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What liberation tells us about Iran and the bomb.
Michael Ubaldi, January 18, 2006.

In terms of politics, Freedom House's December announcement that the year of 2005 was "one of the most successful for freedom" in three decades kicked off a holiday for democratists who usually promote their argument in apology. Dictatorships down in number, stable democracies up; in-between nations mostly edging towards liberalism. The Near East was signally visited by reform, moving Freedom House director Thomas Melia to frame the events as a sign "that men and women in this region share the universal desire to live in free societies."

Inherent self-determination was the condition for an adjuvant occupation in Iraq, running as it did counter to several traditionalist doctrines whose advocates disparaged the campaign as a bungle if it wasn't hooey in the first. So the democratist turns around with the Freedom House report to argue how ideation was wed with practice, consummation serving to affirm both. There is a retort: The Near East's tilt forward was tangential to or even in spite of American-led efforts. But it comes from the same corner that augured Judgment in 2003 when most of the West had had enough of what was said desert peoples take pride in — enslavement, benightment, aggrandizement and quotidian brutality carried out by sovereign cliques — and deposed Saddam Hussein. The Arab street did rise; only, what do you know, it peacefully assembled and petitioned for equity and filed into polling places.

Every act of democratic spontaneity in 2005 proceeded on grounds set by some measure of Washington's influence. The Lebanese would still be quartering Syrian fascists if Bashar Assad lacked the punitive reference of a nearby Ba'athist; unless prodded, Egypt's and Saudi Arabia's regimes would not have so much as begrudged citizens nominal elections; Kuwaitis might not be celebrating women's suffrage quite as they did had they remained Iraq's nineteenth province for longer than six months.

And as for Iraq, ongoing document forensics reveal the free world's decade-long toleration of the Arab autocracy not to have been the custody of a regional balance of power but an unsound constriction of fulminate. The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes titles his mid-January report "Saddam's Terror Training Camps" for good reason: eleven government officials, he writes, confirm that the Iraqi Intelligence Service founded an ambitious internship program for terrorists, including those from al Qaeda, totaling eight thousand at least. So, again, it has been found that philosophies are procured by authoritarians as means to power — remember that Adolf Hitler was the Nazi least interested in national socialism — and that there was a manifest threat of Arab Socialist Baghdad handing off something to an Islamist subcontractor. Something like what? A chemical or biological weapon that, as Charles Duelfer of the CIA's Iraqi Survey Group determined, Hussein would assemble as soon as his Gulf War probation and sanctions could be pardoned.

Hayes interviewed defense and intelligence officials involved with the slow translation of over 2 million Iraqi Ba'athist government files; Duelfer got his best information from Saddam's advisors. Neither the question of Saddam Hussein's weaponry nor that of his terrorist malefaction could be answered with finality until each was made safely moot — and Hayes reports that Washington has examined less than 3 percent of captured evidence. From that is a truth countervailing any usefulness in biding time with a man like Saddam: Dictatorships, where the lie is prime currency, cannot be compromised by human intelligence operations while they stand. Saddam Hussein in his twilight grew insular and mercurial, ensconced himself in tribal elite and issued progressively opaque commands, often orally. How could that have been penetrated — Marlon Brando sent over to impersonate Tariq Aziz? We value George Orwell's decryption of Newspeak because a good author ought to be exegete of his own book; Orwell invented Oceania, not industrial totalitarianism.

As a replacement for the fulsome Mohammed Khatami, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a curiously insolent man, choosing international speaking engagements to impart the kind of mephitis most despots save for closed rallies. The theocratic state behind him is less candid. What is known about Tehran's Khomeinist mullahs? They are a) impresarios of global terrorism, b) despised by most Iranians, c) going to build an atomic bomb, and d) shrewder than Saddam Hussein, whose French-built nuclear reactor made for an easy pustule to lance in 1981. Western governments publicly estimate the Islamists will have a weapon in a few years, leaving Iran expert Michael Ledeen to recommend fitting Iranian revolutionaries with American dollars, if not materiel; and the US Army War College to conclude that if Iran must be a nuclear power, it should be the seat of a democratic government.

A European trio has led diplomacy with Tehran but it is President Bush who commands a military of any consequence. Speaking about the war to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the president set forgotten struggles and the underappreciated denouement of postwar Japan alongside Iraq. "President Harry Truman stuck to his guns. He believed, as I do, in freedom's power to transform an adversary into an ally." That would also apply to Iran. Appease Tehran, try to slow its unstoppable bomb program or — ? The democratist's argument was always strongest; now it is stronger.

