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The Daily Briefing 18/11/05
1 Marching backwards into tyranny
Contemporary historian Timothy Garton Ash is dismayed at the West's response to terrorism, judging it as marking the end as what had been the spread of freedom to more societies toward the end of the last century. Australia doesn't get a mention, but what he has to say about the US, UK and France applies equally well here given the proposed anti-terrorism laws. "There may be a lesson here from the past century. That American writer's two-word summary - "freedom won" - was actually not far wrong. It wasn't any of the CIA's covert assassinations or dirty tricks that won the cold war. It was the magnetic example of free, prosperous and law-abiding societies. That was worth a thousand nuclear bombs or stealth bombers. No weapon known to man is more powerful than liberty in law."
Victoria Brittain, also in The Guardian, reports on the fate of Fawzi al-Odah who has been locked up in Guantanamo Bay for four years and is now on a hunger strike. "He appears to be completely innocent: his story has been investigated and told in detail twice, by two respected US journalists, Roy Gutman in Newsweek and Peter Jennings in a special TV report on Guantánamo. Both reports were devastating to the official line on the war on terror. Fawzi was also the man named in one of the supreme court cases that successfully challenged the refusal of habeas corpus to the prisoners. Is he still being held precisely because his case has deeply hurt the Bush administration's credibility before the country's highest lawyers, and in the mainstream media?"
CNN reports that the war for freedom has so far resulted in 83,000 people being locked up.
TIMOTHY GARTON ASH/THE GUARDIAN
2 Marx, al-Qeada, Robert Fisk and getting out
TDB will yield to no-one when it comes to the number of words read about Iraq and terrorism. Yet, for all of that, the suggestion that al-Qaeda is "so similar in structure to basic tenets of Marxism-Leninism that the comparison is unavoidable", as conservative military historian Frederick Kagan would have us believe ("reds in robes" perhaps?), had escaped our attention. This article for the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute is, in short, a call to "stay the course" in Iraq, otherwise the terrorists will take over in no time, just like the Bolsheviks did in Russia. You have been warned, slackers. "The struggle to establish stability in Iraq and Afghanistan is thus at the very heart of any war against jihadism. Zarqawi, bin Laden, Zawahiri, and many others repeat over and over again that this is their view. They are right. If they could ever take advantage of a significant period of chaos in either of those states, they could establish themselves anew and reverse the current disarray of their movement, probably very quickly. It took the Bolsheviks, after all, eight months to go from a position in which almost every Bolshevik leader was in jail or in exile to holding the seat of power in Russia with a mass following. Collapse and reorder can come very rapidly with a thoughtful, organized, and intellectually prepared revolutionary group. And that is precisely what we face in al Qaeda."
For all his time and experience in Iraq, Robert Fisk has failed to notice that the insurgents are 'commies in drag'. Fisk is also not so sure about this idea that the West must "prevail" in Iraq. In fact, to judge by this column, he appears to believe that the US has lost its way entirely. "What Americans do to their prisoners is "abuse" and there was a wonderful moment last week when Amy Goodman, who is every leftist's dream, showed a clip from Pontecorvo's wonderful 1965 movie "The Battle of Algiers" on her Democracy Now program. "Col. Mathieu" -- the film is semi-fictional -- was shown explaining why torture was necessary to safeguard French lives. Then up popped Bush's real spokesman, Scott McClellan, to say that while he would not discuss interrogation methods, the primary aim of the administration was to safeguard U.S. lives."
The Washington Post reports that, despite the prevailing theory, the vast majority of insurgents are Iraqis. The point being of course that the insurgency therefore may be more about nationalism and therefore have more support than the "foreign fighters" the US has been blaming would have. " ... analysts say the focus on foreign elements is also an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the insurgency in the eyes of Iraqis, by portraying it as terrorism foisted on the country by outsiders."
