Thursday, September 28, 2006

An electoral tsunami in Belgium?

On October 8, municipal elections will take place in Belgium. Most attention will go to the result for the city of Antwerp, my hometown. Antwerp is, after the capital of Brussels, the biggest city of Flanders, the northern flemish-speaking part of Belgium and has about 450,000 inhabitants. (There are about 6 million Flemings). Its importance also derives from the trendsetting role Antwerp played for national politics in the past.

Antwerp, for two terms of six years already, is ruled by a rainbow-coalition of all parties except one: socialists (red), free-market liberals (blue), christian-democrats (orange) and environmentalists (green). The mayor is a socialist. But the biggest party, the far-right, anti-immigrant Vlaams Belang (VB - Flemish Interest), with 33% of the vote at the last local elections in 2000, has been excluded from the local government, as it is deemed a racist party, with which no other party wants to do business (the electoral system is based on proportional representation).

According to a recent poll, VB will increase its share of the vote to 38,6%. This increase can - in my opinion - be partly credited to the presence of a number of former liberals on the VB-candidate list. One of them was even put forward as a candidate for mayor of Antwerp by his previous party. This happened in the aftermath of the so-called VISA-crisis in 2003. Following allegations that city VISA cards were used to pay for private expenses (a handbag, furniture, a swimming pool, etc.) the socialist mayor and a number of city councillors resigned and a number of civil servants and police chiefs were suspended. Almost no criminal charges were presented in the end, but a stench of inappropriate conduct remained. After some political bickering between the coalition parties, where the liberals presented their - abovementioned - candidate for mayor "to enable a fresh start", in the end, a new socialist mayor took over. Later, the liberal candidate was expelled from his party for disagreeing when his party - at the national level - approved the extension of the right to vote to immigrants. For this, the liberal party was severely punished at the elections for the Flemish parliament in 2004. At the same time VB made a big leap forward, becoming the single biggest Flemish party. As had been the case in Antwerp in 2000 and 1994, all the other parties, except for the greens, were forced to build a coalition to keep VB from power at the Flemish level. It cannot be excluded that, after the national elections of June 2007, all the Flemish parties but the VB will also be required to have a majority at the national level.

Although the VB may win, it will most likely not win enough to reach an outright majority in the city council. In fact the most important question will probably be whether the greens will remain necessary for the present coalition. Most parties want to get rid of the greens as most of the time they behaved as an opposition within the city council. The VB however could get a majority in one or more of the less important borough councils (comparable to the boroughs of Manhatten, Queens, ... vs the city of New York).

While a participation of the VB in the government of big, important Antwerp has - barring a miracle - no chance at all, there were rumors that it could be invited to join a coalition in one of the smaller, less publicized municipalities surrounding Antwerp, e.g. by an incumbent mayor who wants to keep his job, but that remains to be seen.

It is widely expected that this election will be the last chance for the VB to 'win' Antwerp as the proportion of immigrants in the city population continues to rise. The tension between natives and immigrants, mostly Moroccans, has sometimes turned violent. In 2002, after a confused old man killed his young Moroccan neighbour, a teacher of Islam, Moroccan youths rioted in the borough of Borgerhout, clashing with police and smashing windows of cars and shops. In 2005, copying their brothers in France, a few cars were torched. In 2006, after a protest against the Danish cartoons, Moroccan youth rampaged through the city center, running over cars, smashing windows, mirrors and shouting "Allahu Akbar" and "Hamas". Also this year, an old man died after being hit by several Arab youths after he had admonished them to behave on the bus.

The VB's adversaries, sensing danger, have mobilized against the VB. Next Sunday, one week before the elections, concerts, officially "for tolerance, against racism, against extremism and against pointless violence", featuring the crème de la crème of the Flemish music scene, will be organized in several big cities, including Antwerp. Writers and artists have also mobilized. One of them, Luc Tuymans, this week warned for handing power to the VB issuing a veiled threat: "In the worst case you will get organised resistance, perhaps even rather violent reactions. I suspect many shop keepers will have their windows smashed. People do not seem to be aware, but a vote for the Vlaams Belang may have serious consequences. They should realize this before they take a final decision in the voting booth."

Giving credit where it is due, several commentators and politicians, including the mayor, have expressed reservations about the concerts: they could prove to be counterproductive, polarizing the city and giving a boost to the underdog. Personally, I believe they are right.

