Fate’s Unrelenting Twists of Irony

A brief history of suicide bombing in the Muslim world, as reported on the Suedeutsche Zeitung starting from Gilles Kepel’s book “Die Spirale des Terrors” (French original: “Terreur et martyre“):

  1. In the 1980′s, during the extraordinarily long Iran-Iraq war the almost-exhausted Islamic Republic started sending children to clear out minefields (using their bodies that is), following an establish Shiite tradition of self-immolation
  2. Around 1993, Iranian propaganda spread news and use of the technique to Hezbollah, their (Sunni) Lebanese allies, of course only and just to fight the Israeli occupation of Palestine, shifting therefore the phraseology from “self-immolation” to “martyrdom operation”
  3. Initially, Sunni scholars were not in favor of “martyrdom operations”. That all changed around 1996, with the “added bonus” of Israeli civilians being thrown in the lot of “legitimate targets” (you know, most of them were and still are bound to serve in the military at some point in their life)
  4. After a series of bloody suicide bombings afflicting Israel for quite some time, the top was obviously reached with the 9/11 destruction of the Twin Towers
  5. Tragedy (ironic, but still tragedy) struck the  “suicide bombing appreciation society” in the Muslim world after Iraq was invaded in 2003, and Sunni terrorists started to use suicide bombings against…Shiites!

So it has all gone around full circle. Supreme sense of irony from Fate (or God), isn’t it?

One ray of hope to conclude: despite the Madrid and London bombings, plus others in Kenya and elsewhere, suicide bombing organizers have seen things going downhill since.

It must be quite hard to argue for the legitimacy of an originally-Shiite technique to be used to kill Shiites. And what kind of “Islamic freedom fighter” can think in his right mind that the way to free Muslims is by killing them?

Time to Indict George W Bush for War Crimes?

Requests periodically recur for the indictment of U.S. President George W Bush, perhaps in front of an International Court, for various charges of war crimes, from the making-up of the “evidence” against Saddam Hussein to the list of abuses by American soldiers in Iraq and at Guantanamo against their prisoners, to the use of torture to extract information and confessions from terrorist suspects.

What is the feasibility of all that? It depends. Of the fact that the build-up to the war in Iraq in 2003 was based on nothing, I do not think there can be any doubt. Furthermore, it was definitely not me the one in charge whilst abuses and torture were (are?) being practiced. If Bush were a private citizen, the whole thing would already be in the hands of prosecutors and defense lawyers, trying to establish the boundaries between law, crime and ineptitude.

But Bush is no private citizen. Instead, he has spent eight years at the top of the Superpower. What hope could then be in getting him indicted, let alone sentenced?

First thing to be clarified is, would there be any role for an International Court? I do not think so. What future U.S. Administration would take the responsibility of establishing a precedent, sending a former president abroad to answer for war crimes? The only possibility is via the American own justice system.

Even in that case, one would have to present shock-and-awe evidence of criminal intent. It is true that, however slowly, the Congress is publishing reports very critical of the choices and behaviour of members of the Bush Administration, such as the results of the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Senator John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D, W Va.), published about a month ago. But first of all, behind all that it’s simple partisan struggle, Democrats against Republicans in a fight which little interest in finding the truth about the President: because the only thing they care about is of course, getting re-elected.

To leave everything in the hands of various parliamentary committees, from this point of view, only serves to hush-hush the whole thing, with potential defendants more likely to die of old age than of attending a single hearing in a court of law. Ah, and to polarize the electorate for no overall gain (another positive opportunity for the politicians, and a pernicious disaster for the electorate itself).

One should therefore more than welcome the latest proposal by Nicholas D Kristof, from the pages of International Herald Tribune: forget the parliamentary committees, the courts, the discussions on the legality of Presidential decisions, in favor of a “Truth Commission” (TC) modeled on the one that helped South Africa become a democratic nation without bloodshed.

The TC would be something coming out of the U.S. themselves, thereby dismissing suggestions of “international interference”; it would only establish a single precedent, namely the fact that Presidents are responsible for what they do, and for what they leave behind; many of the “crimes” would be out in the open, because perpetrators just as in South Africa would prefer sincerity in front of the TC, to the danger of being brought in front of a criminal court.

At the end of the day, what Justice is the one that never comes to conclusions? It is much better to “know the truth”, because it allows us to dream to be able to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future.

Bush: Right about the Surge?

I usually appreciate David Brooks’ peculiar take on many subjects, but am not sure I follow his reasoning about the Surge (“Look at that surge…“, IHT, June 25).

