The Screaming Pen

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The Final Battle

Iraq at Home (Part 2): Realizing the New 3rd Rail of American Politics

“Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq.”House Concurrent Resolution 63 (2/10/07)

“You know education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”John Kerry (11/1/ 2006)

The most crucial factor – in terms of the domestic political battle over Iraq policy – is neither geopolitical nor about precedent and signaling (see the background to this article). The Republicans have owned the concept in recent years and have invoked it time after time in the debates in the House this week; Democrats are trying to wrest it away. It defines the parameters of U.S. policy in Iraq and both parties are grappling to invoke it with great fervor. It’s the first half of H Con Res 63 (stated above): support for our troops.

Literally, speech after speech after speech in Congress the past three days has centered on this concept. Democrats have begun every statement about Iraq along the lines of “I firmly support our troops” before making a segue to an appeal for reason, sometimes citing a concern for preventing the future loss of troops’ lives to reinforce this assertion. In a realm of dodged questions and shifty statements, it’s the new social security, the sole inviolable third rail of American politics. Just ask John Kerry, who found out about the danger of crossing this fine line in November 2006.

Across the aisle, Republicans claim that supporting the resolution undermines our faith in the troops and the job they’re doing. It’s inconsistent to oppose the surge and support the troops in the field, they say. Hearing of the debate back home, morale among troops in the field will be undermined (in truth, this is an unfortunate facet of America’s political system that makes the sustained, unilateral occupation of a country increasingly difficult for a democratic country). In the face of increasing radicalization and violence on the ground, endless months of waiting for Iraqis to “stand up,” and an increasing realization that victory doesn’t mean winning on the battlefield, the last bastion of argument in favor of the war in Iraq is support for the troops. As long as the GOP can link its policies to support for the troops the party ensures that the American people will not turn against them. Democrats are trying to disentangle the two.

The National Narrative
Although they differ as to the policy implications, supporting the troops is perhaps the only thing that the parties squaring off in Congress can agree upon. They do so solely because they know it carries the most weight with the American people. In fact, it cuts deeper than the current political landscape, past the flags waving on the bottom of the screen on MSNBC and FOX News in 2003 to America’s national narrative, which we are raised with and which embraces the sacrifice of our forefathers storming the beaches of Normandy, winning two world wars and the Cold War so that America, guided by liberty and democracy, could become the world’s guiding light and sole superpower. The sacrifice of our troops was integral to all of these, and it’s celebrated in pop culture (Saving Private Ryan, We Were Soldiers), promulgated by our grandfathers, and complementary to our sense of pride and strength. As the amalgamation of many cultures and peoples, the one element shared by all Americans is the belief in this national narrative, which is inherently constructed upon the role of American soldiers.

Moreover, how could one have a friend, brother, sister, father or a mother in the U.S. military and yet oppose the war? Soldiers display a faith in their superiors that is central to the functioning of a hierarchical organization; how then, can you tell them that you don’t believe in the cause for which they are prepared to die? We can’t, of course, and we don’t. Many times it’s far from being so explicit, too; instead of consciously going through this thought process – and faced with a complex, fluid and divisive situation – people eagerly seek out reasons that comport with arguments supportive of their friends and family. Regardless of political ideology, people are likely to gravitate towards the policy consistent with their social relations. It’s the “us” versus “them,” it’s Palestinians versus Israelis, it’s Indians versus Kashmiris. This is a human condition, and is found in all nations.

Thus, opposing the troops would be akin to opposing the national narrative and repudiating our ties among each other. The country has been through this process before. After Vietnam the country went through the same painful process, and many people did turn against the troops, spitting at them and leaving them to beg on the streets after returning home.

We cannot make the same mistake this time. The troops are not to blame. Clearly, opposing the troops isn’t the point, and can’t be. But when support for the troops is linked inseparably to failed policies, how do we separate them without violating our bond with our brothers and sisters?

A Painful Hangover
Doing so requires a national catharsis. Many find it inconvenient now, but on March 29th, 2003 over 70% of America supported the invasion; the figure jumped to 83% when the troops were mentioned (Gallup Poll “U.S. at War with Iraq 2). Compared with the close to 60% who now think the war was a mistake (Gallup Poll “February Wave 1”), resolving this massive shift involves overcoming considerable guilt. We feel shame toward the families of those who’ve died serving in Iraq and to the people of Iraq. We feel embarrassment at having to admit that we were wrong to the original opponents of the war in “old” Europe. Clear-consciences reward those who opposed the war for the right reasons from the start.

