Tina K. Russell

September 12, 2007

Petraeus Ex Machina

Filed under: iraq, us, war — Tina Russell @ 2:51 pm

A New York Times editorial eviscerates the General’s testimony, and thank the Lord for it. Their basic premise is that the surge has achieved none of its benchmarks that were laid out in advance, and Gen. Petraeus merely dismisses those metrics rather than acknowledge how royally we’re screwed in Iraq (and recognizing that is our only chance of keeping our troops safe). Instead, and I hate to say it, but Bush and co. want to keep our troops in Iraq until they can eke out something that can be creatively passed off as victory to the American people. Already, as the NYT says, Petraeus is taking credit for the most positive development for the past couple of months, which is Sunni militias deciding they hate al Qaeda more than America. It’s a positive development, but certainly not one reflecting or related to the surge, and the surge was supposed to support infrastructure that will last after we are gone, which certainly would not include an authority-less, unarmed Sunni neighborhood watch… especially not one that, I suspect, hates the Shiites more than either us or al Qaeda.

I don’t mean to be dour, it’s just that a really cold, unfeeling evaluation of the situation is what is needed to keep our troops on the ground safe, and to return the trust that they show in us by serving their country. They expect–and deserve–only the most qualified on-the-ground analysis, undefiled by political motivations, and instead they’re getting a general’s song-and-dance about how we may even be able to draw back to pre-surge levels if the surge continues its… uhhh… “success.”

There’s a sort of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle at work here… if the President is watching, it changes the General’s testimony. That is to say, it gives it a little bit of spin. How depressing… wake me up when it’s all over.

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August 19, 2007

Serbs Them Right

Filed under: iraq, us, war — Tina Russell @ 11:50 pm

The NYT asks, can Iraq be partitioned, like Bosnia was in the 1990s? Then, it answers, not a chance. It’s actually a really interesting article. Partition is sort of in vogue among liberal circles and this article basically says “pffft.” I have my doubts myself… it’s not like seperating India and Pakistan led to a fluorishing of peace.

I think people fail to realize that Sunni and Shiite lived together quite peacefully during Saddam’s reign of terror. The populations are still pretty intermixed and the battle lines unclear. A lasting effect of the war in Iraq is Shiites fleeing Sunni-majority areas and Sunnis fleeing Shiite-majority areas when previously they had no reason to do so. When we took out Saddam–an admirable intention, if misguided–we created a power vacuum that everybody and their dog tried to fill. I’m not saying it’s our fault it happened, but you have to admit, it’s pretty %&(@! stupid we didn’t know it would. (Actually, my fear was that somebody just as bad would take his place; once again, liberal pre-war worst-case scenarios look like pipe dreams compared to what actually happened.)

It fascinates me, though… I remember reading somewhere that Iraqis, by and large, prefer life in this chaotic hellhole then life under Saddam. I think people who stand up for strongmen, for Japanese internment during World War II, or slavery in its day fail (and failed) to realize that there’s an incredibly start difference between being free and not being free, so stark that being free and in constant mortal danger outclasses living in totalitarian security.

The argument about whether or not we should stay in Iraq always boils down to that we need to fix the mess that we created, and I abhor that argument. If we’re going to come even close to that goal we need to admit that we’re never going to make Iraq the way it was, and honestly, I wouldn’t want to. We cannot undo our mistakes. Economists say you should never take “sunk costs” into account in your decisions, because money that’s spent is spent and you’ll never get it back. Similarly, we need to stop looking to the past on Iraq and stop pretending that we can turn this mess into a paradise overnight. (And on the other end, we should stop easy-way-out talks of of a clean partition or, worse, installing a new strongman in Saddam’s place.)

I think we should get out. In fact, it surprises me that we haven’t already. We cannot keep pouring American lives into a civil war we cannot control. And yet, perhaps we could have a presence, under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi government. However, any status as “peacekeeping forces” is undermined if we represent ourselves and only ourselves.