Richard Cohen, also in the Post, responds to George Bush's recent speech accusing critics of the war of rewriting history, and thinks he'd be better served looking to his own pre-war mistakes. "It would be nice, fitting and pretty close to s*xually exciting if Bush somehow acknowledged his mistakes and said he had learned from them. But more important -- far more important -- is what this would mean for the conduct of foreign policy from here on out. Repeatedly in his speech, Bush mentioned Syria, Iran and North Korea -- Syria above all. If push comes to shove there, it would be nice to have absolute confidence in American intelligence and the case for possibly widening the war. If we are to go to the mat with North Korea or the increasingly alarming Iran, then, once again, it would be wonderful to have the confidence we once had in the intelligence community -- as imparted to us by our president."
In another indication that the US might not be running the smartest campaign in the history of warfare, the LATimes reports that the reason insurgency mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi has eluded capture is because his network has a much better intelligence-gathering operation than the US does. (Better? Than the mob who knew about WMDs that didn't exist? Now that's intelligence for you.)
The clamour for the US to get out of Iraq continues to grow. The Washington Post reports that an influential Democratic congressman known for his pro-defense stance called today for the immediate withdrawal of American troops. Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), who served 37 years in the Marine Corps said the future of the nation and the U.S. military are at risk.
And Post columnist Terry Neal looks at the possible political ramifications of the change of the shift in Democrat mood.
FREDERICK KAGAN/AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE
3 Pretending Palestinians don't exist
David Brooks is the NYTimes senior conservative columnist in residence, and a strong supporter of Israel, if not quite in the same category as the now retired William Safire. Brooks is also a good observer who doesn't allow his politics to cloud his vision, at least not all the time. He has just returned from Israel, which he says is getting on with life behind the safety of the security barrier, and trying to ignore the Palestinians all together. "The dream of peace has been replaced by another dream, the dream of disengagement. Until I spoke to people here, I thought the Gaza disengagement might lead back to the peace process, but now I realize it's a replacement for that process. It's a step toward a new (and even more illusory) dream: the dream of disengaging Israel from its geographic and historical situation."
4 George does not love George
Crusty old conservative George Will gets a mention this morning as part of TDB's long-term tracking (it began sometime last August) of the split between conservative intellectuals and political conservatives in the US (which obviously has impacts on conservatism everywhere, and on the future shape of American, and therefore world politics). There was a time, not so long ago, when Will would have been counted among George Bush's staunch allies, but he has lost those loving feelings. "Conservatives have won seven of 10 presidential elections, yet government waxes, with per-household federal spending more than $22,000 per year, the highest in inflation-adjusted terms since World War II. Federal spending -- including a 100 percent increase in education spending since 2001 -- has grown twice as fast under President Bush as under President Bill Clinton, 65 percent of it unrelated to national security. In 1991, the 546 pork projects in the 13 appropriation bills cost $3.1 billion. In 2005, the 13,997 pork projects cost $27.3 billion, for things such as improving the National Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio (Packard, an automobile brand, died in 1958)."
GEORGE WILL/THE WASHINGTON POST
5 Religion in the Arab world
TDB long ago adopted respected Middle East commentator Rami Khouri as "our man in Beirut", and given the amount of stupid things being said by otherwise sensible people about Islam (as David Aaronovitch said yesterday), it seemed like a reasonable idea to link to his latest column looking at a study into religion in the Arab world. "Three important overall results struck me (and many others) as significant, suggesting that the issue of religion in public life is more nuanced and less frightening than it is often made out to be by many people both in the Middle East and beyond. The three are that, first, Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East hold a very wide range of views on religion's role in their lives and do not share monolithic perspectives; second, religion is an important part of people's identities and therefore should apply to business and governance in a manner that raises the quality of life; and third, people should continue to interpret religious law and its everyday applications."
RAMI KHOURI/THE DAILY STAR
6 No-one will trust you
There's been some discussion recently about people changing their political allegiances, Robert Manne's book on the subject as one example. Jonathan Chait, who most often writes behind a pay to view wall at The New Republic, says it is a tricky business that could see you ending up a real Neville No-friends. "There seem to be two key elements to a successful switch. The first is timing. You want to hop from the losing team to the winning team, obviously. Kelly endorsed Bush at a time when pundits were suggesting the Democratic Party was doomed to extinction everywhere but in a few coastal enclaves. Since then, Bush's popularity has withered. The second is opportunity. You can't abandon your old supporters until you can be reasonably sure that there are new ones - preferably more numerous, richer and/or more powerful than the old ones - ready to embrace you. This was Kelly's most obvious blunder. Once you've alienated the voters in your town, you can't very well pack up and go become mayor of some other town."