Michael Ubaldi, June 9, 2005.

Late last month Freedom House released a report celebrating a brief modern history of democratic achievement through popular reason and intellect alone. In a publication entitled "How Freedom is Won: From Civic Struggle to Durable Democracy," the organization has quantified successful liberalization in sixty-seven countries over thirty years as validation of non-violent struggle, the kind of "people power" billions have witnessed from Asia to Africa to the Americas to the old Eastern Bloc; and more recently in the Revolutions Rose, Orange and Cedar by Georgians, Ukrainians and Lebanese.

Freedom House's keystone is its "civic coalition," an entity of free association and itself a right that must be recaptured from governmental expropriation. The report is a gushing endorsement of neither satyagraha nor ambivalence: Freedom House's two caveats hold that, first, authoritarians will offer less than what organized people must take from them; and second, that the rule of strength must be at least partially mitigated before any democratic gains can be made. Freedom House's preferences are spelled out in its recommendations to policymakers in free countries with phrases like "collapse of authoritarian rule," "aid," "pressure," "support," and "resistance." That freedom requires self-reliance does not mean struggling people ought to do everything for themselves.

Specific and timely exertion of force or diplomacy must be understood and their mutual uses defended. The war on terror, the concept of democratization, the sacrifices of military liberation and the patient diligence of diplomatic liberalization have been resisted by the left and the Democratic Party when not outright reviled. Caught between a yet-unconquerable enmity for George W. Bush and a moral compass that is both relativistic and obsolete, opponents of the war and otherwise popular war policies have tread a strange course that has often defied repute and, as domestic political stakes have risen only to be won by President Bush and the right, stumbled into sociopathy. Last July the Democratic Party's own presidential convention brought an elder senator forward to compare a sitting president to elemental fear; that was followed by an offer for Americans to trade one soldier's life for that of twenty thousand Iraqis; and then a public bitterness on the victory side of Iraqi National Assembly elections, as if the triumph of freedom in the midst of violence and uncertainty had been at the left's expense. All of this came across television, print and webstream to scores of nations — including Iraqis, who were free men and no longer some black-on-white statistic, and could finally listen and hear their dehumanization.

Charles Rangel, Congressman from New York, particularly derisive of Third World freedom on First World dime, has now placed Iraqi democracy alongside the Holocaust. Given the choice between distant parallels, Saddam Hussein's twenty-five years of extermination and a difficult first years against Hussein's would-be Islamist successors, Rangel reached over those two and picked American intervention. Any explanations will be worthless, save those delineating Mr. Rangel as a common racist or a more focused, anti-Arab bigot. He is not serious; if Americans were more confident in their convictions the man would be out of office by next Monday. But Rangel is not unique and should not be confused with those who sincerely believe in appealing to conscience, where a legitimate conversation must be had.

Ahmad at weblog Iraqi Expat speaks as one who knows exactly what once prevented the Iraqi people from forming their "civic coalition," namely the gangster state of Saddam Hussein:

I have seen the wars, though not the last one; I have lived in Iraq during the sanctions; I have been afraid all of my life of any government official and the lowest rank police officer who I have to thank and apologise to if he decides to slap me and spit on my face. I simply lost hope. I used to think that Saddam [could] be toppled by the people, by an assassination or a revolution; but I was dreaming. It would never have happened, and even if it would, a new dictator would have came a long just like 1958, 1963 and 1968. Otherwise, Qussay would have been next.

...Freedom and democracy doesn't come free and dreams take us nowhere. We may not succeed, but that is our problem; and as Kanan Makiya said, "The war made it possible for the country to have a chance — I am not saying a guarantee — of moving ahead in a democratic fashion".

Terrorism in Iraq is aberrant to the democratic process: it aspires to no coherent ideology and it is foreign where not comprised of former regime agents who fully embraced criminal activity when the pretense of civil authority was brought down by Allied soldiers. The Iraqi politic is moderate to progressive on matters of liberty. Yet the Iraqi civic coalition contends with an authority slow to accept its place among free men: the international right, harried by the left and its characters like Charlie Rangel, still trudges along with a lack of confidence in democratic values and their exportation.

Two countries whose tyrannical regimes are currently attacking Iraq and the Allies, Iran and Syria, have their own diasporas and dissidents living in frustration — ready to form their civic coalitions but prevented from doing so by a sufficient measure of violence and intimidation. To further liberalism and bring the end of this war and all others nearer, we have three obligations: rejecting the crass left; contributing to transitional movements; and considering Ahmad's dilemma, whether in certain circumstances the example set forth by Freedom House can only be followed when we begin with the force of arms.

