Thursday, September 29, 2005

September 28, 2005

Flat Learning Curve Department

Anyone who reads this page regularly knows I love old bromides... you know, "a penny saved is a penny earned," that kinda thing. While growing up I hated them – all of them. And I hated the old farts who kept tossing them in my clueless path.

Now, an old fart myself, I understand they were not trying to trip me up, but sharing. They'd learned, as I have now, that old bromides survive from generation to generation because we learn they are shorthand for hard-learned lessons.

While I have several favorites – as my two long-suffering sons will attest – there's one that has proven most useful.

"If you keep doin' what you been doing you'll keep gettin'what you got."

And that's the theme of today's rant.

"Reforming" The Arab World
The West has always had an uneasy relationship with the Arab world. Every time the West rubs elbows with Arab nations sparks fly. History largely blames it on religion, Christianity and Judaism v. Islam. But the trouble runs deeper than that, as George W. Bush has discovered.

Bush is not trying to turn Muslims into Christians or sacking their cities in search of Holy Grails. Instead Bush decided to "bless" them with the gift of democracy. If only Arab nations got democracy, he figures, they would dump their oppressive, backward and largely dysfunctional systems and become partners with the West. Bush views Arab nations as Prodigal Sons he wants to welcome into the family of nations.

Arabs see it differently. They disagree -- violently.

In all fairness G.W. Bush was not the only American of note who thought this was good idea. New York Time columnist Thomas Freidman thought so too, as did liberal author and Vanity Fair essayist , Christopher Hitchens. Both believed that Bush's policies in Iraq, while heavy-handed, at least created the opportunity for that Arab nation to break free from the continuum of backward governance and plant the seeds of genuine representative government.

That was then. Three years later, this is now:

So, folks, we are faltering in Iraq today in part because of the Bush team's incompetence, but also because of the moral vacuum in the Sunni Arab world, where the worst are engaged in murderous ethnic cleansing - and trying to stifle any prospect of democracy here - and the rest are too afraid, too weak, too lost or too anti-Shiite to do anything about it.

Maybe the cynical Europeans were right. Maybe this neighborhood is just beyond transformation. That will become clear in the next few months as we see just what kind of minority the Sunnis in Iraq intend to be. If they come around, a decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and we should stay to help build it. If they won't, then we are wasting our time. We should arm the Shiites and Kurds and leave the Sunnis of Iraq to reap the wind. We must not throw more good American lives after good American lives for people who hate others more than they love their own children.
(Thomas Friedman)

I have to admit something – it's part of the eternal penance I must do – I also thought that maybe, just maybe some Arab countries were ready to leave the past and enter the here-and-now, if only someone gave them the chance. But it did not take me as long as it did Friedman to realized I was wrong about that. It quickly became abundantly clear early on that the Iraqis were not going use the opening created by Saddam's ouster to do anything but redistribute their nation's power and booty to a new generation of despots and religious nuts.

And since, if we keep doin' what we been doin' we're going to keep getting what we got, what now?

Let the Arabs stew in their own rotten juices, that's what. They are not ready to change, because they don't want to change. Here's a reality check, for example. This week America's newest image ambassador, Karen Hughes, is traveling the Arab world trying to buff up our image in the region. She was in Saudi Arabia yesterday:

SAUDI ARABIA – AP: The audience - 500 women covered in black at a Saudi university - seemed an ideal place for Karen P. Hughes, a senior Bush administration official charged with spreading the American message in the Muslim world, to make her pitch... But the response was not what she and her aides expected. When Ms. Hughes expressed the hope here that Saudi women would be able to drive cars and "fully participate in society" much as they do in her country, many challenged her.

"The general image of the Arab woman is that she isn't happy," one audience member said. "Well, we're all pretty happy." The room, full of students, faculty members and some professionals, resounded with applause.

Helloooo.... Get it, Karen? Write that down and share it with George when you get back.

Nevertheless Bush neo-cons continue to argue that we can't just let Arab nations alone because they will breed and harbor terrorists who will in turn attack the democratic West. That, in effect, they have declared war on the West and we need to "go to the source" and stop it there before they kill Americans over here.

Well, without getting into whether we are over there to promote democracy or secure our oil supply, the fact of the matter is "they" are now killing Americans over there. Bush's policies have failed on all possible fronts; failed to promote democracy, failed to make oil cheaper or more secure, and failed to protect American lives. All he's really accomplished is to save Arab terrorists the expense of a plane ticket to the US. You might say he brought the mountain to Muhammad.

Nothing is weaker than an idea that's time has not come. And the idea of democracy in the Arab world has not come.

Iraq's First Female Suicide Bomber Strikes
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A woman strapped with explosives and disguised as a man blew herself up outside an Iraqi army recruiting center in a northern town Wednesday, killing at least six people and wounding 30 in the first known attack by a female suicide bomber in the country's bloody insurgency.