Once we give up the ghost of “fixing” Iraq or undoing our mistake, we need to get to the harder task of curbing the very worst of the violence in Iraq. We need to recognize that the country is not going to get better overnight and that we are not going to be able to fix our mistake. We have to do what we can, but stop pretending that we can do anything. And if we have to leave, if that would be the best thing for Iraqi peace and development, then we need to leave. I find the argument that Iraq would descend into civil war if we pulled out disingenuous because Iraq has already descended into civil war and America’s presence has not brought anything resembling peace or stability, and I hardly think the general’s report in September will make one iota of difference in that. There’s only so much we can do when Sunni and Shiite factions stubbornly refuse to cooperate and instead turn to killing each other. The war in Iraq was based on the false premise that we can march in and fix a country overnight, and we need to excise that notion from our heads if we are to move ahead.

I think conservatives and liberals both err in thinking that there’s an easy solution. Well, except for this: do what we can. No more, no less. We need to stop harboring illusions about what we can do. We owe a huge debt to Iraq, no doubt, for screwing it up so royally. However, it makes no sense to stay and make it worse… some would say we’re making progress, but I would remind them that Vietnam was characterized by winning battles and losing the war. Terrorism is more like a plague, a virus, and it attacks from all sides… there’s no way to describe, in conventional military terms, a war against an enemy all around you. It’s a war we cannot win, and a war we must pull out of. Whatever our responsibilities and moral obligations, we cannot change the fact that American power is finite. I think we would all sleep a little easier at night if we could know that America is out of Iraq and blood from the civil war is squarely on the factions’ own hands. It’s our job as a country of diligence and respectability to intervene when we can make a difference… I suspect Iraq is not a case like this. We stumbled into the conditions for this civil war and I hardly think we can get our way out. Getting rid of Saddam, excising the Ba’ath party from government and firing the Iraqi army was supposed to usher in a new era of peace and democracy (ha! ha!). I’m not sure exactly what we should do at this point… I’d say we should help the Iraqi government if I felt it had a lick of legitimacy. That said, it is a democratic government and leaders are best chosen by ballots, not bullets. So, if we help the Iraqi government we need to do so with a heretofore unseen humility recognizing that this is not our country and there is only so much we can do.

It’s frustrating because America was founded from the ashes of war, and though the French helped us out it’s not like they invaded America, bombed Jamestown, killed the colonial leaders and ordered a Constitutional Convention. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to create a lasting democracy, but I’m not a “loyal Bushie,” so what do I know? Anyway… I know from my own experience that if you try to do more than you know you can you only hurt yourself. So, I hope we learn our limitations and stop trying to fix the world in a day… even if it means having to accept our own, deadly mistakes. The only easy way out of Iraq is to admit we screwed up, and leave.

July 17, 2007

Leverage

Filed under: iraq, us, war — Tina Russell @ 11:39 pm

Thomas Friedman nails it. For those of you behind the TimesSelect barrier, here’s his key point:

President Bush baffles me. If your whole legacy was riding on Iraq, what would you do? I’d draft the country’s best negotiators — Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, George Shultz, George Mitchell, Dennis Ross or Richard Holbrooke — and ask one or all of them to go to Baghdad, under a U.N. mandate, with the following orders:

“I want you to move to the Green Zone, meet with the Iraqi factions and do not come home until you’ve reached one of three conclusions: 1) You have resolved the power- and oil-sharing issues holding up political reconciliation; 2) you have concluded that those obstacles are insurmountable and have sold the Iraqis on a partition plan that could be presented to the U.N. and supervised by an international force; 3) you have concluded that Iraqis are incapable of agreeing on either political reconciliation or a partition plan and told them that, as a result, the U.S. has no choice but to re-deploy its troops to the border and let Iraqis sort this out on their own.”

The last point is crucial. Any lawyer will tell you, if you’re negotiating a contract and the other side thinks you’ll never walk away, you’ve got no leverage. And in Iraq, we’ve never had any leverage. The Iraqis believe that Mr. Bush will never walk away, so they have no incentive to make painful compromises.

