Friday, October 22, 2004

Editorial Writers Should Have Names

To: letters@nytimes.com
Subject: Iran's Nuclear Threat

Punitive, shmunitive. As you said yourself (I mean as one of your anonymous colleagues said), "Heads of rogue states, including Iran and North Korea, have been taught decisively that the best protection against a pre-emptive American strike is to acquire nuclear weapons themselves." (Editorial, John Kerry for President, Oct. 17)

Sanctions, while painful, couldn't possibly reduce Iran to the current condition of Iraq; do you imagine the Iranians don't realize that?

Monday, October 18, 2004

The Safety of Baghdad's Christians

To: letters@nytimes.com
Subject: Front-page photo: Catholics heard Sunday Mass at St. George Church in Baghdad, one of five churches firebombed Saturday.

It's regrettable that demonizing Saddam Hussein has become a requirement for the U.S. press. That characterization was bought and paid for by the Kuwaitis, who in the years leading up to the first gulf war were cross-drilling into Iraqi oilfields. It prevents any intelligent discussion of such factors as Saddam's fervent opposition to Islamic fundamentalism, and the significance of his deportation of the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1978.

So, are Baghdad's Christians better off with Saddam in prison?

Friday, October 15, 2004

Finicky, Finicky Women

To: Maureen Dowd
Subject: Courting the Finicky Women

Dear Ms. Dowd,

You fault Bush for being divorced from reality and Kerry for being married to it. What, exactly, do you want? (Howard Dean would have lost because he's short. Given a choice between dating a known criminal and a short man, most American women would choose the criminal. Sorry I can't give a reference to the study; I have to go to work and don't have time to look for it.)

The vast stupidity of the American electorate is a reality.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

From Baghdad

From: [Wall Street Journal reporter] Farnaz Fassihi
Subject: From Baghdad

Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make a difference.

Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in any thing but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't and can't. There have been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and make sure our
Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am security personnel first, a reporter second.

It's hard to pinpoint when the 'turning point' exactly began. Was it April when Fallujah fell out of the grasp of the Americans? Was it when Moqtada and Jish Mahdi declared war on the U.S. military? Was it when Sadr City, home to ten percent of Iraq's population, became a nightly battlefield for the Americans? Or was it when the insurgency began spreading from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of Iraq? Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.

Iraqis like to call this mess "the situation." When asked "How are things?" they reply, "The situation is very bad."

What they mean by "situation" is this: the Iraqi government doesn't control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country, killing and injuring scores of innocent people.

The country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of land mines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers. There are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The "situation," basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health -- which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers -- has now stopped disclosing them. Insurgents now attack Americans an average of 87 times a day.

A friend drove thru the Shiite slum of Sadr City yesterday. He said young men were openly placing improvised explosive devices into the ground.

They melt a shallow hole into the asphalt, dig the explosive, cover it with dirt and put an old tire or plastic can over it to signal to the locals this is booby-trapped. He said on the main roads of Sadr City, there were a dozen land mines per every ten yards. His car snaked and swirled to avoid driving over them. Behind the walls sits an angry Iraqi ready to detonate them as soon as an American convoy gets
near. This is in Shiite land, the population that was supposed to love America for liberating Iraq.

For journalists the significant turning point came with the wave of abduction and kidnappings. Only two weeks ago we felt safe around Baghdad because foreigners were being abducted on the roads and highways between towns. Then came a frantic phone call from a journalist female friend at 11 p.m. telling me two Italian women had been abducted from their homes in broad daylight. Then the two Americans, who got
beheaded this week, and the Brit were abducted from their homes in a residential neighborhood.

They were supplying the entire block with round the clock electricity from their generator to win friends. The abductors grabbed one of them at 6 a.m. when he came out to switch on the generator; his beheaded body was thrown back near the neighborhoods.

The insurgency, we are told, is rampant with no signs of calming down. If any thing, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated every day. The various elements within it-baathists, criminals, nationalists and Al Qaeda-are cooperating and coordinating.

I went to an emergency meeting for foreign correspondents with the military and embassy to discuss the kidnappings. We were somberly told our fate would largely depend on where we were in the kidnapping chain once it was determined we were missing. Here is how it goes: criminal gangs grab you and sell you up to Baathists in Fallujah, who will in turn sell you to Al Qaeda. In turn, cash and weapons flow the other way from Al Qaeda to the Baathists to the criminals. My friend Georges, the French journalist snatched on the road to Najaf, has been missing for a month with no word on release or whether he is still alive.

America's last hope for a quick exit? The Iraqi police and National Guard units we are spending billions of dollars to train. The cops are being murdered by the dozens every day-over 700 to date -- and the insurgents are infiltrating their ranks. The problem is so serious that the U.S. military has allocated $6 million dollars to buy out 30,000 cops they just trained. This way they can get rid of them quietly.

