Best of the Fray

Best of the Fray

Best of the Fray

What's happening in our readers' forum.
Feb. 6 2005 1:37 PM

Best of the Fray

Intelligent posts rescued from oblivion.

TaiPan's reaction to the Michael Jackson trial, inspired by Dahlia Lithwick's piece:

Has our justice system just become comic relief ? Are we as a nation so deprived or perhaps depraved with respect to entertainment, that the alleged wrongdoing by someone who is so obviously out of touch with himself and the reality of the world merits the airtime and ink it will inevitably get ?

I certainly hope not. We as a nation have far more important things to concern ourselves with than Michael Jackson's traveling salvation show. The absolute best thing that could happen for this trial is that it be moved to an island somewhere and everyone except the trial participants are banned from being there. Where lawyers wouldn't have cameras to pander to and the defendant would have to behave as a normal human being does.

What about the "peoples' right to know" you ask. Well let them know, after the trial is over. Maybe by that time, their collective common sense will have returned to a point where they can understand the difference between the real world and fantasyland.

Thats the problem today. Too many people live their lives vicarously through others, mostly celebrites. Maybe if these people were not aggrandized beyond thier human net worth, the rest of the few of us who remain sane in the midst of this nonsense would not be subjected to it.

gtompkins1 on the ethics of elective medicine and … erections, based on Saletan's Viagra/Medicare newsbrief:

A procedure is elective, as opposed to emergent or urgent, if the disease process to be corrected does not require immediate surgical intervention, but instead allows the surgery to take place at some selected, convenient, time in the future.

The author seems to be groping for the distinction between medical interventions which are required by an underlying disease process, and non-medical conditions that might be improved by some medical intervention. Looked at more clearly, I think that there is a clear distinction, no more blurred than before. A disease leaves the patient in an abnormal state of deficiency or decrement, that lies below the level of function associated with a disease-free state. The non-medical conditions for which some demand for medical interventions might arise, in contrast, have the "patient" starting at a normal level, and desiring some enhancement that supposedly improves on nature. In some cases there is a continuum, that leaves a grey area, but such cases only illustrate the soundness of the principle. Being 25 lbs overweight, for example, does not make one a legitimate candidate for stomach-stapling…


Should medical interventions for non-medical conditions be banned? If the risks, and other costs, of the interventions exceed the benefits, yes. This consideration clears the field of most such interventions, because an intervention would not be "medical", restricted to the direction of medical providers, unless it were risky…


Finally, the idea that you are going to improve on nature by tweaking some aspect of your physiology up beyond normal is generally a non-starter. Were you happier as a 19 year-old? In the unlikely event that you were happier, was it because of your erectile prowess? (Ladies, you'll just have to do a thought experiment, and transfer this question to consideration of the men you've known.) Really? Why do you think that having erectile performance more like a 19 year old than what is natural for the 49 year old that you are, will in any way make you happier?

The_Bell on the history of secularism in France, in response to Elisabeth Eaves's documentation of religious revivalism in the Parisian suburbs:

The possibility of an evangelical-style religious revival in France and its encroachment on that country's century-old strict segregation between Church and State made me reflect that it might provide a more detached observation of an controversial and polarizing issue in our own nation by removing it from its more familiar environs. Moreover, I thought it might be useful to frame the issue using the words of the great French thinkers within the long period cited by Ms. Eaves whose intellectual precepts helped lead to the rise of secularism in France and the 1905 law…

French insistence on the lack of religion in all things public became a crucial feature in the French ideal of citizenship. The French Republic has always recognized individuals rather than groups and holds that its citizens' first allegiance is to the State. This is not so different from most other democratic governments, including our own. But the French took it a step further, insisting that citizens have no officially sanctioned ethnic or religious identity and encouraging them to abandon both to the greatest extent possible.

