Agam's Gecko
Saturday, April 09, 2005
The Songkran Festival begins next week, marking the traditional Thai New Year. So we will be going upcountry this afternoon, and likely won't be back in the Big Mango until next weekend. In Bangkok, the "water festival" has become more like a city-wide water-pistol shootout..... hmm, what am I saying.... let's say it's more like water M-16's and cannons than pistols. In the countryside, it still tends more to the traditional splashing and pouring over each other, but the abundance of H2O is generally welcome in either case during this hottest period of the year. Wrap up your wallet, handphone, camera and whatever else shouldn't get soaked, before joining the fray!

The Canadian Liberal Party sponsorship / money laundering / kickback scandal, dubbed by one commentator last year (either Andrew Coyne or Paul Wells) as "Adscam", has broken out to a new level. Now that the publication ban on testimony at the Gomery Commission has been lifted, the news media can report on it fully -- and none too soon either. For the past week, Canadians who wanted to know what was coming out in testimony regarding the biggest political corruption scandal in Canadian history, needed to visit American blog sites to read about it. Ed Morrisey at Captain's Quarters broke the story, and followed it up with daily updates from a source at the inquiry. Canadian contributor Joe Katzman on the Winds of Change collaborative blog, explained a lot of the background for non-Canucks. And Kate out in Saskatoon writing on small dead animals, despite the restrictions limiting what Canadian publications could report, has been all over the story.

Now let's see the news media pick it up from here, as they should have been allowed to do all along. I wrote about this last year before the federal election, and I won't say I warned y'all, but, ahem. The interesting thing about all this, is that the Liberals supposedly needed to pour all these millions into Quebec advertising firms, in order to "keep the country together". Not only did the Liberal Party allegedly benefit from kickbacks from these firms, but so did the Parti Quebecois -- the very separatists that the Libs were supposedly saving Canada from. A lot of the Adscam details were known before the election, and yet still Canadians returned the Liberal Party to power (albeit as a minority government). What's with the mindset that we have a "natural ruling party" in our country? That is certainly dangerous, no matter where it occurs.

Tucked into one of Wretchard's usual thoughtful and thought provoking essays recently, broadly about the nature of good and evil in our world (and not particularly related to Iraq), was this little nugget -- a quote from one of my fellow countrypersons:
I hate to say this to Iraqis, but I pray for chaos and civil war: it's the only way to stop Bush's policies and show that peace can never come through force. If Iraq gets peace, Bush wins credibility. It cannot be allowed to happen.
Nina, Toronto Canada
The comment comes from reader feedback on the BBC site, a feature called Talking Point. Sadly, I think this attitude is all too common in my country, though I've also noted many American writers expressing much the same sentiments.

Arthur Chrenkoff has a go at a "liberal" columnist's condescension toward an American soldier's on-the-ground experiences and perceptions, as he "crawls inside" the soldier's brain and decides that those nowhere near Iraq know the situation more accurately:
Army Spc. Paul Schlicher of Fort Lewis says the Iraq he has come to know isn't the same place most Americans keep hearing about.

I crawled inside his brain to see the situation as he sees it.


Spates of violence, from random gunfire to suicide bombs to assassinations, still keep Iraqis on edge. But here is the amazing thing: The joy of the people goes on. Their resilience inspires. They may not have much materially and they may have seen horrible things, yet they remain happy, deriving pleasure from their families, their newfound freedom and life itself.

They are grateful for the presence of U.S. soldiers who are planting seeds of democracy in challenging terrain. Their gratitude makes a soldier's job worth it.
This is the one thing that I would tend to describe in a different way. Seeds of democracy are not being planted, so much as the soil in which the tree must grow is in need of cleansing of toxic elements, enrichment with nutrients, in order that the local native species of the democracy tree can grow well. Working the soil, not planting the seed -- for the seed there is different from the tree grown in Thailand, or Indonesia, or anywhere else. It will be a unique and indigenous Iraqi species, and it must be suitable to the climate and conditions there.

The columnist ponders the optimistic and the pessimistic angles, and concludes:
So, which is the real Iraq? The country described in bleak terms by the United Nations? Or the land of optimism that inhabits soldier Schlicher's mind?

I'm leaning toward the sobering report over the upbeat point of view as seen through one soldier's eyes.
Arthur follows up with the same question I would have of this guy (the columnist, not the soldier):

No answer. End of the column.

Because the negative view always sounds more believable? Because 140,000 American soldiers on the ground in Iraq are too close to the action, too caught up in it all to offer a sober, objective assessment, while the United Nations with hardly any personnel inside Iraq can take a broader, less biased view? Because the "international community" has no agendas, while soldier do? Because the United Nations, which embodies the collective view and wisdom of the whole humanity is naturally more credible than mere individuals?
He considers then, whether there would be any point to attempt to "crawl inside the liberal columnist's brain," to get a glimpse of "the situation as he sees it." Scary, indeed too scary to contemplate.

One of Chrenkoff's Iraqi correspondents has translated a recent poll from Iraq:
Once again, thanks to our special correspondent and translator Haider Ajina, this one was conducted by the school of political science at the Najaf University, polling 790 people between the ages 18-65 of both sexes and of different educational and socioeconomic backgrounds (and published in yesterday's edition of "Almendhar"):
62% of those polled said they wanted Islam to be one of the sources of the constitution.

38% wanted Islam to be the only source for the Iraqi constitution.

49% support a federal government.

50% support allowing those who boycotted the election to have input in writing the constitution.

63% support the multi national forces staying in Iraq for the current time.

85% expect the new transitional government to succeed in its goals.

78% expect the new national assembly to successfully write a constitution by the dead line.

1% said they expect civil war to break out.
As Haider reminds us, Najaf is the most religiously conservative city in Iraq, the home of Ayatollah Sistani and the Shia establishment. It's encouraging that even here, then, the popular opinion is a lot more moderate than all the talk about the "coming theocracy" would suggest.
Since then of course, the newly elected Iraqi parliament has selected a Kurdish president (who would ever have thought?), with Sunni and Shia vice presidents, and more recently this presidential council has selected the country's new Prime Minister, Jalal Talabani (a longtime dissent against Saddam's tyranny). Iraqi officials made sure that Saddam and his gang of thugs in custody had the opportunity to watch a tape of these parliamentary votes and selections, and it's said that the former president-for-life became rather depressed. He knows now that it's finally over for sure, his cohorts know the same, and the Iraqi people also know it.

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