173 results for d'Nalgar

Dear editor

So America’s millionaires, loyal patriots that they all are, get to keep their Bushy tax break…

Here’s a kindly suggestion for an intrepid journalist (if there be any left among the screeching castrati of our once-vaunted fourth estate) – follow these obese felines for the next two years and report back to the rest of us.  Hopefully before the elections of 2012.

Fat cats should be pretty easy to track, I’d think.  Most millionaires don’t hide their worldly treasures.  Look for fast cars and gaudy mansions and paychecks that are several hundred times larger than Joe the Plumber’s.

Found them?  Good.  Now that they’ve been saved from the horrors of an Obama tax increase, please track how many jobs they create, in America, over the next two years.  How many boats will they float with their trickle-down, rising-tide good fortunes?  How much business will they resurrect, like a born-again phoenix, from the ashes of America’s ruined economy?

We’ll even start from scratch and pretend their dismal behavior over the last ten years was a statistical anomaly.  Let’s forget all that.  Let bygones be bygones.  That’s water under the bridge.  Spilt milk that’s no use crying over.

Surely the next two years will justify the faith teabagged Americans blindly re-invested in the Grandiose Old Party.  Surely all those jobs that fled to warmer, cheaper climes will come rushing back now that our millionaires (loyal patriots that they are) have a wee bit more deep-pocket change from daddy’s inheritance to fling at the feet of we the people.

And surely we the people will shout huzzahs and sing hosannas, for we have been saved from the cavalier Kenyan by Roving Boehners and raving Becks!  And surely, after all those minimum-wage jobs have come home to America, the people can finally pay enough taxes to afford their own luxuries, ungodly socialist things like roads and schools and healthcare and clean water and safe food.


Jacques d’Nalgar
Hot Springs, Arkansas

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2010/12/12/dear-editor/

Today’s YB! award…

From:  Monsieur d’Nalgar
To:  Sam Stein
Subject: Today’s award…
Date: Fri, 19 Nov 2010 11:51:44 -0700

It’s been a while since I awarded a “You Bastard!” prize for overt nincompoopery by one of the morning-show bobble-heads, one of the screeching castrati remnants of our once-vaunted Fourth Estate.

Your comments this morning about the efficiency and civility of Israel’s “enhanced” passenger screening techniques were outrageous!  (By the way, what other example of tortured English recently usurped the word “enhanced?”)  Try going through an Israeli airport as a Palestinian, or a peace activist.  I daresay your treatment will not be as genteel as it is for the chosen people and their evangelical stooges coming over to bask in the messianic afterglow that still lingers over the Holy Land some two thousand years after the original residents were “left behind.”

You are a smart man.  I usually enjoy your writing and you often bring a measure of sanity to the raucous insanity that passes for news these days.  Today, however, you exhibited the Tom Friedman syndrome, wherein your love of Israel trumped objective journalism.  Sad.

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2010/11/19/todays-yb-award/

Breaking news

Monday, March 12, 1906

Mr. Clemens comments on the killing of six hundred Moros — Men, women and children — In a crater bowl near Jolo in the Philippines — Our troops commanded by General Wood — Contrasts this “battle” with various other details of our military history — The newspapers’ attitude toward the announcements — The President’s message of congratulation.

We will stop talking about my schoolmates of sixty years ago, for the present, and return to them later.  They strongly interest me, and I am not going to leave them alone permanently.  Strong as that interest is, it is for the moment pushed out of the way by an incident of to-day, which is still stronger.  This incident burst upon the world last Friday in an official cablegram from the commander of our forces in the Philippines to our Government at Washington.  The substance of it was as follows:

A tribe of Moros, dark skinned savages, had fortified themselves in the bowl of an extinct crater not many miles from Jolo; and as they were hostiles, and bitter against us because we had been trying for eight years to take their liberties away from them, their presence in that position was a menace.  Our commander, General Leonard Wood, ordered a reconnaissance.  It was found that the Moros numbered six hundred, counting women and children; that their crater bowl was in the summit of a peak or mountain twenty-two hundred feet above sea level, and very difficult of access for Christian troops and artillery.  Then General Wood ordered a surprise, and went along himself to see the order carried out.  Our troops climbed the heights by devious and difficult trails, and even took some artillery with them.  The kind of artillery is not specified, but in one place it was hoisted up a sharp acclivity by tackle a distance of some three hundred feet.  Arrived at the rim of the crater, the battle began.  Our soldiers numbered five hundred and forty.  They were assisted by auxiliaries consisting of a detachment of native constabulary in our pay — their numbers not given — and by a naval detachment, whose numbers are not stated.  But apparently the contending parties were about equal as to number — six hundred men on our side, on the edge of the bowl; six hundred men, women, and children in the bottom of the bowl.  Depth of the bowl, fifty feet.

