We need security, not free food

This Salon recap of an Op-Ed originally published in the NY Times on Aug. 19 by seven active-duty U.S. soldiers. Two of its authors have since died and one was shot in the head and wounded. Besides being written by active duty soldiers in Iraq, the piece is also noteworthy for how it cuts to the core of the issues the campaign in that country has faced for the past five years and offers solemn conclusions for the future.

Among the “highlights” are:

  • Reports that Iraq police and military details have, in many cases, been corrupted, and either allow acts of violence occur against U.S. personnel, or even actively support those actions.
  • We are arming Sunni militias who, it is feared, will challenge the Shiite-dominated government for control, in the vacuum that will be the U.S. pull-out.
  • Recent assessments of improved conditions in Iraq have been made by the mis-informed and do not represent reality for most Iraq’s who have been living in constant chaos and fear for 5 years now.

The biggest failing of our “leaders”, however, remains the fact that they looked at the invasion of Iraq and deposing of Saddam Hussein’s as the end state of this mission without having any plan in place for what happens next. Several costly mistakes pointed out in the article need to be reversed but the largest error, hearkens to my last post – but requires actual action:

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

Marketing ideas as a means of social change

For whatever reason I was not motivated to post yesterday. I wanted to post, but I couldn’t get myself to do it. What I wanted to do was to post a positive story about Arabs and/or Arab Americans and make that sort of a tradition on this anniversary, here at Alt Text.

When this idea was conceived I was thinking in these specific terms but wanted to change the way people thought of this day – a day now linked to a war that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda or making us safer. I wasn’t looking to start a meme or actively market my idea, just post some positive news.

Reading Seth Godin’s site today I came across his post about how we can market our way closer to an end to terrorism. In the post Seth writes how you cannot beat terrorism with guns and prisons – those consequences do little to affect the terrorist’s mind and could do even more to fuel the creation of new terrorists. After all, terrorists are just people who subscribe to a particular idea – an idea that America and the West are immoral – heathens that are bent on destroying their culture and robbing them with the resources.

For all I know, we may never be able to eliminate terrorism and animosity towards us (especially as we are sitting atop the world in terms of wealth and consumption). But what we can do is try to create another idea that can combat those to which the terrorists subscribe.

We have not been very successful invading and bombing our way to changing minds but we do know how to market our ideas. The problem right now is that somewhere along the line, our leaders decided that the time for crafting this sort of idea, had passed and they have been busy reinforcing the old ideas that terrorists have of us.

We are already at a place in time where many people are fearful of expressing racist thoughts and that may eventually give way to the idea of racism finally disappearing. In the same way, maybe some day, the idea of attacking innocents as a means of affecting change an the idea that the Western countries only want to hold down and plunder the rest of the world may seem crazy. Unfortunately, for now, there are far too many people willing to do participate in the former and far too much truth to the latter. Even powerfully crafted and marketed ideas need to eventually mirror reality.

New Democratic talking points

Bill Maher has a new set of talking points for the Democrats. I think they are fairly good. See the abridged versions below:

1) When they say, “Democrats will raise taxes,” you say, “We have to, because some asshole spent all the money in the world cutting Paris Hilton’s taxes and not killing Osama bin Laden.” In just six years the national debt has doubled. You can’t keep spending money you don’t take in, that’s not even elementary economics…”

2) When they say, “The terrorists want the Democrats to win,” you say, “Are you insane? George Bush has been a terrorist’s wet dream, and nonpartisan commissions have confirmed that he’s a recruiter’s dream: theirs, not ours. And, he has exhausted our military without coming away with a win, the worst of both worlds.” Bush inflames radical hatred against America and then runs on offering to protect us from it. It’s like a guy throwing shit on you and then selling you relief from the flies.

3) When they say, “Cut and Run” or “Defeatocrat,” you say, “Bush lost the war — period.” All this nonsense about “the violence is getting worse because they’re trying to influence our election.” No, it’s getting worse because you drew up the postwar plans on the back of a cocktail napkin at Applebee’s.

4) When they say that actual combat veterans like John Kerry are “denigrating” the troops, you say, “You’re completely full of shit.”

Read more at Salon.

Our losses on and since 9/11. More than we can bear?

After the attacks on September the 11th, 2001 then New York Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, said that the losses were likely to be “more than we can bear.”

