Email from Northern Iraq

I was recently forwarded some email from an American soldier in northern Iraq. I removed personal comments and information indicating his identity. I thought our readers would be interested:

I cannot wait to be home. I think I am all deployed out for awhile. It’s one of those things you’re glad you did it, but do not want to do it again. I guess that’s war. …Really, getting home is all that motivates me right, and of course, beating the bad guy. We’re beginning to see a lot of foreign fighters coming in, and I wonder how long Saddam’s influence will last as more and more of these guys pour in. They are for the most part fanatic types. I guess they and Saddam will be allies as long as we are here. Of course, that begs the question: do we go after them in their own countries? That is something only the American electorate can decide. Frankly, I do not think they have the stomach for that. Where does that leave this whole thing? Hopefully, the Iraqi’s can get their act together to make themselves a more viable state. Many are more than willing, and that is a good sign. Still, it is not a done deal. Let’s hope it ends soon.

Mosul is an interesting place. It is old, like many of the cities here. (Nineveh is here-capital of the Assyrian Empire) At the same time, it is in better shape than Baghdad. In fact, of all of the Sunni cities, it is probably in the best shape. How it works here is this — the Shiite cities, mainly down south around As Nasiriyah and An Najaf, they are in terrible shape. Saddam never really gave them anything. Hence, they are the farthest behind, infrastructure wise. Then comes the Sunni cities, which are mainly around Baghdad and north of the city. That is Mosul and Tikrit and those places. Generally, the infrastructure is better in those places. Finally, you have the Kurdish cities way up north like Dahuk and Irbil. Those places, free from Saddam’s influence for nearly twelve years, are much nicer, almost up to European standards. They understand capitalism and have bought into it.

In one of our towns, they had a wedding, and they bring weapons to the weddings and shoot them in the air as part of the celebration. One guy got a little crazy, probably drunk, and he shot and killed the bride and injured and the groom. The usual solution: the perpetrator pays the bride’s family for the loss. No jail. OJ should have gone here to commit his crime. (And since Goldman was Jewish, he would have been lauded as a hero.)

We have a long way to go, but we are on the right track. We’ve introduced town hall meetings here, and the local sheiks and muktars love it. They are thrilled that they can voice their opinions in a forum such as this. Let’s not kid ourselves here. We are imposing our culture on another one. I guess when you are out here, you begin to realize who we are and what we represent and why so many fear us. Our ideas are addictive. Many of these people do not want us to leave. I guess that is nice. The people who are committing these atrocious acts are few, but they are mainly foreigners and ex Baath. Baath party is like the Nazi party. It has to be expunged, its remnants destroyed. The foreigners are a different story. Their motivation centers on the fear of American culture. They fear what that means for them and their people. They are not poor. In fact, many are well off. Granted, they hire poor locals once they get here. And loyalties are easily bought here. Money is the ammunition of this conflict.

The foreign jihadis sound like the real problem. Will we allow Iran and Syria and Saudi become the Laos and Cambodia of this war? Or will we find a way to prevent enemy infiltrators from getting in? Or will we be able to create an Iraqi army and police force that can secure the border? That may be the key to the whole thing right there.

China, Hong Kong and the Middle East

Arthur Waldron’s article (unfortunately no longer available free online) in the September issue of Commentary is worth reading. Waldron argues that the Hong Kong democracy movement’s surge in popularity, as exemplified by the huge anti-Article 23 demonstration on July 1, puts the mainland government in an existential bind. It would prefer to finesse the situation with minimal reforms and other half-measures, as it has attempted to do in the past. However, Waldron thinks the HK populace is unlikely now to accept such palliatives and that these measures will therefore not defuse the crisis.

Read more

Venezuelan Reckoning Approaches

Val e-diction eloquently summarizes and frames in geopolitical context recent events in Venezuela.

A second Cuba is impossible in modern times, we have been told. The Chile of Salvador Allende was a weird consequence of the Cold War and, in Nicaragua, the Sandinistas made a mistake holding elections before they controlled everything. Hugo Chávez wanted to prove everybody wrong, he planned to go forward at his own pace.

[. . .]

With a Constitution made to measure and sure of governing under a democratic mantle for years to come, he began penetrating and dominating the country’s public institutions. All of them fell to his soft mallet, one by one, slowly, democratically. . .

[. . .]

But then something happened that changed Chávez’s plan. An unprecedented two-month general strike and huge daily marches and demonstrations, led by the same spoiled middle class he knew was incapable of resistance . . . The writing was on the wall, Chávez would have to repeat the Sandinista mistake. He is in a hurry now, the plan accelerated, the phasing shortened, the mallet now a bludgeon, paradise must be conquered by force. Let’s discard the cloak, for it impedes the advance.

Val has it right (“As in Mein Kampf, the truth had long been there for everybody to see”). Chávez is the problem and Venezuela will not be stable or free as long as he remains in power.

There are parallels between Venezuela and Chile. Conventional wisdom holds that Allende was a social democrat in a hurry, that his overthrow by the Chilean army was a criminal act if not indeed engineered by the evil CIA. Allende was elected, after all.