Such a viewpoint is arguably non-discriminatory or, more precisely, equi-discriminatory. Yet societal stress on forced homogeneity, coupled with the exclusion of religious symbols and practices from all public places and discourse, led to feelings of oppression by people of faith within France and eventually rebellion on their part. Any study of history must admit the postulate that movements born out of feelings of repression and rebellion tend to be more extreme and militant in nature. Hence the more recent rise and prominence of non-mainstream (in the West) religions like fundamental Islam, Jehovah Witnesses, and the Evangelical Assembly of the Pentecost within France.

As Eaves article suggests, many of these religions were first brought to France by immigrants, primarily from Northern Africa. Lest some would counter-argue that these growing religions carry seeds of extremism and militancy within them that are (unhappily) transforming the secularism of France, it is interesting to note that most first generation immigrants embraced the more open society that French secularism provided and protected. It is their children and grand children who have adopted their religions' more conservative practices. Especially when living in disadvantaged areas, religious symbols and practices are a way of creating a group identity in rebellion against France's homogeneity...

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Publius's criticism  of Shafer's comparison of W. to Kim Jong-Il:

I'm not about to explain or defend every one of the Bush Administration's approaches to dealing with the press, but it should suffice to say that (1) there is not "press" in North Korea; if a self-styled "reporter" were to write something about Kim alog te lines of this citique of Bush, he would have nowhere -- nowhere -- to publish it without sending it abroad and, if he did that, he'd wind up dead or, at least, in prison.

Some of what Shaffer describes is fairly routine stuff in the endless hide and seek played out by reporters and politicians (e.g., putting the LAT in te basement of GOP priorities); some is a function of legitimate sensitivity to national security needs, while some is an unfortunate but inevitable stretching of the national security blanket to cover more than it should, and bureaucrats and non-political professionals in government are more prone to do this than top poltical officials; and some is the result of the virtually open hostility to all things Bush all-too-frequently shown by a large segment of the media for four years (e.g., few press conferences).

It may well be that Bush would do better to follow the Baker-Reagan path of intensive cultivation, but if he doesn't and that's bad for him politically, it doesn;t mean he's chosen to undermine the republic.

Shaffer shares in full measure the "fourth estate" conceit that reporters somehow hold a special place and responsibilty under the Constitution, so that the unwillingness, say, to hold more news conferences or give Shaffer and the LAT interviews is on a par with proroguing Congress. Sorry, Shaffer, but the only special rights you have are the same as those I have -- to write and publish what I please.

The suggestion that there is any resemblance whatsoever between the US and North Korea in 2005 is an outrageous slander and marks Shaffer as a nut or a fool.

Followed by FritzGerlich's rebuttal here:

I suggest you refresh your memory about the avalanche of "solid intelligence" assurances given in early 2003 about the "immediate, imminent threat" Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction" posed to "the safety of America." Remember the numerous invocations of "yellowcake purchases" and "mushroom clouds"?

Shafer has a serious point: what is happening is not politics as usual. Yes, all American politicians have used media to portray themselves and their ideas in the best light and their opponents otherwise. And previous administrations have had their covert actions, and lied about them. But that stuff has never before amounted to a whole program of orchestrated stonewalling, lying, bribery, media intimidation, and public scare tactics. This administration, commanding a phalanx of governmental and non-governmental operatives, is practicing these things to a degree, and with an effectiveness, I have not seen in my lifetime. I realize this comparison will evoke another screech from you, but the best parallels I can think of occurred in quasi-democratic countries falling partially or completely under fascist rule: Mussolini's Italy, the end of the Weimar Republic and Hitler's consolidation of power through plebiscites, Peron's Argentina, Pinochet's Chile.

Your predictable take on current events is that anybody who knows history and isn't naive would see that this is all just business as usual; anybody who is alarmed about the Bush administration is just chicken-littling. For a long time I tried to keep a similar perspective myself. I was very skeptical about Bush personally, but perfectly willing at first to see him as within the general post-World War II presidential tradition, even if on the side of that tradition I don't favor. Until the massive intellectual dishonesty he and his people displayed whilst engineering their invasion of Iraq. At that point, I realized that what I was witnessing was the politics of bad faith, the willingness to say or do anything, to rationalize a predetermined objective. Is that your idea of how America has been governed? Should be governed?

