Sunday, January 30, 2005

When will we hear the death-rattle?

The last two or three paragraphs on the first page of this article are the ones that make me go, "Hmmm." What if North Korea is seriously rotting from within, and these are the tyranny's last days? I've been thinking this for too long, now, though. I keep hoping each year, but Kim holds on.

Or has he? This article says he disappeared from view two years ago, and I read a few weeks ago that his portraits in Pyongyang have been removed from many public places. I'm reminded of the old Soviet days, when the death of the Premier (how many of those old men did they go through in the early '80s, all "heart attacks," weren't they?) wasn't announced for some time after. There were these subtle clues you had to go on, first. But even they didn't drag it out for years.

A related thought: A Polish friend recently commented that they used to say about this (back in the Communist days), that "In Russia, heart attacks are contagious." Heh, heh...almost the same jokes we made about it here.

Fisking Fisk

Robert Fisk (yes, the original!) has just written a fairly typical article in today's Sunday Independent (South Africa). The message is, as usual, doom and gloom, and it's all America's fault. I haven't done a real fisking in a while (ever?), and I feel the need to try out my skills on the man who inspired the term to begin with.


'What a bloody charade'

That's the title. Now, he's apparently quoting somebody (hence the quotes), and yes, reporters don't necessarily get to choose their own titles. But still. Somebody thought this was the significant line.

Baghdad - In Baghdad yesterday they were supposed to be preparing for an election. But they were preparing for war.

What? You can't do both? If fascist insurgents are trying to stop your election and threaten your voters, shouldn't you prepare for war simultaneously?!

[The security forces and weapons on display] do not look like the prelude to an experiment in democracy. They are all waiting for the rivers of blood of which insurgents have warned. But there will be democracy in Iraq.

OK, a hopeful note to end that paragraph on. See, Fisk knows that Iraqi democracy is coming, no matter what the terrorists try to do to stop it. Or does he? Let's watch and see if this line pops up again in a more obviously sarcastic way. Front page newspaper "reports" don't get sarcastic and opinionated, do they? Nah...

The mortars rained down yesterday morning on the Green Zone where the US and British embassies are located, a "thumpety-thump-thump" that brought the American Apache choppers over the surrounding highways in less than 30 seconds - but the insurgents had disappeared.

Oh, really? From what I understand, from the extensive news reports yesterday, most (all?) of the men who shot the mortar off were apprehended within 20 minutes. Not merely spotted from the air, which they were the moment they fired the shell, but actually caught and arrested. Maybe Fisk means that the insurgents had temporarily disappeared, or so they thought, for a few minutes, until they were caught? I saw the video from the surveillance drone. Those suckers were on camera, not even knowing they were being watched. Fisk is simply wrong. Factually wrong. Is he lying or merely ignorant? Let's be generous for now and assume he's ignorant of the facts. Somebody told him wrong, let's say.

Then a fierce gun battle broke out in the very centre of Baghdad[...] Fantasy attacks before a fantasy election. Many Iraqis do not know the names of the candidates, let alone their policies.

But there will be democracy in Iraq.

Fantasy attacks might be appropriate, given that they didn't stop that many people from voting. The insurgents were deluding themselves. But a fantasy election? Hussein's 99%(?)of the vote a few years ago was a fantasy election. His garnering of 100% the last time was a fantasy election. This one is real. Real ballots, real voters, the will of the people, freely expressed, and it will determine the government that comes out of this. Fisk is deluding himself, here.

Do some Iraqis not know the candidates' names? No doubt; some Americans don't know our candidates' names, either, but they're both real elections. And in Iraq, this election is for a constitional convention, if I follow it correctly, and the method is voting by party lists, rather than voting for an individual candidate. So even if Fisk were right (I have no doubt that's true in many ways, given the amazing number of candidates participating!), it's irrelevant as a criticism.

How do you like that last line? Where have we read it before? Is it the perserverence of Fisk's natural optimism and determination? It couldn't be a sarcastic reference to his litany of complaints, could it? Nah...

The media boys and girls will be expected to play along with this. "Transition of power", says the hourly logo on CNN's live coverage of the election, though the poll is for a parliament to write a constitution, and the men who will form a majority within it will have no power.

