The Chalabi Lobby

Whom readers are backing in the Mosul primary.

Q & A: Michael Kinsley’s Readme, which puts forward that a position against United States military intervention was never about “whether America would win a war against Iraq if we chose to start one,” nevertheless takes a beating from some ardent war supporters. According to Kinsley, salient questions remain unanswered before outright victory can be declared:

Is there a connection between Iraq and the perpetrators of 9/11? Is that connection really bigger than that of all the countries we’re not invading? Does Iraq really have or almost have weapons of mass destruction that threaten the United States? Predictive questions: What will toppling Saddam ultimately cost in dollars and in lives (American, Iraqi, others)? Will the result be a stable Iraq and a blossoming of democracy in the Middle East or something less attractive? How many young Muslims and others will be turned against the United States, and what will they do about it?
For this, baltimore-aureole is bemused, “what a spin job by Kinsley today.” Baltimore proceeds to answer Kinsley:
1 - yes, for many (but not all) this WAS a debate about who would win the war. a lot of people, including “the retired generals embedded in network studios”, wanted to fight (and lose) the last war all over again. 2 - yes, there IS a connection between Iraq and al qaeda. coalition forces routed about 700 terrorists from a training camp in northern Iraq, who fled into Iran… 3- yes, Iraq DOES have WMD… the Iraqis have zillions of things they claimed not to … and we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg so far. 4 - toppling Saddam, whatever it costs, will be less expensive than having to clean up the next time he invades a neighboring country, or if he decides to share his chemical, biological, or nuclear technology with terrorists… 5 - how many Muslims will be turned against the united states? well, at least the ones who ran to join Saddam right away got their butts kicked (and maybe buried). you subscribe to the theory that a defeated enemy is more dangerous than one which strikes repeatedly without eliciting a defense.
Much of the buzz in the Readme Fray centers not on the pop quiz submitted by Kinsley, but rather the perception that he won’t fess up and eat his serving of humble pie. Zathras feels that a pertinent question was omitted: “But I can accept that a big piece of this puzzle, one that the mainstream media and even al Jazeera are ignoring, is whether Mike Kinsley should ever have to say he was wrong about any of the arguments he made against taking action against Saddam Hussein.” Adam_Masin takes up for Kinsley and sees a certain tautology in the triumphalism: 
If all of the main purported reasons for going to war were false (WMD, active nuke program, imminent threat to the US, the Bin Laden link, inspections not enough), and they all remain unproven, then America just went to war merely because it could win.
Voicing the “easy part” argument, Chafe agrees with Kinsley and writes, “I think the US was wrong to go to war when we did not because removing Saddam regime by force isn’t justified and necessary nor because I feared defeat (or even much relative carnage) but rather because we don’t seem to have a clear idea much less a comprehensive plan regarding how to handle post-war Iraq.” Aid and Comfort: To war supporters who threw Orwell’s “pacifists are objectively pro-Fascist” in the face of the anti-war crowd, Kinsley points out that Orwell ultimately recanted, a claim with which Ananda takes issue:
Orwell was recanting the tactic of disregarding subjective feelings and considering only the specifics of the acts or beliefs in question. Note that Orwell is *not* saying, anywhere in his recantation that pacifists do not, by their actions, help the Germans. What he is saying is that it is dishonest (and impractical) to consider the pacifist who opposes war because he supports Hitler as equivalent to the pacifist who opposes war because he abjures all violence, *even though* both of them help the Germans… Nowhere, in any of his writings, does Orwell absolve pacifists of criticism for their views, and at the end of that same passage he writes: “In my opinion a few pacifists are inwardly pro-Nazi, and extremist left-wing parties will inevitably contain Fascist spies.”