It requires absolving ourselves from a process (mobilization for the Iraq war) in which we had only implicit involvement. Catharsis will be painful and involve redirecting blame to political leaders (read President Bush and GOP members unable to scatter in time), under whose leadership the nation has been exploited. It should also involve the government contractors (Halliburton, Blackwater, AEGIS) who made billions in profits while U.S. soldiers had to choose between placing their one bullet proof plate on their chest or back and crucial infrastructure projects went under-funded. Probes into government contracts awarded without competition to private military contractors – along with greater oversight in the future – are in order.

There are clear signs that this is beginning to happen, after the Democratic takeover of Congress, rock-bottom poll numbers for the President and the welcome return of vociferous debate in Congress (and fiery defense of Democrats’ patriotism by Tim Ryan, D-OH), sorely absent in recent years. New members of the legislature (Democrat and Republican) were not on the record supporting the Iraq war in ’03 and can more easily denigrate it as the mistakes of the previous Congress. And we should not feel bad about this: the manipulation of social bonds by political leaders is perhaps the most heinous tactic of all.

The Final Battle
This is truly the “final battle” of the Iraq war. America’s last battle will not occur in Iraq, but the United States. It’s the battle of the national psyche to come to terms with the events of the past four years and the dreadful consequences of the Iraq war. For better or worse, the United States will not withdraw from Iraq unless the country comes to terms with this issue.

February 16, 2007 Posted by | Author: DML, Congress, Democrats, International Relations, Iraq, Middle East, Politics, The GOP, The War on Terror, United States | 4 Comments

The (ill) State of Iraq

Iraq at Home (Part 1): There’s nothing brave in writing about Iraq in February ’07. We’ll do it anyway.

In President Bush’s January State of the Union Address, he asserted – not for the first time – that the war in Iraq is indelibly linked (no pun intended) to the “war on terror.” He was right. Stop: that statement was not true before America deposed Saddam Hussein. The unfortunate reality is that this is a classic example of saying something enough that it becomes true. Hussein was a secular dictator and, according to available intelligence, had minimal contacts with al-Qaeda before the war in Iraq. Now, as the April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate declares, the U.S. invasion of Iraq:

“has become a primary recruitment vehicle for violent Islamic extremists, motivating a new generation of potential terrorists around the world whose numbers may be increasing faster than the United States and its allies can reduce the threat… The U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the insurgency that has followed, [is] the leading inspiration for new Islamic extremist networks and cells that are united by little more than an anti-Western agenda…Rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism struggle, the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position.”

In Agreement?

Presenting this evidence in February 2007 is no bold statement. The administration botched the rebuilding of Iraq, Bush’s approval ratings are at all time lows, a majority of Americans think the war was a mistake (55% in February 2006, Gallup poll “February Wave 1”); the rest is familiar by now. What needs further examination is not a tired summary of the last few years but the motives and arguments behind the raging in Congress at present about how to proceed.

Iraq in U.S. Politics
Congressional debate is back today; since this morning House Republicans and Democrats have been firing blows at each other over House Concurrent Resolution 63, the proposed non-binding” Iraq resolution, which registers disapproval but does not block funds for the President’s “surge” proposal. For those of you without time for C-Span in your busy lives, the substance of the fiery debate has been predictably familiar. It was illuminating nonetheless.

While the Democrats’ opposition was initially characterized as opposing war for the sake of peace, there is now a tinge of realism to their arguments: the war is further radicalizing large swathes of the world and billions of dollars are being spent while many domestic issues need serious attention. They appeal to the historical democratic tradition of debate and the need for open discussion of policy, especially when it’s flawed. Crucially for the Democratic shift was their minority status during the Iraq war, (despite having largely supported it in ‘03) which makes them less politically tied to its future than the GOP. The Democratic takeover of Congress also brought fresh faces into politics with the luxury of not having gone on record in support of the war in ’03. The party is better able to make a pragmatic about-face (or stand by an initial decision against it) in light of unfavorable developments.

The GOP meanwhile is torn. Some members have rebelled against President Bush and opposed the surge. Conversely, those supporting the surge (and opposing H Con Res 63) wax eloquently but their statements are threaded by several clearly identifiable arguments. One centers on the resolution being non-binding. Opponents call it “political posturing” and “empty talk” that accomplishes nothing. This is insincere. Of course the resolution is politically motivated; everything in Washington is. More importantly, both sides know that symbols matter. Sending the signal that Congress opposes the increase is designed to isolate President Bush for posterity and influence the battle for public opinion and thus policy. Counter to their public declarations, Republicans tacitly acknowledge that symbols matter when they say, correctly, that terrorists will take note of domestic discord and be emboldened. And in case you have any further doubts, when was the last time that almost 400 representatives felt compelled (and were allowed) to make speeches on the House floor?

Quick! What channel is C-Span?