You can only do so much… if you think you can fix everything in the world, you’re only going to hurt yourself. No more soldiers or civilians should die in Iraq because Bush thinks that the war can still be salvaged.

June 30, 2007

Suicide bombers

Filed under: afghanistan, war — Tina Russell @ 10:37 am

Boy, does this ever make me sad. The New York Times profiles Afghan suicide bombers. Next up, the Washington Post interviews malnourished babies orphaned by Hurricane Katrina before being abducted by aliens and forced to fight in the Kree-Skrull War. Anyway…

I guess what makes me sad is to learn that these kids… teenagers… are sort of convinced, at a young age, that nothing is more important than jihad, against America, against us… and if they don’t go and blow themselves up before infidels, then they aren’t going to heaven and getting the Tenchi Muyo smattering of virgins and all that.

It’s just… it’s sad because I know that feeling is very powerful, that feeling of belonging to something, that feeling of knowing that there’s right and there’s wrong and that you’re on the “right” side. I guess that’s pretty powerful, knowing that you’ve made your choice, you’re on the Autobots or the Decepticons or something, and that you’re going to stand by it, make it count. It’s just that these fanatics have stolen these kids’ childhood from them, their teen years… it shouldn’t be about blowing yourself up. Get into fights in the hallway, stay up too late talking on the phone, have massive videogame parties, slave away at math homework while listening to U2… spend evenings by the skatepark, I don’t know, I don’t care, I guess I just have a certain idea of what it means to be a teenager and I’m pretty sure strapping a bomb to yourself isn’t it…

And this stirs up another emotion in me, because America’s military recruiting machine is on overdrive thanks to the dwindling number of army volunteers (huh, I wonder why?)… regret. We tell our teenagers to fight and die for our country, for some vague, amorphous sense of duty, and that you’ll be rewarded, perhaps not with virgins but with career training and college money that seems to dry up as soon as you come stateside (just as Islamic suicide bombers tend to get pitiful, perfunctory burials rather than the grand send-offs they were promised). I mean…

Here it is. When you’re a teenager, and you’re lonely, and you don’t fit in, the idea that you’ll be invited in, you’ll be accepted, you’ll be given a mission and a duty, and you’ll be part of a team, a part of a movement… that’s incredibly powerful, and I can’t really describe it. When religious fanatics convince teenagers to do this… for some vague notion of “jihad” (which I detest)… it makes me sad because they’re using this kids, manipulating them, kids who could do great things but somehow have been led to believe that the greatest accomplishment a human can do is to become a bomb. That is… I don’t know, it’s sick, it’s tragic, and it makes me angry as someone who was an awkward teen herself.

Maybe it means we need to be providing alternative means for these kids to feel like they fit in, they have a mission and a duty, that they’re protecting their country from outside influence or whatever. It’s just… I feel like, in here, in America, we do the same thing. We dupe our own kids into fighting and dying for a cause that none of us believe in and nobody could really name if pressed… just something about duty and honor and “country.” I… that makes me sad, because nobody seriously believes we’re about to be invaded, and most people don’t even seem to know about America’s global, ubiquitous military presence, her hand in every pie, much less support it (as it goes against the carefree, easygoing nature of the American interior; no, I can’t really back that up, but I’d wager that us Americans are pretty accomodating people). It’s not like we desperately need new recruits for any other reason than to push up Bush’s approval ratings.

It’s just that… we don’t really tell these kids that they’re going to die, or that they could, easily, and their lives will be forfeit to the US military… they died for “the cause,” a cause that nobody knows what it is and certainly nobody believes in, any more. In ten years, if we’re not out of Iraq, people are going to wonder how this war got started. WMDs, huh? It will seem absurd, like the straw that broke that camel’s back. What extraordinary claim could justify sending our children, one by one, into such a collossal meat-grinder as post-invasion Iraq? Well… we haven’t figured it out, yet, but we’re trying.

