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Sunday, September 30

Why, New Delhi! How terribly kind of you to squeak out a few words of concern over Burma's situation!

I sent the following writing for comment to someone with connections in India's government. He urged me not to publish it, saying that the government was doing everything possible behind the scenes and that the situation in Burma is very complex.

I understand: Face is everything; better people starve en masse and be massacred, rather than for their government to lose face, for if the government loses face all is lost. Pundita has had it drilled into her for many, many years. So truly I understand.

However, Burmese under the gun of their government did not ask India to come invade them; they asked America. The Liberians made the same plea during the worst of their suffering, as have many other peoples around the world under tyranny.

Would that America could play rescuer for every population suffering under tyranny! But America's efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us that it's not enough to topple a regime and set up a democratic government. We are up against the past, up against tribalism and ancient prejudices, against peoples conditioned to ways of life that cannot support freedom even when they want it.

The democracy project requires tremendous assistance from peoples all around the world who have found freedom. The first step is learning to speak out -- not necessarily rudely, but bluntly and with clarity. This changes the climate of the world's acceptance of tyranny. Dictators have been able to get away with so much in the past century partly because they've been called out so little. That must change.

In the case of Burma, it is the country's neighbors and other Asian nations that must take the lead in criticizing Burma's rulers. This gives help to Burmese inside the government who want to open a dialogue with the protestors. ASEAN stepped up to the plate, and even China made (what was for them) a strong statement. India can do more.

Now, to the post:

"People are saying, `The Whites were bad, the Indians were worse, but the Chinese are worst of all.’" -- Zambian opposition MP Guy Scott on exploitation of Africa by foreigners

India and China are Burma's major trade partners. But New Delhi waited to see how Beijing and the rest of the world would respond before making a statement related to the Burma protests. So I preface this post with a few words of advice to India's government:

Human progress does not mean perpetually recreating the wheel. You wouldn't rely on the telegraph because that's the way the Americans did their long-distance communications at one time. In the same manner, there is no need to repeat every wrong policy conjured by the developed nations while you exploit resources in nations less developed than India's.

America has learned in the hardest ways that cutting deals with tyrants while remaining mute about their worst actions eventually boomerangs. You might wish to learn from our errors instead of copying them:
India lured criticism from international communities very recently while its Petroleum Minister Murli Deora paid a visit to Burma on September 23, the day world media witnessed massive protests against the junta in the country. The Indian minister certainly witnessed hundred thousand agitating people in the streets of Rangoon, but he did not make a single statement or observation.

During his visit, three bilateral agreements for deep exploration in oil blocks were signed. Indian state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Videsh pledged to invest nearly US$150 million for gas exploration in the Rakhaine coast of Burma.

Earlier India's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, while in a three-day visit to Thailand in the second week of September, found himself in awkward position. Mr Mukherjee, during an interactive session with the diplomats and intellectuals in Bangkok, faced hard criticism for India's continued military engagement with the Burmese junta. Answering a question, 'what India was doing to restore democracy in Burma', Mukherjee reiterated New Delhi's foreign policy of 'non-interference in internal matters of any country'.(1)
But finally, after watching to see what Beijing and everybody else outside Burma said about the protests, New Delhi screwed up their courage:
"The government of India is concerned at and is closely monitoring the situation in Myanmar ( Burma). It is our hope that all sides will resolve their issues peacefully through dialogue," said India's External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna. Addressing the media in New Delhi on September 26, he also added: "India has always believed that Myanmar's process of political reform and national reconciliation should be more inclusive and broad-based."(1)
This was not enough for India's human rights activists:
The civil societies and rights activists in India remained critical of New Delhi's junta appeasing policies. "We cannot have democracy at home and support military tyrants in the neighbourhood. India must do all it can for the restoration of democracy in Burma," argued Nandita Haksar, a prominent Indian human rights lawyer.

Meanwhile Asian Centre for Human Rights, a New Delhi-based rights body, came out with official statement that Burmese junta deserved more denigration and UN must not remain as a mute spectator to the recent developments in Burma.(1)
That's the ticket!

1) From Narinjara, September 29 report.

Shame on Than Shwe for causing his military to lose all face!

By arranging a mass rally in favor of the government without lifting the ban against curfew and assembly, Than Shwe made his crackdown on the protestors even more transparently an abuse of the military's power.

Than Shwe does not understand that the childish trick fools no one. Even China's state press noticed the trick, despite their polite language in reporting it. How much more shame can Burma's military take?

Here is the report on the trick from Xinhua via People's Daily (emphasis mine):
A mass rally has been held in Myanmar's northernmost Kachin state in support of the constitutional national convention which was just finished as the first step of the government's seven-step roadmap [to democracy] early this month, according to an official press media Sunday.

"Entire people and the government except a group of people want to live in peace", the New Light of Myanmar quoted speakers of the ceremony as saying.

"UN delegation arriving Myanmar urged to report on true situation and genuine desire of the people," the speakers said.

The official report added that the rally was participated by over 100,000 local people.

The mass rally in the state took place amid the imposition of a 60-day curfew order and a ban of demonstration in Myanmar's biggest city of Yangon and the second largest city of Mandalay following widespread mass demonstrations by Buddhist monks and people in several parts of the country since Sept. 18, especially in the two major cities.

The event also coincided with the beginning of the visit of Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General Ibrahim Gambari to Myanmar on Saturday via Singapore on an urgent mission to look into the tense political situation in Myanmar. [...]

Saturday, September 29

Burmese from all faiths join to defend Buddhist monasteries against troops; slingshots for weapons, pots and pans for satcom

Saturday, September 29:
On a day when pro-democracy protesters filled Yangon streets, angry residents in Yangon and Mandalay, armed only with sticks and slingshots, beat back an attempt by Myanmar’s gun-toting troops to raid monasteries, a radio station run by exiled Myanmarese reported, citing eyewitness accounts.

The Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma, which is providing graphic accounts of the Buddhist monks-led uprising and brutal crackdown by the military, reported that troops approaching the monasteries in Yangon and Mandalay “backed off” after people from the surrounding areas prepared to thwart their approach.

The residents set up an “early warning system” by banging pots and pans whenever soldiers were seen approaching the monasteries, DVB reported, quoting a Mandalay resident. However, despite the vigilante action, troops managed to raid the Pauk Myaing monastery and arrested about 40 monks.

In Yangon, troops encountered resistance when they approached several monasteries, and were forced to retreat, DVB reported. It quoted a resident as saying that Muslims, Christians and Hindus joined Buddhists in defending the monasteries.(1)
1)Protesters beat back troops in Myanmar by Venkatesan Vembu
for DNA India; report filed from Hong Kong.

"The desert has lost its favorite rose"

Flower is dead. She died as she lived, as a great leader and a great warrior. She was cut down, not by a warrior from another tribe but from wounds she received while battling a poisonous snake. It was a battle she fought to defend her newborns and tribe, when cramped quarters meant that only one in the tribe could go after the snake.

I am sure that millions of people from around the globe join me in mourning her death. Yet I cannot feel anguish at Flower's passing because she lived her life so well, so completely. She perfectly fulfilled her potential. Death, for such ones, is a grand passage.

Flower represents the mystery of good leadership. Those who would accuse me of anthropomorphizing her have not watched the Meerkat Manor documentary during the three seasons it has run. Truly, there are many human traits in meerkats -- and many meerkat traits in humans. So one can study leadership in human affairs by observing Flower in her roles as tribal leader and general.

Many times one could watch her deliberating and making fast calculations when a threat to the tribe quickly materialized. She knew when to be ruthless for the sake of the tribe, and when to be compassionate. She made few mistakes. She knew when to act boldly, when to retreat, and when to act in conservative fashion.

One of her last acts was to allow her tribe to adopt a baby meerkat who had been abandoned by an enemy tribe -- a very unusual act for a meerkat. But there was no need to kill the baby. There was a time of plenty in the Kalahari desert, so the baby would not be competing for precious resources with other members of the tribe. One could see Flower reaching the reasonable decision after she observed that the baby was well received by the tribe.

The documentary did not show her formative months, nor did it show her parents. We met Flower when she was a mature leader. So one might speculate that she had a good role model. Yet the documentary showed leaders of other meerkat tribes. Some were smart, very brave, cunning -- but they lacked that ineffable quality we call nobility, and which Flower possessed.

I will miss her, and I appreciated the tribute that the documentary producers gave her. ("The desert has lost its favorite rose.") And yet thinking of Flower's life makes me recall that I am happy to be alive, to be able to witness the triumphs of those who work hard to deserve triumph.

I am grateful to the scientists and film crews who spent years painstakingly studying the meerkat tribes of the Kalahari and recording their lives. I am grateful to Animal Planet TV for producing Meerkat Manor.

And I am grateful I learned about such a splendid being, who made her tribe into the most formidable meerkat tribe in the Kalahari, who stood no more than 12 inches tall and died a hero's death.
* * * * *
October 1 Update
I've learned that Flower died in February of this year; at least that was when the show's executive producer notified a meerkat fan club about her death. I learned only on Friday, when Meerkat Manor in the US broadcast the news. The producer wrote that Flower lived longer than most meerkats.

For a beautiful picture of Flower, go here. Now isn't that a face fit for a memorial coin? The odd thing around her neck is a radio collar.

Friday, September 28

Than Shwe plays Elmer Fudd to freedom's Wascal Wabbit

Well, so far Burma's military has taken down the country's main link to the Internet (today), smashed cameras and cellphones and beaten anyone found carrying them, disconnected most of the country's cellphone lines, shut down several newspapers, denied visas to foreign correspondents, and shot to death a photojournalist for AFP news service.