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MarkEHaag quibbles  over the meaning of "bohemian" as defined by Inigo Thomas's week-long chronicles:

Mr. Inigo doesn't seemed to have experienced anything of our fair town that you couldn't have seen in a two-hour Gray Tours bus ride. And what any of this self-involved, sentimental dribbling on the theme of "Englishman in New York" has to do with bohemia truly escapes me. I realize that bo-ho is at least partly in the eye of the beholder, but I never pictured the groovy non-conformist as someone who prowls Manhattan with a Zagat's and a platinum card, checking off the hottest places to hang with fellow well-traveled Brits.

A bohemian, I sorta thought, is someone who accepts the idea of losing and failing, when measured in conventional terms; it's not a career, it's an anti-career, living without structure and succeeding only in the sense that one manages without security and, what's more, without even aspiring to security, without any aspirations at all in fact.

One thing bohemia is not is just another boutiqey sort of tourism, another pretext for running up your frequent flyer miles. A bohemian doesn't get off on showing off or comparing notes with other bohemians in a one-upsmanship kinda way. I've met a couple of real bohemians in New York and they didn't really seem like likable or even terribly "interesting" people, that sort of conflict with social convention usually springs from or results in a deep well of hostility.

But for those of us who live here day-to-day and are not capitalist in any way, you can't help but admire people who embody the notion that one should be able to survive in this place with dignity and self-respect even if you aren't a money man or have any access to the real estate market whatsoever.

A sentiment shared by FrayEditor05 here in pedestrian-starved Los Angeles. Indeed, it would seem that a flâneur in the Baudelarian mold could get more mileage, so to speak, out of a metropolis as dense as New York. Walter Benjamin got 1,000+ pages out of his stroll through Paris in the recently published Arcades Project. AC 10:20am

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Thursday, February 3, 2005

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With the policy ideas of our second-term president now broadly familiar to those of us with even the most minimal consciousness of politics, fraysters seemed this time around as interested in discussing the broad outlines of Bush's domestic and foreign agenda as they did in fetishizing some of the more obscure details to be found in his SOTU address.

Bush's striking reference to the Iraqi woman's "blue fingertip" garnered a disproportionate amount of attention. The symbolism of this image enrapturedSheila, for one: "what's more powerful than a woman whose relative was murdered by Saddam and now sees an election in which she is allowed to vote?" powertrooper wonders "Is it just me or is he way overdoing these personal testamonials of Iraqi people. Oh, and she's in the audience. Is that completely necessary?" KeithJS sees it as a way to manipulate the political opposition: "Ever since Reagan pioneered the concept, Presidents have used it in the SOTU. It's a sure way to get Standing O's even from people in the audience who hate you." IOZ learned that his TV set needed some color adjustment: "The purple fingers came as a bit of a shock, perhaps because IOZ, who doesn't waste his money on cable, had to rig up a duct-taped rabbit-ear contraption for proper broadcast reception, and the weird color effects gave the purple a tint unfortunately reminiscent" of something rather vulgar everyone can read for himself…

Bush's unique speech patterns were another object of obsession. Kurl takes his own pre-emptive strike at the easy liberal targets in Bush's address, while cargirl does her best to capture the phonetic nuances of W.'s pronunciation here. rd_warrior remarks upon how "each word has to be slowly enunciated."

In response to Bush's call for bipartisanship, Zathras thinks the most meaningful (and immediate) gesture would be to "give up the right to respond to the State of the Union. The Democrats (like the Republicans during the Clinton years) get nothing out of their rebuttal even if it is cogently delivered by an attractive spokesman."