I suggested some months ago a new strategy – the "Don't Do That' strategy, detailed here. In short it suggests we withdraw from the Middle East, rebuild our over-extended and crumbling military infrastructure, really secure our borders and invest in a new generation of unmanned, high-tech standoff weaponry.

Then lay down the law. "Leave us alone and we'll leave you alone." If Arabs what to live their lives in repressive, backward, Islamic-theme-parks, where women are treated like fifth-class citizens, men call the shots and national treasuries are the personal piggy banks for the rulers dejur, fine. Just don't make trouble for us over here.

If they do make trouble over here use our standoff weapons to deprive the attacker's host country of something they value. Then wait to see if they get the message. If not, level something else – a palace, a nuclear facility, a bridge. Pick targets that are expensive to replace trying as best we can not to put innocent civilians in the cross hairs.

I know. Some of you out there would prefer we stop using force entirely. I wish we lived in a world where that was an option. But it's naïve – dangerously naïve. Islamo-fascists are going to continue making trouble for the West, because that's what the do. That's their whole purpose in life. They are like pitbulls. The breed should be banned, but that's not option. So we have to be ready to punish their owners when they let them off their leash and they bite someone.

The Arab world may someday decide it's missed the boat and change. But that day is not now, and I strongly suspect we will not see it during our lifetime. Now would be a good time to admit that and change our strategy from, "We're going to liberate you and force feed you democracy," to "Good bye. Don't call us, we'll call you. And keep your dogs tied up, or else."

But what about all that oil over there, you ask? Let's stop kidding ourselves. The only reason Bush wanted to "share" democracy with those nations is because he figured we could help get America-friendly candidates elected who in turn would appreciate the value of America's oil thirsty addictions. So, besides the "Don't Do That" military policy we need a 5-year Manhattan Project-level push for renewable energy.

Then, in a world where oil sells for $5 a barrel Arab oil producers, like Iraq and Saudi Arabia, may find new interest in joining the commercial club now dominated by the West.

Or, they can use their oil to grease their own skids to hell. I really don't care anymore.

The Dark Continent
Africa is another place where the West continues to do things that don't work, even after we know they don't work.

Virtually every European nation tried to colonize Africa. Italy, France, Britain, the Neatherlands... they all grabbed hunks of the African continent and tried to make it their own. In the process they did awful things to it's original owners. Africans, westerns figured, may be humans, but just barely. So they treated them the same way we treated American Indians, like trees that needed to be cleared to make way for profitable crops.

But western colonists did some good things too before they were forced to go home. They created transportation infrastructure, introduced forms of governance better suited to the modern world than old tribal systems. That western presence, for all its faults, vaulted Africa from the primitive to the 18th and 19th centuries in a matter of decades.

After which West spent nearly the entire 20th century doing penance for their racist/imperialistic behavior. White guilt became the motivator for the West's policies towards all things African. The West fought the last vestiges of those sins, apartheid in South Africa -- a good thing.

But also the World Bank and Western governments lavish trillions of dollars on the continent – most of which was wasted and/or stolen, and continue to do so.

With the exception of the end of apartheid, the Africa of today is little changed from the Africa from the Africa of a century ago. Where there have been changes, they are almost all bad changes. Western aid has allowed despots to buy modern weapons with which to commit ethnic cleansing and outright genocide on a scale that would make Hitler blush.

The infrastructure left behind by western colonialists has crumbled. (Even Amtrak has a better safety record than African railroads.) Governance has likewise degenerated. Zimbabwe, once a net exporter of food, has become a ward of the West again under the fascist regime of Robert Mugabe. ( See ReliefWeb ) Liberia, Niger, Sudan, Angola, go down the list and until you get all the way down to South Africa you find nothing but riot, rebellion, ruine and rot.

So, what to do? First, stop using guilt to underwrite World Bank loans. The West can't buy it's way to salvation. What it can do is lay down the law. If African countries want money they have to first put people in office who are not John Gotti's with a tan.

Then treat aid and money the same way banks treat construction loans – make progress payments. No more lump sum., no strings attached, loans. Provide the resources they need to achieve Goal A, and only once they do, give them the resources for Goal B.

Sounds simple enough, but the West hasn't done it. Strings are attached, then not pulled. Billions upon billions of dollars and aid have disappeared into the Dark Continent only to make the round trip back to the West in the form of fat Swiss bank accounts and Mediterranean villas.

And what of all those Africans the West feels so bad about mistreating a century ago? The only thing that's changed for them is they now have the "comfort" of knowing that their oppressors are black instead of white. Other than that more of them are dying today, from guns, hunger and disease, than were ever killed by all western colonists combined.

So Jesse Jackson, there, I;ve said it. So shoot me. But if we keep doin' what we been doin' in Africa, Africans are going to keep getting what the got. You can count on it.

This Just In:
That little two-legged tumor
Tom DeLay Indicted for Conspiracy
For more on this read yesterday's post below.
See actual indictment here

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