They'll have the power to write the constitution, won't they? Isn't that the whole point? We've already had the transition of power from America to the Iraqis themselves. The next transition of power will be from the provisional Iraqi government to the one the men elected today will create. CNN is giving a vague description, but it's not entirely inappropriate.

They have no control over their own oil, no authority over the streets of Baghdad, let alone the rest of the country, no workable army or loyal police force. Their only power is that of the American military and its 150 000 soldiers whom we could all see on the main intersections of Baghdad yesterday.

I'm not sure what he means about the oil, since the old UN embargo and Oil-for-Food program put controls over it, and I'm sure Hussein exercised official control during his reign. Have to look that up. No authority over Baghdad's streets? Not anywhere else in the entire country? Well, the Kurds pretty much run their own affairs, and there are unstable areas in some Sunni provinces. But most of the country is stable. By "authority," does he mean legal authority? Or effective authority? Hard to tell from this. The Iraqi army and police are being trained, and have been to a great deal already. Not a loyal police force? I understand the Iraqi police (maybe army, too, but news reports don't always specify) performed admirably in protecting the voters and 7,000 polling places. Some attacks made it through, but I haven't heard of police complicty. Not loyal?

The idea that the only power of the (existing? future? Fisk doesn't make it clear) Iraqi government is in the 150,000 US soldiers is simplistic. We're definitely providing Iraq's backbone, but their military (or police--again, I can't always tell who's being spoken of) had about the same numbers out in force during this election. I heard that about 300,000 troops were out to protect the polls, and the US couldn't have provided more than half of those. Still, the Iraqis aren't yet ready to move ahead on their own, without US help or further training. Maybe a few more years, maybe sooner, but let's not be hasty.

I just had an odd thought. Is Mr. Fisk a proponent of the US pulling our troops out ASAP? He's just claimed that Iraq has no ability to run itself or to provide its own security, after all. Maybe he wants us to stay as long as we're needed. If he doesn't, then he must not really want a free Iraq to survive.

The big television networks have been given a list of five polling stations where they will be "allowed" to film. Close inspection of the list shows that four of the five are in Shi'ite Muslim areas[...]

Sunnis (or specifically Sunni Arabs, perhaps--the news reports sometimes forget that Kurd/Arab is an ethnic distinction, while Sunni/Shiite is a religious one, and you can't group the country into "Shiite, Sunni, and Kurd" and expect that these are three mututally exclusive groups)... OK, let's begin this sentence again. Sunnis make up 20% of Iraqis. That's 1/5. That means Shiites are about 4/5. (Again, if the Kurds are properly classified.) Seems like the poll list for the press was done properly. Fisk seems to want to see low turnout--his point is that he thinks reporters are being herded away from Sunni areas where it might be low. Nope. Try counting. 1/5=20%

N.B. See UPDATE, below.

The majority Shi'ites, oppressed under Hussein, are expected to take a majority in the polling at the expense of the formerly dominant Sunnis.

Gee, ya think?! Let's strip this of the subordinate clause and the historical descriptions: The majority Shiites are expected to take a majority in the polling. Duh. Now, I'm not always in favor of voting for somebody because he's from your enthnic/regligious/other group, but often it's a way to figure that he shares your opinions on certain things. Let's apply this kind of brilliant Fiskian statement to another country with significant majority and minority groups: "The majority blacks, oppressed under Apartheid, are expected to take a majority in the polling at the expense of the formerly dominant whites." No kidding.

Now, I get the feeling that Fisk thinks this is bad, bad, bad. Note the phrase, "at the expense of." A vote for one candidate will always be at the expense of another candidate. And if groups vote mostly for candidates from their own group, then a minority group can be expected to win a minority of seats. This is not deep thinking. Whether the Sunnis wind up being oppressed by the majority has yet to be seen, but the Shiites have so far seemed remarkably reticent to take out revenge on their former masters.

Every working-class Sunni polling station will be out of bounds to the press.

How many of the Shiite polls on the list are "working-class"? He doesn't say. Again, he thinks that turnout goes with income level, such that poor Sunnis are less likely to vote than middle-class Sunnis. What's his evidence? And he doesn't apply this line of thought to the poor Shiites.

