Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bon Voyage!

Yesterday I went up to Washington DC to see off a young Iraqi man who is going back to visit the country of his birth. I forget exactly how long he said he would be gone, but I seem to recall it as a month or so.

He is today an American citizen, and has one of the most amazing life stories that I have ever heard. He is also a very impressive person in his own right, someone that I predict will make a name for himself.

His name is Jesse Kaveh, and here is his story, as told to Jamie Glazov of FrontPage Magazine:

Under Saddam Hussein, my family witnessed more atrocities than are reported or even imagined by any human rights group. After the gassing of Halabja, my home town, things had never been brought back to any sense of normalcy. There were constant raids upon the town as well as surrounding areas in which Saddam's Fedayheen would randomly storm peoples’ homes and find males between the ages of 16-35 and label them as rebels. Several family members disappeared but no one would say anything.

There were soldiers stationed everywhere and no one knew where Saddam's secret service was. He had agents in what appeared to be every market place and cafe and so people were always looking over their shoulder and would try to avoid large gatherings. Everyone watched what they said and kept conversations to very general terms and people were rarely close.

One night in particular stands out above all other nights. On May 16, 1989 (I only know the date because of what happened), I remember it was raining really hard. My mother had me in her arms and we were over at my uncle’s home -- which was right down the road from where he had a small farm.

A large group of soldiers kicked in the door and started shouting. We all were put on the ground, noses touching the floor, while family members were kicked and one of my cousins I later found out was raped. They had an order from a Baath party official that my uncle was supplying the Iranians with food and he was a traitor. They grabbed him and bound him along with his three sons. Everyone knew what would happen but at the same time we knew there was nothing we could do to stop it.

Raids in my part of Halabja continued until the night my mother and father were murdered. This happened on December 13, 1990. It was dark outside and my mother, father and I were huddled next to the fire. The soldiers in black, as well as several others, came banging on the door that night. They came to round up what they deemed as more rebels. This time it was my father. My father was never a rebel; he was a farmer. Nonetheless, it was Saddam's orders and his personal militia from Tikrit that came and dragged him out of the home. Before they opened the door, my mother told me to go run and hide. I hid in a crawl space in my parents’ room by the stairs. I heard my mother screaming and pleading with the soldiers and a father's deep voice also saying something. After a very short time, BANG, and the deep voice stopped and my mother replaced that voice with screams. Then, BANG, the screams stopped and all that was heard was the jeep leaving.

I didn't know what was going on and then another small group of men entered the home. I thought the men in black had come to get me too and they had found me. The difference was these men in black were U.S. soldiers operating in the area at the time. They came to see what had happened and rescued me and another person.

My family personally witnessed one-third of their relatives dragged away never to be seen again.

The "U.S. Soldiers" Kaveh refers to were Special Forces guys operating in the area. Keep in mind that this was before the Gulf War. In other words, they were on a "black" mission, in a country that we were not officially fighting.

They could have just left the young Jesse there. If they took him back there was no guarantee they could get him into the United States. The State Department might have considered their action kidnapping a foreign national.

But they took Jesse, and a young girl that they found, back with them to their base in Turkey. After some wrangling, they were granted entry into the United States, and both were adopted by families. Jesse found a home in the Washington DC suburbs.

So much for John Kerry's view that American soldiers are "terrorizing" Iraqi women and children.

And, as you might imagine, Jesse is an enthusiastic supporter of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

I first met Jesse at the counter rally to the the anti-war protests in Washington DC on September 24 of this year. He has since been a regular at our Friday night rallies outside Walter Reed Army Medical Center as we counter Code Pink and their ilk (go to The Redhunter, my home website and select "Rallies and Protests" at right).

Soon he will take a trip back to the Kurdish region of Iraq, where he will spend a few weeks with relatives. When he gets back I will try and find out about the trip, and if he is going to post anything about it.

Lafayette Park, Washington DC

Early this afternoon a handful of us went uptown to give Jesse a goodbye.

Lafayette Park is just north of the White House, which you will see in the background of these photos. It is the site of daily protests by groups ranging across the spectrum from right to left. Today I could see at least two other groups besides ourselves.

One of our party had a portable podium and sound system, and for a few hours people spoke about freedom and the war. Jesse was just finishing up as I arrived, and I did not get a good photo of him.


I'm the guy in the red hat in this next one. Jesse is in the white shirt and skullcap.