So, we make our kids these grand promises, and don’t follow through on them as our streets fill up with homeless veterans begging for spare change and attention… I don’t know. I’m not saying that people who recruit teenagers for the US military and people who recruit teenagers to be Afghan suicide bombers are the same thing. (The Afghan recruiters are more honest; they say up front that you’ll die.) The US military is at least trying to do good… trying to stabilize Iraq, make life better for Iraqis, make Iraq a model for the Middle East (all pipe dreams, but worthy ones). You’ll just have to forgive me for feeling like US military recruitment and Afghan suicide bomber recruitment are arms of the same beast… we can’t, and shouldn’t, sign up our children for impossible tasks like stabilizing Iraq, and shoring up Bush’s approval ratings, and yet we do anyway. It’s a powerful force, that need to belong, especially when you’re a teenger, and to manipulate that… well, it’s beneath contempt.

I read Wolverine: Civil War yesterday… when Luke Cage–soon to be converted to the side of the doubters–tells Wolverine that maybe federal super-hero registration won’t be such a bad thing, Wolverine–memories of his whole life, stretching back to the early 20th century, recently restored–notes that he had good friends in Germany until they got registered. Luke Cage argues that you can’t compare the Nazis to the US government.

“Yeah,” Wolverine says, “we should know better.”

June 21, 2007

Hamas and Abbas

Filed under: civil war, fatah, foreign policy, hamas, israel, palestine, us, war — Tina Russell @ 3:29 pm

Hamas wants to restore the Palestinian unity government. But they’re the terrorists! I must say with a tear that I’ve lost my respect for Mahmoud Abbas… and anyone trying to deepen the divide between the West Bank and Gaza. Remember the lessons of the American Civil War… a house divided against itself cannot stand. Abbas, Israel, and our lovely government here in the States seem to want to turn this particular house into split-level condos.

Meanwhile, Palestinians say that they have no confidence in either side, Abbas’s approval ratings are sinking to where Bush was about a year ago (and still sinking), and most Palestinians put lack of the rule of law far ahead (and poverty by a good margin) of any international meddling, including from Israel. Palestinians don’t hate Israel, they just want peace, the same as what most Israelis want for Palestine. For some reason it’s the people in power in this situation who are using terrorism as an excuse to take this lofty goal farther away than ever. Peace would be a challenge, but that’s no excuse to make the situation for it worse. The longer “our” side refuses to have peace talks the more civilians are going to die, and your personal dignity as a leader is not worth people dying for.

This isn’t an issue of whether Hamas is “good” or “bad;” nobody’s going to come out of this, exactly, smelling like roses. The issue is how to promote peace and stability so that we can save lives, and if that requires “working with terrorists” than so be it. Besides, I hardly think blustering military arrogance is a charge that any party involved can fairly level against Hamas, even if it’s a valid accusation (and I don’t really know if it is or not, I’m just making comments from the international peanut gallery).

Bitch, bitch, bitch…

Intervention

Filed under: congo, kristof, war — Tina Russell @ 2:54 pm

I like Nicholas Kristof because, in his New York Times columns, he visits the world’s worst places and so he tends to have a worldview uncluttered by slogans or talking points or partisan dogma. He has a refreshingly cold view of the world and how to save it, and that kind of pragmatism and practicality is welcome in this era of manufactured reality being pumped into us by the military-media complex and by conventional wisdom.

The other day I spoke of how I wish we would spend our foreign aid and military dollars judiciously and where they could do the most good, and give up broad aims of fixing the world and making it perfect overnight. Well, good old Nicky Kristof (which I will call him from now on) (no I won’t, don’t worry) speaks of the war in the Congo, which is, of course, horrendous and a blight unto humanity. So, of course, if you wanted an example of the kind of place that the United States military could and should intervene (and remember, I’m a Quaker, so it takes effort for me to say this), here’s a good damned example, you lunatics. That and Darfur, of course, except everybody knows that. …Except for the people in power, and if I knew why that was I would surely be a rich mutha%&*#a.

