Haggai's Place

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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan
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:: Friday, October 24, 2003 ::

A good article, limited access
Newsweek's Joshua Hammer has an article up on The New Republic, subscriber only, on media coverage in Iraq. More specifically, he responds to what Matt Yglesias referred to as Operation Blame The Media. Here's one excerpt about those ever-present Iraqi schools:
Some American officials have criticized what they call "poor" news coverage of the U.S. rehabilitation of 1,000 Iraqi schools. Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho said he'd only learned about the program after arriving in Iraq in early October as part of a congressional delegation. In fact, according to the Associated Press (AP), there was plenty of coverage of the school reopenings on both television and in print. And, as the AP points out, the schools needed the rehabilitation primarily because they'd been damaged during the looting following the U.S. military's entry into Baghdad in April. Moreover, many schools in the south haven't been renovated, according to reporters who've visited them.
Hammer makes a good point here when he brings up media coverage in Israel:
Bush [is] partly right. There's a natural tendency in the media to give bad news top billing. Bombings and ambushes sell newspapers, and their prominent play can give a distorted impression of widespread chaos. [Reporter Vivienne] Walt's September 12 report on the accidental killings of eight Iraqi policemen by American troops was featured on page one of The Boston Globe; a few weeks later, her long, nuanced story on improvements in the Iraqi educational system was buried inside the paper. But these journalistic priorities aren't unique to Iraq. Newspapers invariably place stories about suicide bombings in Israel on page one, conveying the impression that Israel is a highly dangerous place. It isn't: Suicide bombings have killed about 400 Israelis during the past three years, while automobile accidents have killed roughly four times as many. But few people question the media attention paid to suicide attacks in Israel because of their far-reaching consequences--the devastating effect on the region's economy and on the future of the Middle East. Since violence in Iraq, if it leads to U.S. forces leaving the country, could have a similarly large impact on the region's economy and politics, why shouldn't it be given top billing as well?

2:45 PM
:: Thursday, October 23, 2003 ::
Whoops?
It's been about 6 weeks since I pontificated about Abu Mazen's resignation as Palestinian PM being primary a tactical move on his part to gain more authority for the position. It doesn't seem like much has happened since then, with Abu Ala sort of muddling along in the post and not doing anything that could be seen as risky, so as of now, it looks like I made a pretty bad call.
3:16 PM
:: Tuesday, October 21, 2003 ::
Blast from the past
Good day today for new DVD releases, as I picked up two items I had been anticipating for a long time. One of them was the old Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii performance/behind the scenes movie, in a new director's cut version. The other was a collection of little known movies about a well-travelled archaeologist.

Getting the Pink Floyd DVD reminded me of one of the strangest things that ever happened to me. Back in high school, there was one day when I decided that when I got back home, I should listen to one of my favorite albums by any group, Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," since I hadn't listened to it in a while. This was probably when I was walking home from school, although I don't remember exactly where the urge hit me on that day. As I got closer to home, I realized that I was experiencing a strong physical desire to listen to that particular album, almost to the point of desperation. When I got home, and as I went down to my room, it got even worse, and I felt more and more uncomfortable. It was as if I couldn't get the CD into the stereo fast enough. Then, almost immediately after the music started, I had a very soothing feeling, and after a couple of minutes I was completely relaxed and back to normal.

Fortunately, I've never been physically addicted to anything, so I never knew what it was like to have withdrawal symptoms, but I have to think that it's very much like what I felt that day. Oddly, I've never had it happen again, not with that CD or any other one. I still don't know where it came from, but it was a remarkably powerful sensation. It's one hell of an album, so that must have had something to do with it!
9:17 PM
:: Monday, October 20, 2003 ::
It took 6 months to start realizing this?
Some other blogs are linking to this NY Times story about international donations to the Iraq re-construction:
Under pressure from potential donors, the Bush administration will allow a new agency to determine how to spend billions of dollars in reconstruction assistance for Iraq, administration and international aid officials say.

The new agency, to be independent of the American occupation, will be run by the World Bank and the United Nations. They are to announce the change at a donor conference in Madrid later this week.

The change effectively establishes some of the international control over Iraq that the United States opposed in the drafting of the United Nations Security Council resolution that passed on Thursday. That resolution referred to two previously established agencies devised to ensure that all aid would be monitored and audited.

But diplomats say other countries were unwilling to make donations because they saw the United States as an occupying power controlling Iraq's reconstruction and self-rule...

At first, the Defense Department, which runs the occupation, resisted handing over financial control of Iraq's rebuilding. Instead, the Pentagon set up the Development Fund for Iraq, which is recognized by a United Nations Security Council resolution in May.

The fund was to work in tandem with another agency, the United Nations' International Advisory and Monitoring Board, which was given auditing functions and no say in spending. That setup, reiterated in the United Nations resolution of Thursday, has proved inadequate to assuage donors.

The administration changed its mind in recent weeks, in part because of the support of Mr. Bremer.

"We had to act because the international community was stonewalling us on aid," said an administration official. According to the official, Mr. Bremer said, " `I need the money so bad we have to move off our principled opposition to the international community being in charge.' "
This is exactly the sort of thing I've posted about several times before, and discussed most recently in the comments from three posts back. It's worth spreading around the responsibilities in Iraq because the US can get more help that way. A common Bush-sympathetic argument on this issue before the war was that the UN debate didn't really matter, since the rest of the world would bang down the doors to help us after the invasion on whatever terms we wished to set. Once that turned out to be wrong, a common argument (somewhat contradictory to the first one) was that international help was basically worthless, since we wouldn't get anything meaningful in exchange for giving up some authority in Iraq. Well, now we're starting to see otherwise.

Bush and company have basically put the rest of the world into two camps on Iraq--those who are already helping as much as they can (so there's nothing for us to gain by granting them any more authority in the re-construction), and those who are withholding help because they hate America and want us to fail (so it would be pointless, and even counter-productive, to try to enlist their help). But that's not the whole story. Amazingly, some countries might want to help, but only under the condition that they actually have some influence over how their money gets spent! I know, it's hard to fathom that other countries might both be willing to help us and unwilling to trust us 100% to look after their own interests without them having any input in the process. Remarkable, isn't it? This is such an unfamiliar aspect of international relations. After all, the US would never seek influence over how its resources might be put to use by other governments. Er...

Another quote from the article:
A senior State Department official said the United States would still be consulted in the spending of aid money, for example to avoid duplication of spending.

"The donors all want to have a little bit of distance from us," the official said. "That's fine. But you can't really do much of anything without some coordination with us."
Exactly, because our troops are running the country! So why haven't we been sharing the burden from the beginning? What realistic scenario was ever possible that would have made the US anything less than the major co-ordinating presence on the ground in Iraq? What major strategic decision-making influence would we have lost by having civilian authority under the UN and military authority under the US, preferably through NATO?
2:52 PM

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