Joan Walsh in a piece at Salon, as part of their 5 years after series writes about this toll and the continuing toll we pay for the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Walsh points out that the 2,873 deaths from that infamous day have now been surpassed by the deaths of American soldiers, with almost 2,700 dying in the unrelated battleground in Iraq. When you add in almost 30,000 U.S. military casualties and a reported 46,307 dead Iraqi civilians, the full toll of this war should start to settle in and Walsh asks if this is more than the American and Iraqi people should have to bear considering the lack of focus this war has had and the erosion of the war’s only success in Afghanistan – with rebels and repression reappearing there – we risk losing any ground we gained there.

She also laments the loss of “national and international unity we enjoyed after the attack”:

the warmth I felt from friends and acquaintances and even strangers those first raw days, a seriousness and purpose I felt more broadly in the following weeks.

And points out many of the things that this administration has done to earn the ire of the American people:

Since that time, though, we’ve seen hubris beyond imagination. We’ve watched an unbridled executive-branch power grab, warrantless wiretaps, the curtailing of privacy rights; a pervasive smog of secrecy descended to obscure our government. Outrage about torture, rendition and secret prisons here and abroad is dismissed with a flippant “We don’t torture” from the president. And all of it has been shellacked with an ugly culture of bullying in which dissent equals treason, shamelessly, five years after the attack. Last week it was Donald Rumsfeld comparing war critics to people who appeased Hitler; this week we had Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying they’re the sort who would have ended the Civil War early and let the South keep its slaves. Their intimidation is meant to say that the very freedoms worth fighting for — the right to dissent, the right to question our government — might have to be abridged while we fight. Politically, that truly is more than we can bear.

The article loses some steam toward the end and I wish it would have stuck closer to its theme, its mantra, is the toll more than we can or should bear? Perhaps some additional focus could also be placed on what we have gained, such as more enemies.

A growing number of analysts, many of them former top government counterterrorism officials, say the notion of a “war” on terrorism is the wrong strategy.

In relying overwhelmingly on bombs and bullets, they say, the United States has alienated much of the Muslim world, driving away even moderates who might be open to Western ideas. The West has largely failed to offer a positive vision or deal with the root causes of Islamic extremism.

Girl on girl action

Serial No. 3817131 is a photo essay by a female member of the Israeli Defense Forces about female members. While I have known for a long time that Israel makes use of conscription, or mandatory participation in the military, and that females were not exempt from such service, these photos still took me aback. When I look at them I feel as though they are depictions of models or some strange reality tv show, anything but real soldiers, trained to fight and kill. Despite these feelings, however, the fact is that they are not fakes. They really are soldiers.

I think that if there is a draft again in the U.S. it should be comprised of everyone across a certain age range and should include women. Then, I think we will finally stop and consider the merit of any actions that deploy those kids and put them in harms way. I think photos like these would go a long way towards ending war.

Also, sorry about the title for this post, I sort of dared myself to do that.

Making sense of the Gaza pullout

The New Republic is a good magazine and I am glad to subscribe to it. Articles like Leon Wieseltier’s Dry Your Eyes, Keep Your Heads – The Fall clearly and concisely describes the predicted effects of the Israeli pullout of the Gaza settlements in a way others have failed to even try.

Even faced with the idea of Greater Palestine, it is impossible not to rejoice in the defeat of the idea of Greater Israel. It was always a foul idea, morally and strategically. It promoted the immediate ecstasy of the few above the eventual safety of the many; it introduced the toxins of messianism and mysticism into the politics of a great modern democracy; it preferred chosenness to human rights; it subordinated laws to visions, and the Jewish state to the Jewish millennium; it worshiped soil in a primitive, almost un-Jewish way. The settlers of the West Bank and Gaza are not a Jewish vanguard, they are a Jewish sect; and in their insistence that the destiny of their state and their society should be held hostage to the fulfillment of their metaphysical and historical conceptions, they have always displayed a sectarian self-love.

I too, look to those anguished settlers’ faces as they are ushered from their temporary homes, with little empathy. I understand the selfishness of their actions and how their insistence of righteousness has cost hundreds of lives and thousands more needless misunderstandings. Hopefully this is the first step towards greater understanding and ultimately peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Apples, angles & architecture