Al-Sadr and Maliki (and Al-Sistani)

To expand on the post on Basra, below, go read this Abu Muquama post on Cordesman’s NYT column on the fighting.

Cordesman goes on to write, of the fighting in Basra, that…

There are good reasons for the central government to reassert control of Basra. It is not peaceful. It is the key to Iraq’s oil exports. Gang rule is no substitute for legitimate government. But given the timing and tactics, it is far from clear that this offensive is meant to serve the nation’s interest as opposed to those of the Islamic Supreme Council and Dawa.

A few thoughts: One, the fighting in Basra and Baghdad is, on one level, about asserting the control of the central government. That is a good thing. But two, on another level, the fighting that took place last week was about ISCI trying to set the stage for this fall’s provincial elections. It wasn’t about the central government versus local authorities at all — it was about cold-blooded intra-Shia politics.

Note that AM thinks we backed the wrong dog in the fight:

Do we have a dog in such a fight? Alas, we do. That dog’s name is ISCI. As the same friend mentioned above has noted, historians studying Iraq decades from now will wonder why the United States allied itself with the Iran-backed ISCI instead of the popularly-supported Sadr movement. (Hint to those historians: it’s because they dress well and speak English. This is what happens when you send smart but young Republican loyalists — who only speak English — to help run the CPA in Baghdad.) Once again, we have backed the loser…

Might I suggest that our deference to Al-Sistani might have had more to do with it? While their relationship is a complex one (see this interesting article suggesting they are more closely aligned than not), it’s certainly the case that they were significant rivals in the formative period of 04 and early 05.

I Don’t Think Winning Sides In Battle Make Many Offers


Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr offered Sunday to pull his fighters off the streets of Basra and other cities if the government halts raids against his followers and releases prisoners held without charge.

The offer was contained in a nine-point statement issued by his headquarters in Najaf.

This in spite of the press reports (on the admittedly confusing situation) that suggest that the ‘Mahdi Army holds firm as Iraqi PM risks all in battle of Basra‘.

The other side is always implacable, plucky, and standing firm – our side is always risking all, or otherwise at hazard. The reality is that both sides are hurting, and the question is who can sustain hurting longer.

Hollywood Goes To War (Again)

Posted without comment from Nikki Finke):

I’m told #7 Stop-Loss opened to only $1.6 million Friday from just 1,291 plays and should eke out $4+M. Although the drama from MTV Films was the best-reviewed movie opening this weekend, Paramount wasn’t expecting much because no Iraq war-themed movie has yet to perform at the box office. “It’s not looking good,” a studio source told me before the weekend. “No one wants to see Iraq war movies. No matter what we put out there in terms of great cast or trailers, people were completely turned off. It’s a function of the marketplace not being ready to address this conflict in a dramatic way because the war itself is something that’s unresolved yet. It’s a shame because it’s a good movie that’s just ahead of its time.”

OK, I lied, I’m going to comment – from Box Office Mojo, opening US weekends:

Lions for Lambs $6,702,434 (2,215 theaters, $3,025 average)

In The Valley of Elah $1,512,310 (wide, 762 theaters, $1,984 average)

Redacted $25,628 (15 theaters, $1,708 average)

Grace is Gone $13,880 (4 theaters, $3,470 average)

Rendition $4,060,012 (2,250 theaters, $1,804 average)

So obviously no one wants to see movies on the War on Terror.

Well, maybe not:

The Kingdom $17,135,055 (2,793 theaters, $6,135 average)

Maybe, just maybe, the audiences don’t see ‘addressing the conflict in a realistic way‘ the same way that the studios do. Maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to be the bad guys. Just a thought.

Mahdi Army “Fighting for its life”…

…in Basra. Is that a bad thing?

From The Guardian:

A senior commander in the Mahdi army said today the militia was fighting a battle for survival in Basra against a rival Shia faction seeking to obliterate it ahead of September elections.

Fighting broke out in Basra on Tuesday when Iraqi government forces launched an offensive against Shia militia in the city. Overnight, US jets carried out air strikes in support of Iraqi forces in at least two locations.

Shiek Ali al-Sauidi, a prominent member of the Moqtada al-Sadr-led movement in Basra, said his men were being targeted not by the Iraqi government but by government militias loyal to the rival Supreme Islamic Council faction.

“They are a executing a very well drawn plan. They are trying to exterminate the Sadrists and cut and isolate the movement before the September local elections,” he said in a telephone interview with the Guardian.

What do you think?

If Network Solutions Won’t Help Host This…

I’ll help point people to the Live Leak version of Fitna:

I’m working and so haven’t watched yet, and so can’t comment approvingly or disapprovingly. More commentary to follow.

JK: LiveLeak pulled the movie, citing safety risks:

bq. “Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, and some ill informed reports from certain corners of the British media that could directly lead to the harm of some of our staff, has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers. This is a sad day for freedom of speech on the net but we have to place the safety and well being of our staff above all else. We would like to thank the thousands of people, from all backgrounds and religions, who gave us their support. They realised is a vehicle for many opinions and not just for the support of one…. We stood for what we believe in, the ability to be heard, but in the end the price was too high.”

Fitna can also be found here – and here.

Easter Reading

By random chance, on Friday I picked up a used copy of Hume’s “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion” at the awesome renaissance Bookshop at the Milwaukee Airport.

I was led there by Susan Nieman’s “Evil in Modern Thought,” about which I may try and write later. That was a challenging book…

And either I’m much smarter now and so more aware of the deep subtleties in books like this, or a whole lot dumber than I was in college when they were easy to read.

Social Entrepreneurs – A New Face For Liberalism?

I’d tagged this article and want to just toss it up while I work on a longer piece on the points it makes.

