Thursday, July 29, 2010


My wife and I laugh and mock when Hollywood types pat themselves on the back for their bravery. They choose a role designed to get them critical applause and an Oscar and they tell us how brave they have been by, say, playing the role of a gay man confronting bigots, for example. There is nothing brave in that and their well-practiced gravitas and denunciation of the straw men that they build up in the movies are just an extension of the make-believe worlds in which they live and work.

That isn’t to deny artistic merit or even to say that there aren’t truly meaningful movies or is it to say that all of their words are playacting; it’s merely to note that there isn’t much bravery required to cash big checks, denounce racism, and collect awards.

Bravery is something else entirely. If you want bravery, then look to the cover of the latest Time magazine and you will see the face of a brave woman.

Our cover image this week is powerful, shocking and disturbing. It is a portrait of Aisha, a shy 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off for fleeing her abusive in-laws. Aisha posed for the picture and says she wants the world to see the effect a Taliban resurgence would have on the women of Afghanistan…

If I ever seem proud of my own bravery--or overly proud at my small accomplishments--someone slap me and point me back to this young woman.

Read the rest. Beware: it is, very honestly, a disturbing image.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tough Choices for Obama

General McChrystal was wrong. Even if he and his aides were right about everything they said in the Rolling Stone piece (PDF warning), they were wrong. It was purely dumb to let the reporter from RS have that kind of access to the general’s inner circle. It was dumber still to treat the reporter like just another troop with an ear for the kind of rough commentary that comes from military man instead of like an enemy looking for an ugly story to break in a magazine not known for its friendliness to the military. And it was completely idiotic to break the rule that even a trainee in basic knows: you don’t get caught playing in national politics and that rule is more important the higher you get up the food chain.

If you can’t swallow your words, you resign your position. An officer in a time of war can’t expect to keep his job after displaying judgment that poor. To allow him to maintain his position, in fact, would be damaging to an already depleted presidency--a show of weakness that President Obama really doesn’t need right now. And yet firing McChrystal could be hugely damaging to the war effort--finding the replacement, confirming the appointment, and getting the new commander up and running could leave Afghanistan a mess during the transition. I somehow imagine that our enemies won’t be honoring any timeout requests.

What Obama needs to be asking himself right now is how he can visibly punish McChrystal, preferably involving a change of command in Afghanistan, without creating a huge setback in a war effort that is already in near-crisis. I have been unimpressed with our president’s executive capabilities thus far, but I hope that he and his advisors can find the right path on this. The BP spill is ugly, no doubt, but completely fumbling Afghanistan would be ruinous (and not just to a presidency). McChrystal needs to resign and he needs to offer up everything that he can do to help this president maintain authority and credibility.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Where in the World is Osama bin Laden: The Ten Point Review

  1. I fell for it. The trailers made it look funny, I thought it might contain insight. I imagined it might reign in the preaching in favor of a balanced view of the Middle East, America, terrorists, and war in Afghanistan and Iraq. I fell for it.
  2. What it is turns out to be a shallow, rushed look at problems far too complex for any 93-minute movie much less one helmed by the likes of Mr. Spurlock, who disdains nuance in favor of glib and useless statements.
  3. It does have a lot of pretty pictures, though.
  4. And, in spite of itself, it’s interesting at moments--moments that are chopped too short by the rush to get to the next segment. Beware: when it starts to pique your interest it is seconds away from a jump cut and a cutesy graphic that will leave you wondering what the hell else his interview subject had to say.
  5. In fact, the bits where Spurlock focuses on himself and his life are the least interesting parts of the movie. If he let his subjects--an amazing array of people from all walks of life in Afghanistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and more--take center stage more often, allowing viewers to form opinions instead of making intrusive pronouncements about how Muslims are people just like us, well the movie might have been better. As it is, he is so intrusive that the movie feels overshadowed by his Michael Moore-sized ego.
  6. And does anyone think that the Israel-Palestine problem can really be resolved by fifteen minutes and a journalist telling us that the answer is really as simple as magically creating two states living side by side in peace? An answer that ignores all of the complicating factors in favor of something that sounds so nice?
  7. That’s not insight. That’s dumb.
  8. The Soul Calibur-esque fight between Spurlock and Bin Laden was pretty funny, though, with special moves like “mustache ride!” and “turban power!”
  9. Perhaps if it had been cut down to a twelve-minute segment on Celebrity Deathmatch it would have been a better film.
  10. From Wesley Morris comes a good summary.

    purlock interviews regular Egyptians and Moroccans and Palestinians and Saudis. A group of Hassids curse and shove him. He inexplicably dons traditional Arabic garments and walks around a mall in Riyadh asking whether anybody has seen you-know-who. Spurlock and his team of collaborators never find the movie amid all their material. If he’s a questionable journalist and a poor detective, he’s an even more woeful filmmaker.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Lose by Any Means Possible

I think that we are seeing demonstrable, often positive changes in Iraq--changes that came from Iraqis weary of war and the excesses of thuggish “insurgents”, the creative leadership of General Petraeus, more troops, the the aggressive tactics of the surge. Iraq isn’t won, but these changes do seem to be creating an environment where the political victory can incubate. A real victory seems more possible now than it did less than a year ago; nothing is guaranteed, I realize, but if we continue to let the military do its job we can give the diplomats and politicians the time to do theirs.

Which is why I am surprised by this from Nancy Pelosi--a move that seems calculated to toss some red meat to the Kossacks and progressives, but which might just confound the general public.

“This is not a blank check for the president,” she said at a Capitol Hill news conference. “This is providing funding for the troops limited to a particular purpose, for a short time frame.”