Secondly, they warn that if America withdraws from Iraq the country will ignite, Iran will capitalize, and the region will be engulfed by violence. While fears of a war erupting throughout the Middle East are easily overblown, it’s true that Iraq would likely devolve further into full-scale ethnic cleansing and massive displacement and forced migration. Iran would be further emboldened with first the removal of its neighborly nemesis Saddam Hussein and the failure of the United States to create a self-sufficient Iraqi state. As in past wars (i.e. Korea 1950 – 1953), the stronger power doesn’t have to be defeated in battle to lose the war. Stalemate works just as well if you’re able to outlast the other and wining a direct military confrontation was never a requirement for victory anyway.

President Bush offers a third justification for the war that is less often asserted by GOP members of Congress. On February 15th at the American Enterprise Institute, Bush restated that fighting terrorists in Iraq means that the United States won’t have to fight them at home. This is an attractive argument: a would-be suicide bomber from Saudi Arabia or Yemen finds it far easier to detonate him or herself in Baghdad than Boston.

Yet it’s common sense that the longer that the “war on terror” goes on – and it could be infinite – the more likely it is to happen. In the long run, terrorist attacks will occur regardless of whether or not America is fighting terrorists in Iraq. Both sides use this in support: Democrats ponder the question, “If we’re going to be attacked either way, why spend the blood and treasure in Iraq?” Republicans say that since the terrorists won’t let up if we withdraw, we need to take the battle to them.

An Accusation, Not an Argument
The GOP then asks, disingenuously, what the Democrats strategy is for Iraq. “If you oppose President Bush’s plan, why not propose your own? What is your plan?” they ask while asserting that the Democrats have none. These Republican critiques are accurate; the Democrats have no miracle strategy.

Before rushing to herald the Republican strategists, however, we should recognize that they’re simply making the best of a politically tenuous position, one that is likely to become increasingly unstable with time. And Republicans who are politically unable to distance themselves from their support for the war will – if the Democrats eventually withdraw the United States from Iraq – forever claim that it didn’t have to fail. They’ll be relieved of forging a solution and insist to the last that it could have been won, crowing that the Democrats “lost Iraq.”

The immensely depressing reality, not only for the Democratic Party but for the whole country, is that America is so deep into the war in Iraq that no good option now exists. In the following article I make the case that the country is beginning to come to terms with this and that there is one last political issue, the resolution of which will determine the course of American policy in Iraq.

February 16, 2007 Posted by | Author: DML, Democrats, Dissent, International Relations, Iraq, Middle East, Politics, The GOP, The War on Terror, United States | Leave a comment

Classic Pen: An Awkward Two-Step

A Beginner’s Guide to the World’s Most Important Relationship

“Which is best chemistry graduate school in England? Who is your favorite NBA player? How many centimeter are you?” Launched rapid fire by the throngs of residents that swallow any native speaker brave enough to wander into one of China’s many “English corners” – plazas and parks where Chinese meet to practice speaking the language on Saturday nights – the questions begin to take on the air of a personal press conference. Any lone Westerner at one of these can expect a similarly exhilarating evening, replete with overly eager late-20’s gentlemen popping into view randomly, making googly-faces from behind the rows of questioners for effect. Indeed, the curiosity and friendliness greeted foreigners here is hard to imagine for outsiders who rarely think of China without the menacing C-word directly preceding.

As the world’s largest and most visible Communist country this is perhaps inevitable. Much U.S. press coverage of China relates to textile quotas, exchange rate policy, and corporate takeovers; complicated issues more easily made exoteric by portraying the country as hostile, red, and monolithic. Avian bird flu, tense relations with Taiwan and Japan, human rights, and an intense military build-up are no less frightening.

Remembering her Conjunctions, and with Plenty of Questions for You

This misunderstanding by no means runs only one way. The xenophobic atmosphere that festered in China during the 1960’s and 70’s persists still, marooned by intellectual debates firmly quashed in public, on-line, and in the classroom. Problems with the U.S. media there may be, but American news organizations provide reporting less fettered by direct state control and censorship. Indeed, Chinese perceptions of America are influenced more heavily by the professional basketball player Dwayne Wade and the television sitcom Friends – wildly popular in Shanghai and Beijing– than through the cycle of accurate reporting, solid analysis, and measured reflection.

A fundamental misconception underlying common foreign discussion of China, but lacking in reality however, is that a massive reservoir of pent-up ill will exists towards America. In fact, many Chinese still proffer the old saying that they “dislike the government, but like the people” of America; a statement now obsolete in many parts of the world that abhor both. Widespread membership in the Communist Party primarily serves cadre’s bureaucratic and individual career objectives rather than zealous anti-capitalist indoctrination. And soldiers’ marching drills in Tiananmen Square are today largely equitable to those at Arlington National Cemetery. Scare-mongering photos of such are better left to tabloid articles covering North Korea.