As for reconstruction: firstly it's so unsafe for foreigners to operate that almost all projects have come to a halt. After two years, of the $18 billion Congress appropriated for Iraq reconstruction only about $1 billion or so has been spent and a chunk of it has now been reallocated for improving security, a sign of just how bad things are going here.

Oil dreams? Insurgents disrupt oil flow routinely through sabotage and oil prices have hit a record high of $49 a barrel. Who did this war exactly benefit? Was it worth it? Are we safer because Saddam is holed up and Al Qaeda is running around in Iraq? Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for insecurity. Guess what? They say they'd take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler.

I heard an educated Iraqi say today that if Saddam Hussein were allowed to run for elections he would get the majority of the vote. This is truly sad.

Then I went to see an Iraqi scholar this week to talk to him about elections here. He has been trying to educate the public on the importance of voting. He said, "President Bush wanted to turn Iraq into a democracy that would be an example for the Middle East. Forget about democracy, forget about being a model for the region, we have to salvage Iraq before all is lost."

One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it's hard to imagine what if anything could salvage it from its violent downward spiral. The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it can't be put back into a bottle.

The Iraqi government is talking about having elections in three months while half of the country remains a 'no go zone'--out of the hands of the government and the Americans and out of reach of journalists. In the other half, the disenchanted population is too terrified to show up at polling stations. The Sunnis have already said they'd boycott elections, leaving the stage open for a polarized government
of Kurds and Shiites that will not be deemed as legitimate and will most certainly lead to civil war.

I asked a 28-year-old engineer if he and his family would participate in the Iraqi elections since it was the first time Iraqis could to some degree elect a leadership. His response summed it all: "Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces or followed by the insurgents and murdered for being with the Americans? For what? To practice democracy? Are you joking?"

-Farnaz

Fear of Starbucks?

To: letters@nytimes.com
Subject: Saudis Blame U.S. and Its Role in Iraq for Rise of Terror

What a concept. You got a reporter to read Arab News and talk to a few Saudis. Why isn't that routine? It doesn't even require learning a foreign language.

And "the alien influences" that Saudis fear are drugs, alcohol and pornography--not coffee. Many Arabs and Moslems share those fears.

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Plural of Scenario

I'm looking at an electoral vote scenario that seems very likely to me--and it's a tie. Kerry takes the West, including Nevada, the Great Lakes states and Iowa, and the Northeast. Plus New Mexico. Bush gets all the rest.

This is really a worst-case scenario. Kerry can win in Ohio, Florida and Colorado. The odds are he'll win in at least one of them. There are several border states (Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri) and a couple of western states (Colorado, Arizona) where Kerry was doing well before the swiftboat veterans from the Let's Kill 'Em All wing of the military scurrilously slandered him, and voters could swing back to Kerry. The more people see him the more highly they will regard him. He's a person of genuine integrity, and he also has the clear-eyed ability to confront the real world in all its awfulness and glory and do what is sensible for the sake of being able to work to improve it.

Last night we went to see the new documentary about his experiences in Vietnam and with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry at the Westside Pavilion, which was almost deserted. I fell in love with the beautiful child he was, and with the knight-errant he became.

And Bush? Does he like to play with very big guns? He is capable of charming people. He is very dangerous.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Scouring Iraq for Enemies, Finding Farmers and Mud

To: letters@nytimes.com
Subject: Scouring Iraq for Enemies, Finding Farmers and Mud

So Lt. Col. Buck James thinks that "in Iraq's macho culture the insurgents' unwillingness to put up a fight may end up costing them the support of the people who are shielding them now."

Put up a fight with small arms against helicopters and tanks? Not even Iraqis are that macho.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Confusion

To: letters@nytimes.com
Subject: In Canada, an Exile Pleads a Tangled Case for Refuge

When Jeremy Hinzman joined the U.S. Army the U.S. had not yet become a rogue nation, and had not waged war on another country in his lifetime.

You are the ones who are confused.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Embrace of The New York Times

To: letters@nytimes.com
Subject: How White House Embraced Suspect Iraq Arms Intelligence

You state that "on Sept. 8 [2002], the lead article on Page 1 of The New York Times gave the first detailed account of the aluminum tubes. The article cited unidentified senior administration officials who insisted that the dimensions, specifications and numbers of tubes sought showed that they were intended for a nuclear weapons program.

'The closer he gets to a nuclear capability, the more credible is his threat to use chemical and biological weapons,' a senior administration official was quoted as saying. 'Nuclear weapons are his hole card.'

The article gave no hint of a debate over the tubes."

When do we get an apology from you? And a Part 2 entitled, "How The New York Times Embraced Suspect Iraq Arms Intelligence"?