Category Archives: Iraq

A sickening feeling, indeed

While much of the world talks about the Republicans elected last night, one of the Republicans elected in 2000 is dropping some stunning revelations. Apparently, even President George W. Bush knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, according to reports based on leaks of his memoir, which is due to be released next week.

The former president writes that he has “a sickening feeling” when he thinks about the absence of WMDs in Iraq, which makes his joking about the topic in 2004 all the stranger. None of this is to say that Bush regrets the war. The early reports on the memoir say that he defends the decision to invade Iraq and continues to believe that Iraqis are better off in post-Saddam Iraq. Some of the evidence that came out in the recent WikiLeaks dump, however, suggests that that might be a tough sell to Iraqis.

Bush also defends the decision to waterboard suspected 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. The president’s response when asked if Mohammed should undergo this so-called enhanced interrogation technique? “Damn right.”

It will be interesting to see what else Bush’s new memoir reveals about the inner workings of his Oval Office (and brain).


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American liberals talking about women and Islam

One of my favorite photos ever from the new york times

One of my favorite photos ever from the New York Times

There is an great, wide-ranging discussion about The Weight of a Mustard Seed on the New Yorker’s website.  (The Way of the Mustard Seed sounds like a great book; I look forward to reading it.  Here is George Packer’s review in The National. It’s a narrative non-fiction book that focuses on the life of Saddam-era general Kamel Sachet.) The discussion takes place between war correspondents George Packer and Jon Lee Anderson and New Yorker editor Amy Davidson.  Part three (of the three part discussion) deals with gender in the Muslim world.

The three participants sound like thoughtful liberals.  They speak from a distinctly Western perspective, but they remain fully aware of that fact.  It’s a really interesting conversation.  Here’s an excerpt:

Davidson: Jon Lee, George, how have each of you, reporting as men in countries where women lead, in some sense, separate lives, dealt with that? Were you ever frustrated by your inability to interview women, or to get their real perspective? And without those voices, did you ever feel that the stories you told were in some way incomplete?

Anderson: Wars tend to be men’s domains. Not exclusively, of course. But men do tend to be the primary actors, the perpetrators, as well as the decision-makers. Yes, there are frustrations to be found operating in different cultural environments. The barriers to gaining access to women in the Muslim world are real, but, on the other hand, because I had spent so much time in Iraq, gotten to know people, and was accepted into their homes, I usually found women to speak to when I needed. I wasn’t conscious of it as a limitation.

In my last assignment in Iraq, in fact, a woman named Um Jafar played an important part, by helping to confirm for me that her son, whom I called Amar in the story, was indeed—as he had told me—taking revenge for the recent murder of his brother Jafar, her eldest son. As his revenge, Amar had sworn to kill a hundred men connected to the militia that had taken Jafar’s life. At the time we spoke, he had killed around twenty. Um Jafar confirmed this and her own complicity in the murder-revenge spree, explaining it to me from a grieving Iraqi mother’s point of view.

George Packer: The separateness of men and women is always the thing that strikes me, and disturbs me, most deeply about working in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Nothing else about the conservative Muslim world comes close to providing such a stark contrast with the modern West, such an undeniable demonstration of cultural and political difference. I must say that it always feels like an entirely negative contrast. The muffling or outright sequestration of half the population drains the variety and vibrancy from public life, makes men less interesting and sometimes less sensitive, removes from the visible scene and the field of journalism one of the crucial aspects of human life.

I might struggle briefly with an attempt at anthropological relativism, but I soon give in and admit that the drastic limits imposed on women in public—I was just in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the limits are almost total—seem like a confession of some cultural failure, perhaps even the failure, the heart of the reason that war and oppression and intolerance are daily afflictions and, therefore, that I and other journalists keep visiting.

I’ve never gotten used to this fact of daily life; though I keep my thoughts mainly to myself, I think about it constantly. And though I don’t agree with the French and Turkish policies of forbidding the hijab in certain areas like schools or government jobs, I can’t help seeing it as an instrument of oppression, rightly or wrongly—even when it’s the voluntary and self-imposed kind. Watching a woman at the airport in Jakarta trying to drink coffee under the veil of her niqab, an act that required all of her focus and dexterity and was almost impossible to do without spilling, reminded me of the images I saw as a child of Chinese women with tiny, bound feet.

This separation inevitably affects the work. I spent enough time in Iraq, and the country still has enough of a hangover from its period of modernization, that it wasn’t difficult for me to talk to women, especially ones over thirty or forty. What we could talk about—that’s another matter. I’m certain that colleagues who are women got a lot closer to the truth in matters of the body and the heart. And because war and politics are the magnets that draw my reporting in these countries, my notebooks overflow with the words of men; women’s voices are much harder to hear.