Policy-makers on both sides have to move past these stereotypes if they are to successfully manage China’s emergence on the regional and national stage. Washington’s principals must also recognize that while Joseph Nye’s “soft power” is ubiquitous throughout the mainland and its peasants and laborers have plenty of bread and butter grievances, they’re hardly clamoring for a democratic revolution. President Hu and company rightly take serious America’s tough talk – a real-politic tendency regulated by its superpower status in a rocky unipolar world – but need to understand that an adversarial relationship is not the intended result, but the concern.

The necessity of maintaining peace is consequently pressed upon by Beijing’s legitimately unnerving actions: an exponential increase in military spending with no obvious military threat; bellicosity towards Taiwan and Japan; and political cover and economic assistance for unsavory regimes from Central Asia to Africa to Latin America. How leaders are able to deal with these issues will likely determine the answer to another question frequently posed at China’s English Corners: “Will there be peace between America and China?”


 2006. All rights reserved.

September 30, 2006 Posted by | Author: DML, China, Country Profiles, International Relations, United States | Leave a comment

Israel’s Fog of War

Guest Author KPC Weighs the Costs of Battle in the Middle East

August 19, 2006 – The Israeli-Lebanese conflict entered a new phase on Monday, August 14 when a cease-fire negotiated by the United Nations came into effect. Now as the fog of war dissipates, Israel must weigh the outcome of the fighting against the objectives of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Despite 33 days of intense bombing of Hezbollah strongholds and a ground assault, which pushed North to the Litani River, Israel may have done more harm to its interests than good.

The most recent Middle East conflict was ignited on July 12 when agents of Hezbollah crossed the Israeli border, killed eight Israeli soldiers and captured two others. In retaliation, Israel launched a military campaign against Hezbollah’s fractious state within Lebanon.

Olmert’s decision to mobilize the military was based largely on his determination to save the captured soldiers, deter future terrorist attacks, cripple Hezbollah and cut off the militant group’s supply of arms from Iran and Syria.

Which way home?

As Hezbollah began to launch hundreds of rockets each day into Northern Israel, Olmert also sought to push Hezbollah out of range of Israel’s densely populated cities.

While Israel has a right to protect its interests and defend itself against attacks, it is difficult to determine how Olmert’s recent military campaign has served these interests.

In the first days of the fighting, Israel seemed to garner support from countries around the world, including moderate Arab states such as Egypt. Even many within Lebanon initially viewed Hezbollah’s incursion as an unprovoked and foolish attack. But as the days wore on and as images of Lebanese civilian casualties flooded the mass media, anti-Israeli sentiment began to spread at a pace that rivaled Israel’s rush to destroy Hezbollah targets.

As sympathy for Israel has declined, support for Hezbollah and its charismatic leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, has surged within Lebanon and throughout the region. Nasrallah has galvanized a resistance movement that has spread well beyond Lebanon’s borders, creating a burgeoning group of followers eager to challenge Israel’s military might, if not its very existence.

Israel forged its status as a regional superpower in 1967 when it vanquished a coalition of Arab armies in six days, capturing Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. But now, unable to claim a decisive victory over Hezbollah, Israel risks tarnishing that reputation, which has long served as a deterrent to militant groups.

In the wake of the fighting, Nasrallah has become an international hero. From Iran to Palestine, followers chant his name, wave his image as a banner of defiance and revere him for defending Lebanon against a Zionist “oppressor.” Not to be outdone, even al-Qaida has issued statements praising Hezbollah and its leader. Nasrallah has become a hero because he is viewed as a man who accomplished what a host of Arab armies failed to do in 1967.

This hero worship will only grow as Hezbollah, with financial support from Iran, begins to help rebuild the areas of Lebanon devastated by Israeli bombing. Hezbollah’s reconstruction project will also have the effect of marginalizing Lebanon’s democratically-elected government.

Contrary to Olmert’s aims, Hezbollah—although weakened—remains in possession of its arms and has gained hero status among hoards of militant groups. Olmert has failed to secure the safe return of the captured Israeli soldiers, and worst of all, Israel has called its own military strength into question.

In the days to come, Israel must fight hard to garner through negotiations what it could not achieve in battle.

August 27, 2006 Posted by | Israel, Middle East, Palestine | Leave a comment

Classic Pen: The New Amsterdam

Minorities Crime & Drugs in China

The meanest bowl of la mian – steaming sweet noodles and meat that renew life on a frosty winter evening – you’ll ever find will be in a Uighur restaurant. Fortunately for survival, the dish can be found for 40 cents in noodle stalls located in neighborhoods throughout China. Less auspiciously for Chinese authorities, the widespread presence of ethnic minorities is, combined with the drug trade, making domestic control increasingly harder to maintain.