And, as I mentioned in an earlier post, they are probably trying to figure out how to jam BBC and VOA broadcasts, not to mention hunting down every satphone they can find in the hands of civilians.

Yet still, news of the protests and crackdown is getting out of the country.

What's up, doc?

We had to massacre our citizens to save them

The reaction by Burma's junta to the protests sharply reminds that nothing has changed in the world -- not with all our advanced technology, not with all our advanced systems of government. Down the road to freedom is always -- what did Ayn Rand call it? -- a thug in a cheap leather jacket holding a gun on you.

Yet I refuse to lose heart over the situation. Once again I take my cue from Senator John McCain. Wretchard noted McCain's recent response to Code Pink hecklers. He recounted that McCain replied with a grin:
"Well, my friends, we beat you yesterday, we beat you the day before yesterday, we'll beat you today and we'll beat you tomorrow. We won't choose to lose. We won't choose to lose this time."
Wretchard thinks the reply was all about Vietnam:
The "we" and "you" McCain refers to can be none other the enemies in the Cold War, with Code Pink implicitly in the enemy camp, right beside Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap.
Well, maybe. But I choose to interpret McCain's comeback in a larger context.

Whether in China, Zimbabwe, Burma and many other countries, what stands behind the thug in a cheap leather jacket is the same thinking that informed Saddam Hussein's rule: Unless we brutally repress democracy, our nation will fall apart into warring ethnic and sectarian groups.

So that is our slog work for the 21st Century. More than the terrorists, more than any single tyranny, we are fighting an idea born of ignorance, cowardice, stupidity and just plain refusal to admit that there is a tried-and-true system for nationhood, freedom, and different ethno-sectarian backgrounds to coexist.

We will win the fight. We have to win it. Yet only those with patience need apply, for it is devilishly hard to bring in real democracy as against the stage show.

"Australian envoy says Myanmar death toll much higher" than official count

This is not surprising, given that troops were firing machine guns into crowds of protestors. And we don't know what happened to the hundreds of monks, some of them badly beaten, who were hauled away by the military. The following wire report is via the Philippine's Inquirer. The outlet carries additional informative reports on the Burma situation.
Agence France-Presse
Last updated 02:09pm (Mla time) 09/28/2007

SYDNEY -- Australia's ambassador to Myanmar said on Friday that the number of deaths there from the military crackdown was much higher than the official numbers given by the regime.

The ambassador, Bob Davis, said the secretive junta had provided a death toll of 10 from the crackdown on mass protests against the regime.

But he told ABC radio that witnesses had reported to embassy officials that they had seen "significantly more than that number of dead being removed from the scene of the demonstrations in central Yangon yesterday (Thursday)."

The real death toll was "several multiples of the 10 acknowledged by the authorities," he said.

Reporting on Friday's Burma protests will be slow and difficult

From a Wall Street Journal report today 'Citizen Journalists' Evade Blackout on Myanmar News
Reporters Without Borders says that at 3 p.m. yesterday, authorities disconnected most of the country's cellphone lines, preventing journalists and demonstrators from reporting on events. Authorities have also closed some Internet cafes in Yangon, effectively shutting down many blogs and Web sites.

The Internet has slowed so that it has been difficult to send out photographs and video. It took several hours for pictures to emerge of Wednesday's shootings [...]
I fear the regime's next move will be to purchase radio jamming equipment from China's military, as happened with Zimbabwe. Burmese around the country depend on VOA and BBC to receive news on the protests.

Little good news from yesterday but there was some. Protests went ahead even without the monks. The UN will be sending an envoy to Burma. And a meeting between Condi Rice and Burmese envoys went a little longer than planned because "she was giving them hell." (H/T CNN)

Also, ASEAN stepped out of their usual nonaligned stance to denounce the junta's violent crackdown, and China is asking the junta to practice restraint. Yet I am beginning to think that my hope is misplaced that China will give meaningful help.

It was stupid of me not to consider that Beijing would be particularly worried that democracy could break out in Burma; a democratic Burma would surely side with the Tibetan cause and be more interested in dealing with India than China.

Just last Friday Beijing canceled a diplomatic meeting in Germany to protest Angela Merkel's planned meeting with the Dalai Lama. China claims that the Lama is using religion to further political aims. They surely see the monk-led protests in Burma in the same way.

But one can always hope -- and the leading nations can continue to pressure China to intercede and use economic threats to brake the regime's violent crackdown.

As for the hope that Burma's rank-and-file soldiers would not turn on the monks or open fire on civilians, that hope has been dashed by events in the past 48 hours. Yesterday's Guardian threw light on this situation:
Most [Burmese] males, including soldiers, serve briefly as monks as their youth. But so far no soldiers have changed sides as happened in 1988 when some air force personnel joined demonstrations.

"The soldiers shooting might be special troops, recruited from the hill country, often from orphanages. They have no family. They are raised (by the military) to do whatever they are told to do," said Aye Chan Naing, chief editor for the Democratic Voice of Burma, an opposition shortwave radio station based in Norway.

Iranian resistance group reports on secret nuke site in Iran

This story will surely be making the rounds in the coming days:
NCRI - In a press conference in Paris on Thursday the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revealed details of a secret nuclear site under construction in Iran.

The new revelation was made by Mr. Mehdi Abrishamchi, Chairman of the NCRI's Peace Committee which follows:

This site is suited five kilometers south of Natanz site, near a small village called Abbas-Abad. The new site is located in the midst of Siah Kooh mountain from Karkas (Vulcher) mountain chains, south of Natanz site.
Read more details here.

Thursday, September 27

At the UN, Ahmadinejad makes a big pitch to Russia

Several of Maddy's statements during his speech were clearly aimed at Russia. I see that RIA Novosti picked up on some of the statements, but there were others as well. He was definitely sending a message, which I think was more than, 'See you on October 16, President Putin.' Putin will be in Iran on that date to attend the summit on Caspian Sea littoral states.

In any case, Maddy's major accomplishment at the UN seems to have been to persuade Angela Merkel to hang tough. She said to the UN General Assembly that Germany will " ... press for further, tougher sanctions if Iran doesn't back down. For me as German Chancellor, Israel's security is never negotiable."

Add to that President Nicolas Sarkozy's blunt call at the UN for tougher sanctions on Iran.

So Russia might decide to throw in with the US and the EU3 on the matter of piling on more sanctions -- despite Secretary Rice's dustup yesterday with her Russian counterpart over the matter of more sanctions.

Time for Washington to settle down to serious horsetrading with Moscow, for you can bet that Maddy plans to do the same when Putin comes calling.

Pundita in a very dark mood

"The Burmese junta's bloody crackdown on mass protests has continued today, with hundreds of monks reportedly arrested in pre-dawn raids on monasteries."

Read more of today's grim news from Burma. The military has clearly refined their tactics to avoid video and cell phone cameras. In the end they will kill more civilians by stealth than the 3,000 they shot on the streets during the last major uprising. China and Russia won't back strong UN sanctions against Burma; they say that what's happening there is a purely internal matter.

The early 21st Century has quickly taken shape.

More and more coming out about Israeli bombing raid in Syria

Times Online

Wednesday, September 26

Columbia University spits on memory of US war dead in Iraq

Columbia's board, faculty, and students are aware that the US has evidence on Iran's involvement in the death of US soldiers in Iraq. That knowledge should have been the only factor in deciding whether to invite Iran's President Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia. Indeed, there should have been no need for a decision process.

The simple fact that Iran is engaged in proxy war with the United States in Iraq, and that the war has killed US troops, should have made a decision unnecessary.

Defenders of Columbia's decision focus on the issue of free speech. This ignores the enormous amount of blood Americans have shed to gain and defend our freedoms. To consider free speech outside the larger context is to cram the history of the United States into a courtroom.

So why bother to parse Columbia President Bollinger's remarks to Maddy? That Bollinger wrongly portrayed Maddy as a dictator can be read as embarrassingly misinformed, a sop to those protesting the Iranian's visit to Columbia, or a cheap trick to give Maddy an advantage.

No matter how you interpret Bollinger's rant, the fact that his university greatly disrespected America's armed forces towers over any comment he made to Ahmadinejad.

Burma: Oh ho! The aged emperor is isolated!

" ... military analyst Win Min said the [Burma] junta was "clearly unprepared" for the protests. He said intelligence agencies were afraid to tell Than Shwe exactly how big the protests had become."

Gee, even Kimmie surfs the web. The really bad news about the general's extreme isolation is that it gives no opening for the protestors to set up a dialogue with the regime.
Part of the problem was that Than Shwe appeared to have no understanding of the hardships facing the people in Burma, ranked among the world's 20 poorest countries.

"Probably a large part of the officer corps that travels around the country understands what is happening but is afraid to tell the old man," he said.

The junta has ruled in total secrecy and near-isolation since it toppled previous dictator Ne Win during the 1988 unrest, with Than Shwe at the helm since 1992. But its isolation has grown over the last year since it moved to its new capital, Naypyidaw, carved out of the jungles near the once-obscure logging town of Pyinmana in central Burma.

In a typical display of Than Shwe's decision-making, he gave government workers just hours to pack and move from Rangoon in a surprise order on November 7, 2006 - a time ordained by astrologers, even though the new capital had only limited electricity, water or phone lines.

Inside Naypyidaw, the junta rules from a secret compound that few outside the regime have ever laid eyes on.