Accordingly, 1-2-Oscar assigns grades to the President and the leadership of his Democratic opposition for their performances. Reid receives A for his "firm and forthright" demeanor; Pelosi a D for her contrarian style. Bush gets an B for an "extremely well-crafted and credibly delivered" speech that succeeded by

… stringing together aphorisms which demanded agreement, even from those Democrats who had vowed to sit on their hands. It was kind of funny to see John Kerry and Hillary Clinton popping up and down like Jacks-in-the-Box, but as much as they may despise the man, they could hardly disagree with his stated objectives--a strong and free Iraq, support and honor for our brave military, increases in veteran's benefits, improvement of the nation's schools, expanding the economy, securing our borders, and protecting the retirement of millions of Americans. Surely these are objectives shared by people of good will in both parties. Of course, the Devil is in the details, and the speech was spare in discussing the manner in which all these objectives can be achieved. That was its weakest aspect, but the strongest point may have been the President's recognition that Democrats have also propossed changes or improvements in Social Security, and announcing that "all these ideas are on the table."

Of those devilish details, Social Security figured most prominently as the ideological flashpoint of the evening. In a scrutinizing post, The_Slasher-8 asks point blank: " Why Social Security?" Drawing extensively on the June 2002 report by the President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security, run75441 presents a number of alternative models for reform.

TC3 dubs it " Bush's SS Plan for Dummies":

1. If we do nothing, and pesimistic actuarial projections pan out, benefits would have to be reduced if SS taxes, the retirement age, etc., remain the same. This is referred to as "bankruptcy."

2. If we follow Bush's plan, SS benefits will definitely be reduced. This SS benefit reduction is not referred to as "bankruptcy." To accomplish that, we will borrow some $2 trillion for "transition costs."

3. Republicans should nevertheless tout Bush's plan.

modicum noticed an overall modulation in the ideological tone of the discussion around Social Security: "Bush moved toward the middle quite a bit tonight… positioning himself [to] cut a deal in order to get some kind of reform passed, though it is likely to be a far cry from what his right wing has been asking for."

The_Bell points out this basic contradiction between Bush's stance on Social Security and the general mood of his address: "the President is highly optimistic about our own nation's immediate future but sees it threatened down the road" when the program's solvency is supposedly in jeopardy.

D2 mischievously rolls two of Bush's domestic proposals into one:

Fixing Social Security by Eliminating Sex Ed Programs

No more Sex Ed teaching in schools. Where is it written that we need people to do that? Have you checked the demographics on the aging of our population lately? We're wayyyy behind the curve, man! This fits perfectly with out faith based initiatives—no birth control, no knowledge of it, and the result is a population that is no longer top heavy with retirees." 

Finally, on a lighter note, TheAList cites the following line of Bush's SOTU address as "a classic example of his rhetorical trickery" and proceeds to demystify the metaphor for us:

"The road of Providence is uneven and unpredictable -- yet we know where it leads: It leads to freedom."

Truth: The road of Providence is I-95, which depending on traffic conditions and maintenance, can be quite uneven and unpredictable.

http://www.dot.state.ri.us/WebTraf/index.html.

But mislead: I-95 does not lead to freedom, or at least not directly. Directly, it leads along the Providence River past Rhode Island Hospital and Providence Place. It does lead to Pawtucket to the North and Cranston to the South (which does have a Freedom Seafood), and technically, goes all the way up and down the Eastern Seaboard. But freedom is not found anywhere near I-95 in Providence itself.

There is a Freedom Square a few miles off I-95 in Reston, Virginia.

http://www.mortons.com/website/htmldocs/locations/restonP.html

There is also the Freedom Florence Recreational Center off I-95 in South Carolina
.

http://www.cityofflorence.com/freedom/vision.html.