David Brooks at the NYT, writing ‘Thoroughly Modern Do-Gooders‘:

Earlier generations of benefactors thought that social service should be like sainthood or socialism. But this one thinks it should be like venture capital.

These thoroughly modern do-gooders dress like venture capitalists. They talk like them. They even think like them. That means that aside from the occasional passion for heirloom vegetables, they are not particularly crunchy. They don’t wear ponytails, tattoos or Birkenstocks. They don’t devote any energy to countercultural personal style, unless you consider excessive niceness a subversive fashion statement.

Next to them, Barack Obama looks like Abbie Hoffman.

It also means that they are not that interested in working for big, sluggish bureaucracies. They are not hostile to the alphabet-soup agencies that grew out of the New Deal and the Great Society; they just aren’t inspired by them.

He’s talking about something that resonates with me pretty closely:

The older do-gooders had a certain policy model: government identifies a problem. Really smart people design a program. A cabinet department in a big building administers it.

But the new do-gooders have absorbed the disappointments of the past decades. They have a much more decentralized worldview. They don’t believe government on its own can be innovative. A thousand different private groups have to try new things. Then we measure to see what works.

Sounds good to me…

p0wned! …or not…

Commenters Metrico, Davebo and Dreuk challenge me on my support for Obama in the comment thread below.

I’ll make a comment and then a suggestion.

I’d like Obama to win; I’m anxious about his foreign policy, but not as anxious as I am about McCain’s because I’m confident that it won’t survive contact with reality (I said so here) – and Powers was probably fired as much for saying that was true as she was for calling Hillary a monster. I’m working on a post on McCain’s, and hope to get it out next week, work permitting.Of course, I have until I put the card into the slot on the Inkavote to make the decision, and lots could happen between now and November. Lots already has in this race.

But when I criticize Obama in my posts on Wright, I’m making a concrete suggestion on what he could do to win over voters like me who might be more anxious than I about him. I’m telling him how he could improve his game, and how – I think – he could make his election more certain.

Now I’ve had running battles on the blog for years with liberal voters who state, simply, that I’m a party of one, and that there’s no ‘voter cohort’ that thinks like me, and so on. I’ll suggest that if that were the case, both Hillary and Obama would be 10 – 15 points up on McCain at this point in the game. Hint: they aren’t.

So when I toss out the idea that Obama should make a more solid explanation of how he combines his ‘radical roots’ and his moderate expressions, it’s intended to help him win.

MDD, below, aren’t so interested in that. Because if they were, and they had a wobbly Obama voter in front of them, they’d be propping him up – offering responses to his concerns, pointing out facts that have been missed and doing everything they can to say, “Hey, Marc I get it that you’re concerned about this, and here’s why you shouldn’t be and should support Obama more solidly.” They’d reassure me, publicly lock me into a position, and maybe create the seeds of some arguments that might persuade others as well.

In fact they aren’t interested in that: they are interested in feeling smug and high-fiving each other over how wondeful and righteous they are. If they do it at my expense, I’m pretty much indifferent (although if bored, I might swipe back). But when they do that, they are carrying on a long trend in US left politics, which has resulted in – among other things, an effective electoral tie with a geriatric standard-bearer for a party that ought to be on it’s last legs for the next eight years.

I don’t know how often I have to post this quote, but I’m prepared to keep doing it until somebody starts to get it. From John Schaar:

“Finally, if political education is to effective it must grow from a spirit of humility on the part of the teachers, and they must overcome the tendencies toward self-righteousness and self-pity which set the tone of youth and student politics in the 1960’s. The teachers must acknowledge common origins and common burdens with the taught, stressing connection and membership, rather than distance and superiority. Only from these roots can trust and hopeful common action grow.”

And if you want to understand ‘the arc of my beliefs’, an earlier post that cited this offers a pretty good explanation: ‘Why does Brian Leiter Want to Kill Poor People?‘ It’s also all over (look for ‘Skyboxes’) and this site.

Why do you want to kill poor people, Davebo?

Paging Norman Spinrad…

In 1975, he wrote a story (not really science fiction) called “Sierra Maestra” which takes place about now in a penthouse apartment above a riot-torn Manhattan. In that apartment, a progressive radical clique plots to take over America; they do it by having spent the last twenty-five years working their way to positions of incredible prominence – running General Motors, richest financier in the country, Senator, Governor. Their entire lives to that point had been dissembling so that they could attain the positions they wanted to have on this day and move to make change.

I get a creepy reminder of that story when I read things like this about Obama:

The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.

As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, “Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I’m hoping when things calm down I can be more up front.” He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, “Keep up the good work!”

or this:

Mr. Wright said that in the phone conversation in which Mr. Obama disinvited him from a role in the announcement, Mr. Obama cited an article in Rolling Stone, “The Radical Roots of Barack Obama.”

According to the pastor, Mr. Obama then told him, “You can get kind of rough in the sermons, so what we’ve decided is that it’s best for you not to be out there in public.”

I can understand why these things would make conservatives – and many moderates – hyperventilate.Because they think that what they are seeing is a real-life re-enactment of Spinrad’s story.

Now that’s not necessarily true; I have a diverse body of friends and lots of friends who I don’t mix together – deliberately, out of courtesy and respect to each. I can understand how Obama could face the same issue, writ far larger.

And I’ll note that in the story, Spinrad approves of the plotters who plan to rescue a collapsing United States.

But the one thing Obama needs to do – and did not do, in spite of some excellent sleight of hand in his speech last week – is explain the arc of his beliefs and how it is that he’s comfortable with Rev. Wright and uncomfortable with some of Rev. Wright’s core beliefs.

I’m still standing on his side of the line – along with lots and lots of people like me – and if he wants to nail my feet to the floor here, this is the first and most important thing he needs to do.