This weekend, a new poll will be released. If they show new trends, I will address them here. Meanwhile, I invite you for comments. I will also do a follow-up post after the elections.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Support the Troops Weekend - After Action Report

My apologies that it has taken me several days to get this post up, but life has been keeping me very busy.

The bottom line is that we had two successful Support the Troops weekend events. Following are photos and a complete report.

There were two main events: Friday evening September 22 outside of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC, and Saturday afternoon, September 23, at the Sylvan Theater near the Washington Monument, also in Washington DC.

Support the Troops 2006 was sponsored by, the DC Chapter of, Military Families Voice of Victory, and the Protest Warriors. I'm not sure if I'm officially a member of FreeRepublic but I've got a Freeper screen name and have participated in most of their events over the past year so I suppose that's good enough.

Day 1 - Walter Reed Army Medical Center

This Friday marked our 75th straight Friday outside of Walter Reed. Our objectives are twofold; one, as a show of support for the troops, especially those on the bus which returns from a DC restaurant every Friday evening (more below). Second, to keep the radical leftist group Code Pink away from the entrance. Complete reports on all Walter Reed "freeps" can be found here. My own personal accounts of these and other rallies can be found here and here. I have been participating since August 2005.

We usually have 20-40 people show up for our Friday night freeps, but on this night I estimate we had well over 50. Our number were swelled partially due to the large number of George Washington University Republicans who joined us. They were quite an enthusiastic bunch and brought a lot of energy to our rally.

Here is our MOAB ("Mother Of All Banners") which was directly across from the main entrance to the hospital.

Here are two more of the MOAB with lots of supporters incuding many of the GW Republicans

Here are some pro-troops supporters at the main entrance to the hospital. I took this photo from the corner where the MOAB was displayed.

Down the street about half a block are the radical supporters of Code Pink. As I was taking this photo Pinko leader Gael Murphy drove up and parked right in front of me. She asked what I was doing and I told her what whe perfectly well knew, that I was taking photos of her people. She held out some radical literature which I took. I'm always interested in that stuff so I figured why not? It turned out to be pretty standard stuff and not very interesting.

If you're not familiar with Code Pink, I've got a lot posted about them over at The Redhunter, just go to the Categories section at right and see either "The Left" or "Rallies and Protests". However, two pieces that explain matters pretty well can be found here (scroll down to where it says "The Case Against Code Pink) and here.

Code Pink used to occupy the corners right outside the entrance to the hospital, but we got the permit when they forgot to renew it last January.

At some point during the evening some lady came by to argue with us. I think that she was from the Pinkos, but am not entirely sure. I'll find our more when the official after-action report comes out on and will link to that. As you might imagine she was quickly surrounded and an "enthusiastic" discussion ensued.

Interestingly, the Pinkos show little interest in debating or arguing with us when we go down there. Several times over the past year wounded soldiers from the hospital have gone down to where the Pinkos are standing to tell them what they think of them (hint; it isn't good). For a group that holds "We Support the Troops But Oppose the War" signs, most of them ignore the troopers.

Two weeks ago Milblogger SMASH went down to the Pinkos and told them off royally. He's got audio and pictures on his website. Don't miss it.

The Troop Bus

Every Friday evening several local charities (organized or partially sponsored by the Italian Embassy) take a busload of wounded troops and their visiting families out to a local restaurant. They return to the main entrance sometime between 9 and 11pm. When they do, the bus slows and the driver turns on the inside lights. We go crazy waving our signs and banners and they wave at us.

In case you think this doesn't mean anything, two weeks ago an Army Captain and a Command Sergeant Major, all of the 101st Airborne Division drove up, parked, got out, and the following conversation ensued
The two men were clearly delighted at seeing this unambiguous show of support not just for the troops, but for their mission. "Wow! We're just back for ten days and we came to visit some of our men in the hospital," one of them related. "Seeing this is just fantastic -- thank you!" he exclaimed, to which we returned a volley of "No, thank you! We thank you!

"When we're in Iraq, it's so great to know you're here," he continued.

"How do you know we're here?" I asked.

"The Internet -- we knew there were people like you out here while we were in Iraq," he smiled, "and we appreciate it! How about some photos?" They lined up the group of young people and snapped several shots before jumping back into the vehicle with broad grins and waves, and more shouts of "Thank you for your service!" from FReepers.
In addition, I've talked to dozens of troops at the hospital in the past year I've been doing this and can tell you that they are all very happy that we are outside.