And a Freedom Commerce Drive off I-95 in Jacksonville, Florida (go Eagles!)

http://www.motel6.com/reservations/motel_detail.asp?MotelId=1232&state=FL&full=Florida&city=Jacksonville

And the Freedom Salon and Spa about ¼ mile off I-95 in York Maine, whose website, in classic Republican fashion, tells us "Freedom will be on your right in the rotunda." I'm am not making this up.

http://www.freedomsalonandspa.com/contactus.htm

That Bush has to continuously resort to such verbal trickery is a disservice to our nation and to freedom itself. And no, I am not referring to the Freedom Federal Credit Union ATM in I-95's Maryland House rest stop.

http://www.freedomfcu.org/html/atms.html

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Don't forget to order some freedom fries along the way. AC ... 1:07pm 

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Wednesday, February 2, 2005

To read this week's best work, take a spin on the Fray's back roads.

Living in Glass Houses: Motor City native and Poems Fray regular Ted_Burke delivers this eulogy to agile architect Philip Johnson, who died last Wednesday:

… Johnson had those qualities that are, for the most part, lacking in post-modern architecture; grace, symmetry, style, simple elemental elegance.

Indeed, postmodern architectural style in the wrong hands is a nightmare of bad taste, bad ideas and bad faith foisted on perfectly good pieces of the city scape, but Johnson wasn't one of the dullards. He knew how to make his buildings fit into a skyline, particularly one that studded with structures of historical import; and have his buildings seemingly converse with the entire history of a given city's urban center. His One Detroit Center in my home town does this wonderfully; the elements of the past, particularly the pitched topping and the alteration of cement and glass are an effective and underplayed homage sorts of Louis Sullivan aesthetic from Detroit's great the twenties through the forties, and yet whose lines and playfully exaggerated proportions offers an idea that there is a future for this city that is not cut off from it's past.

Johnson's best work shows that he understood this need for connectedness, and why he felt that the social engineering agenda behind embedded in the modernism in which he started was inadequate. One shapes the future by understanding the best the past has given us, and establishes within institutions a continuity of the best virtues in a manner to motivate the best good one can do for their community…

Fray Editor, against his better aesthetic judgment, has grown to forgive Johnson for this.

The Music Within: Eric Liu's visit with Juilliard instructor Bob Abramson got rob_said_that reminiscing:

When I learned to play the flute, I thought it was all about having fast fingers. Later, when my amazing fingers got me to a better teacher, I learned it was not about that at all; it was about breathing. I had to learn to breathe like a baby all over again, from the diaphragm. When you watch a baby breathing, you see the stomach rising and falling, while the chest barely moves at all. That's what you have to copy.

After you learn that, you learn that each musical phrase is a kind of breath itself, and each line of music is to be played as if it were being sung, no matter what instrument you're playing. Even if you're playing a piano (or especially if you are) you need to connect the notes in a line like a sung melody. That can be a difficult concept. My piano teacher had to work hard to get me to understand that I had to hear a crescendo, for example, even through held notes that naturally died away on a piano. Once I could hear that arc, making a smooth crescendo—a lyrical crescendo—suddenly became possible. Not only possible, but it then became hard for me to hear it any other way…

Rob's musings generated a couple of nice replies — one from Gemini here, and another from UtopiaDystopia here. Gemini authors a top post on Kato Havas, who established "The New Approach" to string playing, here.

Bells of Hell: Downtown denizens and urban explorers will love Claude_Scales' history of Greenwich Village, circa the late 70s:

My first visit to the Bells was on a weeknight, when there was no live music. I found a vacant barstool near the door. To my left was a burly man with dark hair, and beyond him a brown-haired woman with glasses and a Scottish accent. The man introduced himself as Gary and his friend as Barbara. We chatted pleasantly while the jukebox cycled through "Dancing Queen" by Abba, Billy Connolly's spoof on Tammy Wynette's "D-I-V-O-R-C-E", Mna Na h'Eireann by the Chieftains, "White Cliffs of Dover" by Vera Lynn, and "Highland Paddy" by the WolfeTones. Gary and Barbara filled me in on the history of the place. It had been started a couple of years before by the actor Malachy McCourt (now, along with his brother Frank, famous as a writer), who had been somewhat cavalier in the matter of paying Con Ed and, as a consequence, had for a time done business by candlelight and with an ancient mechanical cash register. Malachy later sold the place to two Englishmen, Tony Heyes and Peter Myers. Tony was a Liverpudlian dockworker's son who had gone to Oxford on scholarship, gotten a Ph.D. from Michigan, run the McGovern presidential campaign in Kentucky and Tennessee, and, during his tenure as a Bells owner, had a day job as an academic dean at the College of New Rochelle. (He later gave up academe and wrote a newspaper column on horse racing; the last I heard, he was doing some sort of business in Latvia.) Peter was a mountaineer and former member of the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team. (He is now the proprietor of Myers of Keswick.) Peter is a friend of Mick Jagger, who would drop in now and then.

