Evolution and Eden: Integrating Genesis with Fossil Records

Friday, June 08, 2007

Lies, Politictis, the War and the Media.

Lies, Sighs and Politics

by Paul Krugman

In Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney completely misrepresented how we ended up in Iraq. Later, Mike Huckabee mistakenly claimed that it was Ronald Reagan’s birthday.

Guess which remark The Washington Post identified as the “gaffe of the night”?

Folks, this is serious. If early campaign reporting is any guide, the bad media habits that helped install the worst president ever in the White House haven’t changed a bit.

You may not remember the presidential debate of Oct. 3, 2000, or how it was covered, but you should. It was one of the worst moments in an election marked by news media failure as serious, in its way, as the later failure to question Bush administration claims about Iraq.

Throughout that debate, George W. Bush made blatantly misleading statements, including some outright lies — for example, when he declared of his tax cut that “the vast majority of the help goes to the people at the bottom end of the economic ladder.” That should have told us, right then and there, that he was not a man to be trusted.

But few news reports pointed out the lie. Instead, many news analysts chose to critique the candidates’ acting skills. Al Gore was declared the loser because he sighed and rolled his eyes — failing to conceal his justified disgust at Mr. Bush’s dishonesty. And that’s how Mr. Bush got within chad-and-butterfly range of the presidency.

Now fast forward to last Tuesday. Asked whether we should have invaded Iraq, Mr. Romney said that war could only have been avoided if Saddam “had opened up his country to I.A.E.A. inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no weapons of mass destruction.” He dismissed this as an “unreasonable hypothetical.”

Except that Saddam did, in fact, allow inspectors in. Remember Hans Blix? When those inspectors failed to find nonexistent W.M.D., Mr. Bush ordered them out so that he could invade. Mr. Romney’s remark should have been the central story in news reports about Tuesday’s debate. But it wasn’t.

There wasn’t anything comparable to Mr. Romney’s rewritten history in the Democratic debate two days earlier, which was altogether on a higher plane. Still, someone should have called Hillary Clinton on her declaration that on health care, “we’re all talking pretty much about the same things.” While the other two leading candidates have come out with plans for universal (John Edwards) or near-universal (Barack Obama) health coverage, Mrs. Clinton has so far evaded the issue. But again, this went unmentioned in most reports.

By the way, one reason I want health care specifics from Mrs. Clinton is that she’s received large contributions from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. Will that deter her from taking those industries on?

Back to the debate coverage: as far as I can tell, no major news organization did any fact-checking of either debate. And post-debate analyses tended to be horse-race stuff mingled with theater criticism: assessments not of what the candidates said, but of how they “came across.”

Thus most analysts declared Mrs. Clinton the winner in her debate, because she did the best job of delivering sound bites — including her Bush-talking-point declaration that we’re safer now than we were on 9/11, a claim her advisers later tried to explain away as not meaning what it seemed to mean.

Similarly, many analysts gave the G.O.P. debate to Rudy Giuliani not because he made sense — he didn’t — but because he sounded tough saying things like, “It’s unthinkable that you would leave Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq and be able to fight the war on terror.” (Why?)

Look, debates involving 10 people are, inevitably, short on extended discussion. But news organizations should fight the shallowness of the format by providing the facts — not embrace it by reporting on a presidential race as if it were a high-school popularity contest.

For if there’s one thing I hope we’ve learned from the calamity of the last six and a half years, it’s that it matters who becomes president — and that listening to what candidates say about substantive issues offers a much better way to judge potential presidents than superficial character judgments. Mr. Bush’s tax lies, not his surface amiability, were the true guide to how he would govern.

And I don’t know if this country can survive another four years of Bush-quality leadership.

Paul Krugman is Professor of Economics at Princeton University and a regular New York Times columnist. His most recent book is The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century.

© 2007 The New York Times

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

40th Anniversay of the Six Day War, 1967, the war that changed the Middle East and us ever since.

We haven't learned all we should about Israel

June 5, 2007

Forty years ago today, in one of the most stunning developments of the last half-century, Israel pulled off the ultimate in go-for-broke gambles. On the morning of June 5, 1967, it sent all but 12 of its 200 air force planes on a surprise attack on Egypt's air force, knowing if those planes were detected and destroyed, the Israeli homeland would be vulnerable in the extreme to the combined Arab air forces. They weren't and it wasn't, and the Six Day War was written into history.