In the background of this next photo you can clearly see the White House. To the left of our speaker, Kristinn, you can see some people with bright pink and yellow signs. They are members of Code Pink, a radical leftist group that also protests outside of Walter Reed Army Medical Center every Friday night. We counter them each Friday night with a rally of our own. Small world, we meet again at Lafayette Park.

Passers by sometimes stopped and listened. Some took photos, and we got a few thumbs up. Others debated us for a bit.

After the rally ended, I walked closer to the White House so I could get better photos of the leftists.

Lo and Behold, one of the leftists I ran into was none other than "Squeeje Man", a regular Pinko at the Friday night anti-war protests. He is so named because during the summer he would go into traffic when cars were stopped at the light and try to hand the drivers literature.

He no doubt recognized me, and was obliging enough to pose for a photo

I don't know who the group was behind this display.

What a country.

Interview with Robert Kaplan

The American Enterprise magazine interviews Robert Kaplan.
TAE: Is Islam a religion of peace, or is there is a bellicose spirit right at the heart of Islam?

Kaplan: Islam is a religion that’s willing to fight. It’s a great religion for poor, downtrodden people, and there are so many around the world. It’s direct. It’s stark. It’s in a specific language. The Koran has fewer ambiguities than other religious texts. In a way, it’s very populist. It actively proselytizes. And even though I wouldn’t call it a war-like religion, it can adjust itself to war more easily than others.

But Old Testament-oriented Christianity can also do that. The Old Testament is all fire and brimstone, while the New Testament is more milk and honey. And evangelicals put a significant emphasis on the Old Testament.

TAE: Where are the moderate Muslims today? Why don’t we hear more from them after outrages are committed in the name of Islam?

Kaplan: I think they’ll be more outspoken if we can stick it out in Iraq. Look at the fact that some Sunnis were bombing mosques during Ramadan. How come nobody’s protesting in the Arab world? But once our success is assured, I think they’ll speak up.

Meanwhile, we do have Ayatollah Sistani. If Nobel Peace Prizes actually went to people who deserved them, it would have gone to him this year. Sistani exercised tremendous enlightened restraint in the face of so much violent provocation, and he really kept his community together. I do think we’ve gotten lucky with the Shiite leadership in southern Iraq.

TAE: You’ve argued that Democrats will not be trusted to wield the sword of U.S. national defense so long as a fierce U.S. combat soldier who draws inspiration from the Bible is something that makes them uncomfortable. Why are the Democrats seen as so weak on national security, and will that change?

Kaplan: Look at last year’s election, which, to a certain extent, was a referendum on the Iraq war. More than 70 percent of active-duty military personnel, Reserve, and Guard voted for the Republicans. And from my anecdotal experience—which was with the front line infantry and the Special Forces, who have always been more conservative—the Republicans probably received more than 90 percent of the vote.

With numbers like those, you have to ask yourself why. It wasn’t for policy reasons; a lot of people in the barracks will openly say that Bush and Rumsfeld made a number of mistakes. It was cultural. People in the military don’t feel like the Democrats are one of them. They feel as if the Democrats are from another America—from the same America as the elite media.

So the Democrats have a cultural hurdle to overcome, and it’s essential for the well-being of our democracy that they overcome it. A two-party democracy is only as strong as the opposition party, and if the opposition party simply can’t get elected, then the party in power starts performing worse and worse because it doesn’t feel the competition. It’s happened in other democracies, and I’m afraid of this happening in the U.S.

It’s also important that the military doesn’t become associated for too long with one political party. But for that to change, the Democrats must overcome their cultural problems. And generally speaking, that means changing their skewed ideas of what it means to be a Southerner or an evangelical in uniform.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bring in a little humor

Maybe a bit cheap, but funny nonetheless.

Jay Leno interviews an Iranian astronaut (Windows Media Player required).

(hat tip: Regime Change Iran)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Democracy and Iraq

It appears that Iraqis have turned out for the election of their 275 seat parliament in even higher numbers than they did in January or October. In addition, the Sunni Arabs seem to have decided to fully participate in the electoral process. I won't make predictions about how much terrorism Iraq will face in the months ahead. But I do believe this is a good time to discuss whether democracy can ultimately be successful in that nation.

Can Islam and Democracy mix?

Last week a co-worker asked me if democracy is really possible for a culture that has been ruled by autocrats for generations. My response was that prior to 1776, there was no evidence the Christianity and Democracy were compatible. I also added that if you had predicted in 1970 that Spain would be a democracy before the end of the decade, you would have been accused of being a rosy optimist. But when General Franco died, the elites of Spain smoothly transitioned the nation towards democracy. Similarly, when President Reagan shouted, "Mr. Gorbochav, tear down that wall," in the late 1980s, many pundits criticized Reagan for giving the people of East Berlin false hopes that the wall would come down.