People from the Xinjiang (the place) Uighur (the people) Autonomous Region, China’s most western province, are noticeably different-looking than the ethnic Han that make up around 95% of the nation’s population. On average, the Uighurs are taller, with sharper features and lighter eyes. They appear more like Central Asians as they are indeed from that corner of the world. Unlike the officially atheistic Chinese, they are Muslim and wear a doppa, or Uighur hat.

Visine: Gets the Red Out

Uighurs are overwhelmingly a friendly, hospitable, and decent people. As is inherent in human nature, however, a small minority exists with less savory motives and the will to resist. They also have legitimate grievances: Xinjiang was only really pulled into Beijing’s orbit in the 1950’s when the People’s Army arrived. In a successful effort to prevent independence – similar to that witnessed in former Soviet states with similar histories in Central Asia – China has been moving its citizens to the province by the millions in an effort to pacify the Uighurs through demography and breeding; the Han now make up 50% of Xinjiang’s population. Furthermore, widespread human rights abuses and the absence of choice in the political arena lead to increasing frustration and unrest among Uighurs. Beijing’s solidarity with America’s war on terror is frequently thought to stem from domestic desires in Xinjiang. Remember the screeching woman on the White House lawn during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s speech in April? She was Uighur, and never would’ve been heard in China.

Yet as long as the central government possesses a monopoly on force restive groups find it virtually impossible to challenge its rule directly. Instead, dissent will undermine the state through other outlets. With little stake in a system that discriminates against them, some minorities seek profit through street crime and drug smuggling. Noodle stalls and niu rou (meat stick) vendors often sell hasheesh alongside their edibles. During 2005 they became even bolder, approaching shaggy-looking foreigners on Shanghai’s main tourish promenade. They also sustain a healthy trade in stolen goods, lifting cell phones and wallets, and push imitation Marlboros.

An Unhappy Bunch

The Uighurs are not the only groups in China with varying loyalties: Tibet has long been a high-profile cause celebre, and the people in Southern China – Guangdong and Hong Kong – don’t consider themselves Chinese because they aren’t Han and don’t speak Mandarin, but Cantonese. Economic dynamism has led to relative calm from Hong Kongers who were more than a little uneasy when the People’s Army arrived as the British pulled out in 1997. And while they have very different aspirations and live under widely divergent conditions than the Uighurs, they are increasingly pushy about their freedoms. Mongolian, Laotian, and Burmese groups also call the PRC home.

Definitely Worth the Trip

Nationalities from far beyond Asia are developing a presence in the country as well. In May, in conjunction with the United States, China seized 300 pounds of cocaine from a Colombian narco-gang with local partners in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Even more disturbingly, less than a mile from Zhongnanhai – the Chinese leadership’s central headquarters in Beijing- lies Sanlitun Rd and its shady cousin, Sanlitun South. The former is a dull stretch of karaoke bars with awful beer that guidebooks tout as having the best nightlife around. Just a few blocks away, hidden on all sides by apartment blocks, emerges an expatriate college student’s dream: a dusty dirt road where animals roam freely, lined by tiny alleys with wild-west bars that stay open all night serving Coronas for 50 cents. Indeed, the latter looks more like Mexico than what you’d expect to find in the heart of the Chinese capital. Less benignly are the Nigerian lookouts that man each end of the street offering everything from marijuana to crack to the passerby.

In a country that places a premium on prying into both its own citizens’ and foreigners’ lives, combined with the blatant visibility of the practice, one wonders how it can exist without the authorities’ complicity. This is doubly so given that the Nigerians are legally in China on student visas. How they got the visas is not so difficult to discern: Nigeria is a significant source of Chinese oil imports, and thus the necessary immigration papers get filed rather quickly. Yet the opacity of the government means that its role in the drug trade – whether through tacit approval and taxation or active facilitation – cannot be ruled out. Do high-ups have knowledge of it? Could it be that the Colombian drug bust accomplished two tasks at the same time: cracking down on a rival gang without connections while showing America’s Drug Enforcement Agency that it’s a good-faith partner in the War on Drugs?

If so, not only is it grossly illegal and disingenuous but illogical. Both petty and violent crime are on the rise in China, and figures will continue to climb in the future. China’s leaders should be careful about the short-term profits they seek from the trade, as the networks it creates will undermine their authority and prove impossible to stamp out. Politically, the communist party exerts a firm hold on power, but increasing revolts – numbering 87,000 last year according to party reports – will lead to a day, unlikely to be soon, when this changes. When it does the Uighurs, Tibetans, Cantonese and others will hardly help slow its fall.

August 26, 2006 Posted by | Asia, Business, China, Emerging Markets, War on Drugs | 1 Comment

Classic Pen: On Prose and Politics

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot, The Four Quarters

Of the events of the 1930’s leading up to the Second World War, no other event inspired young ideologues more than the Spanish Civil War. Young Intellectuals enlisted in droves to fight on both sides, including the writers Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell. The socialist backed International Brigade, funded in part by the Soviet Union, allied with Spanish Republicans in an attempt to defeat the Spanish fascists led by General Francisco Franco in a war that served as a precursor to the war that by 1940 engulfed most of Europe.

