December 21, 2005

Only in New York...

As most of you are doubtless aware, there's a massive transit strike underway in NYC. I got to work pretty smoothly in the A.M. (sharing the ride up to midtown with another passenger we picked up in the low 20s), but was concerned about how the evening was going to play out. With some trepidation, I left work wondering what chaos awaited on my trek back downtown. I managed to hail a cab after walking about 10 blocks, and just like my commute in the A.M., was sharing the cab with another passenger who had hailed the cab before I had gotten on. Then, lo and behold, we stopped for yet another passenger (I think cabbies can pick up three fares during the duration of this strike? Or is it four?). So, who gets in the front seat next to the driver? None other than Tom Friedman of the New York Times! Well, I introduced myself and we exchanged a few pleasantries, commented on Mike Bloomberg and other matters du jour, and then he got off near Union Square as I continued south...No, I didn't mention the Belgravia Dispatch or query him re: his views on the recent elections in Iraq. Next time, I guess. And, until then, here's his latest output from today's Times, with an excerpt for the non Times-Select-privileged below:

Everything now rides on what kind of majority the Iraqi Shiites want to be and what kind of minority the Sunnis want to be. Will the Shiites prove to be magnanimous in victory and rewrite the Constitution in a way that decent Sunnis, who want to be citizens of a unified Iraq, can accept? Will the Sunnis agree to accept their fair share of Iraq's oil revenue and government posts - and nothing more?

My own visits to Iraq have left me convinced that beneath all the tribalism, there is a sense of Iraqi citizenship and national identity eager to come out. But it will take more security, and many more Iraqi leaders animated by national reconciliation, for it to emerge in a sustained way.

Unlike many on the left, I'm not convinced that this will never happen and that all of this has been for naught. Unlike many on the right, I'm not convinced that it will inevitably happen if we just stay the course long enough. The only thing I am certain of is that in the wake of this election, Iraq will be what Iraqis make of it - and the next six months will tell us a lot. I remain guardedly hopeful.

How will you know if things are going well? Easy. The Iraqi Army will suddenly become effective without U.S. guidance. It will know how to fight, because it will know what - and whom - it is fighting for.

"Guardedly hopeful..." Is that the same as B.D's oft-stated "cautious optimism"?

Posted by Gregory at December 21, 2005 01:49 AM | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Haha, awesome. And here I thought the tagline "some guy who once shared a cab with Thomas Friedman" was East Coast media satire.

Hey, I can say I was a regular lurker before That Moment! Can I get your autograph?

Posted by: David Ross at December 21, 2005 04:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Given the latest statements from Mutlaq and Adnan al-Dulaimi, I'd say the Sunnis are not interested in signing off.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2002695398_iraq21.html

"I don't think there is any practical point for us for being in this National Assembly if things stay like this," said And Salah Mutlak, who headed an independent Sunni slate. "This election is completely false. It insults democracy everywhere. Everything was based on fraud, cheating, frightening people, and using religion to frighten the people. It is terrorism more than democracy."

...

"The security of Iraq will not be achieved by having such results," said Adnan al-Dulaimi of the Sunni slate. "All the Iraqis know that the results are forged, and this result did not represent the truth."

Posted by: Tequila at December 21, 2005 10:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hold on!

Weren't we supposed to be celebrating the Iraqi elections a couple of days ago? Wasn't the high turnout by the Sunnis a "victory for democracy?" Wasn't that supposed to be the big headline, and the news media showed its bias by featuring the domestic spying story instead?

You know things are bad when Greg has to resort to quoting Thom Friedman, as if Friedman ever made it out of the "Green Zone", travelled without a full military escort, and talked to an average Iraqi on his trips to Iraq.

Well, at least Friedman's now made the "blame the Iraqis for the failure of the US occupation" meme the official bloviating pundit conventional wisdom....

(and can anyone believe that the Times expects people to pay for Friedman's "it all depends" blather?)

Posted by: lukasiak at December 21, 2005 01:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Friedman: "My own visits to Iraq have left me convinced that beneath all the tribalism, there is a sense of Iraqi citizenship and national identity eager to come out. But it will take more security, and many more Iraqi leaders animated by national reconciliation, for it to emerge in a sustained way. "

Seconding lukasiak here. Can Friedman even talk to these people in their own language?