Anyone have a sublet for Splendid_IREny, longtime fan of New Yorker legend Joe Gould?

Fight to the Death: Who won the Battle Of The Johnny Carson Tributes? Check out Flayer's post for a full blow-by-blow. Lucabrasi seems to be in agreementKA11:10 a.m.

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Monday, January 31, 2005

A day after millions of Iraqis braved violence to cast their votes for the 275-seat national assembly, hawkish Fraysters are feeling buoyant, while most opponents of the war are either reappraising their skepticism or echoing Fred Kaplan's cautious optimism. Even though most readers agree that yesterday's election is a resounding success, there's little consensus as to how high the Mission Accomplished banner should be hoisted.

Canadian delegate to the Fray, TheQuietMan, issues "My thanks to Americans":

My thanks to you even if you didn't support the war. My thanks to you even if you did, but later changed your mind. My thanks to you even if you were just days ago arguing for an election delay. My thanks to you even if you personally think the whole thing is a farce and all about stealing oil.

The fact is, even if you dissented, it was your nation that made this sacrifice. This is largely your achievement - and it is a good one. It is heartening to see such obvious good come out of it. Men and women voted. And they had choices. The message is now clear. The Iraqi people have let their actions speak for them. They wanted democracy. Perhaps, this will be a lesson for other Arab nations.

The war was wrongly fought on the issue of deadly weapons. Terrible mistakes have been made in the course of fighting it.

But still, thank you for this. Other nations should have participated. But, they didn't.

Gregor_Samsa responds accordingly:

In the spirit of bygones-are-bygones, though, it is time for all anti-war pussies to raise their champagne glasses. There is a time for celebration, and there is a time for hair splitting distinctions between the ritual and substance of democracy. The wedding was great; I hope the marriage turns out to be as happy. May the Shia-Sunni-Kurd threesome climax in collective moans of pleasure. May the grand ayatollah Ali Sistani turn out to be a Jeffersonian in cleric's clothing. I love these Mission Accomplished parties – let's have more of them.

According to Meletus—old-line conservative— here:

Thousands have turned out to vote in Iraq. Probably tens of thousands. Perhaps hundreds of thousands. At the end of the count, millions might have voted, but even if only one had voted the outcome will not change because the political process in Iraq is far less important than the political situation. And that situation is tenuous…

So all votes aside, the best—and only—hope for Iraq is continued American occupation. Our military is the only force strong enough to hold all three factions together, and perhaps in time all three can be kept together by identifying themselves with a common military power. My solution: step up our troop commitment by 50,000 or so and build bases where Kurds, Sunni, and Shiites train together. Give them American weapons; teach them to use American equipment; equip them in American gear. The rest of the world rightly acknowledges our military, and history has shown that giving people a reason to fight is a stronger unifier than hope in a vote. A mixed army of those tens of thousands of Iraqi voters will go a lot further towards a stable Iraq than the ballot box. If the divergent factions fight together to defeat the insurgency, and win, in time those Iraqi voters will matter.