The "real" story is outside Baghdad, in the tens of thousands of square kilometres outside the government's control and beyond the sight of independent journalists, especially in the four Sunni Muslim provinces which are at the heart of Iraq's insurrection.

Right up to the election hour, US jets were continuing to bomb "terrorist targets", the latest in the city of Ramadi, which - although US President George Bush and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair do not say so - is now in the hands of the insurgents as surely as Fallujah was before the Americans destroyed it.

Wow. Lots of sarcastic quotation marks, here. Intriguingly, the Fisk's first use is for "real." Is he winking at us readers, hinting to us that he doesn't actually believe this is a "real" story, after all? Hmmm...interesting little psychological question, no?

Now, he claims that the real story is not so much in the majority of Iraq that is stable, but mostly ("especially") in the minority of Iraq that has an active insurgency. If he really meant merely "outside Baghdad," he would have included Iraqi Kurdistan, which is in its umpteenth year of effective democracy, and the wide=ranging Shiite regions outside of Baghdad.

Ooh--now here's a real gem of logical thinking. Fisk claims that the real story is in regions "beyond the sight of independent journalists." He then goes on to state unequivocally that this includes Ramadi, which "is now in the hands of the insurgents as surely as Fallujah was before the Americans destroyed it." Oh? How, exactly, does Mr. Fisk know this? Is he an "independent" journalist? Has he been there? (He can't have, given his claim above.) If he hasn't, from whom did he get the report? That person also could not have been an independent journalist, for the same reason. If these reports don't come from "independent" reporters, how can he trust them?

Every month since Allawi, the former CIA agent, was appointed premier, American air strikes on Iraq have been increasing exponentially.

Is this supposed to imply a cause and effect relationship? Are the airstrikes supposed to be bad, or is it the insurgency we respond to that is bad? Is an increase in airstrikes perhaps a good thing, if we weren't responding effectively beforehand?

There are no "embedded" reporters on the giant American air base at Qatar or aboard the US carriers in the Gulf from which these ever increasing and ever more lethal sorties are being flown. They go unrecorded, unreported, part of the "fantasy" war which is all too real to the victims but hidden from us journalists.

So is it a fantasy or not? He states it is "real" to the "victims," after all. So who thinks it's a fantasy? If a bomb falls on a terrorist in the desert, and Robert Fisk is not there to see it, is it a fantasy? How does Mr. Fisk know these sorties take place, if they are "unrecorded"? How does he know they are "ever more lethal"? Is the US government telling us? If so, they're not covering them up, and if not, then some reporter is recording them. As far as I know, the embedding program has not been ended (at least, it wasn't after the end of major combat operations--I don't have any newer information), but according to the Admiral who created the program (I've forgotten his name [look this up later], but I talked to him about it at a Washington, D.C. Phi Beta Kappa Association event last year.), it's still open but embedded reporters have left to go out on their own. If Fisk isn't embedded, isn't that his own fault? Or, like the critics' claims about the Sunni vote, is Fisk's personal lack of participation a sign that the whole program is illegitimate? Incidentally, he describes "victims" of the fight against terrorist insurgents, but he doesn't say whether he's talking about dead terrorists or any innocent civilians who might have been hit by accident. Which is it, Fisk? I'm not shedding any tears for Zarqawi's dying thugs.

The reality is that much of Iraq has become a free-fire zone (for reference, see under "Vietnam") and the Americans are conducting this secret war as efficiently and as ruthlessly as they conducted [the earlier raids on Hussein's forces.]

Vietnam!!! The man waits until the 16th paragraph to compare it to Vietnam! Give the man a medal. Would this free-fire zone be like the ones self-described war criminal John Kerry participated in in Vietnam? Just curious. "Secret war"? Secret from whom? It dominated the headlines daily here until the election itself became the lead story. If ABC, etc. reported on a gunfight within Baghdad, rather than in Ramadi, were they covering up the "real" story?

Now they are attacking "foreign terrorist targets" or "anti-Iraqi forces": I especially like this one, since the foreigners involved in this violence happen in reality to be Americans who are mostly attacking Iraqis.