The bill would set the requirement that troop withdrawals begin immediately and that soldiers and Marines spend as much time at home as they do in combat.

The measure also sets a goal that combat end by December 2008. After that, troops left behind should be restricted to a narrow sets of missions, namely counterterrorism, training Iraqi security forces and protecting U.S. assets.

I’ll be curious to see what support she gets from the Democrat candidates for the presidency--obviously Kucinich will like the legislation, but what will Edwards, Clinton, and Obama say publicly? This does seem to confirm that ensuring defeat is the policy of at least some of the Democrats’ leadership. Announcing to the world that we are no longer willing to support our troops or our mission will send a message of abandonment to our friends and encouragement to our enemies. Brilliant.

And, no, I’m not an absolutist. There is a time when a nation must face up to defeat and failure. You can’t fight a war forever. It’s just better to make that choice when you’re actually losing.

Read the story.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Good Drug, Bad Drug

It was at a party where an angry anti-war type confronted me about the drug trade in Afghanistan that I discovered a really great idea: make the Afghan drug trade into something legal and positive for the country. Instead of funding a drug war that would be, probably, about as successful as our other drug wars, instead of throwing money at a fight that would target the only reliable economic driver in a country that desperately needed money and industry, we should legitimize that industry and use it to help re-build the country.

My version had tax credits as incentives for pharma companies to source their opiates through some as yet unnamed and uncreated Afghani bureau of Good Drug Development. I won’t pretend to be the first to have the idea, but it was new to me at the time. All this to say: I’m glad that someone else is working on toward the same goal.

The council, a Paris-based body of politicians, experts and academics, said the current policy of trying to eradicate the fields of poppies that yield opium, which makes up about half of Afghanistan’s income, was a costly failure.

The policy had little impact while demonising Afghan farmers and destroying “a valuable natural resource rather than turning it into a powerful driver for economic development,” the study said.

“The illegal heroin trade is the largest and fastest growing business sector in Afghanistan, accounting for a 2.7 billion US dollars’ profit a year,” it said.

But while it provided jobs for thousands of Afghans, it was only enriching a few while possibly feeding militant and terror networks that could be involved in the drugs industry, it said.

And as the illegal opium exports were untaxed, the public sector was deprived of income that could be used to build much-needed infrastructure.

However a “system of licenced opium production can form the basis for an open-minded and above all realistic debate on how to remove Afghanistan from its immediate development crisis and its imminent descent into a narco-state,” it said.

The council recommended the government fast-track the establishment of a national authority to licence opium producers and research an amnesty that would “integrate illegal actors into the opium licencing system”.

Aside from the economic benefit, it might also pull more people (and more powerful people) into the legitimate political system, reducing the violence and helping speed Afghanistan’s recovery.

Sounds like a damned fine idea to me.

Read the story.

Update: Kindly linked by John Hays.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Wrong Reaction

From Salon’s War Room (subscription or willingness to watch an ad required) :

We’re sure that the president, like all of us, is deeply concerned for the victims of the attacks—the families who have lost loved ones, the hundreds of bus passengers and train riders who have suffered injuries, and the 7 million Londoners who are suddenly feeling the kind of shock and vulnerability that the residents of New York and Madrid know all too well. And yet, it’s hard to imagine that Bush and his advisors aren’t feeling something like a sense of relief this morning, too.

I find it highly unlikely that any American President would be feeling relief at any attack on a friend. I find it unlikely that he is finding some happy silver lining in an attack engineered that left innocent civilians dead and hundreds injured. I can’t even fathom that he would take a single moment of joy from the thought that we still have so far to go in our battle with the murderers and thugs.

Any suggestion otherwise is offensive.

“The war on terror goes on,” Bush said, and it was hard not to think that he likes it that way.

People forget that this President was something closer to being an isolationist than an imperialist when he first stepped into office. His instinct seemed to be to follow in Clinton’s footsteps when it came to questions of the Middle East: leave it alone as much as possible and hope that the problems don’t require much in the way of American attention. That only changed following 9/11--and, regardless of how history will remember W, I’m also convinced that he would give up that place in history if he could have been a President that presided over 8 years of peace instead of having to send young men and women to fight and die far from home.

No, the President doesn’t “like” the continuing war any more than Tony Blair does; he just recognizes the necessity of fighting back against the threat. Suggesting otherwise is just trying to score cheap political points

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

News Flash: Afghani Women Didn’t Mind a Life of Servitude

A bit ago, Shawn Macomber wrote a story about women’s progress in Afghanistan. Forget which side of the aisle you sit on, it should be celebrated that women can now attend school and enjoy even the most basic of freedoms in a country where they so recently suffered. But for some, that just isn’t possible.

Take this response, from “Ryd” on a discussion board, to some of what Macomber had to say:

I think this writer overreacted to the situation. Afghani women may have been subject to some heavy-handed treatment on a few occasions but overall, the women were not complaining. So, what was the problem? Just a trendy concern, is all people had for the women.

What happened to the idea of giving a voice to the voiceless? “Women were not complaining” so they must have been awfully happy, right? Of course, with no voice in their political system, no free and open press to express or explain the horrors of many of the women’s’ lives, and no government protection, it’s highly unlikely that this little fool would ever have heard their complaints to begin with.

The rest of Ryd’s comments are just as hilarious, and the pose of superiority that he adopts is laughable. In fact, arguing against someone as ill-suited to actual thought as Ryd is probably just a waste of time and effort. So why am I doing so? Because one good thing came out of his idiotic commentary.

Shawn’s reply.

And don’t forget to put Shawn’s Return of the Primitive on your blogroll. 


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