General Wood’s order was “Kill or capture the six hundred.”

The battle began — it is officially called by that name — our forces firing down into the crater with their artillery and their deadly small arms of precision; the savages furiously returning the fire, probably with brickbats — though this is merely a surmise of mine, as the weapons used by the savages are not nominated in the cablegram.  Heretofore the Moros have used knives and clubs mainly; also ineffectual trade muskets when they had any.

The official report stated that the battle was fought with prodigious energy on both sides during a day and a half, and that it ended with a complete victory for the American arms.  The completeness of the victory is established by this fact:  that of the six hundred Moros not one was left alive.  The brilliancy of the victory is established by this other fact, to wit:  that of our six hundred heroes only fifteen lost their lives.

General Wood was present and looking on.  His order had been “Kill or capture those savages.”  Apparently our little army considered that the “or” left them authorized to kill or capture according to taste, and that their taste had remained what it has been for eight years, in our army out there — the taste of Christian butchers.

The official report quite properly extolled and magnified the “heroism” and “gallantry” of our troops; lamented the loss of the fifteen who perished, and elaborated on the wounds of thirty-two of our men who suffered injury, and even minutely and faithfully described the nature of the wounds, in the interest of future historians of the United States.  It mentioned that a private had one of his elbows scraped by a missile, and the private’s name was mentioned.  Another private had the end of his nose scraped by a missile.  His name was also mentioned — by cable, at one dollar and fifty cents a word.

Next day’s news confirmed the previous day’s report and named our fifteen killed and thirty-two wounded again, and once more described the wounds and gilded them with the right adjectives.

Let us now consider two or three details of our military history.  In one of the great battles of the Civil War 10 per cent of the forces engaged on the two sides were killed and wounded.  At Waterloo, where four hundred thousand men were present on the two sides, fifty thousand fell, killed and wounded, in five hours, leaving three hundred and fifty thousand sound and all right for further adventures.  Eight years ago, when the pathetic comedy called the Cuban war was played, we summoned two hundred and fifty thousand men.  We fought a number of showy battles, and when the war was over we had lost two hundred and sixty-eight men out of our two hundred and fifty thousand, in killed and wounded in the field, and just fourteen times as many by the gallantry of the army doctors in the hospitals and camps.  We did not exterminate the Spaniards — far from it.  In each engagement we left an average of 2 per cent of the enemy killed or crippled on the field.

Contrast these things with the great statistics which have arrived from that Moro crater!  There, with six hundred engaged on each side, we lost fifteen men outright, and we had thirty-two wounded — counting that nose and that elbow.  The enemy numbered six hundred — including women and children — and we abolished them utterly, leaving not even a baby alive to cry for its dead mother.  This is incomparably the greatest victory that ever was achieved by the Christian soldiers of the United States.

Now then, how has it been received?  The splendid news appeared with splendid display-heads in every newspaper of this city of four million and thirteen thousand inhabitants, on Friday morning.  But there was not a single reference to it in the editorial columns of any one of those newspapers.  The news appeared again in all the evening newspapers of Friday, and again those papers were editorially silent upon our vast achievement.  Next day’s additional statistics and particulars appeared in all the morning papers, and still without a line of editorial rejoicing or mention of the matter in any way.  These additions appeared in the evening papers of that same day (Saturday) and again without a word of comment.  In the columns devoted to correspondence, in the morning and evening papers of Friday and Saturday, nobody said a word about the “battle.”  Ordinarily these columns are teeming with the passions of the citizen; he lets no incident go by, whether it be large or small, without pouring out his praise or blame, his joy or indignation about the matter in the correspondence column.  But, as I have said, during those two days he was as silent as the editors themselves.  So far as I can find out, there was only one person among our eighty millions who allowed himself the privilege of a public remark on this great occasion — that was the President of the United States.  All day Friday he was as studiously silent as the rest.  But on Saturday he recognized that his duty required him to say something, and he took his pen and performed that duty.  If I know President Roosevelt — and I am sure I do — this utterance cost him more pain and shame than any other that ever issued from his pen or his mouth.  I am far from blaming him.  If I had been in his place my official duty would have compelled me to say what he said.  It was a convention, an old tradition, and he had to be loyal to it.  There was no help for it.  This is what he said:

Washington, March 10.