The emotional conundrum of the anti-war, Pro-American position is perhaps best voiced by Geoff, in response to Hitchens, who writes, “I’ll confess. I’m heartened, at the moment. Being against the war due to pessimism puts you in the position of rooting against yourself… ‘I hope I’m wrong, and this war is right.’ And some of my worst fears have not been borne out… and some of the best hopes have.” Splitting the Ticket: Fraysters are split on whether an exile should lead Iraq in its incipient democracy, whether Ahmad Chalabi is that guy and to what extent, if any, he should be propped by the U.S. RandyMoran doesn’t “see why, exactly, we should be supporting Chalabi (or anyone else), financially or other wise, in their pursuit of power in Iraq.” Though he continues, instructing that he has no problem if the US “impose[s] (yes, IMPOSE) an infrastructure that allows some sort of fair and aboveboard election to take place, then aid[s] that elected government (whoever they may turn out to be) in establishing and legitimizing its services.” Pulling an RFK: The_Bell figures that if the U.S. is instituting something that resembles a constitutional government, then shouldn’t it hold new Iraqi officials to the requisite constitutional standards?
Chalabi is really more than an Iraqi expatriate; he is virtually a foreigner in his own homeland. It is almost as though an eighteen-year-old U.S. citizen, disgusted over what he sees as corrupt American culture, flees to Europe only to return forty years later and announce he/she is running for President. Interestingly, they would be in violation of the fourteen year residency requirement prescribed by the Constitution and unable to do so. It almost seems like what is sauce for an American goose ought to be sauce for an Iraqi gander.
Satish_desai is far more generous toward the prospect of a Chalabi administration:
What is required is heavy-handed guidance from the U.S. in the process of democratization of Iraq. Chalabi, who is exposed to American-style democracy, could be an ideal agent just to do that, if softly backed by the U.S. He could serve as the head of the Iraqi provisional government, similar to the role being played by Karzai in Afghanistan. During the term of the provisional government, the real Iraqi leaders will emerge.
Zathras insists that unless a forceful tack is taken in post-war Iraq, a creedal free-for-all could take hold of the country. Of the measures that must be taken:
Iraqis can and should participate in all these, but it is unrealistic to think they can run any of them right now – not when almost all of the Iraqis with governmental experience got it under the Baathists, and when the easiest route to a strong political position is for an Iraqi politician to campaign as the spokesman for his ethnic or religious faction in effective opposition to all the others. This is what Milosevic did in Serbia, and is precisely what we do not want no matter how democratic it is.
It’s for this reason that exiles are attractive to Oryx who, in the same thread, writes, “What the Iraqis really need are new fresh faces little smutted with the tainted politics of a now-by-gone era. These should be secular, Western educated, and with various ethnic and religious backgrounds.” What’s Doing in Kirkuk: Tim Noah continues to monitor the northern front, where the Kurds have seized the strategically vital and oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Noah suggests that there are essentially two choices for the United States: Let the Kurds stay or make them leave. Titling his post “I don’t like either option, Chatterbox,” mikkyld states:
I most definitely do not want us screwing the Kurds yet again. But I don’t think a country’s democratic process working against us (Turkey’s of course) should call for some childish display of petulant punishment… As long as the oil money is going to Iraq and not Kurdistan, and as long as no independent Kurdish state exists, the Turks should just deal with it.
Kurdish occupation of Kirkuk worries Populuxe who ponders the global ramifications of this seemingly sub-conflict:
If the US doesn’t do something about the Kurdish occupation of Kirkuk, the Turks will have to, otherwise the world ends up with a situation that makes the Palestinian conflict look like a cakewalk. The Kurdish occupation of Kirkuk is the first step toward the creation of Kurdistan, which affects large chunks of territory in Turkey, Iraq and Iran. If Saddam had chemical weapons, you can be sure the Kurds will now. Turkey will be forced into military action to curb Kurdish nationalism. The US may be forced to act anyway, because Turkey is a NATO member. Turkey is also a second tier applicant to join the EU. Europe may become involved out of concern for its own security. This is what some of us were worried about and why we didn’t want this war. The middle east is destabilising and will spill out into Europe and Asia.
Chip pays this scenario no mind, “A juxtaposition of two dissimilar conditions has never been accomplished, in the history of mankind, than the one you have just made.” On the other side, sjpitts believes that “the Kurds deserve to get their lands back.” He continues, “The Turks wouldn’t have anything to fear from an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq if they hadn’t been systematically repressing their own Kurds for so long.” In the spirit of political rectitude, sjpitts feel that “for once we should do the right thing if for no other reason then it is the right thing to do.”…KFA8:40 a.m.

