Mohammed Fadhil, Iraq the Model blogger and my friend, writes a crie de coeur about the impact of abandoning Iraq:

And so, my friends, I will call for fighting this war just as powerfully as the bad guys do – because I must show them that I’m stronger than they are. The people of America need to understand this: the enemies of a stable Iraq are America’s enemies, and they simply do not understand the language of civilization and reason.

They understand only power. It is wileth power they took over their countries and held their peoples hostage. Everything they accomplished was through absolute control over the assets of their nations through murder, torture, repression and intimidation.

Go read the whole thing.

One reason why I initially supported and still support the war is simply because I believe that we are fighting for the decent people like Mohammed and his family. Dentists and doctors, people who simply want to make their country one where their children can grow up with hope and an unblighted future.It’s because of what Geraldine Brooks wrote in Salon in 1998:

Until the Gulf War, I had always been on the pacifist side of the argument in all the conflicts of my lifetime. Vietnam, Panama, the Falklands — I protested them all. And then in 1988, on a searing summer day, I stepped off a plane in Baghdad and began my acquaintance with a regime of such unfathomable cruelty that it changed my views on the use of force.

I learned from Iraqi dissidents about mothers, under interrogation, tortured by the cries of their own starving infants whom they weren’t allowed to breast-feed; about thalium, the slow-acting rat poison Saddam Hussein used on his enemies; about Iraqi government employees whose official job description was “violator of women’s honor” — i.e., prison rapist.

One bright spring day during the Kurdish uprising, I followed Kurds into the security prison they’d just liberated in northern Iraq. It was dim in the underground cells, so my face was only inches from the wall before I was sure what I was looking at. Long, rusty nails had been driven into the plaster. Around them curled small pieces of human flesh. One withered curve of cartilage looked like part of an ear.

I’m home now in my own liberal, pacifist country, Australia. Within a couple of hours of the news of the latest Baghdad bombings, people in Sydney were in the streets, demonstrating against them. Friends were on the phone, upset: “Terrible, isn’t it? And at this time of the year! Whatever happened to peace on earth, goodwill to men?” Local pundits argued on the television, decrying American bully-boy tactics against a small and defanged Arab country. I agreed with almost everything they said: Yes, the slaughter and injury of Iraqi civilians is tragic. And yes, the timing of the bombing is the worst kind of political cynicism. And yes, it is questionable what effect this new onslaught will have on Iraq’s weapons capability. And yet I disagreed with their conclusion: that this bombing is therefore wrong.

The West’s great crimes in Iraq are not the latest bombings, but the years of inaction: ignoring the use of poison gas in the theaters of the Iran-Iraq war; ignoring it again in Halabja and other rebellious Iraqi cities; ignoring the vast human and environmental devastation since the Gulf War in the mostly Shiite regions of southern Iraq, where the ancient wetlands of Mesopotamia and the unique culture of the marsh Arabs have been wiped out by a series of dams and diversions designed to starve a minority into submission.

Opponents of the bombing say that dealing with Iraq should be left with the United Nations and its gentle leader, Kofi Annan. But Annan is a peacemaker, and a peacemaker isn’t necessarily what’s required in Iraq, any more than it was in Bosnia. Sarajevans will tell you of the agonies caused by the U.N.’s “evenhanded diplomacy” — the pressures to accept any kind of unjust peace the Serbs happened to offer. The history of the United Nations has shown that the organization is most useful in keeping peace between belligerents who have decided they no longer wish to fight. But recent experience has shown that the organization is both inept at, and degraded by, its insertion into conflicts where one or both parties have no wish for peace.

After I left the Middle East, I spent some time covering the United Nations at its headquarters in New York and in the field in Bosnia and Somalia. During that time, I learned that people who go to work for the United Nations often do so because they believe that war is the greatest evil and that force is never justified. In Somalia, one U.N. staffer broke into sobs in front of me because instead of keeping peace, her job had become the administration of a war.

It is impossible to imagine the bureaucrats of the United Nations accepting the kind of harsh conclusion that may be necessary in the case of Saddam Hussein: that the bombs should continue to fall until he does. Iraqis will die. But they are dying now, by the scores and the hundreds, in horrible pain, in the dark security prisons with the blood on the walls and the excrement on the floor.

I wish I still believed, as I used to, that the United Nations was always the world’s best chance to avert bloodshed. I wish I could join, as I once would have, the placard-waving peace protesters outside the U.S. Consulate here in Sydney.

I wish I’d never seen the piece of ear nailed to the wall.