June 18, 2007

Our Broken Foreign Policy Model

Filed under: ethopia, foreign policy, somalia, war — Tina Russell @ 3:59 pm

This article makes me a sad panda… a tiny rebel alliance–the kind we glorify in all our action movies here in the States–is fighting a ruthless, American-backed, violent Ethopian regime.

Now, I’m new to this situation, in the Horn of Africa. Until recently I was like most Americans in sort of considering Africa a country, a *$&^!ed country, and not realizing it’s actually a continent full of arbitrary borders drawn up by the British and the French way back when. (Yes, I mean, I always knew it was a continent, but still…)

But I’ve read, in the New York Times, about the situation in Ethopia and Somalia. Tell me if my summary is wrong: the American-backed, Christian, Ethopian establishment is fighting the militant Islamists in Somalia to maintain control in that area, to maintain their occupation of Somalia. (Portland, Oregon–my beloved city–houses many refugees from that bloody conflict.) My reaction was something like: I don’t like the militant Islamists one bit, and it scares me that they’re going around the world talking about vile American influence, when us Americans are actually quite kind, liberal people who generally don’t believe in the hideous international military misadventures committed in their name.

However, you can’t change a country on that fundamental a level. You’re not going to be able to march in and change Somalia from being a nation in which the militant Islamists are popular to being a peaceful, Christian nation full of churches and K-Marts (that never say “Happy Holidays”). If anything, you’ll just ignite nationalist tendencies and set back the cause of human rights by driving people to more violent forms of Islam raither than the more peaceful, mainstream variety. I got the impression that “Islamism” is sort of the lingua franca in Somalia, and while that scares me, it’s not something that you can just march in and change. If the Somalis ever drive the Ethopian army from their soil, I’d be surprised if Somalia didn’t start up a brutal regime of its own (it always happens). But, I’m not sure military intervention can stop that, rather than harm the natural process of a nation’s development. Indeed, all war does is strengthen and legitimize violent rebels and push the national dialogue further towards violence and extremism.

That isn’t to say military intervention is never useful… (I’m a Quaker, so I rather dislike it.) If we have a limited amount of money, though, to spend on our adventures in the world, I have to feel that…

Maybe we need a change of attitude. I think that we, in the US, have believed for a long time that we can essentially rule the world, we can have our fingers in every pie, and every conflict anywhere in the world will always have a side backed by the US (and that side, as in Ethiopia and Somalia, may not be all that pleasant). I think there are good, well-meaning people in the Bush administration who think that there’s no way we can stop supporting the Ethopian army, no matter how brutal they are, because otherwise, Somalia would descend into “Islamism.” I would doubt that we can prevent that, I would doubt that it’s our right to do so, and I would doubt that our efforts are helping rather than hurting. I also wish–as the conservatives often cry–that we would have some incontrovertible standard of decency… we don’t support armies that do X, period. We don’t support torture, indiscriminate killing, religious persecution, etc… I wish we could say that, essentially, with a straight face, with sincerity. I wish we had the nerve to say, at some point, “you’ve done too many bad things, you’re on your own.” But also, I think the conservative dream–a righteous one, but misguided–of a state-by-state pacification of the entire world is harmful, ludicrous, and counterproductive… you can’t make a country more peaceful by military force. All war does is legitimize thugs… that’s why it ought to be a last resort, and not the kind of rush it was in Iraq (rather than a careful, reasoned approach to the threat Saddam posed to the entire world, and not just us).

(I’m not saying our soldiers are “thugs,” I just think that when we declare war on a country we legitimize its thugs by making them look like soldiers. That’s why I wish we never took a military approach to 9.11… al Qaida, before then, was both dangerous and pathetic. They were criminals bent on overthrowing every world government that didn’t conform to its brand of radical Islam, a criterion met by the Taliban and few others. It would have been hard to win the enormous show of support they’ve had by ordinary, young Arabs after 9.11 if we hadn’t legitimized them as an enemy by declaring war rather than persecuting them as criminals, and given them their most powerful recruiting tool possible–the romance of a battle against pervading Western influence–which has been a setback for human rights worldwide.)