Michael Ubaldi, January 30, 2005.

Michael Ubaldi, December 30, 2004.

  • Profiles in authoritarian fecklessness: Drawn into a face-to-face confrontation, a small band of terrorists in Mosul was sliced to ribbons. In Ramadi, Marines deprived the enemy of weapons used against people of the new Iraq. Saddam saturated the country with small arms over twenty-five years, one Army estimate for full removal of materiel exceeding seventeen years, so no terrorist has far to look; any delay, however, will save Allied and Iraqi lives.
  • Worse for Near East fascists: if some parties on the left have begun to contemplate the obvious, the Bush administration will gain political capital to further prosecute the war where it is most necessary. The Boston Globe may go no farther than suspicion over Syria's assault on our liberation force and paint a flattering picture of Hafez al-Assad, but it's far more helpful than denial.
  • Finally, the departure of Contrack, a transportation contractor in Iraq, led some in the media to leap from part to whole and twist the circumstance into a dire reflection of the country's security. That led Kathryn Lopez of the Corner to a spate of nail-biting. A few of us knew otherwise: when a sponsor, in this case the Army, characterizes the split as "not a terrible loss," adding that "it actually may be good that [both parties are] moving on," trouble arose for business reasons. One week later, from Engineering News Record:

    This summer, officials in the U.S. Program and Contracting Office for Iraqi reconstruction concluded that one of its design/build contractors was not performing. The PCO formulated an alternative plan.

    ...News of the firm's departure from Iraq did not become public until earlier this month. But initial press reports that Contrack left because of security concerns are false, say PCO officials. "They didn’t do anything," insists Charles W. Keller, PCO’s program management director.

    ...The design work for numerous projects in the transportation sector, including roadways, airports and bridges, was advertised in Iraqi newspapers and awarded to several Iraqi firms.

    A poor contractor was replaced by Iraqis who need the money and experience. Win-win. Except for Los Angeles Times reporter T. Christian Miller, who was too busy replacing fact with fiction.

    Michael Ubaldi, December 29, 2004.

    Mohammed Fadhil has his eye on Iraq's elections:

    I've traveled in the past week in several cities in the north, south and middle of Iraq and the common finding in the streets was tons of elections' posters encouraging people to join the elections and in some cases advertising for the policies of the competing political parties.

    ...The most interesting phenomenon that caught my attention was that the majority of the parties are trying to make their lists include elements from all the segments of the Iraqi population. Even the lists of the religious parties included technocrats and liberals and all the lists tried to include Arabs, Kurds, Muslims (Sunni and She'at), Turkmen, Christians and even people from the Yazeedi and Subbi minorities.

    The growing discrepancy between most press reports and Iraqis' own experience is embarrassing — and shameful.

    Mohammed's observations meet the high expectations of Iraqis' foreign supporters. Take a moment to read.

    Michael Ubaldi, December 29, 2004.

    A terrible surprise in location but not in practice:

    Workers digging the foundation of a new hospital in [the] northern city [of Suleimaniyah] discovered Wednesday a burial site that a regional human rights minister said could contain the remains of hundreds of people. At least seven bodies were removed from the excavation in Suleimaniyah's suburb of Dabashin shortly after they were discovered. Officials said the bodies were believed to be of Kurds killed while fleeing Saddam Hussein's army as it tried to crush an uprising following the 1991 Gulf War.

    Speaking at the site of the dig, Salah Rashid, the regional Kurdish human rights minister, said "there are mass graves all over Kurdistan especially in areas that were under the control of the Iraqi government. This grave dates back to 1991 when Saddam's regime came to crush the Kurdish uprising." He predicted that at least 400 bodies would be found there.

    What's most poignant is the year: 1991 saw tens of thousands Iraqis stuck on the tip of the world's wisdom declaring Saddam's removal too costly if not unnecessary. "A threat to no one," so the saying went, and still echoes in some dark corners. Praise the day we learned from our mistake.

    What else hides beneath the rusted hulk of dictatorship?

    Michael Ubaldi, December 29, 2004.

    Terrorists murdered several policemen in Baghdad yesterday but had no such luck in Mosul:

    Iraqi Security Forces decisively defeated three separate attacks by anti-Iraqi insurgents as they attempted to seize two police stations while Multi-National Forces from 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) detained 18 people suspected of anti-Iraqi activities during other operations on Dec. 28 in northern Iraq.

    Two Iraqi Police stations came under attack by rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire during a coordinated effort by insurgent fighters to overrun the stations in western and southeastern Mosul. The Iraqi Police successfully repelled the first two attacks on the stations denying insurgents access. After regrouping, insurgents attempted to overrun the southeastern station once again but police decisively defeated their attempts.

