Saturday, September 15, 2007


I just got back from the stupendous D.C. protest the Times covered. We got wind from the police that the demonstration turned out 50,000 people, including 1,000 or so belligerent counter-protesters. The Times neglected to mention that a good deal of those arrested were Iraq war veterans from Iraq Veterans Against the War. As easy as it seems to compare today to the protests of the Vietnam days, don't do it. The SDS contingent--skinny white kids marching in formation, their faces covered with bandanas, clattering on big metal shields and plastic buckets--made me think of the Weathermen, sure. But a good-natured Weathermen. Full report on D.C. coming soon.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Loaded Question

I celebrated Rosh-Hashanah last night, feasted on the brisque, caramlelized carrots, wine and apples dipped in honey at my friend Peter's house. Today I helped build a table for my boat-building class, then suffered through the editor's clutches during a re-write of my article on Berhanu Nega. I went to work at 5:30 p.m., left at 7. Tonight I hung out with some pals across the street, smoking cigarettes, talking about "Saw IV" and "3:10 to Yuma." Iraq, to most of them, was not the topic of the week.

Tomorrow I embark on an adventure that I'm sad to say I won't be sharing with a companion. It's a private call to duty, in a sense--I'm heading up to Washington, D.C., on a bus chartered by the activist organization ANSWER, to partake in a demonstration in front of the White House.

To so many of us students, if anything, this has become a tiring war. I see it on our faces--outrage, ground to cynicism, and finally congealed as fatigue. The subject lacks interest, or the student is apathetic. One classmate wrapped hate in apathy: "Screw the other countries, I'm not there."

I have a feeling that a lot of us don't know what to believe in, or what strategy to choose, anymore. Whatever we feel, we usually clam it up inside, often forcing it back to the dark corners our mind's eyes avoid.

A lot of us, myself included, live in this grip of war. Just ask the SDS mailing list about how war affects them. I talked with James about it today at GMP--the underwhelming news coverage of this week's "surge" assessment brought us together like magnets, even if we just concluded that we were tired of Bush's lies.

Maybe we just don't talk about the war enough. Or maybe, sometimes, talking about it hurts.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

History Smash

In 2005, John Curtis at the British Museum visited the ancient site of Babylon in Iraq, only to uncover a terrible sight: the United States military had set up a 2,000 hectare base around the ruins of Babylon, filling thousands of sandbags with the sands, laden with ancient brick and pottery. Then they covered the area over with sand flown in. Vehicles smashed into some ruins.

Not only was this was a clear violation of the Hague's Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. This said something. Although, I'm not quite sure what the Pentagon tried to say.

For now, that's beside the point. Thankfully, the U.S. Military turned the base over to someone responsible, Poland, who have since seemed to hold Iraq's sites of world history in a higher regard.

Today I got an interesting bit of news from Baghdad off of Iraqcrisis: an exhibit on archaeological heritage called “Serving the Cultural Heritage of the Two Rivers' Country. The Iraqi-Polish Co-operation in Central South Iraq 2003-2006,” which opened up on September 10th at the Babylon Hotel.

Larsa – Human Right Organization, an NGO from Iraq, curated the exhibit in cooperation with the Polish Embassy. Over 60 attended the day-long event.

Meanwhile, Chicago-based artist Michael Rakowitz continues molding replicas of pottery and sculptures stolen from Iraq Museum after the fall of Baghdad. Rackowitz uses papier mache and gets all the artifacts' dimensions from the Oriental Institute, which also, incidentally, runs Iraqcrisis. Dig in.

It feels like a situation Walter Benjamin would've prophesied in The Arcades Project. Kinda late rate now. Let me get back to you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Day of Infamy

People often remember that the day of September 11, 2001, had beautiful weather. Today it is grey, humid and raining. But if my last couple hours at GMP were any indication, people are a bit more compassionate towards each other than they might've been otherwise. Over the phone, I hear happy voices, polite at the very least--even when I call cell phones.

