daily Briefing 17/11/05
1 Today, messages and feedback
This may well be a new record for having TDB out late. At the risk of being accused of repeatedly tugging on the heart strings, this one man band is getting a little on the exhausted side of buggered - and counting down the days to the holiday break. It was a mistake not to have taken time off mid-year, and having a disrupted night with a baby in pain didn't help. Hope springs eternal that we can get back to producing one email a day, at the start of the work day, but it may be that the flesh can not match the willing spirit.
Feedback: To readers who have sent recent messages and comments, apologies for the lack of a response to date, but see above for some sort of explanation. I am working through them.
And do follow the link below to some recent feedback from Ross Gittins and James O'Neill, if for no other reason that it provides the perfect opportunity to link to Gittins's column yesterday on vested interests and fear mongering about terrorism .
WAYNE SANDERSON/THE DAILY BRIEFING
2 Women in Africa
NYTimes columnist Nicholas Kristof recently declared the situation of oppressed women in the third world to be the great moral challenge of our time. Helene Cooper grew up in Liberia, and with the recent election there of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as the continent's first female president, sees signs of hope. A striking piece this one. Given its subject, it is free of bathos or sentimentality. "She carried so many logs that her chest almost seemed to touch the ground, so stooped was her back. Still, she trudged on, up the hill toward her home. Her husband was walking just in front of her. He carried nothing. Nothing in his hand, nothing on his shoulder, nothing on his back. He kept looking back at her, telling her to hurry up. I want to go back to Bukavu to find that woman, and to tell her what just happened in Liberia. I want to tell her this: Your time will come, too. "
3 The credibility gap
A boy trying to do a man's job. Let's not make that the official verdict from TDB on George Bush just yet, but there is every chance that is how he will be judged by history. Even though many Australian commentators (witness Greg Sheridan in today's Australian) still hang on his every word, they are in an ever smaller minority and that could present real problems given he has three years to serve in the White House. The NYTimes recently reported US intelligence officials "unveiled the contents of what they said was a stolen Iranian laptop computer" that proved Iran was trying to build a nuclear warhead. As Kevin Drum points out, the reaction in Europe has been more than sceptical. "This is what it's come to. A European diplomat talks openly about the possibility that the entire thing is a U.S. fraud. The Bush administration is forced to lean on France to establish its own credibility ... As recently as five years ago, none of this would have even occurred to anyone. Today it's the first thing that comes to mind."
KEVIN DRUM/THE WASHINGTON MONTHLY
4 White phosphorous and hasty retreats
The scandal over the use of white phosphorous by the US in the attack against Fallujah last November seems to be slowly gathering momentum - it may well be a war crime. For sure the Aljazeera report linked to below is not going to help win Arab hearts and minds (assuming there are any left to be won). The last time TDB looked it was on their "most emailed" list. "Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Tuesday that while white phosphorous was used most frequently to mark targets or obscure positions, it was used at times in Falluja as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants."
On the same issue, The Independent has embedded journalist Damh Jamail reporting "... I spent hours talking to residents forced out of the city. A doctor from Fallujah working in Saqlawiyah, on the outskirts of Fallujah, described treating victims during the siege "who had their skin melted"."
Historian Sir Simon Jenkins, who opposed the invasion from the outset, and wrote some of the best columns anywhere on the reasons not to invade. In his latest column, Jenkins argues that the US is using Britain and NATO as a smokescreen to get out of Afghanistan - and remember, that NATO forces will reportedly include additional Australian troops. Very well, Jenkins says, use the same rationale to get out of Iraq. "The default mode of American foreign policy is isolation and of British policy continued intervention. America is shrewdly retreating from Afghanistan, knowing that the place is heading for trouble. Britain is the fall guy. Will the same happen in Iraq? Reid should explain why he is really committing 4,800 troops to act as Taliban targets in Helmand and why he is so sceptical of Talabani's offer. He might also ask himself why Rumsfeld is laughing."
5 The tide turns against Bush and Iraq
The "disintegration of an American presidency", which TDB suggested months ago was what we may now be witnessing, appears to be gathering pace. The US Senate - which had previously granted George Bush the freedom to pretty much to conduct the Iraq war exactly as he chose (and, for better or worse he did - all the mistakes are therefoe his own) - has "called on President George W. Bush to explain his strategy for ending the war in Iraq and report every three months on progress until all U.S. troops stationed there are redeployed." That passed 79-19, and its significance in terms of Bush's standing, and the conduct of the war from here, can be measured in William Kristol's hostile reaction in the conservative, Murdoch-owned journal he edits, The Weekly Standard. "Pathetic. One expected no better of the Senate Democrats, who want to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, or sooner than possible--most of them don't really care--and who want to embarrass president Bush. But couldn't the Senate Republicans have stood and fought against passing an irresponsible resolution suggesting that Americans want to get out of Iraq more than we want to win?"
The telling thing about the vote is that it is but one more sign that Bush is being abandoned by moderate Republicans, leaving only the hard-core right (who scare the US public, remember the Gingrich era) to support him. They might not be his best allies right now, and even some of them are having second thoughts. Slate has added right-wing "attack dog" (his term) and Islamophobe Daniel Pipes to its Bush abandonment watch for an article he wrote for Commentary (TDB did link to it weeks back).
In the article linked to below, Dan Balz says the Senate's "rebuff to the White House was muffled in the modulated language of a bipartisan amendment, but the message could not have been more clear. With their constituents increasingly unhappy with the U.S. mission in Iraq, Democrats and now Republicans are demanding that the administration show that it has a strategy to turn the conflict over to the Iraqis and eventually bring U.S. troops home."