Wood, Manila:–

I congratulate you and the officers and men of your command upon the brilliant feat of arms wherein you and they so well upheld the honor of the American flag.

(Signed) Theodore Roosevelt.

His whole utterance is merely a convention.  Not a word of what he said came out of his heart.  He knew perfectly well that to pen six hundred helpless and weaponless savages in a hole like rats in a trap and massacre them in detail during a stretch of a day and a half, from a safe position on the heights above, was no brilliant feat of arms — and would not have been a brilliant feat of arms even if Christian America, represented by its salaried soldiers, had shot them down with Bibles and the Golden Rule instead of bullets.  He knew perfectly well that our uniformed assassins had not upheld the honor of the American flag, but had done as they have been doing continuously for eight years in the Philippines — that is to say, they had dishonored it.

The next day, Sunday, — which was yesterday — the cable brought us additional news — still more splendid news — still more honor for the flag.  The first display-head shouts this information at us in stentorian capitals:  “WOMEN SLAIN IN MORO SLAUGHTER.”

“Slaughter” is a good word.  Certainly there is not a better one in the Unabridged Dictionary for this occasion.

The next display line says:

“With Children They Mixed in Mob in Crater, and All Died Together.”

They were mere naked savages, and yet there is a sort of pathos about it when that word children falls under your eye, for it always brings before us our perfectest symbol of innocence and helplessness; and by help of its deathless eloquence color, creed, and nationality vanish away and we see only that they are children — merely children.  And if they are frightened and crying and in trouble, our pity goes out to them by natural impulse.  We see a picture.  We see the small forms.  We see the terrified faces.  We see the tears.  We see the small hands clinging in supplication to the mother; but we do not see those children that we are speaking about.  We see in their places the little creatures whom we know and love.

The next heading blazes with American and Christian glory like to the sun in the zenith:

“Death List is now 900.”

I was never so enthusiastically proud of the flag till now!

The next heading explains how safely our daring soldiers were located.  It says:

“Impossible to Tell Sexes Apart in Fierce Battle on Top of Mount Dajo.”

The naked savages were so far away, down in the bottom of that trap, that our soldiers could not tell the breasts of a woman from the rudimentary paps of a man — so far away that they couldn’t tell a toddling little child from a black six-footer.  This was by all odds the least dangerous battle that Christian soldiers of any nationality were ever engaged in.

The next heading says:

“Fighting for Four Days.”

So our men were at it four days instead of a day and a half.  It was a long and happy picnic with nothing to do but sit in comfort and fire the Golden Rule into those people down there and imagine letters to write home to the admiring families, and pile glory upon glory.  Those savages fighting for their liberties had the four days too, but it must have been a sorrowful time for them.  Every day they saw two hundred and twenty-five of their number slain, and this provided them grief and mourning for the night — and doubtless without even the relief and consolation of knowing that in the meantime they had slain four of their enemies and wounded some more on the elbow and the nose.

The closing heading says:

“Lieutenant Johnson Blown from Parapet by Exploding Artillery Gallantly Leading Charge.”

Lieutenant Johnson has pervaded the cablegrams from the first.  He and his wound have sparkled around through them like the serpentine thread of fire that goes excursioning through the black crisp fabric of a fragment of burnt paper.  It reminds one of Gillette’s comedy farce of a few years ago, “Too Much Johnson.”  Apparently Johnson was the only wounded man on our side whose wound was worth anything as an advertisement.  It has made a great deal more noise in the world than has any similarly colossal event since “Humpty Dumpty” fell off the wall and got injured.  The official disputes do not know which to admire most, Johnson’s adorable wound or the nine hundred murders.  The ecstasies flowing from Army Headquarters on the other side of the globe to the White House, at a dollar and a half a word, have set fire to similar ecstasies in the President’s breast.  It appears that the immortally wounded was a Rough Rider under Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt at San Juan Hill — that extinguisher of Waterloo — when the Colonel of the regiment, the present Major General Dr. Leonard Wood, went up to the rear to bring up the pills and missed the fight.  The President has a warm place in his heart for anybody who was present at that bloody collision of military solar systems, and so he lost no time in cabling to the wounded hero “How are you?”  And got a cable answer, “Fine, thanks.”  This is historical.  This will go down to posterity.