Packer’s discourse–whether he realizes it or not, I have no idea–smacks of postcolonial theory and–dare I say it–postmodernism, at least of the kind espoused by Richard Rorty. (Read one of my earlier posts about Rorty here.)  This indicates that Packer is a thoughtful journalist (and human being), the kind of writer we are only lucky enough to encounter every once in a while these days.

Anyway, check out the discussion.

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America’s refugees

Via Spencer Ackerman I found this post by Asawin Suebsaeng at TAPPED.  Suebsaeng brings our attention to a recent UN report about refugees:

According to an annual U.N. report, Global Trends, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq produced nearly half of the world’s refugees and dispossessed people in 2008. The U.N. refugee agency also reported that developing nations carry the greatest burden, hosting an estimated four-fifths of all worldwide refugees.

Last July, then-Sen. and presumptive nominee Barack Obama wrote in an op-ed piece for The New York Times that his administration would “commit $2 billion to a new international effort to support Iraq’s refugees.” Under the previous administration, the United States accepted about 13,000 Iraqi refugees, with the vast majority given entrance during Bush’s final year in office. This year alone, the goal is to accept close to 17,000 Iraqis.

Half of all the world’s refugees were displaced by the United States? I doubt very much that most Americans are aware of how destructive those two wars have been.  I knew that the war in Iraq displaced a huge number of people, but had no idea it produced a plurality of the world’s refugees.

Of course what this means is that the United States is responsible for these people.  Let’s hope that the Obama Administration, unlike the Bush Administration, accepts some responsibility and attempts to right our country’s wrongs.

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Six years old: The war in Iraq

In case you forgot, the American invasion of Iraq began six years ago today.  Anniversaries are, I suppose, arbitrary ways to remember things.  But this means that the war has been going on for about 27% of my life.  As Spencer Ackerman put it on Twitter today, “If the Iraq war were a person it would be heading to second grade.”

I don’t have the time today to write an extensive post reflecting on the war.  (You can see last year’s here.)  Let’s just hope that American troops are out of Iraq before the war is the same age as a third grader.

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Richard Perle lies some more

Never Happened

Never Happened

Richard Perle is denying his role in the the war in Iraq, according to Dana Milbank at the Washington Post. Maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Taking responsibility for the war in Iraq would way heavily on Perle’s conscience.  I would be in denial, too.  But Perle goes several steps further.  According to Milbank, Perle is denying the very existence of a neoconservative foreign policy.

Yesterday, however, Perle said Bush’s foreign policy had “no philosophical underpinnings and certainly nothing like the demonic influence of neoconservatives that is alleged.” He also took issue with the common view that neocons favored using American might to spread democratic values. “There’s no documentation!” he argued. “I can’t find a single example of a neoconservative supposed to have influence over the Bush administration arguing that we should impose democracy by force.”

Richard Burt, who clashed with Perle in the Reagan administration, took issue with “this argument that neoconservatism maybe actually doesn’t exist.” He reminded Perle of the longtime rift between foreign policy realists and neoconservative interventionists. “You’ve got to kind of acknowledge there is a neoconservative school of thought,” Burt challenged.

“I don’t accept the approach, not at all,” the Prince of Darkness replied.

Perle acquired the nickname when he worked in the Department of Defense under Ronald Reagan.  Anyway, I don’t really think it matters what Perle says about neoconservatism.  I do look forward to seeing what historians say.

Have a good weekend.

Photo by Flickr user jascha used under Creative Commons license.  Also thanks to mi amgio Jeff for pointing me to the story.

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What happened in Iraq on Saturday?

You all know where to go to get the best update on what happened in the Iraqi provincial elections on Saturday, right?  Juan Cole, obviously.  He’s so good.

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Thrown Shoes and Public Art

Remember when  Muntadhar al Zaedi threw his shoes at George W. Bush?  We all do.  But now it will live on and on for generations.

Apparently, a giant bronze sculpture of a shoe was erected in Tikrit (Saddam’s hometown) in honor of the shoe thrower.  The AP has the story.

Photo from AP

Photo from AP

Update: I forgot to mention when I posted before, but I had my own experience with shoe throwing and public art.  When I was in DC for the inauguration I was driving in the car with my friend Sarah and when we came to Dupont Circle, there was a huge inflatable effigy of George W. and everyone was throwing shoes at it.  Sarah said to me, “You know, we’re only a few miles from the White House, right?”  Weird.

But, as I said before, that’s what you get when you’re the most despised man in the world.

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