Tuesday, April 23, 2013

iraq war analysis

I left this comment on this North Star thread (10 Years After The Iraq War: The Inevitability of Failure — and of Success):

After the first Iraq war (Kuwait), Christopher Hitchens visited Kurdistan and was embarrassed to see pictures of then President George H Bush ("wearing a jogging suit of all things") displayed prominently on the windshield of the jeep he was travelling in. When he asked the Pesh Merga soldier drivers why they did this they replied that they would be dead – murdered by Saddam's forces – without the protection of the no fly zone which was put in place by the first President Bush.

This forced him to rethink the whole issue. There was nothing like being on the ground, in the locality, for having a life and death reality check.

Let us translate this reality to the second Iraq war, initiated by George W Bush. Given the strength and brutality of Saddam’s dictatorship it turns out that the only chance for the elimination of that fascism was an imperfect one (the US invasion, which did create democracy, accompanied by a series of fuck ups) or a continuation of that particularly brutal fascism.

Insofar as I can project myself into that reality I think the imperfect external imposition of democracy from US imperialism was preferable. Rather than continuing to grovel to Saddam it would be better to risk freedom even at the tremendous cost that it led to. Easy for me to say from a distance but I think we all have to make that judgement call. Just as Hitchens had to make it when confronted by the Kurds. The only slogan about which I can be particularly clear these days is “Death to Fascism”.

To paraphrase:
“If it wasn’t for the imperialists we would be dead”.
“If it wasn’t for the imperialist we would still be living under the exceptionally brutal yoke of Saddam’s fascism”.
We have here on this thread an inability of some intellectuals to face reality in these simple terms – the terms under which the people of Iraq have lived and died.

If George W Bush and team hadn’t made so many mistakes – quite a few of which he admits in his account Decision Points – then not so many would have died and the war would have been shorter.

What mistakes does George W admit to?
  • intelligence failure (268) 
  • “Mission Accomplished” banner (257) 
  • failure to secure Baghdad and stop the looting (258) 
  • not enough troops sent in (258) 
  • Brenner’s order to disband the Baath army - not necessarily but needed to be discussed more (259)
  • “Bring ‘em on” statement (260) 
There were other mistakes too. Mistakes built into the imperialist apparatus so to speak, such as torture.

One of the great things Hitchens did was to expose water boarding as torture in a very personal way, by subjecting himself to it. Some arguments are more powerful than other arguments. On the ground arguments are more powerful than deep strategic analysis. Both are necessary but some are more powerful and actually more real. This is one reason why George W Bush’s account is more plausible to me than some of the comments on this thread.

I do accept – as arthur argues – that there was a strategic and very significant reversal of previous US policy, that the US came to support democracy in Iraq and the Middle East in general to be in their best imperialist interests. This was repeatedly stated by Bush and Condi and not believed and strangely, still not believed, even though it did eventuate.

However, Israel continues to be the albatross around the neck of US imperialism. Their continuing inability to deal with the Israel-Palestine “problem” means that the swamp which breeds the terrorists who continue to attack the US and modernity is not being drained in a way that is perceived as a genuine US desire. I think that reality somewhat undermines arthur’s grand narrative:
Following 9/11 ruling circles in the US recognized that the middle eastern status quo of stagnant autocratic swamps that they had encouraged in the interests of cheap oil, anti-communism, contention with the Soviet Union and support for Israel no longer served their interests (my emphasis) - comment above
I believe George W Bush when he says he was shocked, angry and sickened when WMDs were not discovered (p. 262) I also believe him when he says he planned for democracy in Iraq from the beginning. (p. 232).

But when the WMDs weren’t discovered it did mean that the two point rationale for the invasion became a one point rationale which in retrospect (from George W Bush’s perspective) may not have been a strong enough rationale for the invasion. The post 9/11 two points being:
  1.  Saddam has WMDs and will hand them to al Qaeda who will use them against the US Homeland
  2.  Democracy in the Middle East is the best option for the future prospering of US imperialism (post 9/11, post end of the threat from the USSR etc.)
I’m suggesting that Bush was neither particularly dumb (as the “left” argues) nor particularly smart (as arthur implies). I accept most of what Bush says on face value rather than peering into it for deeper interpretation simply because what he says is adequate based on my understanding of the conflict. In short, Bush muddled through.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

recent Noel Pearson interview covers much ground

Need to embrace Aboriginal success

This interview with Noel Pearson covers some good ground -- his recovery from cancer, the limitations of the Northern Territory intervention, how welfare can be poison, indigenous home ownership, the emerging black middle class (resulting from the mining boom as covered by Marcia Langton in her recent Boyer Lectures) and how we need to do more than throw money at disadvantaged education.