So, I have to wonder. With limited money to spend on the world, and the general ineffectiveness of military intervention in even the worst situations, perhaps our military budget ought to be spent on, instead of trying to change the world in broad strokes, trying to prevent the worst atrocities from happening. The genocide in Darfur is an obvious example… I have no idea why our troops aren’t on the ground in full force there, no matter what the government of Sudan says. That’s the sort of thing we should care about. I would vastly prefer that to any attempts to overthrow leaders or change the nature of countries, no matter how brutal that nature may be. Overthrowing Saddam is the kind of delicate operation we performed with an icepick and a sledgehammer… when we try to change entire countries like that, the unintended consequences are enormous and often horrifying. Trying to change the world like this… it hasn’t worked, it never works, I’ve never seen democracy flower following American bombs. (…Actually, I take that back. Germany and Japan are famous for their successful occupations and periods of rebuilding, and for their Comeback Kid rebounds into the international scene. I would say they met two criteria–a clear and imminent danger to the United States, and an enormous and sincere commitment to the region by us in the form of the Marshall Plan–but I’m a bleeding-heart liberal, what do I know.) Perhaps we should be like Spider-Man, more judicious, finding where atrocities are happening and going to happen and stopping them. There’s an enormous ethic to going around the world playing superhero, an ethic I felt we violated with our unilateral approach to Iraq (and subsequent attempts to dissolve the government and army and turn the country into a neoconservative playground, a testbed for a hyper-liberal economy without any concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people or of the differences or nuances between Iraq and the United States). You can’t change the world, not in a night, anyway, or in one conflict… you can’t just back one side in a war and feel like you’ve done the right thing. But we can change the world, one good deed at a time…

I have to wonder, thinking about our enormously bloated military budget its many nasty international side-effects, if we ought to be more frugal, more judicious in our military spending. Maybe we ought to find the places where we know it would help, and apply it, rather than justify our thorough, ’round-the-globe military presence by saying, “well, if we weren’t there, country X would descend into madness!” We have to consider the ethic that we can’t just fix a foreign country, and when we can do something it has to be done carefully and methodically, with delicate precision, and we have to take care to win the hearts and minds of the people rather than just rack up numbers in a meaningless military battle that has nothing to do with who will win the ultimate political situation in a country.

I wonder if, instead of leaping gung-ho at things we may or may not be able to accomplish, delicate situations like in Ethopia and Somalia, if we should start with things we definately can accomplish–stopping the genocide in Darfur in its tracks, for one–and go from there… we can’t just take a direct “those guys are bad” policy, that’s an abdication of our responsibility to see color and nuance in the international scene. Our claims to be pacifying the world are hollow if we cannot fight the more obvious battles… and being stuck in Iraq has brought down our military effectiveness drastically. I worry that Iran is laughing at us as it builds up a nuclear stockpile. We look silly. We look damned ridiculous… and we have to put a stop to that.

I’ve said before, and I still believe this, that the Marshall Plan to the extreme is the only thing we can do in Iraq that can do any good… I think that the new commanders in Iraq and our new Secretary of Defense really are taking a nuanced and considered approach to the war, rather than the heinously bumbling legacy of Rumsfeld and company. It looks vaguely effective but I’m not sure how much it will work overall… a smarter military is one component, an important component, but only one. I’d like to see the military in Iraq evolve into something more like a civilian police force, again, trying to prevent the worst things from happening and then building up from there. In the meantime, nation-building is serious work and it takes quite the financial commitment… the war in Iraq is over, as far as I’m concerned. We’ve overthrown Saddam, toppled his statue and done everything we can to fight the insurgents… if we keep framing this as a fight against the terra-ists then the only logical conclusion is for us to nuke Iraq outright, to fight to the last man, and I think that’s a bad idea. Instead, the military must hold down the fort while we rebuild and make Iraq a nicer, safer, more livable place. I know that’s a pipe dream, but we’ve thrown so many hundreds of billlions at this problem to no avail already, so we should at least try my way before we give up. (And I know I said we can’t just fix other countries, but though Iraq is not like Germany or Japan in that those countries actually posed an immediate threat to us, we could at least get some kind of Marshall Plan underway before we pack our bags and head home. By the way, that’s the most important thing: we are going to leave sooner or later, and the sooner, the better. Bush is still pretending like he can fight this war forever… Whatever pragmatic solutions need to be put into place before we leave, we need to be in that mindset of we are leaving, inevitably, and we need to put those solutions into place fast.)