Posted by: Barry at December 21, 2005 03:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

luka:

I think you a victim of our spastic news media -- real happy before yesterday things went pretty well with the vote, real alarmed now that the sunnis are claiming fraud, fraud, fraud. (Though I have to say NPR this morning was very measured in saying that the vote was aboput what independent observers expected, and that the Sunnis were...um....exaggerating things).

But, you know, hollaring about elections is not limited to Iraq. I seem to remember some pretty odd sounding theories about Diebold machines, and odd doings in Ohio. And the comments left and right about the Florida vote in 2000 don't sound that different from the cries from Iraq.

The question as to whether folks choose to pick up their guns about this remains open. So call me cautiously neutral.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at December 21, 2005 04:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'd like it if everyone waited a few days until we have more than leaks about how the Iraqi vote turned out to go on. That's even more important for the Iraqis than it is for us.

This is speculation on my part, but there may be an element of genuine shock in Dulaimi's reaction, based in large part on the fact that there has been no census done in Iraq for decades. Western media has for the last few years printed estimates of Sunni Arab, Kurdish, Shiite, etc. share of Iraq's population, but it wouldn't surprise me if the long-dominant Sunni Arabs were used to overestimating their's, possibly by a lot.

Posted by: JEB at December 21, 2005 04:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think you a victim of our spastic news media -- real happy before yesterday things went pretty well with the vote, real alarmed now that the sunnis are claiming fraud, fraud, fraud.

AM, I was saying before the media started its celebration that the kudos were undeserved until we knew the outcome of the elections. The Bush regime was pushing the "election is victory" meme on the media, and it complied as usual with White House dictates. The media isn't "spastic" is compliant until it can no longer ignore the bad news...

Posted by: lukasiak at December 21, 2005 04:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

JEB,

That is definitely the case - that the Sunnis have been overestimating their population size for decades. It was part of the Baath Party propaganda used to normalize the domination of the majority by the minority.

Unfortunately, this myth has coalesced into conventional wisdom for many average Sunni, and the shock at seeing the electoral results could lead to a lot of cognitive dissonance. Further, if the hope is that these elections were going to convince Sunnis that they have more to gain through the electoral process, and then they see the results which are far below expectations - then I don't see it coming to pass.

Sunnis coming out en masse to vote was a good thing, but only if they see the process as yielding tangible benefits. In this sense, Friedman is right - it depends on how much and to what extent the Shiites want to accomodate the Sunni populations needs/desires/expectations.

Given the recent history of violence, and the decades that preceded it, such concessions will require a lot of patience, forbearance and forgiveness on the part of the Shiites. Again, something that I don't see coming to pass.

But I remain cautiously, guardedly, optimistically hopeful.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 21, 2005 04:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

JEB,

That is definitely the case - that the Sunnis have been overestimating their population size for decades. It was part of the Baath Party propaganda used to normalize the domination of the majority by the minority.

Unfortunately, this myth has coalesced into conventional wisdom for many average Sunni, and the shock at seeing the electoral results could lead to a lot of cognitive dissonance. Further, if the hope is that these elections were going to convince Sunnis that they have more to gain through the electoral process, and then they see the results which are far below expectations - then I don't see it coming to pass.

Sunnis coming out en masse to vote was a good thing, but only if they see the process as yielding tangible benefits. In this sense, Friedman is right - it depends on how much and to what extent the Shiites want to accomodate the Sunni populations needs/desires/expectations.

Given the recent history of violence, and the decades that preceded it, such concessions will require a lot of patience, forbearance and forgiveness on the part of the Shiites. Again, something that I don't see coming to pass.