A portrait of the artist as a young man

Nancy Clare Cunard, a left wing intellectual living in Paris at the time, sent out a questionnaire to two-hundred writers living in Europe. She posed the following question: “Are you for or against the government of the Republican government of Spain? Are you for, or against, Franco and Fascism? For it is impossible any longer to take no side.” The Anglo-American poet T.S. Eliot responded with a “neutral”, leading to the assumption by Cunard and others that he was either politically ignorant or sympathetic to the fascists. This was not true, however, as he was a believer in “via media” or the “middle way”, a belief that moderation is the only stance that takes into account the shortcomings of human nature. During a debate between T.S. Eliot, a fascist writer, and a communist writer, T.S. Eliot mentioned the following:

“Fascism and communism, as ideas, seem to me to be thoroughly sterilized. A revolutionary idea is one which requires a reorganization of the mind; fascism and communism is now the natural idea for the thoughtless person. This in itself is a hint that the two doctrines are merely variations of the same doctrine: and even that they are merely variations of the present state of things…. What I find in both fascism and communism is a combination of statements with unexamined enthusiasms.”

Eliot believed that these “unexamined enthusiasms” led to irrational decisions during a time when rational thought was completely necessary.

This example of moderation is still relevant today, as we are faced with an increasingly polarized nation where sides are being taken and decisions are being made, sometimes irrationally. It is always important to take a step back and objectively examine issues in context. At we attempt to place news events in context, while providing non-partisan analysis and perspective.


August 22, 2006 Posted by | Author: JPL, Business, China, Energy, Europe, Financial Markets, Flat Tax, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

TSP does Summer

In 1905, Albert Einstein proved the existence of atoms, developed quantum theory, and outlined his special theory on relativity. Unsurprisingly, Einstein’s magnificent year was dubbed his annus mirabilis. We at TSP are hardly arrogant enough to compare our musings to theories that spawned a century of innovation in physics, warfare, and other far flung fields. Yet the past several months have seen the pouring out of ideas and criticism that had been building for several years, some of which nonetheless remain unrecognized in the international arena. Moreover, that they’ll eventually become widely realized is not in question. So despite the reward of the endeavor and a recent flurry of article fodder emanating from around the world, TSP’s authors have temporarily turned to other extracurricular pursuits. And as it stands, we’re not at all ashamed of our quarter-annus half-mirabilis.

We’ll resume posting this fall, and if you’d like us to notify you when we do just send an email to with the subject “notify me.” Thanks to all of our readers and don’t let the bastards get you down!

Stupid annus mirabilis…Why you gots to be so good?

Also, on a lighter note, TSP has been notified by readers in China that the government there has made an attempt to block access to this site. Hardy fans are only able to view TSP by way of third-party sites like those mentioned below in “Wired For Truth.” So to all those in the Middle Kingdom, here’s to you: keep on keepin’ on!

July 25, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wired for Truth

Guest Author KPC Explains Why China’s Internet Censorship Is Proving Futile

As angry students filled the streets during the Tiananmen uprising of 1989, Communist Party officials clamored to restrict the use of photocopiers. They argued the contraptions would allow dissidents to disseminate anti-government propaganda. While a lot has changed in the interceding years—and copyphobia now seems almost charming—China’s cadres are no less adamant about neutralizing today’s technological threats to their authority. These days, Internet search engines and Web logs have become the party’s new public enemies.

The Propaganda Ministry Plays Whack-a-Mole

China is known to employ some of the most sophisticated censorship technology in the world. Authorities wield controls so precise banning mere phrases is as effortless as blocking entire Web sites. With nearly 111 million Chinese online, the government’s official stance is that it aims to protect its citizens from “dangerous” or “unhealthy” content, such as pornography. But upon closer inspection, the government has as much contempt for search results on topics including democracy, human rights, Taiwan and Tibet.

An exhaustive search for any of these terms is practically impossible using China’s beloved Baidu or other search engines complicit with Chinese censorship law. Perform a search for “Tiananmen” and you are more likely to find tourist information than potentially embarrassing historical text, a fact that has angered human rights activists worldwide.

Recently, major Western service providers have also become embroiled in the censorship controversy. In May, human rights advocacy group Amnesty International issued a stern rebuke against Google and Yahoo!, among others, for colluding with the Chinese government. Google took a public relations beating after it launched its censored version,, and Yahoo! has come under fire for allegedly helping government officials identify Chinese journalist Shi Tao after he sent an e-mail abroad exposing China’s media restrictions. The outing of Shi landed him a 10-year prison term. Shi is one of many who have received harsh punishment for accessing or disseminating politically sensitive materials online.