Brooks tells us President Bush and VP Cheney have made the “right” decision when they increased the US presence in Iraq by 20,000 troops. That may be correct but…wouldn’t it be more meaningful to discuss why exactly they made the right decision?

As the saying goes, not even the astrologer can be wrong all of the time. Among the hundreds and hundreds of decisions made by the Bush admnistration over the course of more than seven years in office, surely some “have” to be “right”, whatever the astuteness and courage of the people in charge.

Does the fact that the Surge appears to have achieved “large, tenuous gains” help build up confidence for the remaining six months of President George W Bush? One wonders what Brooks would say about that…

After Iraq – Six Points for a New Approach to International Military Interventions

-If President Bush had followed his “Mission Accomplished” message! He may have been celebrated to this day as an accomplished Statesman

The situation in Zimbabwe appears so dire, even Pius Ncube, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, is calling for an outside intervention to free the locals from the overpowering elite that has ruined the Nation.

Unfortunately, no outside intervention appears forthcoming.

For each Sierra Leone where foreign troops got rid of murderous rebels, there are innumerable counter-examples of places abandoned to the rule of unsavory characters: Afghanistan until 2001, the Kurdish villages in northern Iraq until 1991, Rwands in 1994 of course, and nowadays Darfur.

Despite the experience of the appeasers in the 1930’s, the temptation is always very high towards opting against direct intervention. Especially so now, with no end in sight for the military adventure in Iraq.

But think for a minute: if only President Bush had followed through the message bourne out of the “Mission Accomplished” May 1, 2003 banner on USS Abraham Lincon to its obvious consequence! He may have been celebrated to this day as an accomplished Statesman: having successfully completed the mission of toppling Saddam Hussein.

In other words: in case of a dire humanitarian crisis caused by egregiously unlawful behavior, there is a way to intervene: by setting ourselves to fight the criminals against humanity, and to accomplish the goal of defeating them: and then, to subsequently go back where we came from.

To understand how can this be done in practice, let’s imagine that there is a need to rapidly convince a State to change its tactics.

Sadly, that is not difficult: candidates abound, where humanitarian aid is not allowed to a wayward province, or wholesale killing is still considered an option, or otherwise part of the local population is criminally treated.

1-Start by establishing a clear measurable objective (eg “remove tyrant”…and that’s it!)

This is a basic principle of management so obvious, and yet betrayed at least as often as proven correct. How many targets can one hit with one shot? Hence the objective should be “Free the Zimbabweans from the rampant inflation”. Or “Remove the Iraqi individuals that will build a nuclear arms capability at the first occasion”. Vaporous stuff such as “exporting democracy”, etc should be forgotten altogether.

2- To avoid war, use a credible threat of war

If the counterpart is hell-bent in their devilish actions, scare them by showing seriously-ready-to-use violent means. Seriousness and readiness are imperative.
In truth, the actual start of the war is a sign of failure, because evidently the actions put in place were not scary or credible enough: just as good crowd control involves showing off truncheons to frighten, rather than actually beating people up.
On the other hand, if a war looms anyway, it has to be started. Otherwise, any threatening posturing will be even less effective next time around: and therefore the risk of future misbehaviors (and wars) much higher.

3-Get in quick, get out fast

Conduct the war by getting in, shocking, aweing and then leaving.
George HW Bush understood it in 1991. George W Bush declared just as much in that banner in 2003, but then carried on with the occupation regardless. And a never-ending occupation can only erode political support at home, while keeping the troops in danger of being attacked by ever-more-empowered insurgents.

4-Stand-by, ready to invade again very quickly

Once the enemy country has been left to its own devices, the usual cliques could simply regain power (see Iraq 1991). This can be prevented by keeping alive a credible, ready-to-strike threat.
Admittedly, that can evolve into a tragically ironic, revolving-door situation, with several rounds of invasions and retreats. But then, one hopes even the most recalcitrant political elite may opt for a different take, after suffering the umpteenth invasion.

5-Prevent civilian casualties

The death of any innocent “enemy” civilian is a fiasco akin to bombing one’s own cities.
Civilian deaths have boosted rather than weakened their Government since time immemorable (think the USA’s reaction on 9/12). This is contrary to the stated objective of changing a State’s criminal ways.
The absolute reduction of “collateral damage” to the utmost minimum is therefore not just an ethical goal, it makes good political and military strategy. And it will definitely help in preventing an organized insurgency to form.