…to which Fritz_Gerlich answers:

Iraq's underlying political contradictions notwithstanding, any hope for a stable, democratic Iraq rests first and foremost on a wide popular repudiation of the insurgent violence. If this election is as successful as the reports seem to indicate, especially in Sunni Arab areas, then it is a strong message to the insurgents that they are failing. It will hardly make them go away overnight. But consider the opposite case: if they had defeated the elections, it would have confirmed that their tactics were working. The election indicates that they are not. It is only a first step, but an absolutely critical one.

Over in War Stories Fray, TaiPan asks, "What is our responsibility now in Iraq?" Meanwhile, dfs rips into naysayers:

On the very day this election is being held, Senator Kerry is telling us we shouldn't "over-hype" the significance of this election, and two days ago Senator Kennedy was telling us we should start pulling our troops out. What are these men afraid of? That the success of our American foreign policy might embarrass the Democrat party and make them look bad personally? Why are do many Liberal columnists come so close to openly voicing the hope that America will fail in Iraq? Because they would prefer to see Bush look bad than to see their country succeed? This is not quite treason, as another frayster has just suggested, but it is partisan politics run amok, and surely these folks are headed for the junkpile of history.

But it wasn't only left-leaning Democrats who had reservations. Zathras confesses to have "often expressed deep skepticism of Arabs' ability to sustain a liberal democracy." Z writes:

I think it right for me to acknowledge significant evidence that this skepticism is misplaced or at least exaggerated. To remain unmoved by the almost unbelievable courage of Iraqis defying the currents of their history and a most bloodthirsty insurgency to vote in the first free election most of them had ever known would require a harder heart than I have. Nor does it seem prudent to look past the opportunities this election might open for American policy in the region.

Specifically, Zathras refers to Iran:

I think we ought to consider how today's events look in Iran. Most Iraqi voters, like most Iranians, are Shiite Muslims, and these Iraqis have just cast votes for people who will have real power to shape their countries government. This is something Iranians have not been allowed to do -- they have elected a president and legislators whose decisions can be overridden at will by unelected clerics backed by the security services.

Many Iranians have doubtless noted the contrast already. Iranians who have not should be reminded.

Will the Iraqi vote have the prescribed effect on the region? Will we see banners and bunting on the streets of Tehran and Riyadh in the coming decade? Cast your vote hereKA 8:30 a.m.

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Friday, January 28, 2005

On the eve of the Iraqi elections, Fraywatch culls good ol' Iraq's Progress Fray for posts dating back to spring 2003, when Slate's David Plotz published a series of articles addressing the upcoming challenge of establishing civil society in, what doodahman refers to as, Postsaddamiraq. Below are excerpts from some of the nascent posts, composed just after coalition forces moved into Baghdad — what was then referred to as "the Iraq victory":

Personally I would settle for stability and humaneness and leave the democracy for later, but with monarchy widely discredited there may be no other model we can use but the one adopted by democratic Western countries. It is a structural model that has been used often in what used to be called Third World countries, and has usually not led to democracy but rather to dictatorship. We cannot prevent this for all time in Iraq unless we are prepared to station thousands of American troops there indefinitely, and we aren't. The most we can do is use the power we have now to block the factions within Iraq that would take their country down paths inimical to American interests and Iraq's stability.
 
…In my judgment we would do better to make these things clear now rather than talk in vague terms about staying "as long as it takes," leaving the impression that this may only be a matter of months and that the future organization of Iraq's government is not something we care about. Having spent American blood and treasure to remove the Baathist regime,
America must now impose the limits that democracy in Iraq must have in order to have any chance of enduring. Otherwise we will be in the position of one who pours jello into his refrigerator instead of first putting it into a mold -- we'll end up with a mess that may take a very long time to clean up.

--Zathras, April 22, 2003


In my opinion, if Iraq manages to emerge with a stable, reasonably representative government that can collect taxes and direct traffic -- let's use Russia as a model -- I'd say Iraqis would be about 1000% better off than they've been for the past 30 years -- exactly as Russians are better off than they were under Sovietism.