7 Unfairly balancing the news
From Tricky Dicky's vice-president Spiro Agnew (but no mention of his great quote about journalists, "the nattering nabobs of negativity") to right-wing bloggers, Michael Massing traces the changing media landscape in America and the attacks on sceptical journalism. "The central question, in light of these difficulties, is how the press will respond. The environment in which the press works is often inhospitable, but it's precisely in times of crisis and upheaval that some of the best journalism gets done. Unfortunately, a look at the press's recent performance -including that of our leading newspapers-is not encouraging."
The NYTimes reports that investigators at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which runs the Public Broadcasting Service) have found that its former chairman, Bush administration appointee Kenneth Tomlinson, "repeatedly broke federal law and its own regulations in a campaign to combat what he saw as liberal bias."
The Financial Times reports that China has halted plans to allow foreign papers to publish there, citing concerns raised by recent "colour revolutions" against authoritarian governments in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
One half of the legendary Watergate reporting duo, Bob Woodward, has become part of the Valerie Plame scandal. As with anything to do with "Plamegate", it's a somewhat complicated business, so perhaps the best thing for it at this late stage of the morning is to link to Arianna Huffington's take on it, not necessarily because it is the best, but because it has so many links in it that it will keep even the most obsessed occupied all day.
Woodward's own paper, which seems less than happy with its former hero's behaviour, reports that this new development might help Lewis Libby's defence.
And this Guardian feature on "the new commentariat" will tell you much that you may have wanted to know about blogging (including the origins of the word) as well as providing a guide, with links, to various political blogs in the US and UK.
MICHAEL MASSING/NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS
8 US retains control of the net
In a compromise deal ahead of the U.N.'s World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, the US will maintain ultimate control of the internet (link below) "A U.N. working group, followed by governments including China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and the 25-member European Union, had all proposed taking away control of the domain name "root zone file" from the United States and handing it off to a multinational agency. The root file is the master list of allowed top-level domains -- currently numbering nearly 300, including generic domains like .com and .info, and hundreds of two-letter county codes like .uk and .au."
Victoria Shannon in the International Herald Tribune reports that all sides are claiming victory. "But it was the European Union whose behind-the-scenes drafting of key and subtle language in the Internet governance policy statement allowed the delegates to reach an accord".
In The Guardian, Jack Schofield reports on the net's next big thing - Web 2.0. "Much of the new investment is going into companies that are leading the way in what is being called Web 2.0. No one is quite sure what that means, but it is certainly the most fashionable label to slap on any cool new website or, more importantly, venture capital request. But before you invest your pension fund in its future, keep in mind that it could also mark the start of Bubble 2.0. The websites may be new but, as Michael Gartenberg of Jupiter Research points out, "the business models are still built the old- fashioned way"."
9 The Christian pagans
A post card from Mexico, where Mary Ann Sieghart had been 'a wandering, and reports on the local variation of Catholicism, apparently not much in favour with the Vatican. "The Mayan Indians, who predominate in Mexico's Chiapas and Guatemala, are highly spiritual and nominally Catholic, for the Spanish conquistadors imposed their religion on the indigenous people just as they imposed everything else. Every cemetery is a thicket of crosses; every village contains a church. The casual eye might mistake this for Catholic piety. But the Maya, who craft colourful masks to sell at market, have turned Catholicism into a mask of its own. From the outside, each church looks like a standard Spanish place of worship. Go inside, though, and you often discover that it is being used instead as a Mayan temple."
And staying with the Mayans for a moment, The Washington Post reports that archaeologists are investigating a 9th century "war crime" that may explain the collapse of their civilisation. "Whoever they were, the invaders made short work of the enormous palace in the Mayan lowlands, ignoring half-built ramparts to corral nearly three dozen members of the royal household, systematically murder them with spears and axes, then dismember the corpses and dump the pieces into a ceremonial cistern."
