Category Archives: Middle East

The Happy Story of Bernie Sanders & Iraq

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Bernie Sanders really, really, wants you to know that he voted against the 2003 Iraq War and Hillary Clinton voted for it. He’s mentioned in it every single debate. His ridiculously named website, feelthebern.org, has a whole page dedicated to it (see below).

The funny thing about that feelthebern page is how carefully it jumps from his opposition to the 1991 Gulf War to his opposition to the 2003 Iraq War. The US had Iraq policy in the 1990s. What were Bernie’s positions during those 12 years? He’d rather you not think about that. And you probably won’t, especially if you’re among the people he consistently does best with –  voters 29 and under.

The thing about voters under 29 is that the first Presidential election they could vote in was 2008.  The oldest members of that cohort were 15 or 16 when Hillary Clinton made that vote.  For them, Iraq is synonymous with a humanitarian and foreign policy disaster that began in the Bush years and continues to this day. Senator Sanders knows this. And he knows that, outside of Vermont, voters didn’t really know who he was until last year. This lets him tell a fascinating story about a reliably left-wing anti-interventionist peacenik politician who foresaw disaster back in 2002. Telling that particular story, though, relies on a clever mix of 20/20 hindsight and the short memories of his core constituency.

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from feelthebern.org

Let’s tell another story – about diarrhea. For adults, it can be a messy inconvenience.  Over a prolonged period, it is fatal for children as their bodies dehydrate and lose nutrients. Between the two Iraq wars that Bernie Sanders so bravely opposed, lots of Iraqi children died of malnutrition and dehydration. Lots. A conservative estimate put the number of dead children at 106,000 between 1991 and 1998. A 1995 study in The Lancet estimated it at 576,000. Iraq was prevented from importing water purification and sanitation equipment under the sanctions imposed by the UN and enforced by the US and its allies. Bernie Sanders supported those sanctions.

Sanctions starved Iraq of resources and supplies, and Saddam Hussein allocated what was left to reinforce his regime. Sanctions precipitated a humanitarian disaster of historic proportions.  The bills that shaped US sanctions policy, the bills Sanders supported, all came up during that decade gap his site skips right over. It’s an uglier story. Tell that story,  and the man campaigning as champion of the underdog looks a lot more like any other establishment politician supporting the status quo, no matter the cost.

And there was a cost to sanctions – and not just the Iraqi lives lost at the time. In May, 2000 The Lancet ran an editorial alongside a study showing that child mortality in much of Iraq was getting worse. The editorial concluded that UN sanctions bore significant responsibility for this tragedy and that “(t)he courageous policy…is to suspend (not abandon) sanctions lest upcoming generations of Iraqis, out of resentment, suffering, and isolation, grow up to be as aggressive as their current leader.” A quick bit of arithmetic should tell you when the many young Iraqis recruited by ISIS were born.

 

Back when Hillary Clinton was still defending her Iraq War vote  she said she acted “in the context of weapons of mass destruction, grave threats to the United States, and clearly, Saddam Hussein had been a real problem for the international community for more than a decade.” This is the same context in which then-Representative Sanders supported every single bill supporting Iraq sanctions and regime change that came his way. Because he, like every other member of the political establishment, was far more concerned about Saddam’s WMD than he was about the Iraqi people.  Sanders, and Hillary Clinton, and George W. Bush – believed that Saddam was trying to restart WMD programs.  He wasn’t.

Bernie didn’t have to be a reliable vote in favor of humanitarian disaster. Twelve of his colleagues voted against House Joint Resolution 75, which stated that Iraq was “a mounting threat to the United States” in 2001.  Bernie supported the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which stated “that it should be the policy of the United States to ‘support efforts’ to remove Saddam Hussein from power.” This bill threw buckets of money at the Iraqi National Congress, a corrupt opposition movement which fed lousy intelligence to the US right up to the 2003 invasion.  Thirty-eight of Bernie’s colleagues voted against the bill, and it was publicly opposed by the State Department and Gen. Anthony Zinni, commander of US forces in the Middle East. Had he voted against it, Bernie would’ve had good company.

It’s fair to say that on WMD, Representative Sanders had no way of independently knowing that Saddam had abandoned his weapons programs. That’s not the case for the sanctions. By the mid-1990s, serious people were arguing that sanctions were crushing Iraqi society, having dire effects on child mortality, and enriching Saddam’s inner circle. Quaker groups, pacifists and human rights activists mobilized against sanctions. These are Bernie’s people. Presidential candidate Sanders doesn’t like to talk about foreign policy. But as a mayor, Bernie used his position to work as a lefty foreign policy activist on disarmament, Nicaragua, and issues. Did he not read a paper or meet with activists for a decade?

Given his history, and his opposition to the 1991 Gulf War, you might find his votes odd. But that’s only if you believe the story of an outsider. A guy who speaks truth to power and rejects the conventional wisdom. That guy might have taken a stand against sanctions. But not the go-along to get-along guy that Bernie actually is. That’s the story of a politician who is a reliable vote for military interventions: in Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Libya. The story of a politician who made a deal with Democrats so that they wouldn’t run someone against him in his Senate campaign.

In the debate in Milwaukee Wednesday night, Bernie went after Hillary on regime change on Iraq: “I think an area in kind of a vague way…where Secretary Clinton and I disagree is the area of regime change.” Bernie voted for regime change in Iraq in the 1998 law. If you read the 2002 authorization for war in Iraq, the fourth paragraph cites that that law. The one Bernie voted for, along with all the other bills he supported in the 1990s that explicitly had as their goal regime change in Iraq.

And it’s not just that. Go read House Concurrent Resolution 104 from April 2003. The one in which “the Congress expresses the unequivocal support and appreciation of the Nation– (1) to the President as Commander-in-Chief for his firm leadership and decisive action in the conduct of military operations in Iraq.” Bernie voted in favor of that, too. Eleven of his colleagues didn’t.

So why would Bernie bash Hillary over a policy he supported before, and he implicitly supported following (he also voted in favor of defense spending bills to support the war)? Of course, it helps that he ended up being right. It’s also one of the few instances where his vote wasn’t indistinguishable from Senator Clinton’s. But it’s also because his vote on the Iraq War is one of the few times where he wasn’t just another status-quo, by-the-book, conventionally thinking, go-along-to-get along, veteran politician with all of the accumulated baggage of his years in office. And that’s a story he’d very much like you to hear.

 

 

 

 

 

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Reading Holy Books and Mourning David Bowie

I used to teach a class on Middle Eastern history. The director of the program wanted me include the Qur’an among the recommended readings. I was against it, but I relented. So I turned its inclusion into a teaching point.  As an exercise for the class, I asked students what books they would recommend to people from the Middle East for an American history course. Some mentioned DeToqueville or Thomas Paine, some mentioned the Bible. If the student did mention one of those, I’d ask if they  themselves had read those books. The discussion went from there.