Thursday, Apr. 10, 2003

Love to Say I Told You So: In Fighting Words, Christopher Hitchens wastes little time and pleasure, tongue firmly in cheek, “to extend the hand of friendship to my former antagonists and to begin the long healing process.” Fraysters who oppose the U.S. action in Iraq are viscerally irate over Hitchens’ schadenfreude and what they perceive to be his “smugness.” Betty_The_Crow, on the author’s attributes, comments, “Hitchens has always had two things going for him: attitude and elegance. In this piece he forgoes the latter and laves the former in such a volume of schoolgirlish venom that it’s easybizarre, but easyto imagine him with his fangs sunk to the roots in Cleopatra’s breast.” Betty continues, challenging Hitchens on his rhetorical circuitry:

Aside from the spite with which he declares victory—and that’s a tad premature given the war isn’t even over yet—the article is loaded with typically elastic Hitchens logic. “‘No Blood for Oil,’ they cried, and the oil wealth of Iraq has been duly rescued from attempted sabotage with scarcely a drop spilled.” A drop of what? Blood? Hardly, at least if the accounts of hospitals awash in it are accurate. Oil? 

Arlington responds in tone, beginning with “Thank you, Mr. Hitchens,” and later extends his “Many thanks … for disposing of the old morality.” Of Hitchens’ ebullience, mhogan feels that “it’s sick to feel any emotion except revulsion. Perhaps it was justified, but it’s still abhorent. If your dog becomes rabid, do you celebrate after killing him?”

Don’t count your Hitchens … : Another popular squawk in the Fray is from those, such as TheQuietAmerican, who point out that “all of thisexcept for the statuesseems startlingly premature.” TQA continues:

Perhaps it is a function of our generally compacted attention span, or the confusion about what this war was ultimately about, or the chestbeating, finger-jabbing “Super Bowl” atmosphere that characterized the war debatebut the fact is that the destruction of Hussein’s regime is really the first page of what will be a long, long story. The war was, frankly, the easy part, and by far the most seductive.

Amen: Hitchens has plenty of backers in the Fray, including austindead, who posts: “We see the truth, now, in the streets of Baghdad, as we knew we would all alongthe tyrant falls, and the people rejoice. The ‘aggressor’ coalition forces, I notice, managed to hold off the frenzied infidel haters long enough to help them pull down Saddam’s statue and ride it through the street like a bull.” Brian-1 sees no problem with Hitchens’s tonal posture:

Hitchens has a right to gloat. He’s been debating our intervention in Iraq against lesser sorts for some time now, sometimes having to stoop to pedagogy and slow enunciation of his sentences in order to make his points heard.

On the gloating question, captainsensible poses an interesting take:

To those who accuse Hitchens of gloating, just try to imagine what Orwell would have said after the fall of the Berlin wall. Or how about Robert Conquest who wanted to title his revised edition of the Harvest of Sorrow, a book about Stalin’s crimes, “How about, I told you so you fucking fools.”

Calculus 101: Then there are those who balance the ledger, such as Game_Warden, who offers, “Now that the war is over, it looks like the calculus favors the position that found Hitchens,” but suggests that the author “sit down, breathe deeply and leave the victory lap to the soldiers.”

The Moron Card: Fred Kaplan, in War Stories, lights a fire in the Fray by referring the Marine who drapes an American Flag over the Firdos Square statue of Saddam Hussein “a moron!” Among the appalled is jfergie who responds vociferously

How easy it is for us to sit in front of our computers and call someone a moron. This is a member of the US military who is risking his life and has likely encountered some extremely dangerous and stressful situations in the past few weeks. … I would characterize what that soldier did as youthful exuberance. We may be old enough and far enough away from the situation to know better, but calling him a moron is greatly disrespectful.

In closing, jfergie gets in this shot: “If you are going to intelligently comment on the news, I would hope you learn the dramatic difference between an M1… and an M88 … I’ll refrain from calling the author of the piece a moron, and assume he made an honest mistake due to his exuberance and rush to get his story out.”

The Recruitment Drive: DeaH reserves her criticism for the Marine rather than the author. Of the gesture, DeaH writes, “He provided a photo opportunity to the Arab world that’s a symbol of American Colonialism.” So far as future ramifications:

That image of our flag is now captured for eternity. The image can be used to recruit disaffected Middle Eastern youth into Taliban-like organizations. And, the beauty part is that it won’t matter what spin we put on itthere will always be that still image of our flag, the symbol of the conquerer on a foreign land … It makes it harder to push the point that we are freeing a people to rule themselves. Then there’s the picture, an image frozen forever that can be placed in text books, used in recruiting pamphlets, and handily added to protest signs.