The only glimpse into the generals' lives there came from a leaked video of the wedding of Than Shwe's daughter, which showed the nation's elite in lavish mansions, drinking champagne for a bride dripped in diamonds.

Analysts say Than Shwe moved the capital partly out of fear of urban protests such as those that have taken place in Rangoon and cities around the country.(1)
1) AFP via The Australian

Hello, CNN, we're trying to prevent a massacre

Yesterday's 4:00 PM Situation Room led with a report on President Bush's speech at the United Nations. The report, written for Wolf Blitzer to recite, positioned the story as Bush backing away from discussing Iraq and Iran. (Even though Bush clearly mentioned Iran by name as a repressive state.)

I can understand CNN trying to take every opportunity to show Bush in a bad light; the shocker came when Wolf asked what Bush did focus on. Wolf answered, "Burma." The way he said Burma clearly implied, 'nothing of particular import.'

The CNN spin on Bush's speech was horrifically and embarrassingly parochial, as well as inaccurate. Here is the true import of Bush's mention of Burma at the UN. From an AFP report yesterday (emphasis is mine):
Burma Campaign UK assistant director Mark Farmaner praised Bush for showing the world the way to deal with the regime.

"It will certainly do good," he told AFP. "Once again the US is miles out in the lead in terms of supporting Burma's democracy movement, putting the rest of the world to shame."

Farmaner, citing existing US investment and imports bans, praised both Bush and his predecessor Bill Clinton for resisting intensive lobbying from US petroleum countries for them to ease the restrictions.

In contrast, Farmaner said the EU's sanctions were ineffective and had not restricted oil and gas revenue for the regime but instead targeted state-owned companies, including a pineapple juice factory and tailor's shops.

The so-called "pineapple sanctions" include a visa ban, but officials travelling to Europe on diplomatic missions are exempt, he said.
There is frankly little that Bush's speech can do to influence Burma's regime; however the speech was vital in that it put additional pressure on China and the European Union to take more action with regard to Burma.

The speech also shored Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown in his attempt to prod the EU. From the AFP report:
Bush's remarks came as European ambassadors were Tuesday to hold their first talks on Myanmar since the latest protests began, an EU spokesman said, and as Britain called for a tougher stance against the regime.
Today, Mr Brown came out even more strongly with a call to action:
Gordon Brown has warned Burma's generals: "The whole world is now watching."

Commenting after the regime launched a crackdown on protesters, the Prime Minister called for a United Nations security council meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the crisis.

Mr Brown told reporters at Labour's conference in Bournemouth: "The whole world is now watching Burma."

Foreign Secretary David Miliband echoed this message, urging the Burmese authorities to exercise restraint in their handling of democracy demonstrators who faced a crackdown when they took to the streets of capital Rangoon in their thousands for the ninth day.

Mr Miliband warned the Burmese junta they will be held accountable for their behaviour.

The Foreign Secretary is flying to New York to discuss the crisis at the UN.

On Wednesday morning he spoke to the UK's Ambassador in Rangoon, who told him that the monks who have led the demonstrations turned to applaud as they passed the British Embassy.

Speaking to reporters at the Labour conference, Mr Miliband said: "It is very important that we maintain this unanimous international call for restraint ... restraint must remain the order of the day."(1)
Yes, restraint is the watchword. We're trying to prevent a massacre.

1) The Press Association

Burma protests continue despite violent military crackdown

The Reuters and AP reports show disagreement between the number of protestors killed but taken together the reports convey how the protests went today. (The AP report is more recent.) I note that the (UK) Guardian headline for the AP story refers to Burma as Myanmar; I don't know whether this is to keep in line with the AP report or signals a shift in editorial policy.

Reuters
YANGON - Seething crowds of Buddhist monks and civilians filled the streets of Myanmar's main city on Wednesday, defying warning shots, tear gas and baton charges meant to quell the biggest anti-junta protests in 20 years.

Two monks and a civilian were killed, hospital and monastery sources said, as years of pent-up frustration at 45 years of unbroken military rule in the former Burma produced the largest crowds yet during a month of protests.

Some witnesses estimated 100,000 people took to the streets despite fears of a repeat of the ruthless suppression of Myanmar's last major uprising, in 1988, when soldiers opened fire, killing an estimated 3,000 people.

"They are marching down the streets, with the monks in the middle and ordinary people either side. They are shielding them, forming a human chain," one witness said over almost deafening roars of anger at security forces.

As darkness fell, however, people dispersed ahead of a dusk-to-dawn curfew. The streets were almost deserted.

In the second city of Mandalay, also under curfew, the Asian Human Rights Commission said there was no opposition to 10,000 protesting against grinding poverty in a country seen 50 years ago as one of Asia's brightest prospects and now one of its most desperate
.
Associated Press via Guardian
Security forces shot and wounded three people, and beat and dragged away dozens of Buddhist monks Wednesday in the most violent crackdown against the protests that began last month, witnesses said. About 300 monks and activists were arrested, dissidents said.

Reports from exiled Myanmar journalists and activists in Thailand said security forces had shot and killed as many as five people in Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon. The reports could not be independently confirmed by The Associated Press.

Witnesses in Yangon known to the AP said they had seen two women and one young man with gunshot wounds in the chaotic confrontations.

Zin Linn, information minister for the Washington-based National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, which is Myanmar's self-styled government-in-exile, said at least five monks were killed, while an organization of exiled political activists in Thailand, the National League for Democracy-Liberated Area said three monks had been confirmed dead, and about 17 wounded.

Exiled Myanmar media reported similar figures, citing witnesses.

The security forces fired warning shots and tear gas to try to disperse the crowds of demonstrators while hauling away defiant Buddhist monks into waiting trucks - the first mass arrests since protests in this military dictatorship erupted Aug. 19.

About 300 monks and activists were arrested across Yangon after braving government orders to stay home, according to an exile dissident group, and reporters saw a number of cinnamon-robed monks, who are highly revered in Myanmar, being dragged into military trucks
.

Burma's military makes first big move against monks leading protests

"YANGON (Reuters) - Troops and riot police took up positions outside at least six big activist monasteries in Yangon on Wednesday as Myanmar's junta tried to prevent monks leading new protest marches against military rule, witnesses said.

Hundreds more waited in a park behind the Sule Pagoda, the city centre focus of the biggest protests against the generals in 20 years, apparently prepared to prevent any repetition, they said.

There was no immediate word from the monks on whether they would risk their first major confrontation with the junta by trying to march again despite fears of a repetition of the bloody end to a 1988 uprising, primarily in the Sule Pagoda area.

If they did, they would face hundreds of security personnel who poured into the area after a huge demonstration ended on Tuesday.

Their arrival was the first significant action by the junta against protests which grew from handfuls of people marching against sudden huge fuel price rises last month into mass demonstrations against military rule.[...]

[The military] picked up at least two activists overnight, relatives said.

Prominent comedian Za Ga Na, who had joined the monks on Monday in urging people to support the protests, was arrested at his home in Yangon along with activist Win Naing, relatives said.

In another move against monks, whose leadership on Monday was told to rein them in or face military force, a bus owner said drivers had been ordered not to pick up monks. [...]"

China quietly advises Burma's leaders to practice restraint

The news is hopeful but China may not be willing to go further. However, the report is an important analysis on several levels and points up a shift in China's foreign policy. Note that China arranged backchannel discussions between Burma's government and the US Department of State.

Tuesday, September 25

Burma update: Regime imposes curfew; protests across the nation as far as Bangladesh border

Washington Post:
In what could be a foretaste of things to come, several hundred monks protesting in the northwestern city of Sittwe were attacked with tear gas and roughed up by security forces, the Reuters news agency reported. Others were reported arrested, sparking anger among their fellow monks in Rangoon. [...]

Foreign correspondents have been barred. But voluminous images of the protesting monks [...] have been dispatched out of the country during the past week by e-mail and cellphone, providing vivid television footage and newspaper photographs.

Channel 4 News:
... a stark warning came from the UN's human rights investigator for Burma, who said he feared a "very severe repression" and urged leading powers to intervene.
AFP:
Myanmar's junta slapped dusk-till-dawn curfews on the country's two largest cities late Tuesday after Buddhist monks defied warnings of a crackdown and led 100,000 people in another day of mass protests.

The edict, effective Wednesday in Yangon [Rangoon] and Mandalay, came after the ruling generals -- under pressure after eight straight days of peaceful protests led by the monks -- sent truckloads of armed soldiers and riot police into Yangon. [Edict good for 60 days].

"This order was issued because of the protests. Do not organise groups of more than five people," the announcement said, reiterating a long-time ban on assemblies that has been ignored as the number of demonstrators has swelled." [...]

Exiled groups reported that monks and their supporters had rallied right across the impoverished nation, as far as the western border with Bangladesh.[...]

UN chief Ban Ki-moon opened the annual General Assembly summit in New York on Tuesday with a call to the Myanmar regime to "exercise restraint" in the face of the escalating pro-democracy protests.
From another AFP report, the regime declared the entire city of Rangoon a military "restricted" area -- a term normally reserved for military or conflict zones.

President Bush comes out swinging at the United Nations

So glad to see him on his game again! Anything Bush says about human rights violations is met with a chorus of "What about Iraq?" And yet everything he said to the UN, in particular about their need to take greater responsibility on human rights and democracy, desperately needed to be said by an American president.

As expected, Bush announced more US sanctions on Burma. And he sharply criticized the UN Human Rights Council:
"... for failing to speak out against violations in the world, ranging from Cuba to Venezuela and North Korea and Iran, while turning its attention "excessively on Israel."

"The American people are disappointed by the failures of the Human Rights Council," Bush said.
Bush also had sound practical advice for helping Africa, urging Congress to back initiatives to purchase agricultural products from African nations instead of simply shipping in food from the US to address hunger.
"This would help break the cycle of famine in the developing world," Bush said.
All quotes are from Earth Times; here's the rest of their summary of Bush's speech.

Burma protests update

"Earlier on Tuesday, loudspeaker vehicles cruising the streets of Rangoon, Burma’s biggest city, announced that monks had been ordered to stay out of politics.

”People are not to follow, encourage or take part in these marches. Action will be taken against those who violate this order,” the broadcasts said, invoking a law allowing the use of military force to break up illegal protests.

Separately, authorities admitted via official media that protests have spread across the country.

The government’s New Light of Myanmar newspaper quoted Brig Gen Thura Myint Maung, the religion minister, as saying protests by monks had spread to cities like Mandalay, Hinthada and Monywa in seven of the country’s 14 states and divisions.

In Taunggok, a coastal city northwest of Rangoon, people said up to 40,000 monks and civilians took to the streets, Reuters reported."(1)
1) Financial Times

Bully for Dan!

The Media Bloggers Association has invited Dan Riehl to blog live from the upcoming Republican debate on PBS. Guaranteed that Dan won't have a cookie-cutter analysis! If anyone can make the yawner interesting, he can, although Pundita still won't watch. I'll read about at Riehl World View. I see Dan is already starting off the reporting with a bang:

It's Okay, Republicans -- There Will be White People There

Burma's military prepares for Wednesday's protests

The (UK) Guardian's Matthew Weaver has an hour-by-hour rundown of news on the protests today in Burma and a roundup of blogs (including one by Pundita) about the protests. Weaver also discusses reports that the Internet, including YouTube and blogs, is playing a vital role in getting out information about the protests.

The protests, which according to one report have swelled to 200,000 in Yangon (Rangoon), are taking on the same tone as the Burmese ones against British colonial rule. There is a report that monks leading the central protest today in Rangoon are calling for democracy; another news source quotes a monk as saying that the Burmese no longer accept military rule.

So it is no wonder that the news is increasingly ominous. Weaver reported at 12:05 (UK time):
The riot police have moved in, according to a flash on Sky News.

"Truck loads of riot police" have been deployed in Rangoon as crowds disperse, says the BBC World Service.

"About seven military trucks full of soldiers, who sang war songs, were seen passing through the Pyi road in Rangoon," according to eyewitness reports on Mizzima.

Reuters says there are eight military trucks but suggests they moved in after the protest had ended, possibly to prevent more protests tomorrow.
See Weaver's report for links to the stories he quotes.

There is also a report that soldiers have infiltrated the protests and stated fights with the police; this to create a pretext for a crackdown.

Of course it won't be funny if they end up in a Saudi prison

Before Pundita turns to the grim news of the day about Burma here's a gem from Dan Riehl (who links to the story via Jules Crittenden):
Back Off, Biatch!
Cool!

"Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat: Members of Khobar’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice were the victims of an attack by two Saudi females, Asharq Al-Awsat can reveal. According to the head of the commission in Khobar, two girls pepper sprayed members of the commission after they had tried to offer them advice."

Monday, September 24

Diamonds are a dictator's best friend; beware the white heads!

"... the present head of the [Burma] Government is Than Shwe, who began his career in psychological warfare operations against Burma’s rebellious ethnic minorities. Little is known about him."

"There was outrage last year when video footage of the wedding of one of [Than Shwe's] daughters, Thandar Shwe, was posted on the internet. It showed the bride handing out diamonds to guests, shouting: “They’re real!” -- in a country where many people do not have enough to eat."

"His image took a blow last year, when video of an extravagant wedding for his daughter raised questions about the lifestyles of military rulers in the impoverished country. The leaked video shows Thandar Shwe wearing a staggering collection of diamond encrusted jewelry and extravagant clothing and receiving wedding gifts worth $50 million at a fancy reception."

"Buddhist monks leading the [Burma] demonstrations called for discipline amid rumours that plain clothes policemen posing as monks known as “white heads” because they are easily identified by their recently shaved heads -- still unbrowned by the sun -- were planning to stir up violence among the marchers as a pretext for a bloody Government crackdown."

Quotes from Guardian and Times Online reports

Bush steps in amid threat of a crackdown on Burma protestors

From VOA:
President Bush is expected to announce new sanctions against Burma as officials there threaten legal action against Buddhist monks leading the country's largest anti-government protests in nearly 20 years.

White House officials say Mr. Bush will announce additional sanctions against key leaders of the Burmese regime and those who provide them with financial support during a speech at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.

John Batchelor on Loftus Report radio show tonight

Loftus will also interview Steve Emerson, author of American Jihad: The Terrorists Living among Us. The Loftus Report can be heard on Talkline Communications stations and live on their website. You can also listen live via Loftus Report website.

The Loftus Report airs:
Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays
from 11 PM PM - 12 midnight Eastern time (GMT 05:00)

Let Asian governments lead on dealing with Yangon

"We are marching for the people," one monk told the crowd, urging them not to chant political slogans and only to recite prayers of peace.

"Prominent democracy activists initially led the rallies but the generals arrested more than 200 people, according to human rights groups."
(1)

The NLD (Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy) has gotten into the act. One can understand their position; they won elections in 1990 but were not allowed to govern. Yet their participation in the protests is creating great fear in the regime and the ominous statement that the protestors are trying to take down the government.

Today's protest was huge, for Burma. AFP reports that more than 100,000 people marched in Yangon. But:
The enormous show of strength drew a swift threat from the military government to "take action" against the monks, even as world leaders urged the junta to show restraint in dealing with the protests. [...]

In the first official reaction to a week of escalating protests led by the monks, state media reported that the religion minister, Brigadier General Thura Myint Maung, had issued a warning to senior clergy.

"If the monks go against the rules and regulations in the authority of the Buddhist teachings, we will take action under the existing law," state television quoted the minister as saying.

The threat came as the international community urged restraint by the junta on the eve of the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York, where world leaders are expected to push the generals to adopt democratic reforms.

"We are consulting with allies and friends in the regions on ways to encourage dialogue between the regime and those seeking freedom," said US national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

Germany and France added their voices to the chorus, with the foreign ministry in Paris warning that the junta would be held accountable if there were any harsh crackdowns on the streets of major cities.

Closer to home, Malaysian lawmakers urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to use its influence to push Myanmar, itself a member of the regional bloc, to reform.
I support Europe and US governments speaking out. Yet those governments should allow the Asians to take the lead on pressuring Burma's regime, and take their cue from China's spin on the protests (see previous Pundita post).

AFP notes:
Analysts believe the junta has thus far held back because any violence against the monks in this devoutly Buddhist nation would spark a huge outcry.
Hello, Burma's religion minister is a brigadier general. If the West turns this into a fight for democracy, the junta won't hesitate to slaughter monks and civilians alike. Yes, the ultimate goal is political reform, but Yangon needs face-saving ways to approach talks with the protestors.

1) Quotes from the AFP report I linked to.

China's official press outlet ignores democracy aspect of Burma protests

Xinhua, via People's Daily, spins the protests in very limited terms, which is not really a bad thing. Beijing is clearly positioning the Burma protests to be in line with the kind of protests tolerated in China.

I note wryly that Xinhua highlights the issue of an insult. Pundita is not complaining. I don't care how Beijing wants to position the protests, as long as China brings pressure on Burma's regime to refrain from murdering and arresting the protestors.

Note the very ominous last sentence in the report below. This is just why I pleaded yesterday for Western democracy activists to stay out of the situation. The regime might not shoot the protestors in the streets, but they can quietly imprison them with no trial, and then just as quietly murder them. The situation is very, very critical. Here is the Xinhua report:
Since Sept. 18, hundreds of Buddhist monks have taken to the streets in Yangon, chanting prayers and holy scripture in protest against the authorities for its failed compliance with the monks' four demands mainly for an apology to them over the Pakokku incident. The four demands also include bringing down of commodity prices, release of political prisoners and sponsoring of a dialogue to settle the internal crisis.

Those peaceful demonstrations mostly in drizzling rain over the past week were joined by large crowds of onlookers. [Actually, the "onlookers" were participants in the monks' marches.]

The widespread Buddhist monks demonstrations in Yangon and other parts of the country were triggered by an incident in Magway division's Pakokku on Sept. 5 and 6, in which some monks were allegedly insulted during a demonstration in protest against recent massive fuel price hike. The demonstrators were broken up by firing into the air some warning shots.

That incident resulted in the torching of four local- authorities-owned cars and smashing of two houses of departmental officials by protesters.

On Sept. 18, hundreds of Buddhist monks also staged protest walks in Sittway in western Rakhine state which then turned violent and was dispersed by the authorities with the use of tear- gas and warning shots firing into the air. The authorities said that a departmental official and nine policemen were injured in the incident.

Similar protest walks by monks over the past week were also reported in such areas as Mandalay, Bago, Yenangyaung, Chauk, Kyaukpadaung, Sittway, Aunglan, Labutta. Saturday's demonstration by the monks in Mandalay involved some thousands, other reports said.

Triggered by the fuel price increase in August 15, a series of small-scale demonstrations had been held in Yangon since Aug. 17 including those staged by "88 Generation Students Group", led by Min Ko Naing, on Aug. 19 who along with 14 others were detained by the authorities on Aug. 21. They were charged with undermining stability and security of the state.

Myanmar official media charged external and internal anti- government groups as well as the National League for Democracy (NLD) with stirring up mass demonstrations to cause unrest and destabilize the nation.

Burma Cliffhanger; China intercedes on behalf of democracy

You read that headline right. Here's the latest on the protests from today's UK Guardian. (Thank God the Guardian headlined the report "Burma protests" instead of "saffron revolution.") If the Guardian analysis is correct, China's intervention represents their strongest foreign policy move yet in this era.
Tens of thousands of people joined around 10,000 Buddhist monks in Rangoon [Yangon] today in the biggest demonstration against the ruling military in Burma for 20 years.

The monks were also supported by two of the country's best-known celebrities, as speculation mounted that the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, will voice his support for the protests at the Labour party conference today.

So far, the ruling military has shown unexpected restraint in its handling of the protests, which have entered their sixth day. Experts claim the rulers are under pressure from China, Burma's key trading partner, not to use heavy-handed tactics. [...]

The monks, who have taken over a faltering protest movement from political activists, have managed to bring people into the streets in numbers not seen since a 1988 pro-democracy uprising snuffed out by the army at a cost of thousands of lives.

The protests began in August as a movement against economic hardship, after the government sharply raised fuel prices, increasing the overall cost of living.

But arrests and intimidation kept demonstrations small and scattered until the monks entered the fray.

The number of monks marching through Rangoon in the last six days has been matched or out-numbered by civilian supporters. [...]

The increasingly confrontational tone of the anti-government protesters has raised both expectations of possible political change and fear the military might forcefully stamp out the demonstrations, as it did in 1988.

China has been putting pressure on the Burmese regime behind the scenes to move toward democracy and speed up reform.

A Burmese expert, Josef Silverstein, said it would not be in China's interest to have civil unrest in Burma.

"China is very eager to have a peaceful Burma in order to complete roads and railroads, to develop mines and finish assimilating the country under its economic control," he told Associated Press. "As long as there is war or potential for war, that doesn't serve China's interest at all."

Larry Jagan, a Bangkok-based analyst, said: "The Chinese, the Indians, the (south-east Asian countries) are not going to be prepared to see civilians shot mercilessly by soldiers." [...]
My, my, how times have changed.

Sunday, September 23

Western democracy activists, stay the hell out of Burma protests!

The regime has killed Buddhist monks before if they dared protest. And the present situation is very dicey; it could easily blow up into another Tiananmen Square.

Pundita is extremely upset that some foreign democracy activists are labeling the Burma protests "the saffron revolution," after "color" revolutions in former Soviet republics.*

The color revolutions are infamous, the world over, for foreign government meddling! Nothing raises the alarm more for repressive governments than mention of the color revolutions.

I wish the Western democracy activists would zip their lips, because yapping about revolution of any kind in Burma can get many thousands of Burmese killed in the coming days.

I am so tired of the activists using the same playbook, no matter how different a situation! Don't they ever think? China supports Burma's government, and Beijing lives in terror of a color revolution breaking out in China.

The (London) Times knows all this, yet today they headlined a story as the 'saffron revolution.' Very irresponsible journalism, very.

The only edge the monks have is that the economic situation in Burma has become a disaster. Burma's Muslims have joined with the Buddhists to protest the conditions -- another reason not to label it a saffron revolution.

Today 10,000 monks marched between a protective corridor of civilians of about the same number.

Here is useful background from Malaysia's Star about how the protests started.

* Burma's Buddhist monks don't even wear saffron-colored robes.
3:40 PM UPDATE
"Pundita,
If you want to talk about acting responsibly, then I think you should call the country by its proper name, Myanmar. Insisting on calling it Burma puts you in league with the very Western activists you decry. The government changed the name to distance itself from its past ruled by colonial overlords, the British.
Chu in Washington, DC"

Dear Chu:
I do not decry the goal of the activists; I decry their cookie-cutter tactics, which ignore the vast differences in cultures and political situations.

I thought about the issue you mention before I published the post. Pundita stayed with "Burma" as a gesture of solidarity with the country's opposition groups. They maintain that the current regime, which changed the name, is not legitimate and that the name change does not reflect the will of the people.

Also, the etymology is not a Western or British invention. According to Wikipedia:
Within the Burmese language, Myanma is the written, literary name of the country, while Bama or Bamar (from which “Burma” derives) is the oral, colloquial name. In spoken Burmese, the distinction is less clean than the English transliteration suggests.
However, I take your point about former Western colonies wanting to break from reminders of the colonial past.

Saturday, September 22

Eeeek! Pundita suffering from blogitis

Just realized I put up five posts today, which tends to bury the post I wanted to keep at the top of the pile this weekend:

American Everyman, dealing with 9/11 and the aftermath.

Still a lot of nervous energy. I guess I need a decompression chamber, after being submerged so many weeks in the Battle of Capitol Hill over Iraq. I'll settle down next week.

Anyhow, remember to tune in John Batchelor on C-SPAN's Q&A tomorrow at 8:00 PM eastern time.

Best regards to all,
Pundita

PS: If you've ever wondered why I value ZenPundit's opinion, check out his explanation of what he's about. Ignore the pix he published of himself. Actually, he looks like Tom Sawyer.

Well, I see this is post #6. Somebody get the hook --

Someone give Joe Biden a subscripton to Iraq Slogger

Senator Biden's idea for a partition of Iraq is behind the data curve. The pattern today is that Iraqis who move are often fleeing lack of critical services (e.g. electricity, security protection.) Ethnic/sectarian differences are not the deciding factor in the relocations. Sunnis are moving into Shia neighborhoods and vice versa.

I don't have the link to the report that supports this observation, which I came across this week or last at Iraq Slogger; the link got lost in the flurry of links I collected during the past week on the situation in Iraq.

However, given the length of time that Iraqi Sunni and Shia lived in relative peace with each other prior to and during Saddam Hussein's regime, the report makes sense.

The report does not speak to ethnic cleansing, which has been carried out in many places in Iraq, and particularly during 2006. It does indicate that given enough freedom to decide, many Iraqis think more in terms of economic class than along ethno-sectarian lines. In other words, they choose to live in the best neighborhood they can afford.

Speaking of Slogger, I have advised several times that the website is an invaluable tool for keeping up with fast-changing events in Iraq. Granted, plowing every day through the mountain of data at Slogger is a job. But Slogger makes the chore as easy as possible by providing well-written daily comprehensive summaries of news, and with links to the source reports, if they don't come from Slogger staff.

I also realize that not everyone can afford a subscription to Slogger, even though it costs nothing to peek at their headlines and click on the feeds. Yet one does expect congressionals who are trying to influence the Iraq government to keep up with the times. There is no reason why US congressionals can't subsribe to Iraq Slogger, and have their aides read Slogger's daily summaries. Joe Biden, take note. Often, congressionals are reacting to outdated or incomplete data.

How to lose a presidential election

America's hard Left has leaped into the leadership vacuum in the Democrat party. (H/T Front Page Magazine.) Note the tactic of dressing as "middle class" as possible. Pundita is trying to imagine American foreign/defense policy under this bunch of Democrats, who are fast becoming Osama bin Laden's best friend.

Best and funniest take on the rout of anti-war Democrats in Congress

This one by Dan Riehl deserves a prize for humor: Withdraw from DC

How to assassinate on the cheap

First you find an idiot. Next offer him more money than he can imagine. Then make sure he's such an obvious suspect that he'll be arrested before he can collect the payment.

This takes the cake

Let us be clear: Mattel was not "forced" to kowtow. But of particular interest is that the Financial Times report emphasizes Mattel's humiliation. So can we assume that British manufacturers outsourcing in China would never kowtow?
Mattel was forced to deliver a humiliating public apology to "the Chinese people" on Friday over the damaging succession of product recalls of China-made toys that the US toymaker has announced in recent months.
Read more, if you can stand it.

Friday, September 21

American Everyman, dealing with 9/11 and the aftermath

Pundita has obtained a copy of the transcript of the Brian Lamb interview with John Batchelor, which airs on C-SPAN's Q&A this Sunday, September 23 at 8:00 PM eastern time.

I had to stop several times while reading because the discussion hit me emotionally on many levels. John's discussion conveyed the post-9/11 era in America and the incredible tension under which he worked during the most difficult period for America since Pearl Harbor. He was The Broadcaster Who Knew it was Osama bin Laden Behind the Attacks, so WABC hurled him into a nightly show, where for months he was on the air seven nights a week.

John spoke of the adrenalin mixing with exhaustion, and of that feeling many Americans experienced while trying to take in all the news about the attack and subsequent wars: the feeling that your synapses were firing to the point where you thought your brain was going to melt.

John hit all the important bases and did so with highly evocative anecdotes. He conveyed the entire post-partisan era in America with these few words:
You talk to a man who is born in London and becomes a premier journalist for the London "Times" and then moves to Washington, and is at the Carnegie Institute. And then he's on a sat phone, just coming out of the Khyber Pass, and he's almost run down by a dung cart early in the morning in Peshawar. What ideology is that?(1)
Even though the interview was supposed to be all about John Batchelor, he had an uncanny way of stepping away from himself and turning the audience's attention to the unfolding drama in America and the world after 9/11.

I am glad it was Brian Lamb who interviewed John because Brian is a friend of John's and a fan of his show. Most importantly, as one of the founders of C-SPAN, Brian is also a major player, in his own right, in the new media revolution that rose from the ashes of the Pentagon and Twin Towers.

Brian really drew John out. The picture that emerged was, for me, American Everyman -- the Smart Everyman who, as John and Brian note, is now present in large numbers in America. The mainstream media keeps overlooking the smart part. There is indeed a tremendous hunger in America for John's broadcast style. This is what the suits in big broadcasting need to grasp, and what they can learn from the Lamb interview.

Brian Lamb wants John Batchelor back on the air; you will too, once you take in the interview.

1) Courtesy of C-SPAN Q&A. All copyright notices apply.

Tribute to John McCain

On Wednesday Pundita avoided news sources until I knew the vote must have been cast. I wanted to learn from Dan Riehl how it went because I knew he would announce it right. I clicked to his blog and there it was:
Webb Amendment Fails
Awww ...

The Senate just voted 56 to 44 on Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) amendment “requiring that active-duty troops and units have at least equal time at home as the length of their previous tour overseas.” The bill failed to garner the 60 votes needed to move forward.
When I saw the "Awww" I burst into laughter -- my way to avoid shedding tears of relief.

It was over, for a time. The rest of the amendments to halt the war would stall. After months of unremitting tension and suspense, John McCain's side had won a major battle. There would be more congressional battles over the US presence in Iraq but for a few months I could take deep breaths again.

Readers who have been with this blog for years will be surprised to learn that Pundita cried, "It's Vietnam all over again!" two months before Ted Kennedy said the same thing in public in April 2004.

I knew there were key differences between the two conflicts but there was the same mind-bending disconnect between what you could see of the war and what the US military was saying about it.

Unless you were there, watching the Vietnam War unfold before your eyes, you can't imagine what it felt like, even if you've read books on the subject and seen the same news footage that Americans saw at the time. The media had become a powerful force in the war, mercilessly revealing the vast gulf between what reason could accept and what it was asked to accept about the progress of the war. By early 2004 that aspect of the Vietnam War was repeating itself in Iraq to anyone who remembered Vietnam.

I lost it after the Abu Ghraib prison tortures hit the news. I clambered out of numbing shock by forcing myself to think in the manner of someone on a long, forced march. I wouldn't be able to keep following the war, much less support it, unless I substituted hope with resolve.

I also realized that from Vietnam forward, all wars conducted by free nations would have be fought with the media playing a huge role in battles. Yet unlike Vietnam, the United States could not walk away from Iraq without suffering severe consequences. So we had no choice but learn to fight under a microscope that was often very distorted.

That was the frame of mind in which I started the Pundita blog. Yet beneath the resolve boiled the same feelings that plunged me into despair about Abu Ghraib. I'll tell you how I've kept on keel since then: every day, when I take in all the bad news about Iraq, I tell myself, "There is worse ahead, so wait until that news before you break down."

But things eventually got so bad in Iraq that my resolve might have failed me. Then John McCain forcefully confronted Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush. McCain refused to back down in the face of overwhelming criticism, and plowed ahead with a resolve that shamed my effort. He fought for a new war strategy with the certainty that the only alternative was crushing defeat.

I thought, 'The least I can do is support his plan with all my heart.'

Then came the worst disagreements among Americans about Iraq, which revealed another mind-bending situation. Several in the military were against deploying more troops. They were against mounting a counterinsurgency. They had decided that America must accept a limited victory in Iraq, as if the triumph of chaos and bloodshed in Iraq had nothing to do with the United States. Many congressionals from both sides of the political aisle, and many in the media and academia lined up behind this view.

Even more eerie, many who considered McCain's plan wanted assurance that it would lead to clear victory for the US. It was as if they demanded to know the outcome of a journey before embarking.

There are no guarantees in life, only the fact that you must do everything within your power to resist defeat. How terribly symmetrical that a man who survived as a prisoner of war in Vietnam is teaching fellow Americans this lesson about the effort in Iraq.

Thursday, September 20

Gordon Brown speaks truth to evil

Writing in today's Independent, Britain's Prime Minister said -- not through a diplomatic intermediary, mind you, but in a direct address -- that he would not attend the EU-Africa summit if Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe attends. Mr Brown carefully explained his decision but this came after his blunt assessment of Mugabe's savagery and its consequences. He wrote, in part:
President Mugabe is the only African leader to face an EU travel ban. There is a reason for this – the abuse of his own people. There is no freedom in Zimbabwe: no freedom of association; no freedom of the press. And there is widespread torture and mass intimidation of the political opposition.

President Mugabe's attendance would mean lifting the EU visa ban that we have collectively imposed. I believe that President Mugabe's presence would undermine the summit, diverting attention from the important issues that need to be resolved. In those circumstances, my attendance would not be appropriate
.
Western critics dismiss Brown's decision as hypocritical, counterproductive or quixotic. And Zambia has already threatened to pull out of the summit if Mugabe does not attend, a threat that could be picked up by other African nations.

But speaking truth to evil is catching -- isn't it? I recall that President Sarkozy recently accused France's diplomatic corps of "cowardice," then stepped up to the plate himself to soundly denounce Iran's government.

Yes yes, Pundita knows diplomacy can't work if everyone is calling everyone else evil, but there is a world outside diplomacy -- a world of tyranny, a world of state-created famine and disease. Britain is the second largest aid donor to Zimbabwe so if any national leader has a right to call out Mugabe, it's Gordon Brown. Mr Brown acted responsibly by refusing to lend credence to a summit that would be a sham if Mugabe attended.

Mexico's former president Vicente Fox observed that President Bush is the "cockiest" person he ever met. Given Mr Fox's cowardice in the face of his political party and Mexico's wealthiest, would that an iota of Bush's cockiness had rubbed off!

At some point, diplomacy became its own goal: say anything, do anything, to keep the lid on things so business can proceed as usual. That approach reaps horrific results in a highly networked world, where tyranny is very catching.

Let the diplomats continue their work, but under the close direction of leaders who speak with courage and clarity about evil. Portugal's Prime Minister Socrates, take note.

Mexico: ominous signals

In today's Pakistan Daily Times, Jorge G. Castañeda, former Foreign Minister of Mexico (2000-2003), currently a Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American Studies at New York University, spells out the bad news about Mexico's latest reforms. Take special note of Castañeda's observations about several Latin American central banks.
Mexico's paradox of reform

Sometimes no reform is better than the wrong type of reform. That seems to be the case in Mexico, which recently passed new tax and electoral laws — but not the ones the country needs.

While tax reform was high on President Felipe Calderón’s agenda during last year’s presidential campaign, electoral reform was not. Instead, it has been imposed upon him by a strange and extreme version of political horse-trading.

Opposition legislators wanted electoral reform, but no new taxes; the administration wanted more revenues, but no new election laws. Both sides got part of what they wanted, and Mexico got the short end of the stick.

An alternative minimum tax was established, along with a slight increase in gasoline taxes, but both were so watered down that they barely add up to anything. According to the government’s own figures, they equal just 1% of GDP — a pathetic increase in an economy with one of Latin America’s lowest tax takes.

Meanwhile, the three main parties — the National Action Party (PAN), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) — united in order to keep newcomers out of the electoral arena. They evicted the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) directors, who organised last year’s presidential vote; strengthened the ban on independent candidates; made it practically impossible to create new parties; and established a series of arbitrary, quasi-Stalinist restrictions on the content of campaign advertising, speeches, and exchanges among candidates. All of these changes were rammed through the Congress as constitutional amendments, exempting them from appeals to the courts.

The one positive feature of the reforms — a scheme aimed at ensuring equal radio and television airtime for parties during electoral campaigns — was tainted by serious legislative omissions. Given the absence of any regulation regarding fairness in news coverage of campaigns, the blatant corruption of many news organisations, and the absence of a current affairs programme on national, prime-time television, banning the purchase of airtime merely erects an insurmountable barrier to potential new political entrants.

Against this backdrop, the ejection of the IFE directors stands out all the more glaringly. While the IFE undoubtedly committed several serious public-relations mistakes during last year’s election, it remains one of Mexico’s most respected institutions, with credibility ratings that are regularly double or triple those of Congress and the three political parties. The IFE shepherded Mexico through several crises in 2006, when the PRD’s presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, refused to accept his razor-thin margin of defeat and took his battle to the streets.

Now, the same people who certified that last year’s votes were free and fair, and that Calderón had indeed won, are being fired for exactly that reason. Their removal, as everyone in Mexico acknowledges, is a sop to the PRI and the PRD in exchange for Calderón’s miserly tax reform. Bismarck was right when he said one should never look too closely at how laws and sausages are made.

Unfortunately, the attack on the IFE’s autonomy is not an isolated event in Latin America. Although independent central banks have been crucial in helping the region achieve macroeconomic stability over the past two decades, they, like electoral authorities, are being subjected to increasing pressure.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has openly proposed abolishing the central bank’s independence, submitting a constitutional reform that would allow him to use the country’s international reserves as he sees fit. Likewise, electoral commissions there and in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and, according to some accounts, in Argentina are being packed with political loyalists.

Mexico now seems poised to join this dubious club. It shouldn’t, and if anyone should know that, it is Calderón. It is understandable that he wishes to distinguish himself from his predecessor, Vicente Fox, who was unable to get meaningful reforms through Congress. But it is not reasonable to do so by proposing a cure that is worse than the disease.

Wednesday, September 19

John Batchelor on C-SPAN this Sunday

Brian Lamb, one of the C-SPAN founders and its CEO, talks with John Batchelor on C-SPAN's Q&A this Sunday, September 23 at 8:00 PM eastern time.

