Backtalk, August 12, 2006

Cuba: Same as the Old Boss

I have to disagree with the picture you paint of Cuba today. Having visited the country in April this year, I have a very different impression to the one you give. Yes, the people are poor, but there was no obesity, while at the same time I can’t say I saw many thin people. Having spoken to several Cubans almost every one of them said that although there are many problems in the country health care and education were free and of a high standard. The health care is very highly thought of outside the borders of Cuba. While Castro may be a dictator and his hangers-on are jockeying for position when he goes, surely the U.S.’ draconian sanctions have much to do with the state of the country today.

~ Branka Josilo-Perry

Alan Bock replies:

Of course the U.S. sanctions, which I have opposed forever, have something to do with economic conditions in Cuba today, but communist economic policies are a lot more responsible. Sanctions almost always harm the people being oppressed by a disfavored regime more than the regime itself, and give the oppressors the opportunity to blame the people’s misery on the nasty Yanquis (or the Great Satan), a trick at which Castro was a master. The persistence of Castroism was a tribute to the ineffectiveness of sanctions at actually punishing the power structure of another country (often enough they help to prop it up), but U.S. politicians of both parties never seem to learn because imposing sanctions is seen as a relatively cost-free way to express disapproval and look tough without actually doing anything.

Sore Loserman Rides Again (II)

"If ever there was a referendum on the war, then this was it: but Loserman who famously ascribed the verdict of the voters in 2000 to ‘the rule of the mobcan’t accept the judgment of his own party."

Not to defend Joe Lieberman, but I read the article linked to in Justin Raimondo’s blog.

From what I read, the use of the phrase “rule of the mob” was not to characterize the verdict of voters, as Raimondo wrote, but the behavior of the GOP crowd flown down to Dade County by Washington Republicans (DeLay? Hastert?) to intimidate the Dade County Election Board, which was in the process of recounting disqualified ballots by assessing hanging chads.

As I watched the Board at work on television that year, I recall the hallway outside their work office packed with noisy, unruly adults who should have been arrested or at least evicted from the building, since they had no official business there while the Board was counting ballots. The policeman in the hallway was hard pressed to keep them out of the Board’s work area, and their conduct fairly could have been called “disorderly.”

Lieberman may or may not have been right about the effect that this bunch of unruly lobbyists, staffers, and lawyers may have had on the Board’s recount, but Lieberman’s use of the word “mob” to describe them was accurate, in my opinion.

~ Jon Koppenhoefer

The New Munich

Don’t forget that there can be no cease-fire without the approval of the UN, and nothing can happen in the Security Council without the acquiescence of the five permanent members. The French resolution is probably the best text that the U.S. would agree to. The object is to stop the killing, not to win an academic argument.

As for the UN force, the Israelis are certainly not going to get what they want, i.e., a force which does their dirty work for them. Only the U.S. would do that, and it is tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, indeed, burned its fingers very badly the last time it intervened in Lebanon. So there will be first a cease-fire and the return of the civilian population to south Lebanon, which means in practice the return of Hezbollah. Then, the Israelis will have to withdraw, and they can get no long-term settlement without negotiating with Hamas and Hezbollah. Hezbollah won’t be allowed to fire rockets into Israel, but so what? They’ve already forced the Israelis to back down and that’s a huge victory. Judging from the howling and shrieking going up from National Review, the Lobby has grasped that Israel is defeated, that Hezbollah will return to south Lebanon, and that neither Syria nor Iran will be manipulated into doing something which would justify attacking them.

The winners here are Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, and Iran; the losers are the U.S., Israel, and the Israel Lobby, with the European democracies (i.e., the EU and Russia) smiling like well-fed cats on the sideline. Not much Munich there!

~ Kenny Michael

Diego Garcia: Paradise Cleansed

Dear John Pilger:

My initial attention to Diego Garcia recently occurred when viewing a program on LinkTV that showed what happened there. I wish to say, from the bottom of my heart, the Link film and your story on Diego Garcia were the saddest I have ever become aware of.

It is difficult for me to accept the facts that my government and the British would commit what I consider a grave injustice against such lovely people, their heritage, and their beloved dogs. I am so distressed over this criminal act that I hardly sleep at night!

I have since asked many acquaintances if they knew about Diego Garcia, and the answer is always “no.” I tell them, and they are horrified.

Sad to say, so few know about this crime against humanity. I am firmly convinced this is the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. How many other such crimes are carried out that we don’t know about, but are responsible for?

It has become a very scary world with some very rotten politicians in it.

Thank you for your compassion and the truth.

~ NM


Dear Editor,

It is quite clear that the American presence in Iraq has opened the door to Iraqi Shia to enter the political process. In so far as this is ongoing, its consequences and ramifications are profound for this is the first time in the modern era that Arab Shia as an identified group have participated in state governance. In so far as Imam al-Sistani is an Iranian, there is and will continue to be relations between the Iranians and the Shia of Iraq. Further, the Shia are in power in Lebanon (via Hezbollah); they are present in Bahrain, to a lesser degree in other Gulf States, and in the oil regions of Saudi Arabia. If we are to make any headway in the region, it is vital that we open a dialogue with Iran, which although not Arab, obviously has relations with the millions of Shia who are.

Beyond this, the Sunni of Iraq have consistently ruled in the region, be they of Ottoman or of other more local Arab affiliation. During the course of Iraq’s modern history, the Sunni developed a patronage system that allowed them to maintain their grip on power; such was true for the Ottomans; such was true under the Hashemites; and such was true under the Ba’ath Party and Hussein, although in this last instance patronage was built more on tribal and military affiliation. Nevertheless, the patronage system is the very glue that held the country together. In the aftermath of the American presence, the old patronage system was destroyed resulting in a vast political vacuum, to be filled by no one, and thus the insurgency was initially motivated in part by competition to fill that void. One consequence of this competition has been the sectarian tension between Shia and Sunni, with the Sunni unable and unwilling to accept the rise of the Shia to political dominance.

As an oppressed majority, the Shia are obviously flexing their muscles – and giving support to other Shia groups (such as Hezbollah). This in turn will have important implications for U.S. policy, for example the contradiction between U.S. support for some Shia in Iraq and the destruction of them in Lebanon and isolation of them in Iran. To complicate matters, Shia organize themselves around particular individuals, such as M. al-Sadr, and such congregations often tend to be by tribe or clan with no overarching institution such as is the case with the Catholic Church and the Pope. Try as he might, al-Sistani can no more control al-Sadr than the Pope can control a local Lutheran minister.

It seems to me, then, that to begin to defuse this ongoing crisis, we must engage Iran, its ally Syria, and the Shia throughout the region. There is simply no other solution. The age-old split between Sunni (most Arabs) and Shia is a cause for concern, and indeed Saudi Arabia will not be all the happier for it, but to isolate the one power, Iran, that holds the key to a permanent solution is to condemn all those in the region to permanent war. It is true that Iranian nationalism may be an issue to be dealt with, no less so than Arab, or Palestinian, or Israeli. Nevertheless to write off Iran and the majority of Shia as elements of an axis of evil is ignorant at best, and self-destructive at worst. Rather than isolation, we must engage Iran, particularly as a mediator in both Iraq and Lebanon.

~ Jay Hatheway

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