“Like Water in Water”: Paul Guest jumps into the Fray to discuss his poem, “The Invisible Man Looks Into a Mirror.”  At a request to give a “breakdown” of his poem, Guest acknowledges that he’s “reluctant to do so. It seems to me that the poem’s no longer mine, but yours, and I don’t want to trample the reading that grows in a reader’s mind.” Nevertheless, he allows, “I realize that my own poems exist outside of me, and often enough I’m not even aware of everything that might be going on. So, really, maybe my own reading is just that: my own, carrying no more weight than anyone else’s.” Guest proceeds to offer his own reading:

I was thinking of some of the old, classic Universal monster movies. I began thinking of what it would be like to be the invisible man and that surely the most unsettling aspect of his state would be to look at the mirror and see nothing. You and I may hate looking in the mirror as well, but at least we see ourselves. That was the initiating premise of the poem but, that said, it really isn’t about him, not the movie character. It’s about some other life. The second person address suggests, I guess, the speaker addressing himself, the nothing he sees or does not see.

Guest continues, addressing, among other matters, whether there is an autobiographical element to the poema subject discussed generally about poets and their works by several PoemFraysters. In an earlier thread, rob_said_that mentions that “Several readers have brought up Paul Guest’s real age (29), apparently offering this as evidence that the poem cannot be about old age.” He continues:

I think that looks at the poem too narrowly, and minimizes Paul’s talent. While poets write about what they know, poems are not necessarily autobiographical. … It could be that Paul’s intention was to be literal and autobiographical in a narrow sense, but I doubt it. In any case, if that was his intent I feel he has failed wonderfully and produced a work of much more breadth and resonance. But I don’t think that was his intent. I think he has, instead, succeeded wonderfully in producing a poem that holds a mirror up to all our disturbing night sweats.

Paul Breslin gets in on the conversation and agrees with Rob. Of the poem’s allusion to a broken body, Paul writes that “many writers who are in perfect health have nonetheless sometimes felt that the body is a prison. It’s an attitude as old as the mind-body dualism in philosophy.” Breslin adds:

It’s just to say that the relationship between art and life is oblique and shifting and part of what keeps us coming back for more. Robert Lowell, whose volume _Life Studies_ (1959) was often read as daring revelation of personal torment, said two years later that “you were supposed to believe you were getting the real Robert Lowell,” but that in fact he had changed a lot of things. The whole episode about spying on lovers in “Skunk Hour,” he said, was adapted from a passage in Walt Whitman’s journals.

He concludes:

My own sense is that poetry, or at least the kind of poetry that I value most, attempts to chart a course for human desire or wish through the opposing necessities that thwart us and imagine some path that feels worth travelling. It looks for ways to take joy in life without deluding ourselves about what sort of reality we inhabit. Or as Samuel Johnson asks in “The Vanity of Human Wishes”: “Where, then, shall Hope and Fear their objects find?”

FrayEditor, in deference to Poems Fray’s thoughtfulness, will refrain from punctuating today’s entry with a Simpsons reference and will return to “The Vanity of Human Wishes” with, perhaps, Johnson’s own commentary on invisibility: “In health, in sickness, thus the suppliant prays; Hides from himself his state, and shuns to know, That life protracted is protracted woe. Time hovers o’er, impatient to destroy, And shuts up all the passages of joy …” KFA8:40 a.m.

Wednesday, Apr. 9, 2003

Combat RockWill Saletan’s “Bloghdad”  poses the question begged by President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday in Northern Ireland—Does the coalition stay in Iraq and for how long? ElboRuum believes that there isn’t much of a choice, that democracy is not a collective human instinct:

The reasons for staying in Iraq for a time are pretty obvious if we acknowledge one fact currently not under common acceptance: Although we, in the U.S. take the principles of self-government for granted (indeed, most of us would be hard-pressed to envision government done any other way) it is not something that is intuitive to people who have lived under oppressive dictatorships or other forms of non-democratic rule. Simply put, if democracy/parliamentary government is to take hold in Iraq, we are going to have to show them how to do it. This takes time.

Learned_hand agrees with ElboRuum’s basic premise, but would rather “the UN instead of the US” administer the transition. Fred expresses concern that while “the country needs to be handled much like Germany was—complete with de-Baathification … you have to keep the fundamentalists from seizing power.” BFD, as well, wonders how and from where the United States plans to fill the vacuum of leadership:

I know GWB would like us to get out fast and wants us to believe that the govt. he installs there is gonna be up and running within a short time. I don’t see how that’s possible. Where are the Iraqis gonna find bureaucrats experienced in running a democratic/parliamentary govt.? Among themselves?

