Weekend Reading – important articles you may have missed

Content

I.  The U.S. Military Index: Filling The Ranks“, Foreign Policy  (March/April 2008) — “Which of the following steps do you support to increase recruiting number in the US military?”

II.  War and Occupation, American-style“, Chris Hedges, Tom Dispatch (3 June 2008) — Life as a American soldier fighting neo-colonial wars. 

III.  Review of Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, new book by Douglas Blackmon — review in the International Herald Tribune.  This goes to the heart of the different perceptions of America by blacks and white citizens.

IV.  SOFA, Not So Good“, Dr. iRack, Abu Muqawama (5 June 2008) — Discussion of the negotiations for a new Status for Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Iraq. Noteworthy because neither it nor the comments contain a hint of awareness that the Iraq people might have national pride.

V.  The great divide“, Nir Rosen, The National (5 June 2008) — A close-up view of life in Sadr City, a very different picture of Iraq than you get from the major media or war bloggers.

Also:  I strongly recommend reading The Cognitive Syle of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrups Within, Edward R. Tufte (31 pages).  Like all his books, well-written and packed with useful insights.  It has valuable advice for both Powerpoint presenters and their audiences.

Excerpts

I.  The U.S. Military Index: Filling The Ranks“, Foreign Policy  (March/April 2008) — “”Foreign Policy and the Center for a New American Security surveyed more than 3,400 active and retired officers at the highest levels of command about the state of the U.S. military. They see a force stretched dangerously thin and a country ill-prepared for the next fight.”  Page six:  “Which of the following steps do you support to increase recruiting numbers in the US military?”

78%  – Expanding options for legal, foreign permanent residents of the United States to serve in exchange for U.S. citizenship.

58%  – Allowing more recruits who have a high school equivalency degree-but no diploma-to serve.

47%   – Increase enlistment bonuses.

47%   – Increase the maximum age for recruits, already increased since 2006 to the age of 42.

38%   – Reinstating the draft.

22%   – Allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.

07%  say they support the use of criminal, health, and other waivers to increase recruiting.  “Moral waivers” allow recruits with past criminal or drug convictions the opportunity to serve. In 2003, the Army handed out 4,644 of those waivers. Last year, that number nearly tripled, jumping to 12,057. If the opinions of the index’s officers are any indication, that shift may be a mistake.

II.  War and Occupation, American-style“, Chris Hedges, Tom Dispatch (3 June 2008) — Hedges tells us about life as a American soldier fighting neo-colonial wars.  From this TomDispatch:  ” Few know this better than Pulitzer Prize-winning former war reporter Chris Hedges who, along with Laila al-Arian, has produced a remarkable new book, Collateral Damage, America’s War Against Iraqi Civilians. The following piece — with echoes of Hedges’s classic work War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning — has been adapted from his introduction to the new book.  Opening:

Troops, when they battle insurgent forces, as in Iraq, or Gaza or Vietnam, are placed in “atrocity producing situations.” Being surrounded by a hostile population makes simple acts, such as going to a store to buy a can of Coke, dangerous. The fear and stress push troops to view everyone around them as the enemy. The hostility is compounded when the enemy, as in Iraq, is elusive, shadowy and hard to find. The rage soldiers feel after a roadside bomb explodes, killing or maiming their comrades, is one that is easily directed, over time, to innocent civilians who are seen to support the insurgents.

Civilians and combatants, in the eyes of the beleaguered troops, merge into one entity. These civilians, who rarely interact with soldiers or Marines, are to most of the occupation troops in Iraq nameless, faceless, and easily turned into abstractions of hate. They are dismissed as less than human. It is a short psychological leap, but a massive moral leap. It is a leap from killing — the shooting of someone who has the capacity to do you harm — to murder — the deadly assault against someone who cannot harm you.

III.  Review of Slavery By Another Name The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon, in the International Herald Tribune (10 APril 2008) — “What emancipation didn’t stop after all.”  The verdict of wars are not always definitive; the post-war period often sees many or all of the victor’s gains drain away.

In “Slavery by Another Name” Douglas A. Blackmon eviscerates one of our schoolchildren’s most basic assumptions: that slavery in America ended with the Civil War. Blackmon unearths shocking evidence that the practice persisted well into the 20th century. And he is not simply referring to the virtual bondage of black sharecroppers unable to extricate themselves economically from farming.

He describes free men and women forced into industrial servitude, bound by chains, faced with subhuman living conditions and subject to physical torture. That plight was horrific. But until 1951, it was not outside the law.

All it took was anything remotely resembling a crime. Bastardy, gambling, changing employers without permission, false pretense, “selling cotton after sunset”: these were all grounds for arrest in rural Alabama by 1890. And as Blackmon explains in describing incident after incident, an arrest could mean a steep fine. If the accused could not pay this debt, he or she might be imprisoned.