China has gone to great lengths to control the flow of information on the Web. While it has focused much of its attention on search engines, government officials are equally determined to snuff out subversive Web logs or blogs. The free-flowing nature of this Internet venue makes it easy for users to spread information quickly and cost effectively, which is precisely the reason President Hu Jintao announced a crackdown on these forums in late June.

China’s assault on blogs has been threefold: utilize the same censorship controls that have been effective against search engines, issue “admittance standards,” and arrest anyone posting subversive material as a means of reprisal and intimidation. Hu has his work cut out for him. According to a study by Beijing’s Tsinghua University, China has 37 million blogs. That number is expected to nearly double by the end of the year.

What does the future hold?

For now, China is winning a slew of censorship battles, but Hu and his cronies will likely lose the war. If China is to conquer the Web, it must overcome a series of obstacles arising from an increasing number of Internet users, internal and external political pressure, and technological loopholes allowing users to bypass online censorship.

Hu endorses the Internet as an invaluable tool for business and education, and recognizes that the Net is essential if China wishes to complete with other nations. Since the Internet is here to stay, the number of Chinese who have access to its search engines, blogs and e-mail accounts will only grow with time, making it increasingly difficult for authorities to control the flow of information.

While many have decried Google and Yahoo’s cooperation with Chinese officials, some good may come from the controversy. The international community is now more aware of China’s censorship policies thanks to these high-profile cases, and activists around the world have renewed their determination to end Internet restrictions. This external political pressure is coupled with that of dissidents living within China. The Chinese masses will undoubtedly continue to flex their political muscles online despite restrictions and jail time.

Perhaps the most encouraging phenomenon is the appearance of home-grown service providers that enable the Chinese to bypass government controls. Beijing-based Maxthon routs traffic through a Web proxy, which creates a loophole allowing users access to restricted sites. Although the company downplays this functionality, word of the shortcut has spread from internet café to college dormitory, causing an explosion in the service’s popularity. In time, the party may get wise and shut Maxthon down, but there will be no shortage of loopholes.

The Communist regime may ultimately discover that censoring the Web is as futile as restricting the use of photocopiers. These counterrevolutionary machines now reside in nearly every office building, bank, school and supply shop in Beijing, and offer copies to anyone capable of pressing a button.


July 14, 2006 Posted by | Asia, Censorship, China, Globalisation | Leave a comment

Slippery As an Eel

Momentum Undercut in the World’s Most Intractable Dispute

It was but a mere blip on the radar screen. For just several hours a fortnight ago, an article ran on the major news sites stating that Hamas and Fatah – the two primary groups representing Palestinians – had reached an agreement that could lead to talks with Israel. News watchers will be forgiven if they missed it; as quickly as the story appeared it was buried in the second half of lengthy articles about the latest development: a stout Israeli military offensive into Gaza.

True, Palestinian militants were launching rockets into southern Israel from Gaza for the past month, sporadically costing civilian lives. Spoilers have captured a severely unfortunate young soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, and held him hostage somewhere in Gaza for ten days while making overblown demands for Israel to empty their jails of Palestinians – albeit more legitimately for women and children – in return for his release. And despite the Palestinian compromise, Hamas hadn’t accepted legitimate international demands that it recognize Israel.

No Messing Around

Israel’s response was swift and effective, and was accomplished as much through the media as on the battlefield. Israeli officials lamented Hamas’ pigheaded refusal to recognize the state of Israel’s right to exist and twisted the screws tighter than at any time since the two-year-old ceasefire began. Israel reoccupied central Gaza, a first since unilaterally withdrawing from the territory last year. Israel arrested some 60-odd officials from Hamas and eight elected government ministers, and purposefully flew bombers over Bashir Assad, the unfriendly president of neighboring Syria (where some of the Hamas leadership resides).

Yet despite Hamas’ intransigence, the Israeli campaign is grossly disproportionate to the offences committed by the group holding the young soldier hostage. Analysts also differ fundamentally as to how much control the political wing of Hamas has over the three factions – one of which is nominally tied to Hamas – that played a role in the capturing raid. Israel’s operation will likely prove counterproductive as well: far from securing the release of Cpl. Shalit, the effective decapitation of Hamas’ leadership in Gaza may only serve to solidify Palestinian support for their embattled leaders.

It would be foolhardy to rush to the support of a group that refuses to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Yet as all practitioners of diplomacy know, however depraved, these are sticking points used as bargaining chips in negotiations, and aren’t given up lightly; especially when they’ve been bedrock principles for decades. In just a few short months, however, momentum had been building for change. Since Hamas’ election in January, the Palestinian Authority’s leader, the secular Mahmoud Abbas, had been trying to force Hamas’ into embracing these notions. He called for a referendum in which it looked possible that wearied voters would give Hamas the cover needed to reverse policy and avoiding the appearance of caving under foreign pressure. The reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah was an additionally auspicious development.