Dissing Information: “Baghdad Bob” f.k.a. Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf remains the Fray’s most popular whipping boy, as posters flock to Tim Noah’s “Chatterbox” to poke the piñata. Dan_Simon takes a different tack from the predominant tip-your-waitresses tone prevailing on al-Sahhaf’s bombastic addresses:

When you are the spokesman for a totalitarian regime, your goal is not credibility through honesty, but rather credibility through fear—to convince your government’s citizens that it is in the interests of their personal safety and security to believe your statements absolutely … Baghdad Bob has never been worried about looking stupid or crazy in front of his people, as long as they don’t dare say so. In fact, a totalitarian regime actually gains strength by being perceived as powerful and ruthless enough to motivate its citizens to say the most absurd things in its support … even a handful of people still believe him. … Those people will cooperate with the forces of the regime, rather than the coalition, and he will thus have increased his own chances of survival, however slightly. … Those who are baffled by his ludicrous bombast are obviously very lucky to have been so sheltered from totalitarianism that its workings are incomprehensibly alien to them. But the less fortunate understand all too well the terrible threat behind the propagandist’s clownish lies, and recognize that Baghdad Bob’s brand of humor is not absurdist, but rather very, very dark. 

Thrasymachus takes slight exception:

When a regime really is in trouble, there’s no percentage in impressing the populace with the government’s omnipotence … Stalin didn’t bullshit the Russian people about the peril they were facing, didn’t tell the folks back home that the German Wehrmacht was a feeble bunch of cowards who had been stopped cold at the Polish frontier. He had to tell them the truth, and whip up their patriotic fervor—not for him, but for the Motherland—in order to persuade the Russian people to make the kind of effort necessary to beat the German army. A good Minister of Information would have taken that tack, and emphasized both the danger posed by the Coalition (to Iraq, not to the Baathists) and the resilient courage of the Iraqi people. Scaring the hell out of folks is fine if all you want from them is tacit acquiescence. If you want them to help you, though, you need to tell them the truth. Even Stalin got this lesson; Hussein’s a poorer copy than I thought.

[Eom] of the Day: FromCaptainRonVoyage—”Update: Sahhaf given postwar war by Fleischer.”

My Battalion Went to Iraq and All I Got … : Omnibus1reader takes great offense to images of U.S. troops “living it up in Saddam’s palaces and going through the silverware.” He draws a parallel:

Contrast GI’s liberating countries in WWII … may have come in with tanks, but Patton would have shot them. They behave like Soviets. … This is country with military schools of old and proud traditions that produce officers who know how to carry themselves in the world. Is this how we want to be seen? As people so low as to play in Saddam’s blown-out digs? Patton’s ghost is frowning on it. I don’t like it when he is displeased.

Loran answers forcefully, “You’re just factually wrong on this post. … They didn’t buy Japanese ceremonial swords or Nazi helmets, guns and artifacts from the post exchange during WWII, they looted them from the battlefield and the towns and cities of conquest. Yes, even Patton’s troops.” Their exchange continues here, here, and points thereafter on soldier conduct.

Road Rage: In breaking down the Hummer’s new ad campaign, Rob Walker quotes Greg Easterbrook in the New Republic, “The whole point of the Hummer is a total—and aggressive—disregard for what anyone else thinks. As Gregg Easterbrook put it recently in the New Republic, the Hummer broadcasts such a blatant ‘fuck you’ to the rest of the world.” Ang_Cho finds the metaphoric bravado “apropos of America’s recent performance in the international arena.” In response, baltimore-aureole finds ang-cho’s analogy preposterous:

oh … by performance, you mean things like:
- putting an end to the ‘inspections charade’ which has kept saddam in power over the past 12 years?
- parting company with the governments of france, germany, and russia, who have been arming saddam’s regime and profiting from oil trading with him?
- leading a coalition which will liberate the iraqi people and deter the spread of chemical and biological weapons

The Canyonero: All of the FUV talk evokes the storied Canyonero. Thankfully, Gattman makes reference to Springfield’s leading behemoth—with Krusty the Clown as pitchman. The episode of The Simpsons in question aired in February 1999. Gattman was generous enough to provide us with the full lyrics to the pitch in his post, thus saving FrayEditor from a round o’ Google.

