The smart way out of a foolish war
Both Democratic presidential candidates agree that the United States should end its combat mission in Iraq within 12 to 16 months of their possible inauguration. The Republican candidate has spoken of continuing the war, even for a hundred years, until “victory.” The core issue of this campaign is thus a basic disagreement over the merits of the war and the benefits and costs of continuing it.
The case for U.S. disengagement from combat is compelling in its own right. But it must be matched by a comprehensive political and diplomatic effort to mitigate the destabilizing regional consequences of a war that the outgoing Bush administration started deliberately, justified demagogically and waged badly. (I write, of course, as a Democrat; while I prefer Sen. Barack Obama, I speak here for myself.)
The contrast between the Democratic argument for ending the war and the Republican argument for continuing is sharp and dramatic. The case for terminating the war is based on its prohibitive and tangible costs, while the case for “staying the course” draws heavily on shadowy fears of the unknown and relies on worst-case scenarios. President Bush’s and Sen. John McCain’s forecasts of regional catastrophe are quite reminiscent of the predictions of “falling dominoes” that were used to justify continued U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Neither has provided any real evidence that ending the war would mean disaster, but their fear-mongering makes prolonging it easier.
Shiite militias cling to swaths of Basra and stage raids
Shiite militiamen in Basra openly controlled wide swaths of the city on Saturday and staged increasingly bold raids on Iraqi government forces sent five days ago to wrest control from the gunmen, witnesses said, as Iraqi political leaders grew increasingly critical of the stalled assault.
Witnesses in Basra said members of the most powerful militia in the city, the Mahdi Army, were setting up checkpoints and controlling traffic in many places ringing the central district controlled by some of the 30,000 Iraqi Army and police forces involved in the assault. Fighters were regularly attacking the government forces, then quickly retreating.
Senior members of several political parties said the operation, ordered by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, had been poorly planned. The growing discontent adds a new level of complication to the American-led effort to demonstrate that the Iraqi government had made strides toward being able to operate a functioning country and keep the peace without thousands of American troops.
Iraqi offensive revives debate for campaigns
The heavy fighting that broke out last week as Iraqi security forces tried to oust Shiite militias from Basra is reverberating on the presidential campaign trail and posing new challenges and opportunities to the candidates, particularly Senator John McCain.
The fierce fighting — and the threat that it could undo a long-term truce that has greatly helped to reduce the level of violence in Iraq — thrust the war back into the headlines and the public consciousness just as it had been receding behind a tide of economic concerns. And it raised anew a host of politically charged questions about whether the current strategy is succeeding, how capable the Iraqis are of defending themselves and what the potential impact would be of any American troop withdrawals.
Where are the Iraqis in the Iraq war?
Five years after the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, mainstream media is once more making the topic an object of intense scrutiny. The costs and implications of the war are endlessly covered from all possible angles, with one notable exception — the cost to the Iraqi people themselves.
Through all the special coverage and exclusive reports, very little is said about Iraqi casualties, who are either completely overlooked or hastily mentioned and whose numbers can only be guesstimated. Also conveniently ignored are the millions injured, internally and externally displaced, the victims of rape and kidnappings who will carry physical and psychological scars for the rest of their lives.
We find ourselves stuck in a hopeless paradigm, where it feels necessary to empathise with the sensibilities of the aggressor so as not to sound “unpatriotic”, while remaining blind to the untold anguish of the victims. Some actually feel the need to go so far as to blame the Iraqis for their own misfortune. Both Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have expressed their wish for Iraqis to take responsibility for the situation in their country, with the former saying, “we cannot win their civil war. There is no military solution.”
A new diplomatic order in Pakistan
If it was not yet clear to Washington that a new political order prevailed here, the three-day visit this week by America’s chief diplomat dealing with Pakistan should put any doubt to rest.
The visit by Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte turned out to be series of indignities and chilly, almost hostile, receptions as he bore the brunt of the full range of complaints that Pakistanis now feel freer to air with the end of military rule by Washington’s favored ally, President Pervez Musharraf.