This brings me to the passing of David Bowie. Social media exploded this week with professions of love for Bowie, heartfelt comments on his influence and the like. There is no doubt that David Bowie was an interesting and influential artist, a compelling personality, and a commercially successful musician. He was not, however, my type of music, though I really enjoyed “Heroes” and “Changes.” Was I being left out? Judging by social media yesterday, I was in the minority in my ambivalence towards the Thin White Duke.

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I don’t think that reading the Qur’an is useful for a Middle Eastern history class for three reasons. First, the Qur’an is a contradictory, vague and very long read. Second, reading a text from a millennium and a half ago to understand current events is insulting to the people in the region, as if they stopped thinking in the 7th century. But never mind those two, because my main argument was this: is it worth reading something to understand people that most of them probably haven’t read themselves?  I would guess that, people being people, most folks either read something about the Qur’an or have it explained to them by someone else. They know the big teachings, the declaration of faith, and the proper celebration of the major holidays

I guess this because of my personal experience as an American. If students suggested the Bible, I asked if they’d actually read it. Most hadn’t. They also hadn’t read DeToqueville or Paine, or any of the other important works they’d recommended.  They’d read things about those books or had the key points of the books explained to them. I would then turn to the books Americans actually read. To judge by the best-seller lists, these are  diet and self-help books, genre fiction, and celebrity memoirs. Things that are much easier and more enjoyable to read than the Bible or the books you skipped the first time in Political Science 101.

If we want to understand America, should we read the books Americans want us to read about themselves, or what they actually read? I vote for the latter, but I’m not certain that I’m right. Your own opinion will vary depending on whether you want to understand people as they are, or as they want to be.

Many people clearly have a deep connection to David Bowie. In addition to admiring his persona and his music, he had a significant influence on popular music. If we wanted someone to understand the popular music of the late 20th century, I suppose you would include his works as a necessary part of the canon. But very few people actually listen to David Bowie. Not one of his albums is featured on the Billboard Greatest 200 Albums of All Time, which measures album sales since 1958. He’s also not on the Top 200 Artists of All Time, also based on sales. He doesn’t warrant inclusion into the BMI 100 Songs of the Century, which is based on radio airplay. When given the choice, we Americans actually listen to things like Journey, Bob Seger, and Toby Keith (nos. 58, 75, and 79 on the Billboard list), the checkout lane genre fiction of music.

You could take this to a very cynical conclusion, which would be that social media is full of people hoping you’ll think of them as having carefully considered musical taste, while they are actually listening to dreck like Rascal Flatts and “Don’t Stop Believin‘.” America is a nation spending a fortune on diet books and exercise wear while we sit at home marbling our hams with Stouffer’s Cheesy Colon Packer Deluxe. We’re lying to ourselves and everyone else.

I’m more positive than that. We all want to put their best self out there in the world.  The self that likes unique art, idiosyncratic personalities, and difficult music. We should like music like Bowie’s, even if our Spotify playlists are pockmarked with Sam Smith and Walk the Moon. More importantly, we aspire to be part of a community that does as well. A newsfeed full of David Bowie is comforting. Trapped in the Trump Nadir, we can be part of a community of taste. We can be people who value art, people who celebrate individuality, and  people who enjoy important music. At least, as Bowie would have it, we could be them – just for one day.

 

50 Jewish Organizations. Barely a Peep. Cowards.

It’s a long running tradition: in the wake of any terrorist attack by Islamist extremists,  talking heads will ask why American Muslim organizations aren’t loudly condemning the attack. Never mind that they are. There’s never a bad time – particularly not with an election coming – to demonize Islam in America.  And there’s a practical problem for the American Muslim community: it’s highly decentralized and diverse, with no recognized voice to speak for the millions of American Muslims.

Though I don’t give a whit about God or Israel , I consider myself part of the American Jewish community. And we’re lucky — we do have a centralized voice, the abundantly named Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the “proven and effective voice of organized American Jewry for more than half a century.” The Conference represents 50 different Jewish organizations, from the AJC and the AJC (really, there are two different organizations) to the World Zionist Organization and the Zionist Organization of America (not to be confused with the American Zionist Movement, B’nai Zion, or Religious Zionists of America).

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My grandmother came to this country as a German refugee in the 1930s. Most American Jews are descended from refugees – whether from Eastern Europe, Russia, or the Middle East. So yesterday, when the governors of 27 states said they were going to try and illegally close their borders to refugees from Syria, where were the official voices of American Judaism?

Absolutely nowhere. There isn’t a single word anywhere on the Conference site or anything I could find in the news condemning the racist, xenophobic pandering of these governors. So I visited the sites of each of the 50 organizations the Conference represents and checked the news for a full throated stance in support of refugees. Just two organizations had statements: the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Society. Two of the fifty.

If you spent 30 minutes combing the sites of 50 Jewish organizations, you would find two things: some God-awful web design, and in place of any moral outrage or courage, full throated support of Israel. Israel, which has a per capita GDP higher than Japan, South Korea or Italy. Israel, which is run by a race-baiting, anti-peace extremist, who shows nothing but contempt for the US administration.

An administration which – by the way – is still likely to grant Israel $4.5 billion in military aid, wholly supported by the organizations in the Conference. By the other way, that works out to $3 million for every Syrian refugee admitted to the US so far. That’s a lot of money per refugee — because the US has only admitted 1500 refugees since 2011. No really. America’s governors are threatening to turn back the population of Teutopolis, Illinois.

American Jewish organizations can’t be asked to do more for these refugees, because they aren’t doing anything. Not before the Paris attacks, and not as near as I can tell, on behalf of all the rest of the world’s refugees or migrants either.

It’s not as if Jews’ history as refugees and migrants is part of a lost and unknown past — the Holocaust is America’s #1 favorite point of historical comparison. Just ask Ben Carson. America’s reluctance to take in refugees in the 1930s and 40s is rightly seen as one of the 20th century’s biggest mistakes.

Why didn’t America want to take in a bunch of Jewish refugees? Jews were suspected of being enemy Communists and Anarchists. Also, they weren’t Christian. They might have taken jobs away from Americans during difficult economic times.  Wow, it’s like we’ve been here before.  I thought that the lesson of the Holocaust was “never again.” Not just never again to mass extermination, but never again to the indifference. You can make too much of a comparison between then and now – but you could also be a bit expansive with that lesson, so that it’s not properly read as”never again to us.”

Rather than vocally pointing out how wrong America was then and how wrong the governors and others are now, what are the Conference and its partners doing? Nothing.  Are they afraid that if they remind everyone how close we are to a period of massive anti-Semitism, it will coming washing back? Better to sit back and focus on Israel – something younger Jews don’t care about much, but that is a convenient common cause with the Religious Right – people who used to want to keep us out of their country clubs, boardrooms, and universities.

Years ago, I brought my non-Jewish wife along to a talk I was giving to a group of mostly elderly Jews. Finding me after the talk, a woman from the audience asked if my wife was Jewish. Upon learning the answer, the woman said “Where did we go wrong?”

Back then, I’m pretty sure I said something about the horrors of Hebrew School, but I’ll say this now:  American Jews are organized and well off. They’re in positions of power.  I can’t figure out how organizations that claim to represent the Jewish community see a humanitarian crisis and creeping  xenophobia, racism, and fear mongering and decide that their best course of action is cheerleading for Israel and holding gala dinners.

American Jews insult their co-religionists with the epithet  “self-loathing“. I’ve been called self-loathing on more than one occasion, but I know it’s not myself I find loathsome.

 

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Pentagon: Mistakes Were Made. Zany, Zany Mistakes.

Last week, we learned that the Pentagon accidentally sent live anthrax to nine states and a US military base. One day later, we learned that it was actually 11 states, 2 countries, and a military base. A few days later, they upped the number to 51 labs in 17 states and three foreign countries. A spokesman said they the Defense Department is certain that there are states that did not receive live anthrax spores, but they can’t confirm which ones. They’re pretty sure they might have sent live anthrax to themselves, though.

Oh, Pentagon, Pentagon, you’ve done it again! The Defense Department’s hijinks, mistakes, and inability to learn from them are what make it our most beloved and adorable government bureaucracy. We’re like Ricky and the Pentagon is our Lucy, with all the naive hijinks and mischief-making. Americans invest a kajillion dollars a year hoping that someone will keep us safe from biological weapons, and those same people end up shipping them out like AOL CDs? You have to laugh. The most expensive military in the world has lost three of their last four wars? We can just can’t stay mad at their cute little faces.

Top Pentagon Officials Meet

Remember a couple of months ago, when the Pentagon misplaced $500 million in military aid in Yemen? It was just a few things: 200 pistols,  200 rifles, 1.2 million rounds of ammunition, and 250 suits of body armor. Also, 160 Humvees, four helicopters, and two boats. You’ve probably never heard of a CN-235 airplane. There’s a picture of one below. Each one is 70 feet long and weighs 22,000 pounds. The Defense Department misplaced two of them in Yemen. Whoops!

Have You Seen Me?

Have You Seen Me?

Perhaps It’s not fair to single out the Department of Defense. It’s hardly the only giant federal bureaucracy to make darling little mistakes. They weren’t the ones who accidentally give 1,400 guns to drug gangs in Mexico. That was the ATF. The Pentagon also didn’t once lose 449 guns and 184 computers. That was the FBI. And then those lovable screw-ups did it again!  And it wasn’t Defense that failed to keep explosives and weapons off of planes 95% of the time. That was the adorable TSA. Soliciting Colombian prostitutes? The Secret Service. Seems like there’s lots of agencies looking to be Ethel to the Pentagon’s Lucy.

Still, who can forget last year when the military accidentally airdropped weapons and supplies to ISIS? That was really funny. Then the  Pentagon was then nice enough to let US weapons go to the Iranian-backed militias who are fighting ISIS, so it’s probably a wash. Did you that Hezbollah was so grateful for receiving an M1A1 Abrams tank that they posted a picture of it on Facebook (below)?

hezbollah tank

Most of the weapons the Department of Defense distributes probably go to the right place.  Except for that one time in 2012, when it let $200 million worth of weapons go to Islamist rebels in Libya. In 2011, the weapons sent to Uganda to fight al-Shabaab in Somalia accidentally ended up being used by the al-Shabab militants themselves. But they were probably going to blow up malls and commit massacres anyway. Bygones, right?

At least we know where those weapons ended up. We have no idea what happened to a bunch of weapons in Afghanistan. That’s not as bad as in 2004-2007, when we couldn’t account for 30% of the weapons we gave to Iraq. But let’s be positive: not being able to account for 30% means they could account for 70% of the weapons. If this were baseball, they’d have a .700 average! Sports similes are awesome! (Side note: the general that failed to account for the Iraqi weapons was David Petraeus, famous for the failed “surge” strategy in Iraq and successful “let’s have sex” strategy with his biographer).

By the way, there is absolutely no reason to be concerned about the $90 billion worth of weapons we sold to Saudi Arabia from 2010-14. We have no better repressive, theocratic friends than the Saudis. And it’s not like we’re selling Predator drones to the UAE. Oh, actually, we are. But don’t worry, it’s been at least a couple of weeks since a Middle Eastern country collapsed and rebels seized all of their weapons. And why would they go to all that effort, when the Saudis are generously sending them American weapons already?

Nothing can stop our dear, sweet, befuddled defense establishment. I still smile at the time an arms dealer was caught buying surplus F-14 parts to sell to Iran. The parts were confiscated by customs agents and returned to the US. Then, five years later, they were on the market again. And headed to Iran again. When customs agents seized them the second time, the fighter jet parts still had the evidence tags on them from the first incident. I’m crying over here!

Between 2003 and 2011, the sweet, ditzy Army lost track of 5.8 billion dollars worth of supplies. That’s small beans in an annual defense budget just shy of half a trillion dollars. Still, you’d think someone would want to provide some oversight. But that someone would be Congress, and it’s hard to provide oversight when you go cross-eyed pleasuring yourself at the mention of the words “defense,” “security,” or “troops.”

Senator Graham Readies His Hand for the Mention of

Senator Graham Readies His Hand for the Mention of “Troops”

The Pentagon was supposed to be audited in 1996. It wasn’t. Between then and when Reuters reported on their lack of accounting in 2013, Congress gave the Defense Department $8.5 trillion. That’s a big number, so think of it this way: all 8.5 million residents of New York City would have to win Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? to come up with that amount of money. Late last year, the Pentagon finally said it was ready for an audit – just 24 years after the law calling for one passed.

It will be interesting to see what the audit reveals – if it’s ever done. Last month, an audit of just the Pentagon’s travel credit cards found that in a single year, $952,000 was spent at casinos and $97,000 at “adult entertainment establishments.” Maybe they were paying for dancers to dress up like Senators. Oh, Pentagon.

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How I Went Through the 5 Stages of Grief on Facebook

Drew
I woke up last week to the news of the shooting in Paris, and was just horrified. I felt like I couldn’t look away, and ended up switching between Twitter and EW.com to keep up with what was going on. Finally, I was like “Drew, you’ve got to get yourself together,” so I went to Facebook. It’s like a week later and I realize that I totally went through the five stages of grief right there on my wall. I’m sharing them with you guys as part of my healing process.

1. Denial. I will deny myself posting this cool video of a dancing cockatiel so I can share WKQX’s awesome image showing our solidarity with  the victims. I do this because I don’t want anyone thinking for even one minute that I am on the side of the terrorists. I know there are some people out there who think the terrorists were justified or that sometimes terrorism is ok or whatever, but I think that it’s terrible. Have they forgotten 9/11 or Sandy Hook or Hurricane Katrina? Just awful. (But seriously guys? That cockatiel is really, really, rocking out).

2. Anger. I always find myself getting super angry about one small detail of a tragedy. With the Charlie Hebdo attack, I am crazy angry about the murder of Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim policeman. The terrorists were Muslim and they killed a Muslim? What is up with that? How can you say that you’re fighting the enemies of Islam and then kill an actual Muslim? I want all my friends to know that I stand with Mr. Merabet’s family. Plus, it’s important for all of us to remind the haters that many Muslims don’t even like terrorists. They’re just like normal people!

charlie hebdo mug

3. Bargaining. Oh God! There is a Groupon available for 2 for 1 admission to Key Lime Cove, the Chicago area’s greatest indoor water park! I have to let everyone know about this bargain! Also, I promise to God that I will pray more often and be a more loyal servant to Him. I am so grateful to be part of a faith that doesn’t have any taboos and no history of violence. If I could just remind more people of our beautiful history, there would be less terrorism in the world.

4. Depression. There is so much evil in the world, and I feel so powerless to do anything about it. Those attacks in Paris were just like the attacks in Austria or wherever a few months ago, or maybe it was last year. You know, the one where all those people were killed and I think they took those poor school girls. God, that was terrible. And now it’s all happening again. Even worse, while we were all talking about the attack in Paris, I saw that there was an attack in Africa – I think it was Uruguay – where all those people died. It’s just awful. I can’t stop thinking about it.

5. Acceptance. It’s like Vice President Cheney once said: we’re all going to be victims of terrorism some day. I think we just have to deal with that. So for now, I’m just going to be happy to live in the greatest country on earth and enjoy all of our freedom. You know what? I feel bad for the terrorists. They come from such a violent culture, where everyone has a gun and people are killed by their neighbors or the police for totally stupid reasons.

Guys, I feel totally better after sharing this, and want to leave with a famous quote: “Can’t we all get along?” Dr. Rodney King said that, and I think it’s ironic that these attacks happened right before the world celebrates his birthday.  I think if more of us tried to follow his words and his example, the world would be a better place.

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Should You Be Outraged? A Guide to Religious Conflict

Early this year, the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project published a study claiming that religious hostilities worldwide reached a six year high. Fully a third of the countries in the world had a significant amount of religious hostility during the reporting period, whether it was on the part of the government or the citizenry.

You could believe that inter-religious violence and hostility is only something that happens “over there.” You could believe that, but only if you don’t spend any time on the Internet. Members of faith communities not only want you to know about the appalling and disgraceful attacks on their co-religionists abroad, but also about anti-religious activity right here at home. Why are they sharing all these terrible things with you? Is it because stories of persecution accomplish the three major goals of organized religion in America (fostering community through shared victimhood, justifying antagonism towards other groups, and fundraising)?

No, it’s because they want you to share in their indignation and outrage. Unfortunately, each of us has only have so much outrage to spare. We can’t go blow our entire outrage wad on religious violence and persecution. We have to save some to direct at Roger Goodell, President Obama, and Kim Kardashian. Also, maybe grand juries. Yet we want to support our friends in the various faith communities. To help you find direction for your indignation, I’ve carefully researched this handy guide that outlines the struggles of five of the world’s major religions. Included is who they are fighting with internationally as well as their challenges closer to home. There is also a handy infographic at the end, outlining just who is fighting with whom.

Religion: Christianity
Percent of World’s Population: 31.5%
Victimized Internationally By: Muslims. Hindus. Buddhists. JewsOther Christians. Also, Communists.
Victimized in America By: 
Homosexuals. Secularists. Atheists. Alsoby a society that gives into hypersensitivity and insists that Christmas displays be taken down. This apparently fuels the hatred and intolerance that lead to persecution, according to Dr. Ben Carson.
Should You Be Outraged?: Yes! Fanatical enemies of Christendom are everywhere, whether they go by the name of Boko Haram in Nigeria or cower under whatever “Political Correctness” is in America.

Six reasons for anti-Semitism

Religion: Judaism
Percent of World Population: .2%
Victimized Internationally By:
Muslims. Other JewsChristians. Worse, per the ADL, over a billion people worldwide harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. This is staggering! Slightly less staggering is a survey that purports to represent world opinion by asking eleven binary questions of people who live in countries where they’ve never met or heard of a Jew, but still!
Victimized in America By: Mean jerks who say nasty things about Israel, preventing the Jewish state from ever taking military action or constructing settlements. Also, a major American television network has aired two seasons of a “sitcom” perpetuating the worst possible stereotypes of Jews.
Should You Be Outraged?: Yes! Because of Schindler’s List.

Religion: Islam
Percent of World Population: 23.2%
Victimized Internationally By: Christians. Jews. Hindus. Buddhists. Also, an alarming number of Muslims are killed by other Muslims.  And who could possibly do anything to stop it when something as confusing as that happens?
Victimized in America By: The FBI. NSA. Congress. The State of Oklahoma, which acted decisively to thwart a nascent Islamic state in their backyard by banning Shar’ia law. The ban was overturned by the secular and politically correct courts last year. See anti-Christian victimization, above.
Should You Be Outraged?: Yes! But you already posted that picture of Mala Yousafzai to your Facebook wall, so you’ve done enough.

Religion: Hinduism
Percent of World Population: 15%
Victimized Internationally By: Muslims. Buddhists. Other Hindus. Also, American academics who write dangerous books about Hinduism and sexy, sexy, sex.
Victimized in America By: We are all complicit in the theft of yoga from the Hindus. Also, prominent Hindus on TV only pursue non-Hindu men and others talk in affected accents and lack machismo.
Should You Be Outraged?: Yes! The flashbacks in Slumdog Millionaire are very upsetting.

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The Embarrassing Face of American Buddhism

Religion: Buddhism
Percent of World Population: 7%
Victimized Internationally By:  Muslims. Communists. Other Buddhists. Also, evangelical Christians believe that the biggest problem facing Tibet is that they aren’t Christian enough.
Victimized in America By: It’s bad enough that every liberal arts student becomes a Buddhist for four months after finishing their comparative religion class.  It’s quite another to for Buddhism to be appropriated by countless celebrities, so that the face of American Buddhism is the fat, stupid face of Steven Seagal.
Should You Be Outraged! Yes! Do you want a washed up B-movie action star representing your religious community?

Boy! That is a a lot of violence, persecution, and oppression. It’s almost as if some members of religious groups will always find a reason to fight other religious groups and if that gets boring, they turn on members of their own faith in a neverending cycle of attacks and retaliation. Actually, that pretty much sums it up. Here’s a handy summary chart that you can clip out and carry with you for a handy reference for the next time a person of faith tells you that theirs is a religion of peace.

religious violence

It’s probably too easy to get depressed by all the violence and strife in the world caused by intra- and inter-religious conflict. Look at it one way, and it’s like the NFL – pointless barbarity for the sake of score settling based on manufactured rivalries where young men face all the risk, recruited by wealthier folk who somehow never get their hands bloody.  Look at it another way, religious groups are like the NFL – if they didn’t have their rivalries, what would they do with their time?  Look at it a third way, and it’s like the NFL – to people who don’t follow it, the stakes seem incredibly low. All that struggle for a lousy ten yards or that stupid patch of dirt where a guy supposedly saw something he couldn’t explain.  That might be the biggest outrage of all.

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We Suck At Wars in the Middle East

The US Congress has authorized arming Syrian rebels in the fight against the Islamic State, and the US has started its bombing campaign. It’s about time. I mean, it’s about time for an election so of course Congress had to look like it was doing something. And they had to do something because there were two American journalists who suffered gruesome, horrible deaths. Americans by and large supported this doing of something, because after three years of the Syrian Civil War, they finally discovered what much of the world already knew: there was a civil war in Syria.

Americans paid attention to the execution of the journalists more than any other story of the past five years. That’s to be expected: James Foley and Steven Sotloff died horribly, whereas the 191,000 Syrians who met their demise before them presumably did so in a wacky, lighthearted, and utterly charming way. Chemical weapons and cluster munitions are well known as the Laverne & Shirley of ways to die. Strategy suggestion to the ten million Syrian refugees: have you thought about dumping buckets of ice water on your heads? Also, being Arab isn’t helping.

The same survey that revealed Americans now know that Syria isn’t the thing you pour milk on for breakfast also showed we feel less safe. This makes sense: the Islamic State is a whole lot more frightening than Count Chocula, though possibly less anti-Semitic than that particular cereal. Speaking of Muslims, President Obama now has an approval rating lower than his forehead at Friday prayer (zing!). Thus we find ourselves with a weak President, a Republican party with its eyes on taking the Senate, ghastly deaths, and a sort of non-specific fear. Sounds like as good a time as any to get into a non-specific war in the Middle East.

blog on gwotWe’ve been here before. Charging into a troubled region to restore order when no one else has the will or the means. The only problem is this: the American military sucks at Middle East wars. Really, really sucks. You may remember something called the Global War on Terror, the official term for the various American overseas adventures of the 21st century. The GWOT cost $5 trillion in the first 10 years, or $16,000 for every American. That’s a staggering amount of money. We could have bought every American a new car, though if that car was a GM they might actually have felt safer fighting in Iraq. To be clear, President Obama changed the name of GWOT in 2009 and declared it over last year. Though he declared he’d close Gitmo at the same time. The guy makes a lot of declarations. It doesn’t change the fact that we suck at Middle East wars.

To be clear, I’m not criticizing our troops, or the men and women I prefer to call Future Neglected Veterans. I’m criticizing our military leadership, commonly called “the brass” because of their tendency to be tarnished by insubordination, poking their biographers, and covering up widespread sexual abuse. And I’m not just some weak-kneed liberal sitting on his couch banging out a stupid blog while watching America’s Test Kitchen. I’m some weak-kneed liberal banging out a stupid blog while watching America’s Test Kitchen who can turn the Joint Chiefs of Staff words against them.

This is thanks to a document published eight years ago, “National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism.” This is the real deal. You can tell – it has a giant picture of an eagle on it. As the cover letter from General Peter Pace notes, the document was produced as the US was entering its 5th year of fighting the GWOT. The five year mark must have seemed like as good a time as any to finally come up with a strategy for the war (though we continued to fart around in Iraq until the “Surge” of the following year.) Here are the objectives for the GWOT, as described in the document:

1. “Deny Terrorists What They Need to Operate and Survive”
2. “Enable Partner Nations to Counter Terrorism”
3. “Deny WMD/E Proliferation, Recover and Eliminate Uncontrolled Materials…”
4. “Defeat Terrorists and Their Organizations/Counter State and Non-State Support for Terrorism…”
5. “Contribute to the Establishment of Conditions That Counter Ideological Support for Terrorism”

You know how members of Congress get themselves all hot and bothered about accountability and measurable results in public education? Wouldn’t it be great if they could find themselves in a comparable  froth about accountability from the military when it sets clear objectives and then clearly fails to meet any of them them? Look at that list. I don’t think that in the summer of 2014, ISIS felt particularly denied of their operational or survival needs. Iraq is a partner nation of ours, and countered ISIS by cleverly losing part of their country to them. North Korea still has nukes. Iran still has nukes. Syria has used at least two kinds of chemical weapons. States and non-states have supported terrorist groups without much hesitation. Why are we going into another war with the military and the military strategy that screwed up the last one?

buckner1No, really. Where we really, truly, and horribly Bill Bucknered the War on Terror is on #5. Because here’s the kicker: remember how we made sure there were no Ba’athists left in the Iraqi military in 2003? And then remember how after that al Qaeda was able to establish a foothold in Iraq because it took us four years to realize we weren’t being welcomed as liberators? Remember how how no one in America – not the president, not the military, and definitely not the public – wanted to get involved to stop the slaughter in Syria? It’s a historic joke: disgruntled ex-military men and radical Islamists walk into a rapidly destabilizing country.  The punchline: The Ba’athist and ISIS from an alliance to take over part of Iraq. Ha! Get it? The other funny part is that after the US decided not to take military action against the Syrian government, we now are giving the Syrian government — the one that is responsible for the deaths of almost 200,000 people – advanced warning that we will be bombing their country.

But the Syrian government shouldn’t worry, because we’ll be bombing the other party responsible for gruesome deaths and the suffering of thousands.

This will likely be over soon. In his address to the nation on ISIS, President Obama promised a limited effort. The President also claimed that “this is American leadership at its best: we stand with people who fight for their own freedom.” The President is right. We stood with the mujahideen in their fight against the Soviets, until we lost interest in 1989. We stood with the Shi’a and Kurdish rebellion against Saddam in Iraq, and then we didn’t. The United States stood with Sunni Arabs during the “Awakening” in 2007 until we pulled out of Iraq completely in 2011. We promised Syrian civilians the Assad government would face consequences for using chemical weapons, and they didn’t.

All of our previous efforts in the greater Middle East seem to lead to one conclusion: no matter how badly this war goes, the next one will probably be worse. Which is great, because we suck at wars in the Middle East.