    Since Nov. 10, there have been nine attempts where insurgents have tried but failed to overrun police stations. No police stations have fallen into the hands of insurgent fighters since Nov. 10.

    The majority of Iraqis cut down by the Baghdad explosion were, predictably, civilians. Meanwhile, a repopulating Fallujah's most pressing difficulties lie in the civil-municipal realm. Since their shared metric for profit is that of disruption, one can begin to see reflections of the now-toothless Taliban's first signs of meaninglessness in anti-Iraqi terrorists.

    Michael Ubaldi, December 28, 2004.

    Leading the pack as usual, Special Report with Brit Hume's substitute Jim Angle interviewed former Marine Lieutenant Karl Blanke at the end of the program's first half tonight. Blanke served two tours of duty in Iraq, one during the initial drive toppling the Ba'athist regime and a second earlier this year. He did well, challenging the left's media-borne caricature of Iraq's democratization on every point [with what truly was and is]: from ecstatic throngs filling streets while American soldiers battled the Republican Guard in 2003, to Iraqis' painful mental and physical scars assuaged only by hope and benevolence, to the enduring rightfulness and anticipated success of the campaign.

    A GOOD MAN: The interview's transcript can be found here.

    Michael Ubaldi, December 28, 2004.

    For practitioners of biased or substandard journalism, the greatest sin is omission. Standard fare for mainstream wire reports on the war is to assemble a narrative list of terrorist attacks; articles are often extended to several paragraphs with politically inclined statement/contradiction clauses; with some consistency, regardless of how small a radius in which a given article's events occurred, attacks are reported as being committed "across the country." The least common denominator among all these practices is the absence of information on Allied and Iraqi activities. Central Command issues reports on small and large unit actions, administrative milestones, significant public works projects and other events worthy of official note. Most are press releases; some are articles written by military staff, worth the column space of any newspaper.

    Very little of this easily accessible information can be found in the work of journalists whose work is often supplemented by collaborative efforts and government reports.

    Let's take the first story returned by a search string of "violence across the country" on Google News. It's Agent France-Presse. Osama bin Laden, fresh from his bizarre rhetorical emulation of the American far left on election's eve, is telling a nation, whose population almost unanimously despises him, to forfeit its first step into government by consent. That's worth more humor than worry so we're presented with a "spasm of violence across the country" that, through the murder of thirteen people in one location, will somehow "threaten" to "mar" Iraq's January 30th election. "Mar" is a curious word choice, since of all things a battering ram will be "marred" as it nevertheless tears through a wall; it seems the commitment of President Bush and Prime Ministers Blair and Allawi have finally convinced the commentariat that a vote will be had. After wading through the nonsensical ramblings of Abu Musab al Zarqawi and kin, and a strong dose of editorial assertions based on what have become the left's articles of faith, we're treated to a second tally of terrorist-murdered Iraqis, though it's unclear if this number includes the thirteen we encountered before. Bottom line: twelve one hundred thousandths of a percent of the population was killed by the "deadly insurgency," and parties are divided over politics. The only mention the United States military receives is one of those articles of faith, an assertion that dismantling Saddam Hussein's bases of military and political power must have driven normal men to terrorism.

    Very interesting. The AFP story would have been printed in time to pick up news that Allied-Iraqi forces prevented a car bombing and continued to disrupt terrorists in Mosul as shortly after the dining hall attack as the day before Christmas Eve. And that was only 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division:

    Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment prevented a potential attack from occurring on security forces Thursday Dec 23 after they located a car containing a detonator, bomb making material and a video camera. Two subjects fled before they could be apprehended. An Explosives Ordnance Disposal team cleared the vehicle.

    Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 14th Cavalry Regiment conducted cordon and search operations near the city of Singar today for suspected terrorist cell members. Multi-National Forces detained 32 insurgents who remain in custody for questioning. Soldiers also confiscated five AK-47s, two handguns and two million dinars.

    Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment detained two suspicious individuals Thursday at a traffic control point in central Mosul after Multi-National Forces spotted the subjects observing the checkpoint from a distance. A search of the subjects produced 1,000 blank identification cards and the suspects were taken into custody.

    3-21 also conducted search operations near the northern city of Hammam al Alil Thursday in an attempt to locate suspected weapons caches. The search resulted in the detainment of three insurgents who remain in custody.

    Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 14th Cavalry Regiment conducted search operations of a Tal Afar business Thursday that resulted in the detention of one individual after Multi-National Forces discovered anti-Iraqi forces propaganda and other documents containing schematics and chemical equations in the business. The suspect remains in custody.

    Yesterday, while Iraq was likely "reeling" from said "spasm," two of Zarqawi's top henchmen, along with a gaggle of foreign terrorists, were nabbed in Ar Ramadi, thanks to the informative help of brave Iraqis. The same day, a market in Babil Province was combed by joint forces in an effort to keep hurting saboteurs off-balance:

    Despite a recent drop in insurgent activity in the area, the commander of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which led the operation, said he has no intention of letting local insurgents regroup.

    "By staying in the attack, we continue to generate momentum," said Col. Ronald J. Johnson. "We are piecing more and more of the puzzle together. Our intelligence is growing, the connections are emerging, and the Iraqi security forces themselves are playing an increasingly decisive role."

    All this information, ready to be placed in a wire report with proper attribution. How about a sober but hopeful progress update on the resettlement of Fallujah? Or the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior's vote of confidence, a compelling counterpoint to the chorus of pessimists usually found on newspages?

    Omission is a powerful tool for the biased masquerading as the objective: recontextualization of a reported event can always be overcome by an unconvinced reader's cross-referencing of other reports or a simple employment of common sense. But if you leave it out, you don't risk any reader seeing through your color. You can wager that he won't seek out other reports because he hasn't been given information prompting him to do so. Not surprisingly, the following exchange between Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and an American soldier barely received a fraction of the exposure from the elite press given to the "other exchange":

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, how do we win the war in the media? It seems like that is the place where we're getting beat up more than anybody else. I've been here — this is my third tour over here, and we have done some amazing things. And it seems like the enemy's Web sites and everything else are all over the media, and they love it. But the thing is, is everything we do good, no matter if it's helping a little kid or building a new school, the public affairs sends out the message, but the media doesn't pick up on it. How do we win the propaganda war?

    RUMSFELD: That does not sound like a question that was planted by the press. (LAUGHTER) That happens sometimes. It's one of the hardest things we do in our country. We have freedom of the press. We believe in that. We believe that democracy can take that massive misinformation and differing of views, and that free people can synthesize all of that and find their way to right decisions...And the truth is, however, it gets through eventually. There are people in the United States who understand what's really going on over here.

    At first glance, Rumsfeld was being charitable. But he may have been sharply coy. Old media will not change as an institution; it is too ideologically entrenched and politically committed. If its television programs, newspapers and magazines start including regular reports of the myriad victories won by Americans, Allies and Iraqis, effectively ending the current apparent narrative of "terrorists did this, we did nothing," the presentation will still be unfair. Just take a look at how they chopped up the SecDef's conversation. But that's okay, because reform is not necessary. Rumsfeld's "people in the United States" are those growing in stature and influence: editors of new media and, to a lesser yet important extent, bloggers.

    Michael Ubaldi, December 27, 2004.

    The road traveled from despotism to democracy is a difficult and painful one, no matter how enthusiastic, well-equipped and prepared a country's occupying liberators are. Shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein I read the book Inventing Japan by William Chapman, which, in its narration of the islands' postwar struggle, offered a vital perspective on the second of two campaigns begin waged in Iraq: that of Iraqi society, more or less free from violent interference by terrorist saboteurs, rebuilding and aligning itself with the new demands of free living. Two passages have appeared on this weblog, one about the difficult living conditions of the first few years and the other illustrating, through popular contemporary fiction, the agony synonymous with leaving an entire history behind for modern democracy.

    Today, Zeyad lists the acute shortcomings of Iraq's mismatched industrial society, from unreliable communications to untrustworthy home amenities, including electricity; to a thriving black market and the peculiar crime, a favorite of crooks in Britain, known as "phone-jacking." But through it all, perseverance:

    It is also not uncommon to trade your position in the [petrol] queue with someone far behind for an appropriate price which gets higher the closer you are to the station. This has become a profitable business for a few, and an effortless one for that. After all, you can find all the services you can imagine at the queue, tea stands, cigarettes, soda drinks, tasty Felafel and boiled egg sandwiches, hot chick peas, beans or turnips, beer (at certain hidden locations), even people renting out pillows and blankets in case you need to spend the night waiting in the queue.

    It's impossible to miss echoes of the American frontiersman in these descriptions of surmounting hardships through enterprise and sheer endurance. Life is certainly not nearly as comfortable as it could be or will be in Iraq, but one can understand what regional dictators fear in the future plotted out today by such natural capitalist stalwarts as the Iraqis. And they are right to fear freed, capable men.