6-Invade by land, avoid aerial bombings, and stay away from big equipment as much as possible

The threat and practice of repeated invasions is only feasible if the conflict can be carried out without the use of large, hard-to-position, hard-to-move, maintenance-hungry equipment, bombers included.
Apart from logistical considerations, in fact, if we want a quick conclusion with no “collateral damage”, i.e. precision and speed, bombing cannot be an option. In fact, whatever Air Force generals have been saying for the past hundred years, the effectiveness of bombing in preparation of a later invasion has been tragically debunked in the Flanders, in Normandy, and even in the first Iraq war.
After all, the objective is change the ways of a State, not to destroy it wantonly, the latter is the only thing bombing is good at in a modern war (if anybody believes in “precision targeting”, I’ve got a bridge to sell)

Will the above ever become reality? It is well known that we are always ready to fight the last war. And so there is some hope indeed, that will have to wait for the time when it will be possible to analyze the Iraq conflict with pragmatic-historical rather than political eyes.

Iraq: American, British, Italian TV/Radio Coverage Compared

(originally posted on March 21, 2003)

Thanks to the wonders of satellite and cable one is able to compare the attitude and approach to the war in Iraq by American (CNN, Fox News), British (BBC) and Italian (RAI) tv and radio channels.

Very briefly and perhaps not surprisingly:

1) The Americans are very positive about the actions, and can’t wait to tell you their excitement in having been “embedded” in fighting units. Problems are unheard of, and likely to be inaudible anyway. Could we get some truth please.

2) The British are obsessed to find out what is going wrong, and what scandals can be uncovered. Problems are the only thing that matters. Furthermore, any idiot with a microphone and a tv press pass will jump to the opportunity to show himself or herself as the “XXI Century Bard”. Can’t you stick to the news please.

3) The Italians concentrate their reporting on two fronts. From the beginning, all rumors are considered true, and analysed viscerally by hordes of tv experts, before being invariably forgotten when demonstrated false. On the other hand, the news are full of sad, unlikely personal stories, from the journalist that couldn’t sleep in Baghdad during a night of bombing, up, up, up to the awful youth of some Saddam Hussein. Listeners are encouraged to weep along. May we talk about the real victims please…

Help the American Heroes of the Iraq War

Dear American Citizen

The Iraq War has been going on for more than 3 years now. Many Americans soldiers are being sent back home daily, dead or wounded (the latter sometimes, a fate worse than the former)

With no clear indication for an immediate stop for that, and a very uncertain political future for Iraq itself, that’s simply too tragic: it is high time every individual provided all the help they could

I am referring especially to all the people that are convinced that a continuing presence in that country is necessary: if you are of the right age, enlist at once

If you are not, do find a way, any way to help the soldiers, and their families

If you don’t want to enlist or help, actively support the immediate withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq

(If you are, or anybody in your family is already a war veteran, I respect you)

——–

I will not deal with the reasons for the USA to invade, stay or leave Iraq, or talk about any other country, since the importance of American decisions and actions cannot be overestimated

Whatever the color of your politics, there surely is a big problem now: American soldiers are dying or being maimed in Iraq in large numbers

Tragically, some of them may even be dying for no other reason than because the mid-term elections are in a few weeks’ time, and not tomorrow

And especially in case of a quick exit leaving Iraq as death-stricken as ever, a lot of those soldiers and their families may have had their lives ruined, interrupted or ended needlessly

Like all veterans of all long-standing wars, the US soldiers serving in Iraq are all heroes to me (apart from those guilty of crimes)

Does it make any difference the fact that the US Army is made of volunteers? After 3 years of war, it does not. Surely there is no draftee as such: but then what would you call a person that is called on for their third tour of duty?

Didn’t they know what they were going to be asked to do, when they enrolled? Well, all those that joined the army before the war surely did not. And I am not sure how many are really willing to carelessly undergo three tours of duty in present-day Iraq

Don’t they get paid well for their efforts? They are not paid “well”: at best they are paid “right”. And if they have no choice but to return to Iraq, there is little consolation in any money

Aren’t they sacrificing their lives to let the rest of the people get on with theirs as if nothing ever happened? After a few hundred billion dollars of US expenditure in Iraq, and with no end in sight, that question is too tragically ironic to deserve an answer

What if one does not support at all the intervention in Iraq? Well, if you believe those soldiers are there for no good reason, you will surely be motivated to save them one way or another

——

And so, unless you are or anybody in your immediate family is already a war veteran, I suggest there is only one way forward: support the American Heroes of the Iraq war, all of them.

If you are of the right age, enlist at once and save a soldier and their family from having to survive the icy-cold months of the soul of another tour of duty (What about those that have committed crimes? All more the reason to get them repatriated asap)

If you are not of the right age, there surely must be a way to help the soldiers and their families

If you don’t want to enlist or help, join an organization advocating the immediate withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq