My fingers are crossed
That being said, our thoughts turn to today's election in Iraq. May it be safe, and may the winners achieve a mandate. A successful election today means more security for both the US and Iraq. As our friend Bull Moose says, this is not a partisan issue.
Just one thing
Probably to nearly every reader's surprise WS remained silent over the last week or so on a number of issues. However, there was little either encouraging or interesting.
Bush's innauguration was a bore, as was his fuzz-filled speech there.
America's deadliest day in Iraq since the beginning of the war occurred. Depressing, but hardly surprising.
Condoleezza Rice was confirmed. Yawn.
But one event was extremely important, one about which I wanted to comment.
This past week saw the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death-camp at Auschwitz.
Being relatively well-traveled in my host country, I have visited Auschwitz. It's a terrible place to visit, full of sadness and fear. Even today.
And that's good, because it's an experience you never forget. It shouldn't be fun, it should teach you something. The caretakers there have done an excellent job to ensure that.
As you tour through some of the buildings there, one observes displays behind large glass planes imbedded in the walls. The displays go far back. Maybe 20 yards. The panes are 10 feet across and maybe 5 feet high. They start at about waist level.
In the first display is a jagged pile of hundreds and hundreds of eyeglasses. They were removed from victims of the gas chamber every day, and shipped back to Germany for recycling. Those in the pile in the display are only the ones that were waiting to be shipped out when the Soviets reached Auschwitz.
Behind the second pane is another pile -- this one consisting of thousands of strands of hair. The hair was removed from victims of the gas chamber every day, and shipped back to Germany to be used in wigs or as pillow-stuffing and some say to be used in German uniforms. All this is only what was waiting to be shipped out when the Soviets reached Auschwitz.
In the last display is another pile, also large, going all the way back, and piling up to shoulder level. The things it contains were taken from victims of the gas chamber every day, and shipped back to Germany to be recycled. What you see are only those that were waiting to be shipped out when the Soviets reached Auschwitz.
They're baby shoes.
May all the victims rest in peace, and may we honor their memory by learning the lessons Auschwitz has to teach.
Let the games begin
Here we go:
The Democratic Left Alliance will field Sejm Speaker Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz as its candidate in this year's presidential elections.
Well, he's boring. But he's clean and experienced.
And pretty astute, too:
Sejm Speaker shuns meeting with Lithuanian Foreign Minister
During Sejm Speaker Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz's official visit to Lithuania his refusal to meet with Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Minister Anatanas Valionis aroused a great deal of controversy. The Lietuvos Zinios daily emphasized that Cimoszewicz preferred to make a trip to the museum of KGB victims instead of meeting the minister. It has been suggested that Cimoszewicz's decision was caused by recent news that Valionis used to be a KGB officer. Justinas Karosas, the head of the Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Committee, stated that Cimoszewicz, "Wanted to avoid the possible interpretations of this meeting," and for this reason did not want to talk with Valionis. However, Cimoszewicz dismissed such explanations are groundless. "We did not plan any meeting with Anatanas Valionis, but we did have a telephone conversation," he said. Earlier on the Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Ministry announced that the ministers' meeting did not take place because of the, "busy schedules of the two politicians."
Quote of the Day
"'And the result is, despite our great military might, we are, in my view, more alone in the world than we have been in anytime in recent memory and the time for diplomacy, in my view, is long overdue. As a result, we're in, in my view, a less secure position than we should be in the world. That's because virtually all the threats we face, from terrorism to the spread of weapons of mass destruction, to rogue states flouting the rules, to the pandemic diseases that we face now and will face, none of them can be solved solely by American soldiers by themselves. America is much more secure working with and reaching out to others than it is walking alone. And I believe the heart of your mission must be to help rebuild America's power to persuade and to restore our nation to the respect it once enjoyed, quite frankly, for our own safety's sake.' - Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., senior Democrat on the committee"
Iraqis aren't ready for democracy?
Hundreds drive hours to be part of history
Metro Iraqis revel in freedom to vote
There have been many desperate days for Iraqis in Metro Detroit since U.S. troops helped Iraqis pull down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad 21 months ago. But Monday was for celebration.
The smiling faces of freedom and democracy trumped the bitter cold, as hundreds of Iraqis and Iraqi-Americans traveled for as long as three hours to register to vote in an abandoned building supply warehouse for the upcoming Iraqi elections.
At times, the atmosphere was giddy. As people received their voting cards, some yelped with joy and applause echoed through the cavernous room. Many said it felt like a new birth of freedom.
"This is a very delighted moment for me. And thank God," said Abu Muslim Al-Haydar, who fled Najaf 1991, after joining a Shiite uprising against Saddam Hussein. "Iraqis have been waiting for this."
Metro Detroit, home to an estimated 90,000 Iraqis eligible to cast votes, is one of five locations in the United States where voters can have a role in choosing an Iraqi government and making laws until further elections are held in a year. About one million Iraqis around the world, 250,000 in the United States, are eligible to vote in the elections, January 28 through January 30, for a National Assembly in Iraq.
Too bad it's not so easy back home.
Poland says multinational force did not damage ancient Iraqi city of Babylon
By Monika Scislowska, Associated Press, 1/16/2005 15:32
WARSAW, Poland (AP) Polish troops used no tanks or other tracked vehicles in the ancient city of Babylon, but the presence of foreign troops had a ''negative influence'' on the site, a spokesman for the Polish-led force in Iraq said Sunday.
Lt. Col. Artur Domanski's comments came after a British Museum report said U.S.-led troops using Babylon as a base have damaged and contaminated artifacts dating back thousands of years in one of the world's most important archaeological sites.
A Polish-led force moved out of Babylon last month in response to a request by Iraq's culture minister and handed the site to Iraqis.
''A military presence, by its nature, must have had a negative influence on the site,'' Domanski said in a telephone interview from Iraq. ''We have pictures showing that some element is missing, or has been dug out, or moved.''
Domanski stopped short of saying the soldiers had caused damage.
He said a Polish report documented the situation as of mid-December and did not give the time when ''changes'' to the site took place.
Domanski refused to assign blame, saying ''we do not point our finger at anyone'' in the unpublished Polish report, which has been given to the Iraqis. Iraqi officials were consulted on all work done in the camp and ''any work was immediately stopped if they requested it,'' Domanski said.
The officer stressed that the Polish-led force, accompanied by three archaeologists, took care to preserve the site and protect it from looters while based there between September 2003 and Dec. 20.
Polish troops used no tanks or other tracked vehicles in Babylon, Domanski said.
The British Museum said forces from the U.S.-led coalition crushed part of the ancient Iraqi city's 2,600-year-old brick paved street with their tanks and used soil containing archaeological fragments to fill sand bags.
Dragons on the famous Ishtar Gate were marred by cracks and gaps where someone tried to remove them, the British report said.
Trenches were dug into ancient deposits and archaeological fragments were scattered across the site, including broken bricks stamped by King Nebuchadnezzar, said report author John Curtis, curator of the museum's Near East department.
Polish Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Piotr Pertek insisted in earlier comments to the PAP news agency that no soldier in the multinational force ''performed any tasks that would ruin the monuments, cause devastation or any other harm.''
Domanski said the force did good things for Babylon, installing a camera monitoring system, cleaning soil contaminated by fuel and equipping Iraqi guards for the site.
''Future generations visiting Babylon will assess what would have been worse,'' Domanski said.
According to reports the US is putting homophobia over the safety of its troops and success in Iraq:
Between 1998 and 2004, the military discharged 20 Arabic and six Farsi speakers [for being gay], according to Department of Defense data obtained by the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military under a Freedom of Information Act request.
Experts have identified the shortage of Arabic linguists as contributing to the government's failure to thwart the Sept. 11 attacks. The independent Sept. 11 commission made similar conclusions.
Not surprising. The Post reported back in June that the military had discharged 37 linguists because they were not the preferred sexual orientation.
Couldn't we use these tremendously skilled men and women? Seems to me that communicating with the locals is key in winning hearts and minds. That's not to mention the intelligence advantages.
Which is more important Red America? -- Your war on gays or your war on terror?
Iraq New Terror Breeding Ground
By now, I'm sure you all have heard about the CIA report that shows how the war in Iraq has made fighting the War on Terror a whole lot harder. Here's the Washington Post's take (emphasis mine):
Iraq provides terrorists with "a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills," said David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats. "There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries."
Before the U.S. invasion, the CIA said Saddam Hussein had only circumstantial ties with several al Qaeda members. Osama bin Laden rejected the idea of forming an alliance with Hussein and viewed him as an enemy of the jihadist movement because the Iraqi leader rejected radical Islamic ideals and ran a secular government.
But as instability in Iraq grew after the toppling of Hussein, and resentment toward the United States intensified in the Muslim world, hundreds of foreign terrorists flooded into Iraq across its unguarded borders. They found tons of unprotected weapons caches that, military officials say, they are now using against U.S. troops. Foreign terrorists are believed to make up a large portion of today's suicide bombers, and U.S. intelligence officials say these foreigners are forming tactical, ever-changing alliances with former Baathist fighters and other insurgents.
According to the NIC report, Iraq has joined the list of conflicts -- including the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, and independence movements in Chechnya, Kashmir, Mindanao in the Philippines, and southern Thailand -- that have deepened solidarity among Muslims and helped spread radical Islamic ideology.
It feels good to say I told you so, but being right is exhausting.
Interesting that there's very little about it on the conservative websites. Newsmax calls the NIC, the CIA's thinktank, "future gazers" in an attempt to discredit them. In a search today on FoxNews' website for yesterday's article, the title came up, but clicking on it led to today's lead story about how Iraqis will be able to register to vote on the 30th.
Making a stand
A salute goes out from Warsaw Station to the Polish EU delegation
From the WBJ:
Polish MEPs call for steps to allow Ukraine to move closer to the EU
Poland's efforts to promote Ukraine to the EU have finally resulted in a huge success, as yesterday the European Parliament passed a resolution foreseeing Ukraine's possible EU accession. In a resolution adopted by 467 votes in favor, the MEPs congratulated the Ukrainian people for resolving a political crisis and "setting their country firmly on the path towards democracy". The resolution also said it was now time to consider other forms of association with Ukraine besides the Neighbourhood Policy, giving the country clear European prospects, possibly leading to EU membership. Polish MEPs introduced several key amendments to the text, calling for easing EU visa restrictions for Ukrainian citizens, recognizing Ukraine as a market economy and supporting its entry to the WTO. All Polish deputies across the political spectrum voted in favor of the resolution.
But is it enough?
So now, Polish officials will have the authority to order hijacked aircraft shot down.
Where to begin? Firstly, I'm surprised such a law needed to be passed. I would have guessed there was something like that already existed.
But how prepared are the country's police and fire forces for a real terrorist attack?
Access to important buildings is alarmingly easy, and most of those in Warsaw (the prime target, I'm sure) have only rudimentary security. That security makes it very hard to get into a building if you have important business there, but would probably help little in case of a terrorist attack.
Many nightclubs are underground and have only one exit.
The hospitals are in an awful state. What if it had to treat many injured?
The Palace of Culture and Science? Take the elevator right up sir.
Where are the real reforms?
Polish exports jump
An update, for those interested. From the Warsaw Business Journal:
Polish exports soar while imports fall
During 11 months of 2004, from January to the end of November, there was a dramatic rise in exports and a lower increase in imports. The value of exported goods was EUR 54.3 billion, a 24.8% rise, while import rose by 18% and was worth EUR 65 billion. The surge in exports over imports caused the foreign trade deficit to decrease by EUR 800 million to EUR 10.7 billion. Exports to EU countries also rose by 22.3% to reach 79.4% of total exports. The value of exports to Germany rose only by 15.7% while exports to Italy, UK and the Czech Republic - by over 34%. Exports to Russia saw the highest increase, by 68% to over EUR 2 billion.
Homeland Security, round 2
From the Times:
Michael Chertoff, a federal judge who was an architect of the administration's approach to fighting terrorism when he was a Justice Department official, was nominated by President Bush today to be the next secretary of homeland security.
Mr. Chertoff had been the Senate Republicans' chief counsel during the Whitewater investigation into President Bill Clinton's and his wife's business affairs.
In recent years, he has been best known for helping to craft the Bush administration's anti-terrorism campaign following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Chertoff, who was head of the Justice Department's criminal division, was a proponent of military tribunals to try prisoners held at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in Cuba after the American-led campaign in Afghanistan.
Best to put a witchhunter at the head of the witchhunting department is the logic I guess.
Iraqis in Michigan gear up to vote
About 95,000 living in the state are eligible to cast their ballots in historic first election.
By Tom Greenwood and Christine MacDonald at the The Detroit News:
Afthal Alshami, an Iraqi expatriate, is gearing up to do something he's never been able to do in his homeland: cast a vote for its leaders.
And in Metro Detroit and the state of Michigan, he'll be in good company.
In Iraq's first national election -- set for Jan. 28 through 30 for expatriates -- Michigan is expected to have the largest contingent of voters in the United States. Metro Detroit is one of five regions in which eligible Iraqis can register and vote.
Interest, excitement and confusion about the process continue among Iraqis.
Despite their interest, others believe the election lacks international legitimacy.
There are an estimated 240,000 Iraqis in the United States eligible to vote, and about 95,000 are in Michigan, which is the largest population in the country, election officials said.
"Oh my, yes people here are interested in the upcoming election," said Alshami, a spokesperson for Dearborn's Iraqi Expatriates Electoral Rights Committee.
"We have been talking to voters in many states, including Texas, California, Florida and Pennsylvania. They are all anxious to vote. This is the first time ever for Iraqis to have the opportunity to decide the future of the country and they are really excited about it."
Excitement is running high among many in Metro Detroit's large Iraqi-American community, with civic leaders such as Alshami doing their best to educate and motivate their fellow Iraqis about the upcoming vote. The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq ruled in November that Iraqis living abroad can vote -- even second-generation Iraqis with American citizenship.
But as election organizers rush to finalize voting details, many expatriates across the country are frustrated because they still are not sure where they will vote and others say there's a lack of information on the political parties. In Michigan, registration and voting locations haven't yet been finalized.
It's estimated that up to 1 million Iraqi expatriates scattered around the globe will vote, according to the International Organization for Migration, which will oversee the out-of-country voting.
It's not clear how much influence the expatriate vote will have. About 15 million people living in Iraq are eligible to vote, but turnout there may be suppressed by threats of violence and boycotts.
Including expatriates in the United States in the process may give the impression that the United States is manipulating the outcome, said Fred Pearson, director of the Wayne State University's Center for Peace and Conflict Studies.
"They will be viewed by some as a foreign element," Pearson said. "It's a strange kettle of fish to have external people voting on an election like this."
But Haidar Al-Saadi, a 23-year-old Dearborn Heights resident who was born in Iraq, believes that including expatriates was the right choice.
"It shows the effort is being made to make this as neutral as possible," said Al-Saadi, who plans to vote later this month.
He said he expects many expatriates to vote in part because they want to make sure those still in the country are in good hands.
"People need to know this is going to make the future of Iraq," Al-Saadi said. "This is on our shoulders."
To vote outside of Iraq, a person has to have been born before Dec. 31, 1986, and have Iraqi citizenship or qualify for Iraqi citizenship. That means that if a person's father was an Iraqi citizen, he or she can vote.
By law in Iraq, citizenship is traced through the father, not the mother, said Jeremy Copeland, a spokesperson for the Iraqi Out-of-Country Voting Program.
Alshami estimates that about 40 percent of those eligible in the United States will actually vote.
In addition to Detroit, Iraqis will be able to vote in four other metropolitan areas: Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville and Washington. In the Metro area, polling places will be established in Dearborn, Southfield and Bloomfield Hills.
Read more ...
Poland brings Libya in from the cold
from Laurence Mackin at the Warsaw Business Journal:
Prime Minister Marek Belka headed a delegation that met with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi over two days in Tripoli. Belka was accompanied by a delegation of businessman that included the head of [Polish oil giant] PKN Orlen, Igor Chalupec.
Poland is just one of a number of countries rushing to invest in Libya's vast resources, following the lifting of sanctions against the country.
"Trade between Poland and Libya is close to zero. We must change that," said Prime Minister Belka in Tripoli. "Poland has an experience in many industries that are needed in Libya, my trip here is to look for opportunities.
"We have proposed to Libya to provide Polish technical assistance to transform its weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, to peaceful ones and Libya has welcomed it."
Belka also offered to train Libyan military officers and "remove storages of internationally banned weapons." International inspectors last year reported that Libya's chemical weapons stockpiles included 23 metric tons of mustard gas and 1,300 tons of precursor chemicals for the production of nerve gas.
The talks also touched on the subject of outstanding debts between Libya and Poland from the 1980s. Communist Poland bought oil from Libya and Polish companies constructed production plants and roads in the North African nation. Poland says Libya owes it around $88 (zł.272.72) million, while Libya insists Poland owes it $30 (zł.92.97) million. The government says this is a "key problem" in bilateral relations.
Several Polish companies will also seek licenses for oil exploration in Libya. Currently, Poland sells machines, heavy equipment and construction materials to Libya, with trade turnover of about $9.5 (zł.29.44) million a year.
This is the latest move in Libya's return to the international fold. UN sanctions were suspended in April 1999 and finally lifted in September 2003 after Libya resolved the Lockerbie case. In December 2003, Libya announced that it had agreed to reveal and end its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Cimoszewicz new Sejm Speaker
Today, Poland’s parliament narrowly elected Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz as Sejm speaker after his predecessor, Jósef Oleksy, resigned over allegations he was once a communist secret service informer.
Though only a few months remain in the Sejm’s session, Cimoszewicz said “this time must not be wasted.” He added that despite this year being an election year, that doesn’t mean that “all the country’s other problems should be pushed to the side.”
Cimoszewicz, a member of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), was prime minister from February 1996 to October 1997, and is considered a left-leaning moderate.
As foreign minister, Cimoszewicz won praise for his part in brokering a peaceful solution to Ukraine's political stand-off last month and was also key in negotiating Poland's membership with the European Union.
Through scandals galore and allegations of corruption that have ruined many of the party’s leaders and deflated its popularity, Cimoszewicz has remained relatively clean. Since he will play a leading role in setting the lower house’s legislative agenda, the SLD believes having Cimoszewicz as Sejm speaker will revitalize the party’s image and help it regain some of its lost popularity ahead of parliamentary elections expected in June.
The position will also give him wider media exposure, and many believe he could use it as a springboard to run for president in elections due in late 2005. Cimoszewicz says he’s not interested.
He will be replaced in his former position of foreign minister, by his deputy Adam Rotfeld. Rotfeld headed the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute for two terms between 1991-2002 before joining the foreign ministry.
Up in arms -- with Libya
From Poland A.M.:
Record number of arms exporters expect 2005 to be a bumper year
Polish arms producers are going to export supplies worth more than USD 1 billion this year. Last year, as many as 188 companies were entitled to sell armaments to other countries, as compared with just 13 firms in 2001. Among others, Libya was recently taken off the list of embargoed countries. "The opening of new possibilities has already caused an increase in the exporters' activity. However, each contract must first be accepted by the government," said Jacek Śliwowski, the director of the Export Control Department in the Economy and Labor Ministry. All indicators are that Polish companies will be able to at least partly regain the markets on which they used to be active in the past. The offer for Libya encompasses the supply of military equipment as well as modernizing services and training soldiers.
Good or bad?
Excellent analysis from Melvyn Leffler at Foreign Policy magazine. The lead paragraph (emphasis mine):
Not since Richard Nixon’s conduct of the war in Vietnam has a U.S. president’s foreign policy so polarized the country—and the world. Yet as controversial as George W. Bush’s policies have been, they are not as radical a departure from his predecessors as both critics and supporters proclaim. Instead, the real weaknesses of the president’s foreign policy lie in its contradictions: Blinded by moral clarity and hamstrung by its enormous military strength, the United States needs to rebalance means with ends if it wants to forge a truly effective grand strategy.
A place to start
I agree with Bull Moose, who says that we desperately need more of this, and hopes that it lasts.
Better late than never.
Two billion and counting
It's good news. And I was asking myself where the corporate world was in all of this, and found this story.
It's all pledged -- I don't think any of it has come to fruition yet, and more needs to be given, but I think these companies will. Call it enlightened self-interest.
And I'm very happy to see our millitary help to speed this relief. Gustav duly notes that this is the right move politically, as well as morally. He regrets moves weren't made earlier -- but something is better than nothing, and politics ought not get in the way of helping these folks out.
And if you have any doubts about why it's needed, check out this bbc report from Banda Aceh.
"It's the biggest outpouring of relief in such a short period of time," said Jan Egeland, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator. "International compassion has never been like this."
Administration hopes new memo will save its ass
According to today's New York Times, the administration cried, "we're not war criminals, we promise!" by issuing a new memorandum on torture practices, revising the Justice Department's earlier definition, which had been stated in an August 2002 memo (signed by then head of legal counsel office in the Justice Dept., and now Nevada federal appeals court judge, Jay S. Bybee).
The earlier definition said torture constituted the causing of "severe pain" which met the following criteria: "When the pain is physical, it must be of an intensity akin to that which accompanies serious physical injury such as death or organ failure. Severe mental pain requires suffering not just at the moment of infliction but it also requires lasting psychological harm."
The new memo (written by acting assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel, Daniel Levin) defines torture as including not only "severe physical pain," but also "severe physical suffering."
Whew. Now I feel much better.
The (new) Levin memo also says that torture may also occur even if the interrogator didn't mean to cause the resulting harm, rejecting a distinction made in the (old) Bybee memo.
In other words, torturers are now responsible if they torture (or kill) somebody on accident.
The Levin memo also says that torture is "abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms."
Torture is also against American law, as well as international law, not just norms. But apparently, the memo doesn't mention that.
Coincidentally, the revision comes just one week before the Senate Judiciary Committee will question Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush's nominee for attorney general and the main architect of the Bybee memo, about his role in forming the administration's legal policies.
I don't know if this means the administration is trying to protect Gonzales, who can't unwrite what he's already written, but this move could end up backfiring on them. The redefinition, says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, "makes it clear that the earlier one was not just some intellectual theorizing by some lawyers about what was possible.
"It means it must have been implemented in some way. It puts the burden on the administration to say what practices were actually put in place under those auspices."
US increases pledge by ten times
After seeing this depressing story by Charles M. Sennott from the Boston Globe, I was heartened to read this one by James Lakely in the Washington Times today.
I commend the administration for its increased pledge (by 10 times no less!) and hope that more is on the way. As many have said before me, this is another opportunity for the US to regain world admiration and respect.
While the post mentions that the new pledge of $350 million is "more than the combined contributions of Europe's richest nations," according to the aforementioned Boston Globe report, we are still behind them per capita.
As of [Dec. 30th], the amount the United States has pledged is eclipsed by the $96 million promised by Britain, a country with one-fifth the population, and by the $75 million vowed by Sweden, which amounts to $8.40 for each of its 9 million people. Denmark’s pledge of $15.6 million amounts to roughly $2.90 per capita.
The US donation is 12 cents per capita.
Which means that the US is now at $1.20 per capita. The Bush team promises that the final figure will reach close to $1 billion, and I hope it does.
Look, this is not an issue over which we should be playing politics (although both the Boston Globe piece and the Washington Times piece are doing just that, surprise surprise). But I can't help but wonder if this increase is due to that very political pressure being put on Bush to do more.