The hour-long interview will interest not only fans of the John Batchelor Show -- of which Brian Lamb is one -- but also news media watchers, journalism junkies, and radio industry insiders as well as the political/policy classes that tuned into the show in New York and Washington.

Brian will ask why John's hit show was discontinued. The show dominated in all demographics for its five year run in New York and three year syndicated run in Washington, Boston and other cities.

They'll also discuss talk radio and how the John Batchelor Show differed greatly from other news talk shows. John will give the Q&A audience an inside look at how he prepared for the daily show, and discuss how his guests were generous of their time, no matter when or where they were reporting from around the globe.

The audience for John Batchelor's show was very large and sophisticated, and the show's audience was the most demanding and best informed when it comes to news. So it's no wonder that Q&A decided to feature an interview with Batchelor.

If you can't get away from your computer on Sunday night you can watch the interview on C-SPAN's website and listen anytime to the podcast at Q&A or read the transcript when its available.

For readers who have not heard the John Batchelor Show, here is a February 2006 profile of John from The New York Times. Caveat: the piece does not say much about the revolutionary aspects of the news show, but they will surely be highlighted during Brian Lamb's C-SPAN interview.

At the intersection of development and war

... there is no true banking system in place yet, so it's a cash-based economy, which is a bit challenging for most people; there's no such thing as normal loans.

Pundita is still chewing over aspects of the Crocker-Petraeus testimony that she found striking (see post on war trigonometry).

Microfinancing is not new, micro-development projects are not new, and neither are USAID projects to help a country develop or strengthen democratic government processes. Yet there is something about the approach that David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker discussed at last week's congressional hearings that strikes me as a new development approach for the US government.

The State Department has essentially bypassed Iraq's central government to set up micro-development projects that emphasize democracy building. Of course State has the Iraq central government's nominal blessing for the PRTs (provincial reconstruction teams). But America's position in Iraq during a war situation gives the PRTs a great degree of autonomy from Iraq central government oversight.

More significantly, the State-led approach, which involves several US agencies, emphasizes projects that aim to institute genuine grass roots democracy. This is a departure from the kind of democracy 'stage show' that first-world governments tend to establish in developing nations as a matter of convenience.

It's almost as if, freed from the constraints of going through a central government, the US is able to focus on the genuine article of democracy. Yet Iraq may present a unique situation because development projects launched by a foreign government or international development banks must go through the central government in the recipient country. America's authority in Iraq can't be replicated in other countries.

And yet -- I would love to see State's approach in Iraq morph into America's very own Democracy Development Bank. Of course, such a bank would still have to run projects through a country's central government. But to mount development projects that are better funded than USAID and without going through the drill at the IMF and World Bank, EBRD, etc. -- that would be a huge move in the right direction for US development policy.

Okay, Pundita will stop wool gathering. Now to some data:
The State Department is leading an effort to issue a draft version of a counterinsurgency guide in the next four to six weeks to help Washington-based government agencies and departments defeat future subversive movements. A final doctrine is expected next year. The effort follows last year's Army and Marine Corps manual on the same subject.

The new guide -- "Counterinsurgency for U.S. Government Policymakers: A Work in Progress" -- is an educational, strategic-level primer for senior policymakers, according to a State Department official in the bureau of political-military affairs. [...]

"The United States and its allies are fighting two counterinsurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, prompting the establishment of new doctrines based on lessons gained from these battles…"(1)
Now back to that war trigonometry. Here are some observations from John A. Nagl, in the preface to his Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife: Counterinsurgency lessons from Malaya and Vietnam. I'm quoting from the paperback edition, which includes Nagl's discussion of his experiences in Iraq. Thanks to ZenPundit for recommending that I read Nagl:
The United States is working diligently in Iraq, as it did in Vietnam, to improve the lives of the people. Dollars are bullets in this fight; the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP), which provides field commanders funds to perform essential projects, wins hearts and minds twice over—once by repairing infrastructure, and again by employing local citizens who are otherwise ready recruits for the insurgents. CERP is helping with the painstaking process of building relationships with the Iraqi people, resulting in some intelligence from those we help—but not enough, not yet."

"Those who contend that “American forces have lost the support of the Iraqi population and probably cannot regain it” are incorrect; in fact, the majority of the Iraqi population prefers the American vision of a democratic and free Iraq to the Salafist version of Iraq as Islamic theocracy. The key challenge is empowering the intimidated majority to enable Iraqi and American security forces to eliminate the criminal insurgents." [...]

[...] Iraq is but one front in a broader war against Salafist extremists dedicated to eliminating Western influence from the Islamic world; winning the struggle may take decades. There is a growing realization that the most likely conflicts of the next fifty years will be irregular warfare in an “Arc of Instability” that encompasses much of the greater Middle East and parts of Africa and Central and South Asia. To cope more effectively with the messy reality that in the twenty-first century many of our enemies will be insurgents, America’s armed forces must continue to change. [...]

However, the fight to create a secure, democratic Iraq that does not provide a safe haven for terror is not primarily a military task. Counterinsurgency requires the integration of all elements of national power—diplomacy, information operations, intelligence, financial, and military—to achieve the predominantly political objectives of establishing a stable national government that can secure itself against internal and external threats.
Now back to State's effort. From John Lubin's article for ON Point, September 2007:
There are two “Surges“ being implemented in Iraq today. While the military surge commanded by Gen David Petraeus is responsible for regaining control of the country from the various insurgent and religious militias, the economic surge led by 25 Provisional Reconstruction Teams are only a half-step behind the Marines and soldiers as they provide the after-surge political and economic support that is designed to keep the cities and provinces clear. The PRTs are an important tool in achieving our counterinsurgency strategy by bolstering moderates, promoting reconciliation, fostering economic development and building provincial capacity
A State Department brainchild, there are 15 PRT’s in every province of Iraq, along with 10 ePRT’s (embedded ) in selected important cities such as Ramadi and Fallujah. The PRT mission is a simple one: they are helping rebuild the Iraqi city and provincial governmental infrastructure. The teams assist the provincial and city governments with developing a sustained capability to govern, they promote increased police and judicial presence, and most important, they supply an economic development mechanism as well as building the necessary infrastructure to meet the basic needs of the population.

Since the teams are involved in everything from sheep markets to electrification to installing new sewer and water lines, the manpower needs are diverse; each team’s personnel is drawn from the State Department, USAID, Coalition military personnel, Department of Justice and Agriculture as well as the Gulf Region Division of the Army Corps of Engineers.

In the last week, ON POINT talked with four of the team leaders about the economic, security, and political situations in their areas, and today presents two of them:

Diyala Province: John Jones:

We're a Provincial Reconstruction Team. The team was stood up in April of 2006. We work closely with the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry, and they provide our security. We're a group of approximately 45 or 46, and we're both civilians and 10 military -- USAID, Department of Justice and Department of Defense personnel. Our job is to work directly with the provincial government -- the governor and the elected provincial government, which is the legislature here. We are trying to provide some guidance and some advice to them on how to stand up a democratic form of government. [...]

Right now we're talking to the central government about playing a larger role in just making sure that the promises that come from the various ministries are, in fact, enforced at the province level. We're here in Baghdad today with the governor of Diyala and three other governors from the northern provinces to sit down with the deputy prime minister and eight of his ministers and to talk about the problems that exist in the northern provinces.

And I think the key thing for everyone here today was that there is sort of a disconnect. The central government understands that it's going to make promises and so forth. The guys at the provincial level are waiting for action. And so we see our role here as facilitating the contact, making sure that when the deputy prime minister says he's going to give a certain amount of money to the province to rebuild destroyed houses, that there is a method, that there is a way that the province governor and the provincial council can get access to that money. It's just that basic.

So we see us as being in a position to try to facilitate the actions or the statements of the central government and put them into action at the provincial level.

... you sort of have to look at the history here, and that is that the folks out in the provinces for 35 years have been accustomed to a centrally directed economy. They were directed in all the facets of governance. And so now they're being asked to step up and make decisions, and they're not accustomed to doing that, unfortunately. Those decisions are normally going to be centered around tribe and district and so forth.

And so we've got to try to break that barrier down, and I'm not sure whether the central government fully appreciates that. I think they're trying to give a picture of an organization that is going to be able to run the entire country, and I think they've skipped that step of having to deal with the sectarian groups and tribes.

Kirkuk: Howard Keegan:

We've been making great advances in several different areas. The rule of law system here is just moving forward at a tremendous clip. We're opening up a new major crimes courthouse within next week. We've opened up two courthouses recently, with one more to handles more of the general-type crimes.

We've taken the lead on training the leadership here as well as jail -- our prison guards, jail guards, that sort of thing so that we can hopefully introduce human rights into the corrections system.

On the economic side, it's a bit more of a challenge in Kirkuk. The security situation here has actually gotten a bit worse within the past few months, and so the commercial trade activity within the province has probably dropped off by about 50 percent. The system -- there is no true banking system in place yet, so it's a cash-based economy, which is a bit challenging for most people; there's no such thing as normal loans. But there are a couple of banks that there are agreements with, so at least they're able to do business on an international basis -- funds transfers, that sort of transaction.

We are also heavily involved in microfinance operations.

Economically, we need to look larger-scale than just at the provincial Level. There's lots of opportunities that want to come. Unfortunately, the security situation prohibits a lot of it. [...]