 

 

 

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This One Story Will Explain the Whole Israel/Gaza War

yoni bibi

Yoni and Bibi, 1971

Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu moved to the United States in 1963, when he was 13. By all accounts, the young Netanyahu had a difficult time adjusting to life in the United States. His life was made all the more difficult by his father, Benzion, a prominent historian and right-wing Zionist. Benzion  constantly compared Bibi unfavorably to his older and more masculine brother, Yonatan, known as Yoni.

Bibi was a quiet, delicate teenager, disappearing for long hours in his bedroom to work on sketches of women’s evening wear, in the hopes of becoming a haute coutre master. Ignoring his son’s dainty nature,  Benzion insisted that Bibi join the Israeli army when he came of age, just like his brother. Bibi obliged, though he found the uniforms ugly, dated, and poorly stitched. Indeed, he was formally reprimanded for breaking down in tears about “the simple awfulness of epaulets” during the Six Day War. Nevertheless, Bibi remained in the army. He joined a special forces unit, the Sayeret Matkal, Hebrew for “Fruit Bats,” because of their nighttime operations and perceived delicate personalities.

In December 1968, the Fruit Bats were sent to Beirut undercover to lay the groundwork for Operation Gift. Bibi was able to pass as American civilian, and under the guise of performing reconnaissance, spent his evenings in Beirut’s vibrant club scene. Briefly free from the constraints of the military and far away from the expectations of his father, the young Netanyahu could be himself. It was an experience that would change his life, for it was in Beirut that Bibi met Khaled Meshaal. Though born only a few miles and a few years apart, the two men came from different worlds. Like Bibi, Khaled was an expressive and emotional young man, trying to escape the scorn and disapproval from his father; in his case a radical imam living in Kuwait. In the cool Beirut winter, they found warmth in each other, leaving the window cracked in Bibi’s flat to let the salted Mediterranean breeze blow over their warm bare bodies. Their passion burned all the more intensely as they savored the few days they had together, ignoring as best they could the fact that theirs was a forbidden love – Arab and Jew, Zionist and Islamist, man and man.

In spite of the odds and the risks, both men continued to rendezvous in Beirut in the early 70s. They talked of their hopes  for the future, holding each other closely and daring to dream of a world where they could live openly together. But it was not to be. Though Bibi thought he was free of his family’s reach in Lebanon, his brother had become suspicious of his frequent trips. In 1973, Yoni Netanyahu participated in Operation Spring of Youth, a secret retaliatory attack in Beirut against Palestinian terrorists responsible for the previous year’s massacre at the Munich Olympics. After the operation’s success, Yoni detached from his unit and went to find his brother – worried that Bibi would be discovered as Israeli and thus subject to retribution. There was confusion as Yoni – still dressed in his disguise as a woman – burst into the hotel room that Bibi and Khaled shared, only to find them in flagrante in the shower. A violent fight between the brothers ensued, with Yoni eventually subduing his brother and compelling him to return to Israel.

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Bibi (on the floor) rips it up with Khaled. Tunis, 1978

Though Yoni and Bibi fought together in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the brothers never found occasion to reconcile before Yoni was killed during the Entebbe raid in 1976. Bibi would never be the same. It wasn’t until 1978 that he found time to be with Khaled again, this time in Tunis as civil war was now raging through Beirut. Khaled found his lover a changed man; angrier, sadder, and more militant in his Zionism. Though their physical passion remained as intense as ever, Khaled could feel the emotional tension between them.

The ensuing decade put nearly unbearable strain on their relationship. Though Bibi’s career as a diplomat offered them plenty of opportunities to liaison during the 1980s, his higher profile increased the risk they would be discovered. Meanwhile, Khaled had joined the Muslim Brotherhood while at university in Kuwait, an Islamist organization that offered beards both literal and figurative to young gay men in the Arab World.

When the first Intifada ignited the West Bank in 1987, Bibi was a junior minister in Israel’s parliament and Khaled was in Kuwait, leading the newly formed militant group Hamas. Swept up in the passions of their respective peoples, the two lovers wouldn’t see each other again until a chance meeting at the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991. According to an NSA transcript released by Wikileaks, the muffled sounds of intimate contact were soon interrupted by a furious argument. Khaled demanded that they see each other more often, while Bibi was preoccupied with what would happen if their families, friends, or enemies discovered them. “Tell you what, Bibi,” Khaled says in the recording, “You count the damn few times we have been together in nearly twenty years and you measure the short leash you keep me on – and then you ask me about Kuwait and tell me you’ll kill me for needing somethin’ I don’t hardly never get. You are too much for me Bibi, you sonofabitch! I wish I knew how to quit you.”

It was no coincidence that Bibi married his second wife, Sarah, a short time later. Rumors swirled in the Israeli press about his illicit secret life. For his part, Khaled took advantage of the Israeli-Jordanian peace accords in 1994 to move to Amman, establish a Hamas office, and put himself closer to his lover. But Bibi never visited. Instead, he became an ever more vigorous opponent of the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, signed in 1993. To Khaled, it seemed as if all Palestinians were paying the price for the love he felt for Bibi, who now seemed more determined than ever to keep them apart.

Netanyahu’s disastrous first term as Prime Minister ended abruptly in 1999. Though many cite his controversial appointment for attorney general as the scandal that was his undoing, it was actually growing suspicion among his political allies that Bibi had particular affection for a senior Hamas leader. Netanyahu was forced to resign as head of his party, Likud, following his electoral defeat. He was replaced by Ariel Sharon – ironically, a man well-known for his fondness of Tel Aviv’s underground bathhouse culture. When Benzion was quoted in the press criticizing Bibi’s term, it was Khaled who called to console him. Many believe it was the last time they spoke.

Ariel Sharon and a boy toy, 1984

Ariel Sharon and one of his many young companions, 1984

In 2001, Bibi returned to government when Ariel Sharon became Prime Minister. Experts suspect that it was he who ensured Khaled was expelled from Jordan, lest the temptation lead him astray. In 2004, Israel assassinated  Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Bibi now found his secret love was heading the organization that was his country’s greatest enemy. Worse, in 2005, Sharon withdrew Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza. Following Palestinian elections, Hamas – and therefore Khaled Meshaal – controlled the territory. Bibi was beside himself with a mixture of guilt, shame, and anguish for the safety of Khaled. He resigned from Sharon’s government.

Again, rumors were everywhere about Bibi – but his resignation divided his party. Sharon, who had taken to calling Bibi “the angry little faygele,”  left Likud to form a new party. Bibi once again became leader. Following Sharon’s debilitating stroke in 2006, his successor, Ehud Olmert, was quickly engulfed by scandal.