But I remain cautiously, guardedly, optimistically hopeful.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 21, 2005 04:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Despite your encounter with Friedman in a taxi cab, the recent elections have made the Shiite Islamic fundamnmentalists the big winners in Iraq. Friedman is really an aplogist for the neo-imperialism of the Bush administration. When the American soldiers were unable to find any WMD's, Friedman still backed the administration fall-back position of creating democracy in Iraq. Although he a famous and influential columist for the NYT, he shows so little analytical skill for a reporter. If he really believes that undeneath all the ethnic and religious strife between the Sunnis, Shiietes and Kurds, he had a wonderful forum, hiis column, to buttress his opinions with facts. Of course, he presented none. All of his columns on the possibility of an Iraqi compromise are a pipe-dream. Years from now, historians will be writing about how that supposedly Gray Lady of Journalism could have been so wrong on so many issues associated with the war in Iraq. Just go into the archives of Judith Miller and see how she became a propanganda tool for the main reason for the invasion, the issue of WMD's.
The one columnist, who has repeatedly shown that the boy emperor is naked, is Dowd. Of course she has been smeared as a disgruntled feminist and crackpot. But she has continued attacked the administration for its incompetence from day one, when American soldiers were asking their commanders for body armor and armored vehicles.
Freidman stated that the next six months will tell the difference in this misguided experiment in imperialism under the guise of creating democracy in the Middle East. When the Shiites do form a coalition government, one of the first issues that they will deal with is the hastily expulsion of the American soldiers in Iraq.
Despite the historic elections, the violence in Iraq continues. Juan Cole at his blog wonders how Americans would have dealt with such widespread violence in their country. And he gave the example of the D.C. snipers, who terrorized the greater metropolitan area of Washington D.C. Americans, he said, know a war zone when they see one. Apparently, Friedman safely hidden behind the concrete barriers in the Green Zone, doesn't. Looking at the brutal civil war in Iraq through rose-colored glasses is not the duty of a celebrated columnist but the job of a government PR hack.

Posted by: George Hoffman at December 21, 2005 05:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think of how hard it is for some Americans to let go of their own conspiracy theories (the evil of Diebold, the mystery of the Grassy Knoll), and worry about the Iraqis.

I agree with JEB that the shock of the Sunni leader was sincere. The problem is whether he will then get a sincere belief that the election was stolen from him, and sincerely believe the only way to get a fair deal is to continue with the insurgency.

I can't muster, therefore, even Mr. Martin's cautious optimism until I see some evidence the Sunnis are going to want to continue to play in the political battlefield, or return to the regular old battlefield. Their behavior up to now shows a real reluctance to play the game of Democracy. Nevertheless, I also can't get to Luka's point of view.

In other words, we're at, perhaps, a real turning point. The Sunnis either decide, once and for all, to accept their status as a powerful minority, or they try to resolve their political problem through violence.

We'll see.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at December 21, 2005 08:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Can Friedman even talk to these people in their own language?

Don't be a yokel. The sorts of foreigners Friedman sees in the hotel lobbies mastered English during their years at universities in the US and UK. This is what makes them such perfect representatives and spokesmen for entire societies.

Posted by: sglover at December 21, 2005 09:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sorry, Greg, this is *nothing*.

Once when JFK was shut by snow, I wound up sharing a taxi from NYC to Philly with Davey Jones. Yes, that one! He even sent me a copy of his autobiography, titled "They Made a Monkee out of Me".

Now *that's* a real encounter with a heavy-weight intellect. I mean, Friedman is just a pretty face (setting aside the Moustache of Understanding, of course).

Posted by: Tad Brennan at December 22, 2005 03:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Didn't the Democrats also claim fraud in 2000 and 2004? Don't they argue the Republicans are religious fundamentalists and America is a theocracy?

According to them, Iraq politically is no worse off than America.

Oh, and Hoffman, I wonder if Mideast "expert" Juan Cole ever asked how Americans would respond to living under Saddam Hussein.

Posted by: TallDave at December 22, 2005 04:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Applied,

Both. They'll keep playing both ends, until the militants are crushed by force. Contrary to popular myth, democracy's advent is rarely bloodless; those that rule by force generally must be removed by force.

Posted by: TallDave at December 22, 2005 04:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As to whether Tom Friedman can speak to the locals, I knew him in college. I don't think he considers himself fluent in Arabic, but he did study both Arabic and Hebrew in college.

Posted by: TMF at December 22, 2005 08:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tall:

These divisions have a strong sectional component. For that reason, I think the Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia models of division (peaceful or non-peaceful) seem as likely as revolution/civil war.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at December 22, 2005 01:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

tad brennan: agreed, davey jones trumps friedman any day!

cheers

gd

Posted by: greg at December 22, 2005 03:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

HA! Tad wielding the Mustache of Understanding....but does he know of the Goatee of Jaded Insight? That is the question....