Faced with a new democratic lineup that is demanding talks, not force, in the fight against terrorism, Mr. Negroponte publicly swallowed a bitter pill at his final news conference on Thursday, acknowledging that there would now be some real differences in strategy between the United States and Pakistan.
Somalia’s government teeters on collapse
The trouble started when government soldiers went to the market and, at gunpoint, began to help themselves to sacks of grain last week.
Islamist insurgents poured into the streets to defend the merchants. The government troops took heavy casualties and retreated all the way back to the presidential palace, supposedly the most secure place in the city. It, too, came under fire.
Mohamed Abdirizak, a top government official, crouched on a balcony at the palace, with bullets whizzing over his head. He had just given up a comfortable life as a development consultant in Springfield, Va. His wife thought he was crazy. Sweat beaded on his forehead.
High rice cost creating fears of Asia unrest
Rising prices and a growing fear of scarcity have prompted some of the world’s largest rice producers to announce drastic limits on the amount of rice they export.
The price of rice, a staple in the diets of nearly half the world’s population, has almost doubled on international markets in the last three months. That has pinched the budgets of millions of poor Asians and raised fears of civil unrest.
Shortages and high prices for all kinds of food have caused tensions and even violence around the world in recent months. Since January, thousands of troops have been deployed in Pakistan to guard trucks carrying wheat and flour. Protests have erupted in Indonesia over soybean shortages, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs.
Food riots have erupted in recent months in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. But the moves by rice-exporting nations over the last two days — meant to ensure scarce supplies will meet domestic needs — drove prices on the world market even higher this week.
Hillary’s St. Patrick’s Day massacre
Most politicians lie. Most people over 50, as I know all too well, misremember things. So here is the one compelling mystery still unresolved about Hillary Clinton’s Bosnia fairy tale: Why did she keep repeating this whopper for nearly three months, well after it had been publicly debunked by journalists and eyewitnesses?
In January, after Senator Clinton first inserted the threat of “sniper fire” into her stump speech, Elizabeth Sullivan of The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote that the story couldn’t be true because by the time of the first lady’s visit in March 1996, “the war was over.” Meredith Vieira asked Mrs. Clinton on the “Today” show why, if she was on the front lines, she took along a U.S.O. performer like Sinbad. Earlier this month, a week before Mrs. Clinton fatefully rearmed those snipers one time too many, Sinbad himself spoke up to The Washington Post: “I think the only ‘red phone’ moment was: Do we eat here or at the next place?”
Yet Mrs. Clinton was undeterred. She dismissed Sinbad as a “comedian” and recycled her fiction once more on St. Patrick’s Day. When Michael Dobbs fact-checked it for The Post last weekend and proclaimed it worthy of “four Pinocchios,” her campaign pushed back. The Clinton camp enforcer Howard Wolfson phoned in to “Morning Joe” on MSNBC Monday and truculently quoted a sheaf of news stories that he said supported her account. Only later that day, a full week after her speech, did he start to retreat, suggesting it was “possible” she “misspoke” in the “most recent instance” of her retelling of her excellent Bosnia adventure.
Vendors resent Clinton’s unpaid bills
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s cash-strapped presidential campaign has been putting off paying hundreds of bills for months — freeing up cash for critical media buys, but also earning the campaign a reputation as something of a deadbeat in some small business circles.
A pair of Ohio companies owed more than $25,000 by Clinton for staging events for her campaign are warning others in the tight-knit event production community — and anyone else who will listen — to get their cash upfront when doing business with her. Her campaign, say representatives of the two companies, has stopped returning phone calls and e-mails seeking payment of outstanding invoices. One even got no response from a certified letter.
Their cautionary tales, combined with published reports about similar difficulties faced by a New Hampshire landlord, an Iowa office cleaner and a New York caterer highlight a less-obvious impact of Clinton’s inability to keep up with the staggering fundraising pace set by her opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.