I have watched as the conventional wisdom has shifted – driven by a relentless cycle of media and pundit pronouncements that the war is immoral and unwinnable – unwinnable most recently of all we are told because we don’t have the determination to win – because our pundit class has been busy telling us for five years that the was immoral and unwinnable, watched as politicians have moved to cover their asses with cynical proposals they know won’t work but they know they can propose because they will never be implemented if the politicians proposing them are elected.

The problems surrounding the war in Iraq – or the war in which Iraq is the leading battlefield – are truly wicked problems. They are not susceptible to computer models, or policy white papers, or answers arrived at in clever debate. Words, models, ideas matter – as tools, as weapons – but they will not solve this.

So I’m lost – like so many others, I make my way with words and numbers and ideas. I don’t have any in my bag of tricks today that will reverse the course our affairs must take.

Sometimes, when I can’t decide on an issue, I make my decision by looking at who stands where, and who I’d like to stand beside.

There’s no issue here. I can only stand beside Mohammed. I can only stand beside the troops who are in Iraq and believe more in the mission they are doing than we who have sent them.

There will be a time for policy and clever ideas and arguments and numbers. We’ll need them. But given a choice about where to stand on the big issue, I really have no choice.

We must keep fighting those criminals and tyrants until they realize that the freedom-loving peoples of the region are not alone. Freedom and living in dignity are the aspirations of all mankind and that’s what unites us; not death and suicide. When freedom-lovers in other countries reach out for us they are working for the future of everyone tyrants and murderers like Ahmedinejad, Nesrallah, Assad and Qaddafi must realize that we are not their possessions to pass on to their sons or henchmen. We belong to the human civilization and that was the day we gave what we gave to our land and other civilizations. They can’t take out our humanity with their ugly crimes and they can’t force us to back off. The world should ask them to leave our land before asking the soldiers of freedom to do so.

Those who choose to stand elsewhere today will find that they will have harder choices to make tomorrow. Sadly, I think that all of us will.

Summer School

So Littlest Guy is going to take a class with the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth this summer. They just sent us a list of the other kids in his session, to facilitate carpooling. It’s fascinating reading.

The kids are from Hsin Chu, Taiwan and Wichita Falls, Kansas and Bell Gardens (a relatively poor – median income $36K to Los Angeles County’s $51K – 90% Hispanic community here is Los Angeles).

The names are a true rainbow – Patel, Hsu, Flores, Apolaya, Ivanova, Mecom, Klein, Kawananakoa, Yu, Suh, Chipman.

Unsurprisingly, most of the kids (44%) have Asian surnames. But equally unsurprisingly, in the face of the wide perception that the schools serving Latino neighborhoods here in Los Angeles are substandard, 18% of the kids have Hispanic surnames.

I think LG is going to have to work his a** off to keep up. I kind of like that idea…

In the driveway…


…gonna be fun. We’ve shelved ‘Tammany’ as a name, and are going with ‘Montecore.’ One hopes it will serve as a reminder that it has fangs and claws, and that I treat it with appropriate care.

Ali, Ali Oxen Free

Ali Eteraz, a Muslim commentator who is close to the epicenter of where Islamic thought in the West ought to be, and who is consistently interesting, is interesting again today.

I always considered myself a humanist and do still. It just cannot be the case that only one ‘side’ of a political divide have a monopoly on humanism. I know for a fact that Isaiah Berlin would not exactly be welcome in some parts of the left; nor Solzhenitsyn. [I also know that Burke would be ridiculed in some parts of the right]. I cannot in clean conscience engage against religious supremacism and exclusion if I engage in ideological supremacism and exclusion.

I believe in human solidarity. In the elimination of cruelty and humiliation. I believe in living beyond labels and identity markers.

Welcome to the muddle in the middle, Ali. Come pull up a comfortable chair and I’ll pour the drinks.

Watch This Space

Over at liberal security site Democracyarsenal, guest blogger David Schanzer posts ‘Game On Now For National Security Debate‘.

Unfortunately, the Democratic frontrunners did little to dispel this notion during the first presidential candidates’ debate. Obama chose to talk about the Hurricane Katrina response when asked the first thing he would do after a terrorist attack on U.S. soil And, when Brian Williams served up the Giuliani quotes on a silver platter to Clinton, she did not discuss how to defeat al Qaeda or combat the spread of the global jihadist movement, but instead expounded on the virtues of greater port and subway security.