Alabama was among the Southern states that profitably leased convicts to private businesses. As the book illustrates, arrest rates and the labor needs of local businesses could conveniently be made to dovetail.

But as soon as it gets to more verifiable material, “Slavery by Another Name” becomes relentless and fascinating. It exposes what has been a mostly unexplored aspect of American history (though there have been dissertations and a few books from academic presses). It creates a broad racial, economic, cultural and political backdrop for events that have haunted Blackmon and will now haunt us all. And it need not exaggerate the hellish details of intense racial strife.

IV.  SOFA, Not So Good“, Abu Muqawama (5 June 2008) — Discussion of the negotiations for a new Status for Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Iraq. Noteworthy because neither it nor the comments contain a hint of awareness that the Iraq people might have national pride.

Are the ongoing negotiations between the United States and Iraq to establish a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and a Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) about to break down? The Sadrists have started protesting the talks, framing the agreements as attempts to create a permanent U.S. “occupation” (some reports in the press have embraced this narrative too; the administration denies it). And even the Maliki government and its partners in the ruling coalition have started to complain that certain provisions (e.g., basing rights, control of Iraqi airspace, contractor immunities, etc.) violate Iraqi sovereignty and may be deal breakers.

At first blush, this last bit of news is surprising. Originally, the Maliki government and many Iraqi parliamentarians wanted some bilateral deal to replace the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) currently authorizing the presence of Coalition forces in Iraq.

… Now they are having second thoughts. Why?

Hypothesis 1: This is pure politics. The Sadrists oppose the deal on principle, but also because it represents one of the few nationalist cards they have left in the deck. And, in the face of Sadrist opposition and the “marketing” problem this presents for Iraqi leaders trying to sell the deal to the Iraqi public, members of Maliki’s coalition are feigning concerns over sovereignty to bolster their own nationalist credentials (even though they don’t mean it, and, deep down, want a long-term U.S. deal).

Hypothesis 2: Various Iraqi parties are making noise to increase their bargaining leverage and get a better deal.

This goes on in some detail, with no mention that the Iraq leaders might be motivated by nationalistic spirit.  After all, they cannot be like us — can they?  No wonder we have such difficuty with COIN in foreign lands.

V.  The great divide“, Nir Rosen, The National (5 June 2008) — A close-up view of life in Sadr City, a very different picture of Iraq than you get from the major media or war bloggers.  Excerpt:

As the Americans attempt to secure an agreement with the government of Nouri al Maliki to legalise the long-term presence of troops in Iraq, Muqtada al Sadr and his followers remain a formidable obstacle. Whether or not Sadr has been weakened by the clashes in Basra and Sadr City, marginalising the Sadrists will be almost impossible, for they remain the only genuine mass movement in Iraq, with roots that long predate the fall of Saddam.

There are fewer people dying today because there are fewer left to kill; Sunnis and Shiites now inhabit separate walled enclaves, run by warlords and militias who have consolidated their control after mixed neighbourhoods were cleansed along sectarian lines.

Since April 2007, American forces have erected a series of concrete walls and checkpoints throughout the city to divide warring Sunnis and Shiites. Though these walls helped dampen sectarian violence, they may have bolstered sectarianism, isolating Iraqis from their neighbours and leaving them dependent on militias like the Mahdi Army for food, supplies and protection.

Last December a friend picked me up from the house in Baghdad’s Mansour district where I was staying, and we headed to the Shaab district of east Baghdad.  …

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One thought on “Weekend Reading – important articles you may have missed

  1. To Dr. iRack, the idea that patriotism can lead others to distrust and oppose us is foreign. Considering the heavy military bias of the Abu Muqawama blog, it isn’t surprising.

    What is surprising is the number of Westerners in general, but Americans in particular, who view anyone’s patriotism as patriotism toward their government. Hence, a patriotic Iraqi is a pro-American Iraqi. Iraqi patriotism, or nationalism, cannot be directed against America, because that is simply not patriotic. Worse still, this breeds a tendency to view pro-Iraq patriotism as somehow anti-American, when the involvement of anti-Americanism is incidental (that is, conditioned upon America’s occupation, rather than America herself).

    And yet… the number of Americans who are patriotic toward, say, Britain, is very small. Go figure.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I wonder how much of the discussion about Iraq has a large fantasy component — folks using imagination & assumptions to fill in the vacant spaces in their knowledge of Iraq. For examples see

    (1) “A NY Times reporter proves that we still do not understand Iraq

    (2) This discussion at Abu Muqawama. How many of the participants under American politics at the level they purport to understand Iraq’s. For example, how many correctly forecast the winners of the Presidential primaries before they began — just five months ago — on 8 January?

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