Nobody's claimed that all of the terrorists in Iraq are foreigners, but apparently there is a significant number coming in from outside. And fighting against them are both American and Iraqi soldiers. Does Mr. Fisk know the proportions of foreign vs. Iraqi terrorists? If not, then this paragraph is speculation on his part. How do you like that phrasing, "...foreigners involved in this violence..."? Yeah, there was a police gunfight with a bank robber. The police were all "involved in [the] violence".

Yes, I know how it's all going to be played out. Iraqis bravely vote despite the bloodcurdling threats of the enemies of democracy. At last, the US and British policies have reached fruition. A real and functioning democracy will be in place so the occupiers can leave soon. Or next year. Or in a decade or so. Merely to hold these elections - an act of folly in the eyes of so many Iraqis - will be a "success".

The Shi'ites will vote en masse,[...]

Good gracious, what a jerk! How can anybody be so sarcastic about the bravery of Iraqis who turned out to vote despite threats of death and even dismemberment by terrorists? Can you hear the tone of voice Fisk has in mind? This whole paragraph is a sneer at the entire idea of Iraqi self-determination. He can't refute the fact of this bravery, and he isn't bold enough to put forward any actual arguments against the election, so he smirks at it. Sarcasm as avoidance of debate. Oh, yeah, that's mature. (Yes, that was intentional irony.)

As for the troop levels: Actually, half of us in this country don't want our troops to be pulled out too soon. Bush and the administration aren't talking about pulling out very soon, nor specifying "next year" or any other timeline. It'll depend on how Iraq's security and stability works out. Mr. Fisk probably wants a timetable, so he can mark it as unrealistically short, or as a permanent occupation, or to watch for any deviation from it.

The elections are an "act of folly" in the minds of "so many Iraqis," at the end of one paragraph, and yet, at the beginning of the next, "Shi'ites will vote en masse." Just how many Iraqis think it's all folly? Must be a minority, if the majority group will vote "en masse." And that minority has the chance to put forward their own candidates who will tell the constitutional convention "It's all folly!" If they don't, it's their own fault, and screw 'em.

[...] the insurgency will continue and grow more violent, and the Iraqis will go on dying. But there will be democracy in Iraq.

Hey, there's that little phrase, again! Nice to see you, little buddy--we thought you were lost.

Cities were like ghost towns as most of the population waited nervously at home to see if it would be safe enough to take part in the first election since the ousting of Hussein by the US-led forces in April 2003.

Try the first real election since 1954.

Fisk ends by listing a couple or three of terrorist attacks and noting that the airport was closed before the election. All true. There's a "real" insurgency going on, after all, one which Fisk recognizes, but apparently only a "fantasy" war being fought by our side against them.

Interesting little point to note here: "[...] Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, [] has replaced Hussein as Iraq's most feared man, [...]" Really? You mean President Bush isn't Iraq's most feared man? You mean Hussein was feared? You mean things weren't all rosy and peachy before we invaded? Who knew?!

In conclusion: The Afghans who attacked Robert Fisk in 2001 didn't beat any sense into him. I'm trying to find the right words to describe Fisk and his attitude towards the Iraqis and democracy, but I like to keep this site clean. Use your own imagination.

UPDATE: The CIA World Factbook lists the following ethnic breakdown for Iraq: Arab 75%-80%, Kurdish 15%-20%. And the religious breakdown is Shi'a 60%-65%, Sunni 32%-37%. OK, so the Sunnis are about 1/3 of the country, not 1/5. But I have heard reports that the Kurds tend to be Sunni themselves (does anybody know of a good source for this?). If so, then the expectations of low turnout among Sunni is probably for Sunni Arabs, not Sunnis in general. Kurds were expected to (and did) turn out in large numbers. Were any of the five polls on the media list in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Iraqi Elections

What an exciting day it is, to see Iraqis voting in free elections! I'm nearly as excited about this as I was about our own election day. I don't buy into the curmudgeons' arguments that any Sunni non-participation will be a mark of "illegitimacy" upon the new government. If you don't vote, it's your own fault, people. And it looks like a number of Sunnis did vote, despite all of the threats.

I've got a severe fisking I need to perform, but first I want to congratulate the Iraqis on their election. Amen, brothers.