(And I think those solutions need to be more infastructural than military, making sure Iraq can support an economy, education and such, secular education for all, imports and exports, industry, opportunity, technology, etc…. all those things require basic things like running water and electricity, and functioning roads. We can’t end the Iraqi civil war since we’re not players in it, but we could at least create conditions for it to end more easily. Shiites and Sunnis really did live in peace before now, even while Saddam oppressed the Shiites and slaughtered the Kurds. The vacuum we created by dismantling the Iraqi government had pit brother against brother, rich against poor, Sunni against Shiite and we have only ourselves to blame. Anyway….)

Yes, again, I have sympathy for Obama’s position that if other peoples want to have a civil war, we can’t throw away our childrens’ lives to stop it… all we can do, I think, is stop the worst atrocities from happening; or, at least, we have the moral obligation to do so, and any other attempts to save the world will be hollow if we do not. I wish our government did not think it could rule or fix the world, but that’s been its mindset since our victory in World War II.

Meanwhile, what happened to the UN? My impression is that it’s basically run, now, by the countries its supposed to be persecuting, that each country (including us) that is abusing human rights claims that human rights somehow apply to other countries, but not them. Anyway… yes… I hope, like the conservatives, that we can establish some standard of decency, in Iraq, Somalia, Ethopia, and here at home… I also hope that the conservatives begin giving this standard some decisive action rather than just more talk.

EDIT: I want to be clear that I’m not endorsing the rebels in Ethopia… remember, I’m a Quaker, I don’t like violence. I just hope we remember that these are the kinds of rebels we glorify in our culture… I’m all for a moderate, considered approach, I just hope we don’t villify the rebels as “terrorists” without taking into consideration the excesses of the brutal Ethiopian regime (the one, you know, that we support with weapons, financing and intelligence).

June 9, 2007

Tel Aviv I Said Hi

Filed under: information technology, israel, occupation, palestine, war — Tina Russell @ 11:40 pm

This makes me a sad panda. No, it makes me happy and sad. …Bittersweet. Israel has lots of brilliant young engineers that will make their country worth lots of money. That makes me happy because I want to see Israel succeed, and set an example for the rest of the world (like, say, us, though we seem to be perfectly happy to let our educational system degrade into nothingness while our dollar slips endlessly downward), and I think Israel would be a wonderful catalyst for getting IT infastructure out of the US-dominated rut it is in now (our online infastructure gathers dust while IT execs go to flashy conferences about “Web 2.0”). I think Israel has a lot of brilliant minds that I want to see brought into global discourse, and I want to see technology have that kind of major success story that allows people to see how it changes lives and the faces of countries, even countries staring down the threat of open hostility from its neighbors (and worst, the threat of a nuclear Iran going bonkers and pooshing da button).

It’s just… I wish that Friedman, in that article, had mentioned Palestine… I’m sure there are brilliant young minds over there that need nurturing, too. (To Friedman’s credit, he has been admirably pragmatic on the issue, saying that “if the US can talk to Iran, Israel can talk to Hamas.”) It’s not that there’s no opportunity in Palestine, it’s that the opportunity is limited by the Israeli government… I think the forces that partition Palestine, build walls through it, cripple its economy and generally make life miserable for Palestinians are far removed from the forces in Israel that start these wonderful new technology companies and those that educate its budding young talent… I just read about Israel and I’m happy for them and I have a bit of a lump in my throat because I feel like Palestine could be there, too, celebrating with them, on the same level, if it weren’t for meddling Israeli bureaucrats that can’t accept that, when two countries both claim “holy land,” they’re going to have to share no matter how illegitimate you think the other party’s beliefs are.