In addition, after all this most of us go inside the hospital complex to Malogne House. All of us bring things for their donation tables, things from food treats to coloring books for the kids (their families come and visit) to cigarettes and books and videos. We visit for about an hour or so but of course by then it's getting late

Day 2 - The Support the Troops Rally in Washington DC

The main event for Support the Troops Weekend took place from noon until 3 at Sylvan Theater, an outdoor mini-arena which is in one of the corners of the large field where the Washington Monument stands.

First off was an opening ceremony. We said the Pledge of Allegiance, sang the Star Spangled Banner, and a military chaplain said an invocation. Kristinn Taylor, co-founder and current president of the DC chapter of, moderated the event. Kristinn organizes the Friday night Walter Reed Freeps as well as many other rallies and counter-protests. The flag was made by children at Ft Benning after 9/11

Over the next few hours we heard from several speakers.

* Larry Schweikart – co-author of Patriots History of the United States
* Mychal Massie - Project 21
* Richard August - father of Cpt Matthew J. August, KIA 1/27/04, Iraq
* Capt. Larry Bailey, USN Ret. – Vets for the Truth
* Ray and Becky Davis - Military Families Voice of Victory
* Diana Irey - Washington County Commissioner, Pennsylvania, and running for Congress against Jack Murtha
* Nikki Mendicino - POW/MIA activist
* Kevin Martin - Project 21; veteran, USN
* Eve Tidwell - God Bless Ft. Benning
* Frank Schaeffer – co-author of AWOL, author Faith of Our Sons-a Father's Wartime Diary
* Wes Vernon - Accuracy in Media
* Evan Sayet - Writer/Entertainer
* Leo Flood, father of son who served in Iraq and Afghanistan
* Richard Linn, father of LCpl. Karl R. Linn, KIA 1/26/05, Iraq
* Kristinn Taylor, D.C. Chapter of

Here is Larry Bailey speaking

Another crowd scene with some of the flags we had.

No rally would be complete without a few anti-war heckers. We ignored them and they went away. I quoted Ann Coulter to ConcreteBob; "If you're not pissing them off you're not doing your job!" Given that ConcreteBob is the president of the DC chapter of the Protest Warriors, and the person who got the permit away from Code Pink for the entrance to Walter Reed, he was one who I knew would appreciate the quote.

Channel 4 News came by and did a few interviews. I searched their site but haven't been able to find anything about the rally on it. The Washington Times had a reporter there and they did an honest story on the event. Their estimation of 70-100 people was what I counted also. Conservatives just don't draw large crowds for these things. It's just not in our culture.

Diana Irey, the lady running against Jack Murtha, gave a good talk. From what I read the Democrats are putting lots of money into the race to make sure they don't suffer the embarrassment of a Murtha loss, so while I doubt that she'll win at least we're putting up a good candidate.

Closing Ceremonies

Finally - all true pro-troop patriots reading this who can swing by Washington DC for a weekend are welcome to join us Friday nights at Walter Reed! Don't be shy, we get new people every week. We even serve pizza, so what's not to like? But if you don't find yourself in this area, consider holding your own rallies or counter-protests. There are FreeRepublic and Protest Warrior chapters in most major cities, so you can also contact them. There's probably more going on than you realize. Show your support!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Progress in Iraq

There are some good things happening in Iraq, though this is hard to learn just by reading the newspaper or watching television. Here's Nima Sanandaji writing of Iraqinomics and Iraq's economic growth since Saddam was removed from power.
Can Middle Eastern states put oil resources to better use? Is it possible for free enterprise to thrive in the Arab world? The experience in Iraq suggests that the answer to these questions might be yes. The democratically of Iraq has meant that both foreign and domestic businesses can operate in a freer economic environment. Although media seldom report about this, the Iraqi economy is rapidly growing. According to the report "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq October 2005," GDP per capita has more than doubled between 2003 and 2005. Compared to pre-war levels the increase was 31 percent. And the future looks bright. According to the Brookings Institution Iraq Index the Iraqi economy is expected to have a real GDP growth of 49 percent in the period 2006-2008. The oil sector has still not recovered to pre-war levels, partially due to the terrorist menace. Still, if Iraq continues on a path to democracy and economic progress, it is a fair assumption that its natural resources will be put to better use. Foreign investors and consumers would most likely appreciate the possibility to buy oil from a country that does not support terrorists or fundamentalist schools abroad.
A good rule of thumb to apply to news stories about Iraq is if it didn't mention the progress of Iraq's security forces, one must be skeptical about the story's conclusions. The US can't win the war on terror all by itself. It needs allies in the Arab-Muslim world. So, the progress we have not read about regarding Iraq's security forces is worth paying attention to. Here's Bill Crawford from National Review Online with his periodic review of good news in Iraq
Iraqi security forces now number more than 300,000, and almost 70 percent of Iraqi battalions have the lead for security in their area of control:

Six Iraqi army division headquarters, 26 brigade headquarters and 88 battalions have the lead in their own areas - almost 70 percent of the Iraqi Army, and an increase of five division headquarters, 22 brigade headquarters and 65 battalions since November 2005.

The goal is for Iraqis to have the lead in all areas by the end of 2006.
But the bottom line question is often, "Do Islam and Democracy really mix? Are the US and its allies trying to do the impossible in Iraq?" In his column Bring Them Freedom, Or They Destroy Us Bernard Lewis explains why the idea of a Arab-Muslim majority nation being democratic isn't far fetched at all.
In thinking about these two views, it is helpful to step back and consider what Arab and Islamic society was like once and how it has been transformed in the modern age. The idea that how that society is now is how it has always been is totally false. The dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq or the Assad family in Syria or the more friendly dictatorship of Mubarak in Egypt--all of these have no roots whatsoever in the Arab or in the Islamic past. Let me quote to you from a letter written in 1786--three years before the French Revolution--by Mssr. Count de Choiseul-Gouffier, the French ambassador in Istanbul, in which he is trying to explain why he is making rather slow progress with the tasks entrusted to him by his government in dealing with the Ottoman government. "Here," he says, "things are not as in France where the king is sole master and does as he pleases." "Here," he says, "the sultan has to consult." He has to consult with the former holders of high offices, with the leaders of various groups and so on. And this is a slow process. This scenario is something radically different than the common image of Middle Eastern government today. And it is a description that ceased to be true because of a number of changes that occurred.

In the year 1940, the government of France surrendered to the Axis and formed a collaborationist government in a place called Vichy. The French colonial empire was, for the most part, beyond the reach of the Nazis, which meant that the governors of the French colonies had a free choice: To stay with Vichy or to join Charles de Gaulle, who had set up a Free French Committee in London. The overwhelming majority chose Vichy, which meant that Syria-Lebanon--a French-mandated territory in the heart of the Arab East--was now wide open to the Nazis. The governor and his high officials in the administration in Syria-Lebanon took their orders from Vichy, which in turn took orders from Berlin. The Nazis moved in, made a tremendous propaganda effort, and were even able to move from Syria eastwards into Iraq and for a while set up a pro-Nazi, fascist regime. It was in this period that political parties were formed that were the nucleus of what later became the Baath Party. The Western Allies eventually drove the Nazis out of the Middle East and suppressed these organizations. But the war ended in 1945, and the Allies left. A few years later the Soviets moved in, established an immensely powerful presence in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and various other countries, and introduced Soviet-style political practice. The adaptation from the Nazi model to the communist model was very simple and easy, requiring only a few minor adjustments, and it proceeded pretty well. That is the origin of the Baath Party and of the kind of governments that we have been confronting in the Middle East in recent years. That, as I would again repeat and emphasize, has nothing whatever to do with the traditional Arab or Islamic past.
Here's an excerpt of a Washington Post interview with
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani
So, while many here in the U.S. believe the war is a mess, you believe the opposite.

Iraq is not in chaos. There are many provinces that are calm -- where people live in prosperity. . . . I want to assure the American people that Iraqis are now enjoying democracy and human rights and are struggling to secure the country.

Would you welcome U.S. bases in Kurdistan?

Yes, they are welcome. Kurdistan wants the Americans to stay. In some places Sunnis want the Americans to stay -- Sunnis think the main danger is coming from Iran now. There is a change in the mind of the Sunnis. The Sunnis are for having good relations with America. The [Shiites] have started to think that.

Will the U.S. put bases in Kurdistan?

I think we will be in need of American forces for a long time -- even two military bases to prevent foreign interference. I don't ask to have 100,000 American soldiers -- 10,000 soldiers and two air bases would be enough. This will be [in] the interest of the Iraqi people and of peace in the Middle East.
Should we take up Talabani on that offer?