Kirkuk itself was a province that was -- it was decimated by Saddam Hussein and his attempts to basically eliminate the Kurdish population. He destroyed hundreds of villages, and most of the infrastructure within the city is crumbling or was never installed. We've got a city that's got over a million people, and there is no real sewage system. And the water system is vastly overloaded, along with the electrical grid. It's in pretty bad shape, so we've got quite a bit of work to do on that. [...]

These are the issues facing Iraqi reconstruction today. A lack of electricity, no banks, a cash economy, a fluctuating security situation, sectarian strife, and a central government that is either inept or disinterested. On the ground level, the PRT’s are making progress as they solve one administrative and economic problem after another. But if the problems the United States has taken on in Iraq are indeed generational, then Washington needs to clarify and quantify a generational solution.
1) Via Small Wars Journal

Tuesday, September 18

John Batchelor on radio tonight

Tonight John Batchelor will guest on the Loftus Report radio show. From the
Loftus Report website:
Call +1.212.769.1925 from anywhere in the world to talk with John [Loftus] on the air any Mon, Tues or Wed night between 11pm and midnight, EST.

To hear the Loftus Report from anywhere in the world, go to Talkline Communications and click on the “listen live” button during showtimes. This growing network of AM Radio stations provides direct coverage to New York City, Northern New Jersey, Western Connecticut, as well Miami, Pompano Beach, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
You can also listen via the Loftus Report website.

21st Century foreign policy trade-offs, and the snowballing Muslim backlash against terrorism

In the early 1990’s, a consortium of American oil companies (led by Unocal) had hired Enron to determine the profitability of building an oil and gas pipeline across Afghanistan so that America could have access to the Caspian Sea Basin, holding 1/8th of the worlds energy supplies.

There is no doubt that these secret negotiations existed, and that they were known to Al Qaida.[...]

The worst condemnation ever written of the financial corruption in the Clinton administration can be found in the last chapters of Robert Baer's recent book, See No Evil, where he blames the pipeline cover-up for substantially contributing to 9/11.

Baer's book makes a strong case [...] The explanation is raw and blunt. No partisan politics, just greed. A crooked handful of high level officials in the Clinton and Bush administration were clearly obsessed with the Caspian pipeline plan
.
-- John Loftus, 2002
August 18, 2007
"Pundita:
[Re Pundita post al Qaeda the dope dealer and say whatever happened to Julie Sirrs?]

Go to my website and read my writings on Enron and 9/11. Also, al Qaeda is just a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, stronger and longer than you think.
John Loftus"

Dear John:
I considered your 2002 Enron writings so important that I wanted to do a full-length essay on them after receiving your note, then events overtook me. I hope the following brief comments will at least convey why I consider the writings important.

Your explanations about the Enron-Unocal deal and related cover-ups throw much light on many things, including why Julie Sirrs was railroaded.

Your reports are a must-read for those crafting US foreign policy in the post-9/11 era. The bottom line is that American-led companies must negotiate energy deals with foreign governments and that several such governments are repressive and very corrupt.

Both situations have been in play for a long time, but the Enron-Unocal debacle instructs us that during this era we must factor in post-9/11 defense concerns before deciding that a particular energy deal is in America's best interest.

There are no easy decisions, only the knowledge that consequences can be quick and severe for the United States, if Washington does not closely monitor energy deals made with underdeveloped nations.

And not only energy deals present a conundrum. My fear is that history is repeating itself, only this time with heroin instead of oil and Pakistan's government as the locus instead of the Taliban in Afghanistan -- and with military strategy as the main motivation instead of greed.

My impression is that US intelligence agencies are being held back somewhat from investigating the worst about Pakistan. I think this is partly because the Bush administration and the State Department consider Pakistan to be an indispensable ally in the war on terror. If I'm correct, the approach studiously ignores much about the ISI-Pak military connection with the dope trade. If it's true that the US is again backing Benazir Bhutto I think this is whistling in the dark no matter how much Bhutto frowns on the ISI-al Qaeda connection. The reality is that Pakistan is a narco-state.

There are other strong forces working against an objective assessment of Pakistan's dependence on the dope trade. One is the private international banking sector, which wants to increase business in Pakistan; another is that the World Bank and other development banks are heavily invested in Pakistan.

Here again the situation is very complex, very much a 21st century problem. One way to fight the dope trade is to go after the underground banking system, which is deeply entrenched and wide-scale in Pakistan. International banks, and with the encouragement of the World Bank, are working with Pakistan's government to modernize Pakistan's banking sector and woo Pakistanis away from their heavy reliance on underground banking.

Of course this approach takes time, which works to the advantage of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and those in Pakistan's government who profit from the dope trade. But if you go after underground banks head-on, in the attempt to strike a blow against the dope trade, this will bring forth great resistance from Pakistanis who depend on such banks for legitimate reasons.

Again, there's no easy decision; every move the US can make against the dope trade in that part of the world is a trade-off. This point is starkly illustrated in the conflict between the goals of NATO forces and the DEA in Afghanistan. On the one hand, the State Department and the DEA are trying to eradicate poppy growing in Afghanistan. On the other hand, NATO forces are trying to chase down the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

The latter goal means that NATO forces must make as many friends as possible among the Afghan locals, and at the least not rile the locals into siding with the bad guys. So they ran smack dab into the fact that many Afghan farmers see the poppy eradication program as not only destroying their livelihood but also setting them up for starvation.

At one point things got so hairy between the State/DEA program and NATO's objective that NATO took out an ad on Afghan airwaves -- in which they assured the population that they were not interested in doing poppy eradication or ratting out any poppy farmers.

The Afghan government, which supports the DEA program, quickly yanked the ad. But the situation illustrates another 21st Century trade-off -- a trade-off that's just as complex as the one with oil and gas deals.

Provided we continue to reference the kind of situation you describe in your Enron reports, at least the trade-offs in this era will stay in the public awareness -- and, one hopes, in the awareness of foreign policy analysts who listen closely to defense and business lobbies.

With regard to your comment about al Qaeda lasting longer and stronger than I assume, I stand by my prediction that al Qaeda will fall from the inside. In the areas where Qaeda is deeply involved in criminal enterprises it will last longer simply because the organization is making big profits off crime, and notably the dope trade. But I think that as an organization preaching the creation of a global caliphate through terrorism, al Qaeda's shelf life is very limited.

Did you catch Christiane Amanpour's documentary, God's Warriors -- the one on Islam? You had to turn off the sound to get the full impact. It was just two hours of death and destruction, violent image upon violent image -- Muslim-on-Muslim violence, Muslims killing innocent civilians.

And there was the Muslim Brotherhood in one segment, trying their best to convince Amanpour that they were a moderate, peace-loving bunch.

The violent images connected with Islam, which are now broadcast daily throughout the Muslim world by Arab TV stations, are taking their toll on Muslims. My notes are languishing on another computer and I can't remember the name of the Muslim sect -- but its peaceful message is getting converts in droves among Palestinians who are sick of the pitched battles between Fatah and Hamas. They've had it with all the bloodshed.

The simple truth is that al Qaeda's violence is coming on top of much other Muslim violence directed at civilians. And Qaeda's rationale for all the bloodshed has managed to portray Islam as a death cult and Allah as a bloodthirsty god demanding human sacrifice, which is what the suicide bombers are.

In short, for those fighting the Islamists, al Qaeda is the gift that keeps on giving.

Surely none of this is lost on the Muslim Brotherhood. Pundita thinks the time is fast approaching when they would like nothing better than to yank al Qaeda.

But the tough nut to crack is Qaeda's profits from the dope trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So we're right back to the Vietnam War, where going after the dope trade would have been the best and perhaps only way for the US to stop Ho Chi Minh's forces. It would be far more difficult today, given the sophistication of electronic banking and the trade-offs I mentioned earlier. But it would cost relatively little for the US to emphasize al Qaeda's involvement in dope. That would be a worthwhile counterpropaganda effort, I think.

For more on the growing Muslim backlash against violence and al Qaeda, see Sinking in the Polls by Karen P. Hughes in Monday's Washington Post. Here's an excerpt:
People in America and many other Western nations have expressed strong disapproval of bin Laden and al-Qaeda since the Sept. 11 attacks. What's new is the dramatic decline in his standing in majority-Muslim countries. Polls in the two nations that have suffered some of the worst of al-Qaeda's violence -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- show that more than 90 percent of those populations have unfavorable views of al-Qaeda and of bin Laden himself. [...]

Support for terrorist tactics has fallen in seven of the eight predominantly Muslim countries polled as part of the Pew Global Attitudes Project since 2002; in most cases, those declines have been dramatic. Five years ago in Lebanon, 74 percent of the population thought suicide bombing could sometimes be justified. Today it's 34 percent -- still too high, but a stark reversal. Similar declines in support have occurred in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia and Jordan.

Perhaps most significant, Muslim populations are increasingly rejecting bin Laden's attempts to pervert their faith. WorldPublicOpinion.org found in April that large majorities in Egypt (88 percent), Indonesia (65 percent) and Morocco (66 percent) agree:

"Groups that use violence against civilians, such as Al Qaida, are violating the principles of Islam. Islam opposes the use of such violence."

These shifts in attitude are beginning to show up in actions. Sunni leaders in Iraq's Anbar province are working with coalition forces against al-Qaeda because, as one local leader said to journalists, all the terrorists bring is chaos -- "killing people, stealing goats, everything, you name it." After recent terrorist attacks in Algeria, protesters shouted: "Terrorists are not Muslims" and "no to terrorism; don't touch my Algeria."

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