Post-reoccupation, these events have no chance of being carried forward. Any opportunity for a referendum, much less recognition of Israel, has evaporated. Under siege, Hamas will maintain support by appearing as the martyred defender against a harsh foreign invader. Hamas won’t be allowed to either achieve change or turbidly stagnate and prove its own deficiencies. Moreover, the timing of Israel’s military incursion was suspiciously close to the announcement of the Hamas-Fatah accord, and peace is as far away as ever.

Of course, it’s beginning to be accepted wisdom that this is actually what Israel desires, as Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas Prime Minister, argues in today’s Washington Post. Suicide-bombings in Israel have slowed to a trickle in the last year and the country occupies all territory vital to its security. In May, President Bush sanctioned Israel’s land claims. States that possess everything they desire and face no pressure to give any of it up have never made for good faith negotiating partners. Squared off against a bitter enemy that does itself no favors in the public debate, don’t look for Israel to prove itself an exception to the rule.


 2006. All rights reserved.

July 12, 2006 Posted by | Hamas, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Politics | Leave a comment

Herodotus Wouldn’t be Pleased

The policy of a state lies in its geography.
– Napoleon

Political scientists bicker constantly over the factors most influential to international affairs. Economics, race, force, power, globalization, culture, religion, and others are frequently mooted, yet there is at least one dimension routinely given short-shrift: geography. So fundamental is the field that it’s routinely overlooked, especially when viewed from an America that misses local fault lines in its broad, global sweep of the world, and which is fortuitously largely free of geographical conflicts itself. Other places aren’t so lucky. Here’s a survey of how geography affects three selected political and social issues around the world:

For Pete’s Sake Herodotus, Stop Making Maps of Far-Away Lands & Put On Some Clothes!

Turkey & the European Union. Turkey has been working towards admission to the EU since the 1960’s, and is now closer than ever to entry. Yet the path to membership is still far from certain, due mainly to obstreperousness from France, the Netherlands and others. The debate hinges on many angles – the nature of Turkey’s government and society, Islam, disparities in GDP per capita, and more – but one assertion routinely voiced has to do with geography: dissenters point out that most of Turkey in fact lies not in Europe, but in Asia. Divided from Europe by the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara, Turkey does indeed touch Syria, Iraq and Iran. But the protesters’ claim is disingenuous and belied by the fact that Cyprus (the Greek half at least) – just off the coasts of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel – is an EU country that lies further from Europe than does Turkey. Geographers aren’t pleased that their trade is a guise for prejudice and insecurity.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The SCO was founded in 2001 by six nations – China, Russia, Kazahkstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgystan – and was based initially on the “Treaty of Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions” and the “Treaty on Reduction of Military Forces in Border Regions,” and now includes political, economic, cultural, and security cooperation. The group’s six members are officially “equal partners” but the locus of the group is clearly China. As China’s neighbors to the South and East are warier of the country’s hemorrhaging might, Beijing is looking towards Central Asia to build regional security hub. And only a cursory knowledge of the SCO’s member governments is needed to know that they are wicked. The Screaming Pen is losing sleep in a bad way that will only be remedied through a post in the near future.

Kurds: Cutting a Wide Swath

Kurdistan. If you’ve never heard of Kurdistan, it’s probably because it doesn’t exist; at least as a state that is. Despite numbering some 25 million, Kurdish people make up the largest ethnic group anywhere without a country. Kurdistan, however, is the term used to refer to areas dominated by Kurds, and which includes northern Iraq, southeast Turkey, northeastern Syria, and northeast Iran. An unfortunate product of haphazard colonial-era boundary-making, Kurdistan was dissected and abused by governments in faraway capitals, and – with the exception of in Iraq now – still is. In fact, the Kurdish issue is supreme in Turkey’s discussions with America over Iraq, and Turkey’s troops prey along the mountains between the two countries searching intently for Kurdish rebels.

A simple perusing of maps often confirms or explains global events and always has. When the Germans sent the Zimmerman Telegram to Mexico in 1917, in an effort to cause trouble for the United States in its own backyard, it was pure geopolitics. So next time you want to know who’s spooning with who, make sure you’ve got a good atlas on hand.

Note: The Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas, Austin, has the most comprehensive collection of maps on the internet, and is the source of most Screaming Pen plots. And in case you were wondering, Herodotus is often considered the father of history and was the maker of some of the world’s earliest maps.


 2006. All rights reserved.

June 25, 2006 Posted by | Asia, China, Europe, European Union, International Relations, Kurdistan, SCO, Turkey, Uncategorized | Leave a comment