Can you name the truck with four-wheel drive,
smells like a steak, and seats thirty-five?
Canyonero! Canyonero!
Well, it goes real slow with the hammer down.
It’s the country-fried truck endorsed by a clown.
Canyonero! Canyonero!
Twelve yards long, two lanes wide,
sixty-five tons of American pride!
Canyonero! Canyonero!
Top of the line in utility sports,
unexplained fires are a matter for the courts!
Canyonero! Canyonero!
She blinds everybody with her super high-beams.
She’s a squirrel-squashin’, deer-smackin’ drivin’ machine.
Whoa, Canyonero! Whoa!…KFA
8:25 a.m.

Tuesday, Apr. 8, 2003

Eyes and Ears: The_Bell responds to Fred Kaplan’s piece on the United States’ not-quite-on-the-street fighting weaponry. Conceding to Kaplan, “I … take Mr. Kaplan at his word as to how cleanly we may be able to take out buildings with Iraqi combatants while minimizing coalition losses and civilian causalities,” The_Bell nevertheless has some concerns about the drone strategy:

I am not sure that I am quite so glad to hear that the Iraqi formal military communications and chain-of-command have collapsed quite as completely as he posits. … I fear that pockets of soldiers who do not know they ought to fire on a drone because they cannot receive orders to that effect may be equally unsure that they ought to throw down their arms and surrender for the same reason.
Given that, “Saddam’s troops have already proven many times over that, lacking any clear commands, they are far more willing to militarily engage,” The_Bell wishes that “if only our Iraqi enemy could hear what we see. …”Sharks and Jets: Sentiment in the Fray, as elsewhere, is that the combat phase of the war is coming to a close. GarySimpson launches an active thread in War Stories. Gary’s first salvo begins, “It seems The Mother of all Battles has met the Mother of Invention … and necessity wins. No big surprise. We value life so we do what is needed to let our troops fight and win and survive. They want to become martyrs, so we oblige them.” Solid-4-USA rebuts Gary on the grounds that, “Saddam having WMDs was never in question. The global issue was whether Iraq posed an immediate threat to our national security … and the resounding answer was no.” Wads snaps back, “Just what were all those UN resolutions about? How about that passenger jet fuselage they found at a training camp? Just decoration?”How Green Was My Valley: Challenging Christopher Shea’s “Explainer” as to why the Fertile Crescent is seemingly so barren, AdamMorgan writes:
The Middle East was not always a desert, as was written in this explanation. Rather, in ancient times almost all of it was wooded hills and fertile valleys. Thousands of years of deforestation, overgrazing, erosion, and valley siltation converted this lush landscape into the desert that predominates today. … If you’re interested in how scientists figured out what the landscape of the Middle East used to be, do a search on something called middens. Hyraxes, common animals in the Middle East, build middens, many of which survived. By comparing pollen proportions from ancient to present times in the middens, scientists reconstructed the ancient landscape.
To Adam’s elaborate explanation, ReubenJames-4 quips, “So the problem in the Middle East is that they’ve had a Republican EPA enforcing environmental laws for 5,000 years.” The Saddam Canal Irrigation System and Water Park: Given the ecological challenges facing Iraq, Thrasymachus propounds this idea:
Strange that the canals that fell to pieces in the 1200s were never rebuilt. One would expect the civic-minded Saddam Hussein to find time to rebuild them in between Saddam International Airport, Saddam City, and Saddam University. … Now here’s a question, though! Would an attempt by the U.S. to rebuild the canals as a kind of Iraqi WPA be viewed as a magnificent historical gesture, or as unbearable arrogance?
Take Eleven Tablets and Call Me in the Morning: Bottomfish, tongue-in-cheek, tosses out this one:
Just because the poor locals were living off river overflow for 4000 years, you assume the only thing to do is restore the sacred balance of nature. Bit it’s possible to go one better than that. Why not label it a critical desert ecosystem and do nothing? That’s a cost-effective solution. The farmers will remain as poor as ever. But we’ve got to fight runaway globalization. … It’s a pretty crummy life between the rivers. Hell, if I had to live there maybe I’d end up writing an Epic of Gilgamesh myself.
Homage to Catalonia: Drawing on William Saletan’s “Bloghdad” discussing Syrians fighting in the War in Iraq, DirectHex alludes to George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, “It’s not uncommon for foreign nationals to be involved in other people’s wars. If the cause is big enough then people are prepared to leave home and kin to fight for it.”  DirectHex continues:
What do you recommend that the Syrian government do? Stop its own people traveling so that don’t end up in Iraq? So we want Syria to be MORE dictatorial, and to stop freedom of travel? Secondly, maybe the Syrian are letting these people go for a very simple reason—it removes these volatile elements from within their political system. This, of course, is the same deal that the CIA made with the Egyptians and Saudis to export certain fundamentalist to another Civil War in the region—thus were born the Muhajadeen.
KFDR: A congratulations to Loree and the_Phoenix, under whose direction a quality hour of Fray programming was produced in “Kausfiles Special” Sunday night. The topic on KFDR Sunday was “Has the United States found Weapons of Mass Destruction.”… KFA8:50 a.m.