In marking the occasion, the world remembers the speed and overwhelming force of Israel's campaign, and what a supreme statement it was of Israel's right to exist. The world remembers how Israeli forces captured the Sinai, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza -- and how Jerusalem, divided after the 1948 War of Independence, was reunited.

What the world may not remember, or choose to remember, is how Egypt brought about the air strike by imposing a naval blockade of the Strait of Tiran and forcing the United Nations to remove its forces from the Sinai, after 10 years of keeping the peace, in preparation for a war to wipe Israel off the map -- and how alone in the world Israel was in defending itself. The world may not remember that even after their humiliating defeat, the Arabs' response to Israel's offer to negotiate a peaceful solution to their conflict came in the words: "no recognition, no peace and no negotiations."

Still, in the 40 years since the Six Day War, Israel and the Arab world have negotiated, most promisingly when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat courageously promoted moderation and participated in the 1978 agreement with Jimmy Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin -- this five years after the 1973 October War. But as dramatized by PLO head Yasser Arafat's unconscionable trashing of a 2000 peace proposal orchestrated by Bill Clinton, too many Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular have no interest in doing anything but what PLO chieftain Ahmad Shuqayri promised in the '60s: to "destroy Israel and its inhabitants."

Celebrations of the 40th are said to be muted in Israel. There's widespread despair that peace seems more remote than ever. Pride in the military suffered with its failures in last year's war in Lebanon, which led to harsh condemnations of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for overreaching and under-preparing. His political survival is in doubt. But even as the United Nations and much of Europe regularly find reason to condemn Israel for defending itself against Hamas and Hezbollah, while not criticizing those groups for their terrorist actions, Israel's resolve -- to do what is right -- is unshaken. Yes, it will answer aggression with force. But it also will make more concessions in the name of peace than the world will acknowledge or its enemies deserve.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Curse of Iraq: "sahel" - utter crushing defeat of the extremists (the other party)

Iraq's Curse: A Thirst for Final, Crushing Victory


PERHAPS no fact is more revealing about Iraq’s history than this: The Iraqis have a word that means to utterly defeat and humiliate someone by dragging his corpse through the streets.

The word is “sahel,” and it helps explain much of what I have seen in three and a half years of covering the war.

It is a word unique to Iraq, my friend Razzaq explained over tea one afternoon on my final tour. Throughout Iraq’s history, he said, power has changed hands only through extreme violence, when a leader was vanquished absolutely, and his destruction was put on display for all to see.

Most famously it happened to a former prime minister, Nuri al-Said, who tried to flee after a military coup in 1958 by scurrying through eastern Baghdad dressed as a woman. He was shot dead. His body was disinterred and hacked apart, the bits dragged through the streets. In later years, Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party crushed their enemies with the same brand of brutality.

“Other Arabs say, ‘You are the country of sahel,’ ” Razzaq said. “It has always been that way in Iraq.”

But in this war, the moment of sahel has been elusive. No faction — not the Shiite Arabs or Sunni Arabs or Kurds — has been able to secure absolute power, and that has only sharpened the hunger for it.

Listen to Iraqis engaged in the fight, and you realize they are far from exhausted by the war. Many say this is only the beginning.

President Bush, on the other hand, has escalated the American military involvement here on the assumption that the Iraqi factions have tired of armed conflict and are ready to reach a grand accord. Certainly there are Iraqis who have grown weary. But they are not the ones at the country’s helm; many are among some two million who have fled, helping leave the way open for extremists to take control of their homeland.

“We’ve changed nothing,” said Fakhri al-Qaisi, a Sunni Arab dentist turned hard-line politician who has three bullets lodged in his torso from a recent assassination attempt. “It’s dark. There will be more blood.”

I first met Mr. Qaisi in 2003 at a Salafi mosque in western Baghdad, when the Sunni Arab insurgency was gaining momentum. He articulated the Sunnis’ simmering anger at being ousted from power. That fury has blossomed and is likely only to grow, as religious Shiite leaders and their militias become more entrenched in the government and as Kurds in the north push to expand their region and secede in all but name.