Michael Klare, Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College, thinks the situation is getting so bad for Bush that he is looking for ways in which Bush could try to "wag the dog" to distract attention. The Mother Jones article includes numerous links to a host of good reads on related topics.
In other indications of how the ground is shifting rapidly under George Bush's feet, Bill Clinton has declared Iraq 'a big mistake' and John Edwards, John Kerry's running mate in last year's presidential election, has declared that he was wrong to support the Iraq invasion in a column for The Washington Post. (TDB is interested to see who might be the first Australian politician or commentator to make a similar declaration, although intellectual courage seems to be in short supply in "the lackey country", as TDB dubbed it some time back.)
Last week The Washington Post broke the story that the CIA was running secret prisons, some in old Russian gulags, for terrorism suspects. The NYTimes reports that Spain is to investigate "accusations that planes used by the CIA to transport terrorism suspects had made stopovers at a Spanish airport, saying that the matter was "very serious" and that the practice would not be tolerated if proved." (Other EU countries are also investigating.)
This isn't America, Jimmy Carter says. No surprise that Carter should be critical of the US under Bush, but many would argue, as they look back at the past 50 years of American foreign policy in Latin America, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Middle East (for starters) that "this is America". But then, there are so many Americas rolled into one extraordinary nation. Carter currently has a book on top of the NYTimes best-seller list, "Our Endangered Values", from which the LATimes column linked to below comes. "Regardless of the costs, there are determined efforts by top U.S. leaders to exert American imperial dominance throughout the world. These revolutionary policies have been orchestrated by those who believe that our nation's tremendous power and influence should not be internationally constrained. Even with our troops involved in combat and America facing the threat of additional terrorist attacks, our declaration of "You are either with us or against us!" has replaced the forming of alliances based on a clear comprehension of mutual interests, including the threat of terrorism."
To gain a sense of where Carter stands in the spectrum of US politics, check out this appraisal of him and his latest efforts in the ultra-conconservative Front Page magazine. "The 39th president has been testing our endangered patience by delivering homilettes on any mainstream media outlet that will have him (which is all of them), hawking his newest book .... "
DAN BALZ/THE WASHINGTON POST
6 Be Zen about terrorism
(Non-subscribers to Salon should be able to read this one - you may have to sit through an ad first. If not, email@example.com will send you a copy.) Matt Steinglass tries to play hard-bitten Westerner, but in the end can't hide his enthusiasm for the fact that Buddhist sage Thich Nhat Hanh might have something useful to say in his book "Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism". Hanh is a veteran of the Buddhist revolt against the Catholic government of Ngo Dinh Diem during the Vietnam War, and this review contains an interesting, if brief, look at that disastrous period in US foreign policy. "Misunderstanding, fear, anger, and hatred are the roots of terrorism. They cannot be located by the military … To uproot terrorism, we need to begin by looking in our hearts." This kind of statement is guaranteed to cause steam to pour from a lot of ears, and not just pointy Vulcan neocon ones. Anyone who acknowledges the occasional necessity of organized violence in the political sphere will find it exasperatingly reductive. But what's perhaps most exasperating is the suspicion that at some level, Hanh is right. Who could deny that misunderstanding, fear, anger and hatred are the roots of terrorism? Who, in the midst of our woebegone misadventure in Iraq, could deny that the military is a poor tool for winning hearts and minds?"
7 Alone or together?
Ishtiaq Ahmed, associate professor of political science at Stockholm University, looks at the response to the recent earthquake in Kasmir and considers various views (neo-liberal, Marxist) as to whether human beings are united or estranged. "Consequently all philosophy and religious beliefs should be judged as benign or malevolent on the basis of how ideas are used to either advance the notion of a common humankind with the same needs for respect, love and security or to preach permanent war and hatred deriving from differences of faith and colour and so on. We can also safely assume that although each individual is unique, our survival as a species has been possible because of our ability to cooperate. We are united in our essence and not estranged."
ISHTIAQ AHMED/THE DAILY TIMES
8 How to tell when the boomers move on
You are at their funeral? Could be one sign. (Old boomers never die, they bore everyone else to death talking about how great the '60s were. And why not?) Jack Shafer gives the provisional findings from his ad-hoc under-40's panel on how to tell when room has been made on the public stage for other generations. (Easily shocked readers should avoid following the link in this story to a hand gesture known as "the shocker".) "Seth Stevenson points to two post-boomer developments that boomers don't get and don't particularly care to get-namely video games and rap music-as a rich source of future heds. Such references will be a slap at all boomers, who will grab their walkers and storm out en masse for a Don McLean concert."
9 Springsteen, reborn to run
Music to put TDB together by. The multimedia feature link beside this Jon Pareles article includes a 1975 live version of "She's the One". Pareles reports that 30 years after the release of "Born to Run" (ouch! was it that long ago?) "Mr. Springsteen is rereleasing "Born to Run" in a box set (list price $39.98) that Mr. Landau described as a "victory lap." It includes a remastered CD of the original album and two DVD's: "Wings for Wheels," a documentary on the making of the album, and "Hammersmith Odeon, London '75," a two-hour concert film of Mr. Springsteen and the E Street Band going all out to win over a skeptical audience at his first concert in England. Tucked at the end of "Wings for Wheels" is another performance: Mr. Springsteen leading his 1973 band in Los Angeles, playing three songs, including "Thundercrack," which wouldn't surface until Mr. Springsteen released his collection of outtakes, "Tracks," in 1998." (So now you know what TDB wants for Christmas.)