I just want to be pragmatic… with all the horrors going on in Palestine, a lousy economy and educational system and constant meddling by a corrupt and inept occupying government (that rather wishes they hadn’t taken Palestine in the first place; hey, you get what you pay for), I keep thinking, there’s got to be some way technology, new businesses, new ideas can solve this problem… Education, not money, is what brings people up from lower social classes, it sets the baseline for how much you’ll be able to achieve in life (vaguely; there are exceptions, but you’re not one). With the Internet, information is becoming closer and closer to free… I bet it would be easier than ever to establish a good educational system in Palestine… in fact, even with Israeli occupation education is becoming easier and easier, I would think, especially the kind of education that teaches young Palestinians that there is hope for them in the world and that they will not have to become the kind of deluded suicide bombers that blow themselves up in Israeli bakeries. (That’s what tees me off about Israel’s Palestine policy the most… if you want to bring down the number of suicide bombers, increase the amount of opportunity for young Palestinian citizens. That isn’t to forgive their heinous deeds, it’s just that a problem that’s really killing people needs a realistic approach and response, and anything that stops people from killing each other is good in my book.) Information will never have to be brought through an Israeli checkpoint or filtered through layers of occupational bureaucracy. I want to see an information economy succeed in Palestine, even when a physical economy cannot…

So, the next time Thomas Friedman rightly praises Israel for its successes in IT, I hope he gives a shout-out (and he might) to neighboring Palestine and its unnecessary suffering… I really admire Israel for its educational system and for its bustling technology hub in Tel Aviv. It’s just, whenever I read about it, I think, man, I bet Palestine could totally have a similar information economy with the right amount of investment and an easing of restrictions, and together with Israel they could achieve wonderful things for the whole world. So, when you cheer for Israel–and rightly so–give a thought to Palestine and help achieve the day when they can stand together in peace and prosperity.

(Yeah, I don’t like the terrorists in Palestine either… I just do not think Israel’s hard-line approach is working, especially when most Palestinians are like most Israelis and want a two-state solution. I wish Israel would try and support development and opportunity in Palestine, rather than choke it economically through checkpoints, double taxes, and bureaucracy, not to mention misguided military misadventures of mowing down innocent Palestinian citizens on their home turf, which all create the kind of environment that spawns terrorists and maintains them. I hope that Israel learns to distinguish between groups like Hamas, who are willing to negotiate but are, unfortunately, unwilling to give up the collateral of violence that Israel wants a monopoly on, and the kind of death-to-Israel fanatics who train those suicide bombers. I would lump those fanatics in with the fanatics in the Israeli government who think that a hard-line occupational approach can possibly succeed. There’s value in talking to Hamas as long as they are willing to talk… and there’s value in helping Palestine grow and succeed because it’s that kind of success that cuts off the terrorists. I don’t blame the average Israeli for this… this is the fault of people at the top who need to go… and the fault of the terrorists in Palestine who keep those chumps at the top of Israel’s government by shifting the debate just enough to keep them in power by firing rockets over Israel’s stupid wall.)

(That wall, by the way, goes _through_ Palestine, not around it… Israel has a right to defend its borders, of course, I just dislike their practice of partitioning Palestinian cities. Bitch, bitch, bitch…)

Of course, I hope people in Palestine know to ignore Israel as much as possible and be successful in spite of the occupation… living well is the best revenge, as they say, and the best way to protest Israeli bureaucracy is to live within it and still be successful, aggravating the hard-liners in the Israeli government who want to see the life squeezed out of Palestine. So, I hope, and I imagine, that an information economy can grow and prosper even under a violent and unnecessary occupation. So, support Palestinian growth, and invest in peace!

I wonder how big an open-source movement there is in Palestine. That would be a good thing! Information wants to be free! Help young Palestinians learn and grow, and you help make terrorism, war, and occupation a thing of the past. When I hear about a hot new Palestinian tech start-up, I’ll be happy… and I’m sure it won’t be long until then.

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