Caught in the middle of the civil war are the Americans. To Iraq’s factions, they are the weakest of all the armed groups in one crucial respect: their will is ebbing and their time here is limited. That leaves Iraqis more motivated than ever to cling to their weapons, preparing for what many see as an inevitable plunge into the abyss.

“Everyone — the Sunni, the Shia — is playing the waiting game,” an Iraqi leader told me over dinner at his home in the Green Zone. “They’re waiting out the Americans. Everyone is using time against you.”

Much seemed different in April 2003, when the Americans pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square and allowed Iraqis to drag it through the streets. It looked like an act of sahel at the time, but the Americans failed to establish total control, as Iraqi history says a conqueror must.

Four years on, Sunni and Shiite attacks against the Americans are expanding. There is little love among Iraqi civilians for the troops, though many fear the anarchy that could follow an American withdrawal.

“I’m still sticking by my principle, which is against the occupation,” Mr. Qaisi said in an interview here while visiting from his new home in Tikrit. “I’m Iraqi, and I think the Iraqi people should have this principle. We have the right to defend our country as George Washington did.”

As long as I have known him, Mr. Qaisi has rejected the idea that the Sunni Arabs are the minority in this country. To him and many other Sunni Arabs, the borders of Iraq do not delineate the boundaries of the war. The conflict is set, instead, against the backdrop of the entire Islamic world, in which demography and history have always favored the Sunnis. That sense of entitlement is fed by the notion that Iraq’s Shiite Arabs are just proxies for Iran’s Persian rulers.

For the Shiites, who make up 60 percent of Iraqis, the unalloyed hostility of the Sunni Arabs only reinforces a centuries-old sense of victimhood. So the Shiite militias grow, stoking vengeance. Through force of arms, and backed by the Americans and Iran, the religious Shiites intend to dominate the country entirely, taking what they believe was stripped from them when their revered leader Hussein was murdered in the desert of seventh-century Mesopotamia.

It was at the site of that ancient bloodletting, Karbala, that I twice witnessed the intense Shiite ache for righteousness and triumph. In early 2004, thousands of young fighters in the Mahdi Army, the militia of the nationalist Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, fought and died in a fevered uprising against the Americans. Last March, the same zealotry showed in a different way, as millions of Shiite pilgrims marched to Karbala’s shrines to commemorate the death of Hussein. They went despite relentless attacks by Sunni Arab suicide bombers. To them, it was all part of the unending war.

“No country in the world is fighting such terrorism,” said Adel Abdul Mehdi, an Iraqi vice president and leader in the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a powerful Shiite party, on the day he made his pilgrimage. “Every time we give more martyrs, we are more determined. This is a big battle, there is no such battle in the world.”

The Shiites have waited centuries for their moment on the throne, and the war is something they are willing to tolerate as the price for taking power, said the Iraqi leader who had invited me to dinner in the Green Zone. “The Shia say this is not exceptional for them, this is normal,” he said.

The belief of the Shiites that they must consolidate power through force of arms is tethered to ever-present suspicions of an impending betrayal by the Americans. Though the Americans have helped institute the representative system of government that the Shiites now dominate, they have failed to eliminate memories of how the first President Bush allowed Saddam Hussein to slaughter rebelling Shiites in 1991. Shiite leaders are all too aware, as well, of America’s hostility toward Iran, the seat of Shiite power, and of its close alliances with Sunni Arab nations, especially Saudi Arabia.

“One day we’ll find that we’ve returned back to 1917,” said Sheik Muhammad Bakr Khamis al-Suhail, a respected Shiite neighborhood leader in Baghdad, referring to the installation here of a Sunni Arab monarchy by the British after World War I. “The pressure of the Arab countries on the American administration might push the Americans to choose the Sunni Arabs.”

Sitting in the cool recesses of his home, the white-robed sheik said he was a moderate, a supporter of democracy. It is for people like him that the Americans have fought this war. But the solution he proposes is not one the Americans would easily embrace.

“In the history of Iraq, more than 7,000 years, there have always been strong leaders,” he said. “We need strong rulers or dictators like Franco, Hitler, even Mubarak. We need a strong dictator, and a fair one at the same time, to kill all extremists, Sunni and Shiite.”

I was surprised to hear those words. But perhaps I was being naïve. Looking back on all I have seen of this war, it now seems that the Iraqis have been driving all along for the decisive victory, the act of sahel, the day the bodies will be dragged through the streets.