Bibi returned as Prime Minister in 2009, and took to lashing out angrily against the very idea of a Palestinian state, peace, or negotiating with Hamas. The delicate, supple young man was now an embittered pseudo-warrior pummeling Gaza in 2012 and again this summer – daring anyone to question his resolve, his toughness, or – indeed – his masculinity. Khaled, unable to deal with Bibi’s rejection, has resorted to ever more vicious means of retaliation. The soft, fleeting, and private whispers the two men once shared have been replaced by the hostile, vitrolic, and lethal vernacular of bombs and guns. Theirs is now the language of the modern Middle East.

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There Never Was “Peace” in the Peace Process – Here’s Why

Hello Dear Readers,

The following is a major re-edit of a post I wrote back in February. You can read the original here. In light of the kickoff another of Israel and Hamas’ fairly regular wars in Gaza (2004, 2008, and 2012 – but who’s counting?) this month, I went back and revisited my original pessimism to add *even more* pessimism. Unlike those other internet commentaries you’re reading on this absurd tragedy, I at least acknowledge my shameless rehashing of old ideas.

Here’s what you need to know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: no one in a position of power to do anything about it really wants peace.

Neither the Israel government, the Obama Administration, nor the Palestinian Authority stand to benefit from peace. Peace doesn’t pay. All I am saying: peace has no chance. Put that on a t-shirt.

I love the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. With his terrible combover, stench of corruption, and condescending way of speaking to the press, he reminds me of an American senator. And if you come across any interview with him, he will be sure to note that Hamas rejects the existence of Israel and a two-state solution. What he usually forgets to mention is that he rejects the existence of a sovereign Palestinian state and a two-state solution. It must have slipped his mind, as did similar rejections by his defense minister and his economic minister. His foreign minister is a soft touch, though — he only wants to cleanse all of the Arabs out of Israel.

Luckily, civilians aren’t interested in peace either, at least as it’s currently defined. One survey showed 60% of Israelis supported reclaiming all of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. They only supported a two-state solution until you explained it to them. But that’s ok, because 63% of Palestinians indicated that they too have no faith in a two-state solution.

Israel Palestinians Nonstop Rockets-5Sure, Israeli civilians would be better off if there were peace. Palestinian civilians would be better off. But if the 21st century has taught us nothing else so far, it’s that nobody really cares about civilians in the Middle East.  Worse, the Palestinians are Arab civilians. And people really don’t care about them – the West Bank and Gaza are like the west and south sides of Chicago where we can be depressed about goes on there and also remain blissfully detached.  Otherwise reasonable people I know  are hitting me up to give money to an emergency fund for Israel. Leaving aside the asymmetrical body count in that conflict, we’re in a year where more than *5,000* Iraqi civilians have been killed and there are 170,000 dead Syrians we could be thinking about. I figure we could at least provide Syrian civilians with a super high tech anti-missile system like we gave the Israelis. Israel has the 37th largest GDP per capita in the world, and could probably have bought one themselves. On the other hand, what do you get for the country that has everything?

The fact that none of the three parties will benefit from peace isn’t the same as saying that they can’t benefit from peace negotiations. The leadership of the Palestinian Authority will be yanked out of office by their ears if they negotiate peace and find themselves with a state. The lefties will want them out of office because they’re ineffective and comically corrupt, like Arab Blagojeviches. The hardliners will attack them with accusations that they were duped by Israel and the US. A Palestinian state means no more PA. If you were leading the PA, your best strategy would be to enter negotiations just to keep that sweet, sweet embezzleable aid money from the US and Israel coming. Meanwhile, you would look on the side for other other options, like pursuing Israel in international courts, getting your friend the UN involved, or trying to get foreign companies to turn the screws on Israel.

Which brings us to Israel. Imagine that you are the PA and you ordered a half pepperoni/half sausage pizza with Israel (in the Middle East, everyone secretly loves pork). It arrives, and you have to decide how to split it up. Pie cut or square cut? 50/50 or some other way? You can’t agree. John Kerry comes in to discuss with both of you. While you’re making your case, you notice something: Israel is already eating the pizza. Now imagine that instead of pizza, we’re talking about a wedge of desert with Mumbo-Jumbo Bible sauce and a topping of swarthy people. Israel’s eating that pie about as fast as it can.

Why wouldn’t they? No one said they couldn’t eat the pizza while figuring out what to do with the rest of it. If they just handed a bunch of pieces over to the Palestinians, they’d be attacked by their right wing for giving away their very special pizza with Mumbo Jumbo Bible sauce. The best strategy is clearly to talk as long as possible while enjoying the holy Jesus out of that pizza. Anything else would result in a net loss of pizza. Plus, as long as you’re talking with the Mumbo-Jumbo Bible sauce trickling down your chin, America will give you diplomatic cover, high tech anti-missile systems, and boatloads of money so you can keep eating the pizza.

It would be a real problem if the United States actually brought about a solution to all of this. Peace means Israel would have to give up some of the pizza it loves so much. Lots of people in the US really, really, want Israel to keep on enjoying that pizza. Especially people who are fans of Mumbo Jumbo Bible sauce, like most Republicans and many Democrats in Congress. But not just them. There are people who think Israel is an important ally, find it an enjoyable vacation spot, or would simply rather side with Israel than with the dread Arabs. There are also people who think that Israel earned a free pizza with a coupon they found at the bottom of a box of Genocide. Whichever it is, If the Obama Administration looked like it was about to take take the pizza away from Israel, make it give some back, or close the box, Congress and the press would go nuts.

Clearly, a really good strategy for everyone is to negotiate as long as possible with no intention of a resolution. How long can this go on? Forever. Here’s the secret: you don’t come to a negotiation about how the pizza is shared prepared to talk about pizza. First, you have to create a framework agreement to negotiate how you’ll negotiate over the pizza.

Confused? We have a disagreement about sharing pizza. The US says “we’re going to talk about pizza, ok? But just about the toppings and the crust. We’ll talk about the cheese, condiments and napkins later.” The Palestinians say “No. We want to talk about the pizza entirely. Right now.” The Israelis say, “Fine. We’ll talk about pizza. But first, we must agree we will never give up the delicious corner pieces, and you can’t have napkins.” The US responds with “Ok. Let’s come back to corner pieces and napkins later. Palestinians, you must agree you won’t throw a fit and spit on it or something. Israel, for CHRIST’S SAKE HOW CAN YOU FIT THAT MUCH PIZZA IN YOUR MOUTH?” And so on.

Peace talks were and for the foreseeable future will be a stalling tactic. And when they don’t work, we have a little war. You might be one of those people who think that wars are terrible. They are — unless you’re an Israeli or Palestinian hardliner. If you’re Hamas, and you want to ensure continued support in Gaza, it’s best if the population experiences prolonged period of Israeli attacks. And the good news for hard-line Israeli politicians is that a Hamas barrage launched into Israel may increase their electoral support for by up to seven points.