Monday, Apr. 7, 2003

The Fray on Kelly: The iconoclastic journalist’s existence rankled many—in the greater salon of the Washington chattering class and in the world of his more traditionally liberal readers—but his death is mourned by a handful of Fraysters who took to heart Jack Shafer’s obituary. Michael_Brus, a former New Republic intern during Kelly’s tenure as editor of the magazine, muses on his first foray into the world of intellectual journalism:

Our lodestar was TNR’s newly enthroned editor, Michael Kelly. Kelly was a crusader and a maverick in an industry filled with lukewarm analysts and complacent ideologues. He was a short, stout, feisty Irish Catholic with a profoundly acerbic wit. He brought to journalism a sense of mission—a fervid devotion to blunt truth-telling and historical witness. This attitude rubbed off on his younger staff, many of whom regarded him as a kind of father figure. His hot-blooded style inspired fierce loyalty in his friends, and also earned him not a few enemies. I knew the man for only three months, yet I can honestly say that I loved him. I will sorely miss his passion and his voice.

Many, such as TheGrayGhostwriter, found Kelly’s editorial voice “too often ‘injudicious’,” yet “still agree that great caring comes packaged in multiple viewpoints. Michael Kelly offered both unstintingly.” WVMicko’s posting applauds Shafer, as he feels that the eulogy exemplifies the best of Press Box and its mission of “go[ing] beyond the usual facile mutual masturbation of most “press” reporters [to] show that in his case, press reportage is not just a job, but a calling.”

Others in the Fray are less doleful and, like LolaM, find the coverage of Kelly’s death to disproportional in the larger context of the war:

No doubt Kelly was a fine human being, but certainly no finer or more exceptional or more important than the US soldiers or even Iraqi soldiers who have died the two few weeks. 

No fan of Kelly’s, Arjay brings to surface Kelly’s well-articulated position here, writing, “he wanted war” – and that with war come casualties. Joe_JP, no supporter of the war, answers Arjay here in one of the Fray’s most lucid threads, in which zinya also posts here

Armed to the Hilt: Tim Noah’s “Chatterbox” explores why, if the Iraqi populace is well-armed and itching to be liberated over the past some-odd decades, hasn’t it staged a revolt. RufRuf offers a couple of theories, in addition to Noah’s:

Was the Iraqi population armed before the Baath party came to power? I’m sure once Hitler had already established power he could’ve armed his people without fear… The second obvious factor he ignores is as follows. While subjugating an armed population may not be impossible, it certainly makes the job much harder. Does having a constitution, a bill of rights including a free press, separation of power, and strong democratic institutions mean that Americans won’t have their civil rights violated? Of course not! Grow up. It does make it much harder to get away with it though. A safeguard need not be perfect to be of value. In real life freedom is measured on a sliding scale.

Divide and Conquer: Oryx offers another plausible explanation, writing “Saddam’s regime, just like all police state regimes, rules by dividing its populace into advantaged loyalists and disadvantaged disloyalists… No divided population can challenge a tyrannical homicidal regime like Saddam’s.” And Nietzsche asks, “Honestly, how many Americans think that their right to bear arms would truly aid them against government oppression?”

BenK, circa March 14: In a post from mid-March that Joe_JP brings to lightBenK sizes up the situation, offering a well-enumerated rationale that answers Chatterbox. 

Debussy challenges the structural logic of Noah’s argument:

He writes: “The NRA’s basic premise is false…. [T]he United Kingdom, Germany, France, and many other western democracies (most, in fact) regulate guns much more heavily than the U.S., yet manage not to turn into police states.” The NRA’s basic premise is that if a nation has gun rights, then it will be free. Noah claims that if a nation has no gun rights, it may still be free. His claim is not contrary to the NRA’s premise. If I eat lots of candy, I will get fat. If I do not eat lots of candy, I may still get fat.