MARY ANN SIEGHART/THE TIMES
10 CS Lewis, Lolita, and Frank McCourt
At the risk of stepping onto donn's Tuesday books territory, a few literary offerings. Even if you have no interest in CS Lewis, although there is a bit of it about given the Narnia movie, Adam Gopnick's New Yorker essay on this troubled man is a great read, covering more territory than the life of his subject. "A bright and sensitive British boy turned by public-school sadism into a warped, morbid, stammering sexual pervert. It sounds like the usual story. What was special about Lewis was that, throughout it all, he kept an inner life. Joy kept him alive-and it is possible that the absence of happiness allowed an access of joy. When he served on the Western Front, in 1917, he got what every soldier wanted-an honest wound honestly come by but bad enough to send him home."
For those who find an interest in such things, Slate has compiled a list, from the great and good, of life-changing books. For Seinfeld writer Peter Mehlman it was Fear of Flying by Erica Jong.
If The Atlantic Monthly won't let you read this one for free, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and it's yours. Christopher Hitchens revists "Lolita" and proves yet again that he should stick to literary criticism and give over being a neo-con apologist until his contrarian instincts have returned. "Then we must approach the question of how innocent we are in all this. Humbert writes without the smallest intention of titillating his audience. The whole narrative is, after all, his extended jailhouse/madhouse plea to an unseen jury. He has nothing but disgust for the really pornographic debauchee Quilty, for whose murder he has been confined. But he does refer to him as a "brother," and at one point addresses us, too, as "Reader! Bruder!," which is presumably designed to make one think of Baudelaire's address of Les Fleurs du Mal to "Hypocrite lecteur,-mon semblable,-mon frère!""
And the NYTimes looks at the life of Frank McCourt, school teacher, before he became known as the author of "Angela's Ashes".
ADAM GOPNICK/THE NEW YORKER
11 Why you should never fight with a journo
They always get the last word, that's why. And it doesn't matter if they suffer from "staircase wit" and don't think of what they should have said at the time until they have left the room - they get to say it to the world in a column. Catherine Bennett reports that she was recently summoned to the presence of Cherie Blair at a party. Why, Blair wanted to know, had Bennett been writing such terrible things about her? "It was an impressively straightforward opening pleasantry, and how I wished, in the following bout of esprit d'escalier, that I had responded with equal honesty, itemising 1) her exploitation of her husband's public position for private gain; 2) her undignified enthusiasm for anything gratis or discounted; 3) her worrying reliance on individuals of extreme flakiness; and 4) the Blairs' numerous taste issues including the deployment of their family life for promotional purposes, and apparent delusion that they constitute some sort of royalty, a point that could not have been better illustrated than by Cherie's presumably recently acquired habit of sending for her subjects."
CATHERINE BENNETT/THE GUARDIAN
12 The woman who beat Coke
Raquel Chavez owns a small store in Mexico, and at the request of her customers, began selling sugary gut-rot other than Coke. The multinational peddler of tooth decay insisted that she stop selling Big Cola, which has been cutting into Coke's market with lower prices, otherwise they would cut off her supply of the real rubbish. Raquel stood firm, had her day in court, with the end result that Coke is facing anti-monopoly fines totalling about $68 million.
13 Dish for sale
When the Sheffield Shield was renamed The Pura Cup after a sponsorship deal, Leunig did a memorable cartoon which ended with the question: "Is this proof that the world is going mad at a faster than usual rate", an expression TDB has taken on board. The story linked to below removes all doubt. "Joining a small group of shameless American townsfolk who have happily sold their history and dignity for a day's worth of publicity and a consumer prize of some kind, the tiny Texas town of Clark has renamed itself "DISH, Texas." Yes, that's "DISH" as in DISH Network, a provider of consumer satellite television service. (Why not "DISH Network," Texas? Would that make it too easy to understand the gimmick?) As part of the idiotic scheme, the 373 or so residents of this "bedroom community" north of Dallas will get basic satellite TV for 10 years."
And in more proof of the old line that the cops always sell the best dope, Wired reports that the Guatemala anti-drug chief has been arrested on charges of conspiring to import and distribute cocaine in the United States.