EMMA ALBERICI: What do you think of Julia Gillard's education reforms announced on the weekend?

NOEL PEARSON: Well, I think there's a lot of opportunity for getting Indigenous education right, but the story the world over - I've thought a lot about education policy and the story the world over is that - and the story in Australia of the last seven years is one of increased investment without an increase in success. And what I would say to the Government is that, you know, I think the lesson from the world over is that if you don't - if you don't get the instruction right, if Australia doesn't get quality instruction coming from teachers to every child, we're missing the whole point of the increased investment. Teacher performance equals effective instruction. They must impart effective instruction to each and every child, and ...

EMMA ALBERICI: Do you get a sense that this new money being allocated by the Government, being earmarked, are you confident that the Government knows how to spend that well to improve teacher quality?

NOEL PEARSON: Um, no, I'm not. I think that there's a missing - you know, a lot of the things that we have done have simply not translated into more effective instruction in classrooms. I've seen that if you get the instruction right - with Aurukun School, for example, one of our academy schools, the most marginal school in the state of Queensland. It would be the contender when we took it over for being the worst school in Queensland. And yet today, children are reading, children are counting, children are writing. And it's because, you know, at the end of the day you can do everything - parental engagement, the whole show, but if you don't have teachers who are imparting effective instruction to the children, then you have nothing. And my concern is that I don't discern in current Federal Government policies a strong understanding of what should drive school reform. And this is absolutely critical for remote communities.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

RIP Andrew Saint (chess community)

The Australian chess community is in shock following the death of Andrew Saint in a car accident on the way back from the Doeberl Cup chess tournament late on Easter Monday. Hannibal Swartz, who I never met, was also killed and a couple more were seriously injured.

Of those in the vehicle I knew Andrew and I know James Morris, who fortunately is now out of intensive care and being a young person, only 19yo, (and incidentally an exceptionally brilliant chess player) hopefully will make a full recovery (broken ribs, punctured lungs).

Everyone who knew Andrew has fond memories of him. There has been an outpouring of grief at chess chat on this thread: RIP Andrew Saint. Due to the fact that I have dropped in and out of chess like a yo-yo I didn't know Andrew well but from my own experience I can confirm what everyone else says, that he was friendly, warm and affirming.

I'll republish this tribute from Andrew's brother, Alex, which reveals how very sad this loss is to those who did know him well. Chess is a competitive game played in silence at a competition level so what is refreshing here is that someone with such an egalitarian and social spirit devoted a considerable portion of their life to the development of the chess community, with ingenuity and flair.
A Dedication to my Brother (by Alex Saint)

What a tragedy. All would agree this was such a horrible end to a short life but what a life it was. Andrew lived life to the full - never wasting a moment. Andrew has no enemies. He was such a powerful force of good. Andrew I thank you most for your love, your character and your enthusiasm for life. Dad and I wish to thank the Australian Chess Community, and more recently to the Melbourne Chess Club, for such wonderful tributes to Andrew. He obviously made a big impact on many people.

I would like to write some things about Andrew - my brother and best friend:
If you want to really understand my dear brother you need to look back a decade ago when the Australian Chess Championships came to Adelaide. This was his finest hour. Andrew, the Wedding family and I were already involved in the University Open tournaments. After a few years, we made a bid for and were able to hold, with SACA, the Australian Chess Championships in Adelaide at the end of 2003 and start of 2004. We were all looking forward to this event, none more than Andrew. Others may look forward to going to an AFL grand final live watching their team, well this event was his grand final. As many know, Andrew loved to organise, he loved chess, and he loved to help people - and these three things came together in 2003. Robin Wedding and I were there as willing helpers but Andrew was the leading force. He was the driver, we were in the back seat. Without him, the event would not go down in many peoples eyes as one of the most memorable tournaments as stated by people including Grandmaster Ian Rogers.