The problem with this view is that it ignores Allende’s behavior: his avowed socialism; his close collaboration with Fidel Castro; and his relentless power grabbing via creation of a private army, property expropriations, and other measures that weakened the rule of law and made Chileans more dependent on the State. As Robert Moss pointed out, Chile at the time of the coup was well on its way to becoming a communist dictatorship. Not only General Pinochet, but also a large plurality if not majority of the Chilean populace supported the coup, because it appeared to be the only way to stop Allende. So yes, Allende was elected, but the fact that a leader is elected does not confer indefinite legitimacy on his actions. Sometimes elected leaders become dictators, and sometimes it’s necessary to overthrow them. It might not have been possible to vote Allende out of office once he consolidated power. The Chilean army’s coup was ugly but the alternative was probably worse. (And the Army, to its great credit, eventually relinquished power.)

While the current Venezuelan situation appears to parallel Chile’s under Allende, Venezuela may actually be worse off in some respects. Chile in 1973 was not so many years removed from having been a reasonably well functioning democracy, whereas Venezuela in 2003 is on the south end of three decades of oil-fueled political decay and seems not to have institutions that can fulfill the same role as Chile’s army. The anti-Chávez opposition enjoys substantial popular support but so far has lacked a core group with the power and determination to overthrow the government. (Either that or Chávez has learned well the lessons of the failed leftist dictatorships and won’t give his opponents any breaks. Thus he made sure to disarm the Caracas police — an opposition stronghold — before they could cause problems.)

The situation is unstable. Chávez won’t compromise and the productive parts of the country can’t spend all of their time fighting him without seriously harming themselves, which is what happened during the recent strike. The anti-Chávez forces tend to rely on democratic tactics like mass demonstrations, and especially referenda, which require much advance planning and are relatively inflexible with respect to schedule. The opposition is also relatively law-abiding. Chávez is completely unscrupulous and can be more flexible tactically. He can wait for the opposition to make plans and then respond on his own terms.

Given that Chávez must consolidate power or eventually be tossed out, the main constraint he faces may be the possibility that the U.S. will intervene if he goes too far. On the other hand, he knows that he’ll lose if he does nothing. So when will he act? He has been increasingly willing to use violence against his opponents. If he continues to get away with it, there will be no reason for him not to escalate. It’s therefore a good thing that the international press, as Val points out, is beginning to pay serious attention to Chávez’s dangerous behavior. What happens next may be a function of how much the press is distracted by the beginning of the war in Iraq. Val reminds us that Chávez reads the same papers that the North Koreans do.

There’s no telling what will happen, but I think Chávez is capable of anything if he believes that he can get away with it. I wish Venezuelans luck. I hope that the international press, and bloggers too, keep enough focus on that country to prevent the worst from coming to pass.


Caracas Chronicles has an excellent three-part series on the decline of Venezuela’s political culture:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

There’s also this article and this one on the newly skeptical tone in international press coverage of Chávez. Note that the first post predicts that Chávez will move against private television stations as soon as the U.S. attacks Iraq.

Democracy For Beginners

I saw this in the comment section of another blog and it’s just too good to pass up:

The will of maybe 50 million Germans does not make a majority against more than 300 million US-Americans. So Germany should subordinate themselves to the USA and execute the US-will, if the Germans are real democrates.
Interesting concept. China would love it.

A “Diplomatic” Solution to North Korea?

Orson Scott Card has a most interesting piece about Korea. (Yeah, yeah, of course Instapundit linked to it first. So what else is new?) Card offers an analysis I haven’t seen elsewhere, that this Korea problem is basically going to be up to China to solve. This is premised on quiet threats from W and his team to the Chinese, saying (in my paraphrase), “look, you created this monster, so fix it, because if we go in and fix it, you won’t like what we have to do.” I’m not sure the US team is actually playing this level of varsity hardball. But it sounds plausible, and I hope so. Even better is Card’s answer to the inane query now circulating among various handwringers and dimwits, who think they have scored some kind of debating point by asking, in a smug “gotcha” tone of moral superiority: “Well, why isn’t Bush going after North Korea instead of Iraq?” You wanna slap ’em. Card puts it well:

…Of course, you can take that as a self-answering question. Let’s see – which is safer to invade, the country that almost has nukes, or the country that already has them?
And this:
Foreign policy is conducted in the real world. In the real world, madmen like Saddam Hussein respond only to credible military force – and sometimes not even then. For the safety of our friends and allies in the region (notably Israel, Turkey, Jordan and Kuwait), and to protect the First World’s vital oil supplies from domination by a ruthless enemy, it is reasonable to strike that enemy before he wreaks devastation again.
In that same real world, however, there are opponents whom it is simply too dangerous to fight, unless you are forced into it. If China or Russia attacked us, of course we would defend ourselves. But we would have to be insane to provoke either of them into war.
Wow, rationality about the limits of power, the tragic fact that even moral-grounded action faces intractable limits, that it is stupid to attack a guy who has nuclear weapons already, etc. Too bad so many people think that waiting around for some imaginary state of moral purity is an adequate substitute for necessary, concrete action within the limits of what’s possible. Fortunately, W does not suffer from this particular malady. He’s not smart, sophisticated or “nuanced” enough, I guess. Thank God.