Alright. Who wants to go out and get a pizza?

 

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Death Comes to Us All – Faster if You’re Leading Iraq

The United States is a lousy friend to have. Take the case of Nuri al Maliki. The Bush Administration raised him from obscurity and installed him as Prime Minister because he was less corrupt, less incompetent, and less friendly with the Iranians than the other guys. We supported Maliki for years, even as he became as incompetent and friendly with Iran as the other guys, learning to be a ruthless authoritarian in the process. As a rule, we’re usually fine with authoritarians, until the other week, when it looked like Maliki  might lose control of Iraq to ruthless Islamists. The American public can tolerate a lot, but not the idea that we fought a fruitless war to liberate a country that will now be unliberated by the dread Islamists. So various people who should know better have called on Maliki to resign.

Disclaimer: I’ve never been the President or Prime Minister of Iraq. If Iraq were to reestablish a monarchy, I wouldn’t have a chance at being king. So I can’t really say what’s going on in Nuri al Maliki’s mind. But if I were him, there is no way that I would ever, ever, resign. Because I know what Maliki knows: terrible things happen to the leaders of Iraq when they lose power.

Saddam-Hussein-exe_2511167bYou probably think I mean Saddam. He got off relatively easy. Sure, he was taunted, then hanged, and then his dead body shown on TV.  And yes, cell phone footage of the hanging went viral. But he was spared the indignity of his half-brother’s execution a month later, which accidentally turned into a decapitation (oops). I wonder if Saddam ever wished he could have died in a firefight like his sons, who left marginally better looking corpses when they too were shown on TV (don’t click the link if you’re eating).

Here’s the thing Maliki must be thinking about: if I resign, I am going to die a painful death?  A painful death followed by the indignity of my mangled body being displayed on TV? There’s a strong precedent for this: Abd al-Karim Qasim, who led the revolution against the Iraqi monarchy in 1958 was executed by a firing squad following a coup in 1963. His body ended up in  a television studio, which broadcast footage of his body for hours. Here’s a fun fact: there’s pretty good evidence that the CIA supported Qasim’s overthrow, and wanted him assassinated as early as 1959 – when they enlisted the help of a bumbling thug named – you guessed it – Saddam Hussein. Saddam screwed it up, but he earned a “use chemical weapons free” card from the US, which he cashed in against Iran decades later.  Meanwhile, the US decided to support Qasim for awhile because he was anti-Nasser, and we hated Nasser even more in the early 1960s.

Maliki might find some relief in Qasim’s successor, Abd al Salam Arif. He wasn’t shot or hanged, and his body wasn’t displayed on TV. Arif was president for three whole years before he was killed in a plane crash in 1966, likely the result of sabotage by the Ba’athists. He was eventually replaced by his brother – who was President for two years before being overthrown in another CIA-backed coup. Oddly enough, Arif’s brother lived to be 91. Historians suspect he might have been a Highlander. Arif’s daughter and her family were killed in 2004, though it’s not clear if it was because of a 38-year grudge against Arif, or just because Iraq was a terrible place to be a year after the US invasion. Not that the current mess is in any way related to that invasion, of course.

Maliki is being rational in not wanting to die. You know who isn’t? The cousin of one of Iraq’s kings, who wants to restore the monarchy.  It’s true that the first king of Iraq,who was also briefly the first king of Syria, even though he was from neither place, (long story) didn’t go too horribly. Faysal I was only 48 when he died in 1933 of a heart attack in Switzerland, and there’s only some suspicion he was poisoned. Plus, history has treated him pretty well — he negotiated full independence from Britain and got a sympathetic portrayal by Alec Guinness in Lawrence of Arabia; Ewan McGregor will play him in the prequel. Faysal’s son Ghazi assumed the throne, leading to a period of political instability when only one defense minister was assassinated and tossed in a ditch. A couple of generals were assassinated, too – but one of them, Bakr Sidqi, was kind of big into massacres, so he probably deserved it. Sidqi also has the distinction of leading the first coup d’etat in a modern Arab country, in 1936, so he was something of a trendsetter – and he did it without the CIA, which didn’t exist yet.

King Ghazi was really into cars. Before he could legally drive, he raced cars on a track in England. Here’s an ethical quiz for you: if someone offers you a really sweet 1936 silver Mercedes Benz convertible, do you take it? Question two: do you take it if the car is from Adolf Hitler? Ghazi did.  So it probably served him right that he died in a suspicious car crash in 1939 when he lost control and hit an electric pole.

Chuck Dressen, Faisal II of Iraq, and Jackie Robinson

Ghazi’s son, Faisal II, was only four when his father died, so his uncle, Abd al Illah, was regent for fourteen years until Faysal II came of age in 1953 – the same year his cousin, King Hussein became king of Jordan (also a long story). At this point, you might be asking yourself, “did the young king of Iraq ever tour the US and hang out with Jackie Robinson?” The answer is yes! Now, you might say, “Ok. But did he also meet James Mason?” Guess what? The answer is also yes!

King_Faisal_II_and_Prince_AbdulIlah_visiting_with_Deborah_Kerr_and_James_MasonFaysal looks so happy in the pictures (at right), which is touching – because a few years later, he was going to die horribly. Really, really, horribly.  In 1958, when Abd al-Karim Qasim led the coup to overthrow the monarchy, Faysal and his family -his uncle, his mother, his sister, fiance, and 6 year old nephew –  were cornered in their palace in Baghdad. They tried to surrender, but instead were chased into a courtyard and shot. There’s conflicting reports on whether Faysal was beheaded – but his uncle, who was hated from his time as regent – was first hung in the street, then dismembered with his various parts paraded through the streets. Faysal’s Prime Minister, who served in the position fourteen times beginning in 1930, had a reputation for being a little too pro-Western, anti-democratic, and repressive. He initially escaped capture in Baghdad by disguising himself as a woman, but was eventually captured, shot, and disemboweled. He was buried, dug up, dismembered, and then run over by a car. This process is known in Arabic as being “itchied and scratchied,” hence the inspiration for The Simpsons.

One can see why the current pro-Western, anti-democratic, repressive Prime Minister of Iraq might be concerned about losing power. The only way he can avoid a terrible fate is through repression of any opposition, something he seems very willing to do – and which the United States seems generally happy to ignore. The trick for him now is to make it clear that ISIS is a huge threat (successful so far), and that’s he’s the person who can secure Iraq (less clear). If the ISIS threat were to somehow subside, the US might decide he’s bad for our image and let him fall. Or, if we decide that he’s not the person we want to secure Iraq, he might find himself going to pieces. Literally. Maliki has to be terrified of what will happen when the US turns on him. He might not be ready for his final TV appearance yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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