As for the experience of nation building in such places as
Bosnia or Kosovo, Plotz seems to be forgetting that US forces are not in Iraq to police local quarrels or keep the locals from killing each other. Roughness in dealing with Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims might well have established the clear authority of an outside and presumably disinterested power in suppressing, say, Serb on Muslim violence, with peace as the result. Such "ruthlessness" in Iraq would not separate Sunnis and Shiites, Kurds and Arabs but likely draw them together to fight US!

And Plotz had to go to "experts" at places like the Council on Foreign relations to get this inapt parallel.

--Publius, April 30, 2003


It seems to me that we should hold extremely localized elections first so that each region or affiliated group in
Iraq will be able to choose a representative that will have a say in writing a new legal framework for the country. Elections would be held after that framework is put into place.

It seems like a country as diverse as
Iraq will need some sort of federalist system in any event and that states should have a good amount of local freedom so long as there's adherence to some higher principle of human rights.

--destor23, April 25, 2003


…Everyone paints the administration as a collection of ruthless pragmatists but they seem more like romantic sociopaths to me, driven by an overwhelming urge to kick some ass combined with a blindingly sunny optimism regarding the consequences. At any rate, they decided not to send enough troops over to pacify the country immediately and even now they're moving rather slowly to send in the MPs and troops with more peace-keeping training.

The latter is important. What happened in Fallujah was a combination of lack of manpower and ineptness. During the two weeks between the fall of the regime and the arrival of US troops, the people in town managed to get themselves organized to their own satisfaction, providing for their own security, keeping everyone fed and watered and forestalling the looting and mayhem that afflicted much of the rest of the country.

So the troops were viewed from the get-go as intruders…

--Betty_the_Crow, April 30, 2003


A modern, open political system has to have protections for minority interests, to perform a check and balance function, to have some means of petition from the citizenry to the officials, and the officials must have accountability to the citizenry.

The problem will not be the failure of the Iraqis to understand the necessity or desirability of those characteristics. The problem is trying to jerry rig institutions that are uniquely American/Anglo Saxon onto a completely alien culture. Our society is structured the way it is as an organic outgrowth of our longstanding heritage, history and national/cultural experience. You can't just transplant those institutions to
Iraq and expect them to function the same way, obtain the same credibility, or maintain the adequate support from the polity.

And this is not an issue about whether the Arabs are capable of "democracy." In fact, that term is really a distraction from the real goals-- which is the development of a peaceful, stable, and responsive state apparatus for
Iraq

the Iraqis do have a long history of established institutions for the management of their society. They are both Iraqi, specifically, and Islamic in general. In fact, the biggest blind spot we have is the failure to understand that Islam is far more than just a religion. It is a religion PLUS a means of governing the people. Whether that includes a strict promulgation of the Sharia, or simply conforming laws and institutions with some liberal interpretation of the Koran, Islam is an entire package for running an Islamic state…

--doodahman, April 25, 2003


I can see that the first step working with the future government of Iraq is not to hold elections but to begin working with and encouraging each of the parties that begin to emerge in post-war Iraq to publish their own newspapers and eventually sponsor radio and television broadcasts. That includes fundamentalist Shiite Muslim parties. Indeed, the best means to avoid an Islamic theocracy in Iraq - or at least foster one that may be willing to work with us - is to start the dialogue that will help us to understand them better, allowing us to appeal positively to their needs, values, and even their fears. Initially, it is unavoidable that most Iraqis will most trust those news sources whose political viewpoint most matches their own. However, over time, it will become clear which sources are trustworthier for reporting the truth.

Thomas Jefferson is famous for saying that if forced to choose between a free government and a free press, he would pick the latter every time. Perhaps
Iraq is a very visible opportunity for us to prove to the Arab/Islamic world that the U.S. pen is truly mightier than the flaming sword of jihad.
 
--The_Bell, April 25, 2003

For a more current read on geopolitics, go to War Stories Fray — take a look at Fritz_Gerlich's post and Publius' spirited response to Fred Kaplan … KA11:15 a.m.