This isn’t going to cut it in a general election. Because of the still lingering security gap Democrats face, progressives cannot wait until the general election to start speaking convincingly about the threats the nation faces and how to deal with them. Promising to end the Iraq war (as if that could actually be accomplished), will not necessarily be enough to defeat a Republican opponent who is not Bush and will most certainly have his own plan to wind down the war.

Now is the time to get our game day faces on for the national security debate. And we will have to do better than our congressional leaders and presidential candidates have done in this regard since the election. In my posts over the next three weeks, I’ll be discussing some ideas about what I think progressives ought to be saying to prevail in this debate.

I’ll be checking back there and reading his posts with interest. Of course, he’s tagged as a ‘concern troll’ in the second paragraph. That alone may be reason to support him. I’m looking forward to his posts, and to engaging him in what I hope will be a useful and interesting discussion.

Back From D.C.

Up too damn early this morning (I keep CA time when I take short trips East) and into a cab from Alexandria to Dulles. But my day got off to a great start in talking to the cabdriver, an Ethiopian immigrant who’s been here for 16 years and brought his five kids over.

They’re quite a burden on our economy – four have graduated college, one will graduate from Rutgers next year, three of them own their own businesses and all of them seem well launched in the world. He’s incredibly proud of hem – as he ought to be – they don’t smoke, don’t dance, drink only a little, and work very damn hard – as he put it. He’s homesick for Ethiopia, but admits that he’s “an American now.” And welcome…

That was kind of the tone of the whole trip for me. Meeting and talking to all kinds of really smart and interesting people.

On a meta level, the issue of the milblogs as a tool for exposing more of the story about the war than is seen in the MSM continues to grow. It’s apparent that the military is locked in an internal struggle between those who see the milblogs as a valuable voice in the information war, and those who are afraid of losing message control because of them.

I deal with the exact same issue pretty much every day in my job, and one of the things I drill home is that you – the corporate, government, military you – has lost control of your message. It is being remixed, commented, critiqued, and flamed out in the Internets, and if those critiques, comments, or flames have any merit – they will get picked up an amplified.

So the answer is (to quote Von Riper again) to be “in command but out of control” – to influence and shape the dialog by participating in it, and realizing that while you may have the largest megaphone but not the only one. At some point the military leadership will get a clue…from talking to Blackfive, it sounds like it’s happening sooner rather than later. The fact that President Bush recorded a message which opened the conference may be a clue as well.

But an amazing crew, and a few takeaways…

Soldiers Angels, Soldiers Angels, Soldiers Angels. Sign up, give money, do something. If you support the war or hate it, this incredible group of people is doing amazing work in supporting the troops in the most direct way possible.

Lots of good feedback on Victory PAC – we ought to be official, and have a bank account next week and everything. Let’s see what comes of it, and have some fun. If I can get Blackfive, John from Castle Arrgh and Noah Shachtman of Wired to think it’s a good idea – it’s probably a good idea.

Oh, and I picked up the Tiger…(very big grin!)

My Alexandria

I’m in Alexandria VA, at the 2007 Milblogs conference chatting with folks about Victory PAC and our information war. I’m really looking forward to meeting all these folks, and some other folks in DC. I’ll try and do some kind of report on the way home.

Why Barak Obama Needs To Study With Paul Van Riper

Update: Apologies to the commenters – I deleted the wrong extra copy of the post, and it took your comments with it. I’ll see if I can recover them.

Van Riper is the author of one of my favorite phrases – “in command and out of control” – which defines the kind of management style that community-based enterprises require.

Obama’s campaign tripped pretty hard this week when they forcibly evicted a volunteer who had – over two+ years and on his own dime – built the unofficial Obama MySpace page into one with 160,000 friends.

The story is pretty well told over at Micah Sifry’s blog.

There’s an astounding amount of vituperation aimed at the volunteer – a L.A. paralegal named Joe Anthony – in the comments and on the blogs.

There’s also a strong thread of anger at Obama’s campaign.

From my POV it would have been an easy problem to solve – assign a junior staffer to work with Anthony and assist with the workload (he’s got a day job, and running a site that popular starts burning hours), give him invites to some high-roller events here and a chance to have coffee with the Senator…et la, problem solved.

Instead, the campaign has bout itself far more than $44,000 worth of negative publicity, which was amateurish and stupid.

And we learn that in spite of the communitarian face on modern campaigns, they are still probably too centrally run. The problem, of course, is how to combine the ‘do your own thing’ ethos of Campaign 2.0 with the media microscope. A two-pipe problem, but one that could have been easily avoided here.

I’ve complimented Obama in the past, but no points to his team for this one, I’m afraid…