These days, even Osama Bin Laden, looking a little younger in his dyed-black beard, seems mollified. In his latest video release, instead of urging Muslims to execute all Americans, he encouraged us heretics to convert to Islam. Odd, to say the least. There's some good coverage on Slate (my new favorite online resource) about Osama's propaganda platform. The Slaters suggest that it's not so much more Muslims Osama is after, but a homegrown army of Al Qaeda operatives. They have an American media guy in Al Qaeda now. I suppose that, frightening as the possibility is, it's only a matter of time before a movement gains momentum. Especially when Osama seems so young-ish and calm.

Incidentally, today I fished Nir Rosen's In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq from a big stack of copies in the basement section of Strand, a spot reserved for half-off discounts. Talk about a long overdue acquisition--I've been wanting to read this book for months. The back flap promises for a nuanced read: "In Arabic, tahrir, or liberation, and ihtilal, or occupation, have much greater moral and emotional significance. Ihtilal means the Crusaders who slaughtered Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians, it means the Mongols who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century, it means the British imperialists who divided the spoils of the Ottoman Empire with the French, and it means the Israelis in southern Lebanon and Palestine. It is hard for Americans to understand just how deeply they are hated by ordinary Iraqis."

Finally, something historic about the war! That's been hard to come by, these days.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Long Road To Losing in Iraq

[At Union Square a couple weeks ago, a candlelight vigil for the troops in Iraq. Photo by Sam Lewis.]

Dueling banjos, singing of war: tell me, which is a more revealing piece on Iraq, the NY Times' Baghdad-based A-hed or the Washington Post's Washington-focused A-hed?

I cut out the NY Times feature, detailed maps included, and posted it on my wall. Unfortunately, I couldn't do the same with the Washington Post article because I read it online.

I hardly even planned to get into the Iraq coverage today. The debates have been nauseating. Between reports on the dire state of Iraq's parliament and security forces, Bush's photo op in Anbar Province and John McCain and Hillary Clinton's assertions, using the same report, that both success and failure are probable in Iraq, I lost faith that our government can do much but bicker.

The debate, I think, ignores something crucial: Our management of the war in Iraq is an absolute shambles. It's not the fault of General Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker--it is the result of running an immensely complicated war in an atmosphere of politics and sound-bytes.

With every success, there is a setback. We're focusing on a parliament that couldn't form a quorum at the beginning of the surge and we're aching for the passage of a bill about sharing oil, even though Iraqis lack basic infrastructure and necessities. All the while, one side of Americans points to Anbar as the answer to the war (despite the growing Sadr movement) and another complains that we need to begin a withdrawal.

And as much as Bush has said we have, we have not maintained the commitment to improve Iraqis' lives. Our post-war plan materialized a year and a half after the post-war began. We don't have enough troops to have a presence on the streets, or enough funds to contribute to a nation-wide, multi-billion dollar project of reconstruction. We haven't assisted over two million refugees in any significant way. And last week, the U.S. military dismissed the cases of troops responsible for the Haditha massacre.

Next week, when Petraeus and Crocker report their post-surge assessments to Congress, we're undoubtedly going to look at troop numbers again. Petraeus has said that he doesn't want to pull soldiers out of Iraq--which is no surprise, because a low troop level would encourage failure in any future strategic endeavor. But he has considered withdrawing about 4,000 troops. Is he joking? That's a tiny sliver of over 20,000 troops who are already set to withdraw by the end of this year.

We are in a graduated stage of quitting, you see. So why don't we forgo the talk of surging, withdrawing and timelining, face the tragic reality, and just plain quit?

Never Forget

Ahmad Shah Massoud, Shir-e-Panjshir, Lion of the Panjshir Valley, will be remembered. Massoud, whose militia resisted the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, then fought the bloodthirsty Taliban, may be gone. Al Qaeda assassinated Massoud six years ago today, two days before the Sept. 11th attacks. But he has a legacy preserved in history. His convictions and objectives live on among us.