What kind of Islam are we talking about?

An extreme version of Islam does seem incompatible with democracy. But all religions are in a constant state of redefinition. Christianity as it was practiced in the year 1600 saw nothing wrong with slavery. By 1860 much of Christianity was openly hostile to the peculiar institution.

Three nations or one?

Even if Islam and democracy are compatible, there is still the issue of ethnic and religious tribalism. See my post from a couple days ago titled Universalism versus Tribalism. The terrorism that afflicts Iraq is supported almost exclusively by the minority Sunni Arabs, who see democracy as much less attractive than ruling all of Iraq.

The American Civil War erupted in 1860-1861 when it became clear to the slaveholding South that a candidate could win the Presidency without winning a single slave state, that the US House of Representatives was overwhelmingly dominated by the free states and that the US Senate was no longer deadlocked between slave and free states. (Due to the discovery of gold in California, freemen moved to California and requested statehood before a large number slaveholders could travel there.) Minorities are often less enthusiastic about democracy compared to majorities.

Secularists to the rescue?

Iraqis who are secular in their political views have an advantage over more religious Iraqis. Secular Sunnis, Shias and Kurds are likely to have an easier time finding common ground compared to a group of religious Sunnis and Shias. (Kurds are generally more secular in their political outlook compared to their Arab compatriots.) I remain cautiously optimistic about the democracy project in Iraq. Perhaps in a few weeks we will have a better idea about the future of freedom in a tyranny dominated region.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A valuable history lesson from GWB

President Bush this week delivered his third and fourth speech in the run-up to the Iraqi elections that will take place tomorrow. It is recommended reading (for (my commentary on) the first two speeches, see here and here).

The most striking part of the two last speeches was his comparison between the present, witnessing the birth of a new Iraq and the past, witnessing the birth of a new nation, the United States:

A few blocks from here stands Independence Hall, where our Declaration of Independence was signed and our Constitution was debated. From the perspective of more than two centuries, the success of America's democratic experiment seems almost inevitable. At the time, however, that success didn't seem so obvious or assured.

The eight years from the end of the Revolutionary War to the election of a constitutional government were a time of disorder and upheaval. There were uprisings, with mobs attacking courthouses and government buildings. There was a planned military coup that was defused only by the personal intervention of General Washington. In 1783, Congress was chased from this city by angry veterans demanding back-pay, and they stayed on the run for six months. There were tensions between the mercantile North and the agricultural South that threatened to break apart our young republic. And there were British loyalists who were opposed to independence and had to be reconciled with America's new democracy.

Our founders faced many difficult challenges -- they made mistakes, they learned from their experiences, and they adjusted their approach. Our nation's first effort at governing -- a governing charter, the Articles of Confederation, failed. It took years of debate and compromise before we ratified our Constitution and inaugurated our first president. It took a four-year civil war, and a century of struggle after that, before the promise of our Declaration was extended to all Americans.
Sounds familiar today? This comparison is exemplary for the tone of Bush’s four speeches: mistakes were made, but progress was made, there will be setbacks, but if we do not waver, we will prevail. It is a honest, but positive and optimistic assessment of past and future, made by a man, who, flawed as he, like you and me, may be, has a vision based on the value of freedom. And I think he has got that one right. Keep the faith.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Universalism versus Tribalism

Perhaps the struggle we face isn't democracy versus dictatorship so much as universalism versus tribalism.

Today a friend of mine mentioned that in Northern Ireland there is or used to be political parties that were not openly Protestant or Catholic, but everyone knew that each of these parties have a Protestant or Catholic leaning. He seemed to be implying that if the Protestant party won, they would oppress the Catholics and if the Catholics won, they would oppress the Protestants.

Whether what my friend described was true for Northern Ireland or not, it does seem to illustrate the difference between "bare democracy" and "liberal democracy." Bare democracy is where voters get to decide who gets oppressed and who gets to do the oppressing. Liberal democracy gives all of its citizens basic human rights.

In January, when the Iraqis voted in large numbers despite the threat of terrorist attacks, the only news story that concerned me was a translated statement by an Iraqi Kurd who said, "I voted for the Kurds." Let's hope that the Iraqi Shia, Sunnis and Kurds can move towards liberal democracy and move away from tribalism. I think successful democracy has to be universalist in its orientation, not tribalist, though both kinds are often found even in advanced democracies.