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 22, 2005 06:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

And WTF? I've had to cab back and forth to work for each day of the strike and no celebrities for me. Not even D listers.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 22, 2005 06:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

not even a "d" lister?!? ouch...eric, you live near me...how long is it taking you? yesterday i crawled up 6th ave from tribeca to midtown...a whopping 75 minutes! thank god for blackberries, yes?

gd

Posted by: greg at December 22, 2005 07:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Appalled,

Well, so does the UK, and India. Lots of democracies manage to work things out without resorting to civil war or partition.

Posted by: TallDave at December 22, 2005 10:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hell, Quebec makes a lot of noise about partitiion, and no one is considering labelling Canada a failed state.

As long as they have basic rights, freedom of the press, and the voters can kick the bums out (unlike Iran), I think the endeavour was worthwhile and progress will continue.

Posted by: TallDave at December 22, 2005 10:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Iran gaining influence, power in Iraq through militia
By Tom Lasseter
Knight Ridder Newspapers

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The Iranian-backed militia the Badr Organization has taken over many of the Iraqi Interior Ministry's intelligence activities and infiltrated its elite commando units, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.


That's enabled the Shiite Muslim militia to use Interior Ministry vehicles and equipment - much of it bought with American money - to carry out revenge attacks against the minority Sunni Muslims, who persecuted the Shiites under Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, current and former Ministry of Interior employees told Knight Ridder.


The officials, some of whom agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity for fear of violent reprisals, said the Interior Ministry had become what amounted to an Iranian fifth column inside the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, running death squads and operating a network of secret prisons.

Posted by: NeoDude at December 22, 2005 10:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg,

On average, it took me about 90 minutes each way...moving an inch a minute in a bumper to bumper traffic snarl (Wall St. to 52nd and Madison). Actually, the way up was usually a little easier than the way down, but all in all a massive headache.

Yes, without the blackberry I would have been lost. Or more lost than I am otherwise.

At least it's over.

Just in time for Christmas.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 23, 2005 03:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hell, Quebec makes a lot of noise about partitiion, and no one is considering labelling Canada a failed state.

TallDave, are you making a serious argument here? Honestly?

In Iraq, according to Iraq's Interior Ministry, around 800 civilians a month die in the violence. Iraq is roughly 2/3 the size of Canada population wise. So if over 1,000 Canadian civilians were dying each month in internal violence over the course of three years, if large swathes of Canada were considered war zones (including the capital), and non-state sanctioned militias were roaming the country, infiltrating the government and imposing their own order, people might question the status and raise the specter of failed statehood. There is a low-level civil war going on - unlike Canada. That should be noted.

I don't think it's the call for partition that has people worried about failed statehood. It's the fact that there are so many armed groups with competing interests, violent tendencies and an open desire to court near-autonomy if not outright secession. Not to mention the meddling of neighbors and other foreign elements - each with ulterior agendas.

Things could change, and the conditions could improve over time through much effort, but comparing the situation in Iraq to Canada is facile to say the least. I think Yugoslavia is probably a more apt analogy to the extent one wishes to draw one.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 23, 2005 03:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You guys are fairly good at shutting down the moles, good job.

I say our goal's still plausible and our mission still right but our means woefully insufficient. Although this administration has demonstrated an admirable measure of tenacity, it has demonstrated complete inadequacy when it actually comes to making a democracy out of Iraq. They didn't put the resources, the troops, nor the plans forth when they would have mattered most, and now we, but mainly the Iraqis, are paying for that.

Now we can only hope for a miracle, that perhaps security can be won in Iraq with a dwindling force smaller than the LA police department, that perhaps the Iraqi's will suddenly put forth the leadership and make the sacrifices that we Americans have been so unwilling to make. One thing is for sure, seeing our current political climate and our current political leadership, certainly the solutions and most importantly the resources to implement those solutions, will not be coming from America, much as I would hope otherwise.

Posted by: William at December 24, 2005 12:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
"Awake"
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
Search
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Columnists
Think Tanks
Law & Finance
Security
Books
The City
Western Europe
France
United Kingdom
Germany
Italy
Netherlands
Spain
Central and Eastern Europe
CIS/FSU
Russia
Armenia
East Asia
China
Japan
South Korea
Middle East
Egypt
Israel
Lebanon
Syria
B.D. In the Press
Archives
Categories
Syndicate this site:
XML RSS RDF

G2E

Powered by