It was Andrew who organised the most extravagant snack bar in the history of Australian chess!! He joked with me that we needed to 'go gourmet'. Well we certainly did! Most chess events supply foam cups, a big tin of Blend 43 coffee and a packet of out-of-date dry Arnotts biscuits. Well Andrew would have none of that. He arranged different coffee blends, herbal teas, fancy cordials, chocolate biscuits, a cheese platter, pate, dips, fruit, everything. I remember many people seeing it and saying, "wow". Andrew paid for stuff like the snack bar out of his own pocket - a lot of money for a uni student. He didn't want SACA to have to pay for that, which I think was a good thing for SACA! Why did he do it I hear you ask? He did it so you, the chess public could have a great time. The tournament was so well organised. Behind closed doors was someone who was living that tournament 100% from the moment he woke up to the moment he went to sleep for 14 days. It always brought a smile to his face to see so many people enjoying the tournament. This event wasn't an attempt to puff up Andrew's pride or stroke his ego. Andrew humbly and quietly sought to please all. Andrew even said, "we need to go to a special newsagent which has all the interstate newspapers". He thought it would be a nice thing to do for all the interstate players.

He spent two days in the Chemical Engineering department before the event designing a poster describing the chess event and its history. He organised for there to be a blind simul with GM Ian Rogers on Boxing Day, followed by other simuls and opportunities for chess players to play top players. He organised for top players to give lectures in a special room. He arranged for a BBQ dinner night ensuring there was enough food for everyone. He was always checking that people were enjoying themselves. On top of all of this, Andrew and Robin were writing the newsletter for the tournament. They had to create one each day. He and Robin put everything into that, as many do. It took hours. Andrew always made sure it was a good read. He had all games listed, annotations, chess puzzles, even a joke of the day. Andrew also had a wicked sense of humour, as many people know. I remember Robin, Andrew and I laughing about an argument that broke out on a chess chat forum. He decided to publish it and it brought a smile to many faces especially to those who live on chess chat.

Just to go back to the University Opens, I remember the attention to detail he had. He organised a Saturday night transfer tournament with prizes. He made sure with each University Open that there were prizes for players of all standards. We had $50 prizes for players with different ratings e.g. Under 1000, under 1200, etc. That was all Andrew. Yes he loved seeing top players come along and win, but he also loved the everyday people in chess too and wanted them to have something to aim for. The tournament started off being about 27 people and in its final year it had 99. Andrew being the perfectionist, jokingly of course, wished we had cracked triple figures!! The Saturday night dinner became one of the most enjoyable social events in the chess calendar. Alan Goldsmith noted in his weekly column, that the Saturday dinner event had such a friendly, warm atmosphere. The dinners reached the stage of having 4 bain-maries with many dishes to choose from. If it was up to me I would have given everyone a Chicken Parmi. All of this was because of Andrew. He even had Trevor Tao, a brilliant chess player and pianist, playing the piano at one stage. I remember Andrew getting a bit emotional when he saw Evelyn Koshnitsky (a SA chess stalwart) enjoying the company, the food and the classical music.

SACA ran team chess tournaments on Tuesday nights throughout the year. We had four teams from Uni and each year Andrew told me he thought the traditional chess team names were so boring! There were teams like 'Adelaide Red' or 'Norwood Blue'. Andrew thought it would be better to create some names to remember. So each semester had a theme. One time it was cheeses. He didn't pick Swiss or anything simple, instead he picked one called 'Queso Blanco'. Another time it was wine and he picked names like 'Merlot'. He and the whole team had a huge laugh when they'd announce which teams were on top and Bill (Anderson-Smith) would announce, "Norwood Blue is on top ahead by two points from Queso Blanco". I have never laughed so much and in the chess hall you're meant to be quiet!! I will always remember those days at Adelaide Uni as the greatest time in my life - I forget about us studying for our degrees there :).

For the chess community, it would be nice for people to remember that Andrew was a State Junior Chess Champion. His biggest win was claiming the Under 18 Junior Title in what was thought to be one of the strongest fields for a long time. Andrew also performed extremely well in Istanbul and as we all know, he won the tournament on the weekend. As many have said though, he was also a gracious loser. Andrew was not about wins and losses though, which meant he truly had won in the game of life.

Rest in peace Andrew XXX.
(Andrew Saint: 26/12/1981 - 1/4/2013)

Monday, April 08, 2013

birds of paradise video

Another amazing and beautiful example of evolution. Best to watch full screen.