With the United States ushering in a new, ostensibly democratic regime, ejk_ poses  an interesting question:

Now that the US is going to rewrite the Iraq Constituion, do they include a 2nd Amendment? Does the US give the people the right to bear arms, and encourage everyone to arm themselves? … KFA8:50 a.m.

Saturday, Apr. 5, 2003

Going for the Patch: Industry drives up your state’s health care costs, corporation owns you. You win $246 million in compensatory and punitive damages from industry, then you own the corporation…that is until industry flirts with bankruptcy, triggered by a $12 billion bond, as outlined in Daniel Gross’s moneybox article. Fraysters address the strange, co-dependent relationship between the Attorneys General who exacted huge judgments from the tobacco companies and the companies that are gasping for breath and facing potential extinction in the wake of these judgments. BernardYomtov makes a case against bankruptcy:

What happens? The cigarette factories don’t disappear; the tobacco growers don’t switch to organic eggplant. Instead someone else buys the factories, buys the brand names, buys tobacco, and starts selling cigarettes. The only difference is that these new companies are rid of the liabilities of the bankrupt old ones. The money the companies are now paying to the states goes to the owners of the new tobacco cigarette companies instead.What has been gained, exactly?

Teckels further illuminates the paradox, and takes a shot at the Attorneys General:

Wasn’t the purpose of suing them in the first place meant to hold them accountable for the health problems they have created, yet these AGs are perfectly willing and even eager to keep this company in business so it can sell more tobacco and kill more people just as long as PM can pay off their settlements. Who is the real criminal here, PM or the AGs trying to keep them in business?

destructo thinks the problem is one larger than just smoke rings:

The real culprit here are bloated state governments dependent on tax money, and short-sited politicians pandering to bleating do-goodnick anti-smoking weenies on the left who are accustomed to using government as the mechanism by which they impose their morals on the rest of us. 

Hoagywood aptly names the situation: “The Law of Unintended Consequenses.” TexasSmoker  challenges  the Fray to “show me one penny of the setttlement that has been used for smokers health care.”

Journal Entry: kyosti initiates an active discussion on Ruth Franklin’s culturebox, an article that picks apart the current issue of McSweeney’s and the literary journal’s momentary about face. Franklin sets off Fraysters by classifying, what she sees as,  contrasting McSweeney’s-New Yorker schools of short fiction. kyosti is a fan of the second novel by Zadie Smith, The Autograph Man, that Franklin described as “horrendously disappointing—and noticeably McSweeney-esque.” kyosti takes Franklin to task here, claiming that the novel “has much more to do with Martin Amis than with McSweeney’s.” Vidross keeps it going here: “But isn’t Martin Amis a New Yorker writer too?” He concludes:

So maybe we can think of a more accurate shorthand term for “New Yorker-esque”? Maybe “50’s New Yorker Style”, or “traditional domestic realism” or “John O’Harric”, or “Dull”, or “stuff the reviewer doesn’t like but can’t articulate precisely why”.

The_Shriv jumps in, bringing with him Nick Honby as a case study in the McSweeney’s v. New Yorker taxonomic debate. Sort of reminds FrayEditor of the scene from Husbands and Wives when Judy Davis, while getting it on with Liam Neeson – in the heat of the moment – is busy mentally classifying everyone in her life as a “hedgehog” or “fox.”

Wordplay: Andy Bowers’s catalog, “Words of War,” opens with a reference to Blockbuster Video which, according to Bowers, was originally “a 4,000-pound World War II-era bomb.” Bowers’s claim prompts WVMicko to explore the handle’s alternate origin:

Au, contraire! Blockbuster Video is not necessarily “da bomb.” The term also has a different and more modern meaning. Blockbuster: Black homebuyers seeking to break into prejudiced white neighborhoods during the sixties, often with the assistance of white agents who were acting for “undisclosed” clients. White homeowners were generally terrified of the blockbusters, claiming that, among other ills, property values would drop. Rebutting that claim was difficult, since property values DID drop as white flight afflicted the now-mixed neighborhoods and dozens of houses hit the market en masse. Seeing as how Blockbuster moved in on the territory of smaller video rental chains and drove down rental prices, the second meaning seems more likely, does it not?…KFA8:15 a.m.