Johnson was wounded in the shoulder with a slug.  The slug was in a shell — for the account says the damage was caused by an exploding shell which blew Johnson off the rim.  The people down in the hole had no artillery; therefore it was our artillery that blew Johnson off the rim.  And so it is now a matter of historical record that the only officer of ours who acquired a wound of advertising dimensions got it at our hands, not the enemy’s.  It seems more than probably that if we had placed our soldiers out of the way of our own weapons, we should have come out of the most extraordinary battle in all history without a scratch.

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume I, ed. Harriet Elinor Smith et al. (Berkeley and Los Angeles:  University of California Press, 2010), 403 – 407.

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2010/11/16/breaking-news/

Take Me to the River

By Sumbul Ali-Karamali, posted at HuffingtonPost.com September 3, 2010.

Hasn’t the whole notion of shariah in America gotten a bit out of control? No, it hasn’t — it’s gotten hugely, obscenely, ignorantly out of control. How many of those anti-Islam protesters holding “NO SHARIA LAW” signs (as if anyone were advocating shariah law in the U.S.) actually know what the word means? I’d say, oh, none. Roughly.

Shariah (also spelled shari’ah or sharia or shari’a) is the Arabic word for “the road to the watering place.” In a religious context, it means “the righteous path.” Loosely, it can mean simply, “Islam.”

There are six principles of shariah. They are derived from the Qur’an, which Muslims believe is the word of God. All Islamic religious rules must be in line with these six principles of shariah.

Aha! The six principles must be about killing infidels, veiling women, stoning people for adultery, honor killings and female genital cutting, right? Nope.

Here they are, the six principles of shariah:

1. The right to the protection of life.
2. The right to the protection of family.
3. The right to the protection of education.
4. The right to the protection of religion.
5. The right to the protection of property (access to resources).
6. The right to the protection of human dignity.

Well, bless me, as a pledge-of-allegiance-reciting, California-raised Muslim girl, these six principles sound a lot like those espoused in my very own Constitution of the United States. Except that these were developed over a thousand years ago.

This is the core of shariah — these six principles. The term “shariah law” is a misnomer, because shariah is not law, but a set of principles. To Muslims, it’s the general term for “the way of God.”

But how do we know what the way of God is? Early Muslims looked to the Qur’an and the words of the Prophet Muhammad to figure this out. They filled books of interpretive writings (called fiqh) about how to act in accordance with the way of God. They rarely agreed — the fiqh is not just one rule, but many differing opinions and contradictory rules and scholarly debates.

Sometimes, shariah also refers to the whole body of Islamic texts, which includes the Qur’an, the sayings of the Prophet, and the books of interpretive literature written by medieval Muslim scholars. The first two are considered divine. The interpretive literature, the fiqh, is not.

The fiqh was meant to develop and change according to the time and place — it has internal methodologies for that to happen. It is not static, but flexible. No religion gets to be 1400 years old and the second largest in the world unless it’s flexible and adaptable.

The Qur’an is old. The fiqh books of jurisprudence are old. To modern eyes, they can look just as outdated as other ancient texts, including the Bible and Torah. That’s why, just like the Bible and the Torah, the Islamic texts must be read in their historical context.

Assuming all Muslims follow medieval Islamic rules today is like assuming that all Catholics follow 9th century canon law. Islam, like Christianity, has changed many times over the centuries, and it continues to change. Focusing only on the nutcases who advocate a return to medieval times is ignoring the vast majority of modern Muslims.

For example, stoning for adultery is a punishment that appears in fiqh, as well as early Judaic law. But it does not appear in the Qur’an. In Islam, therefore, stoning was a result of cultural norms imposed on the religious texts. Moreover, in the fiqh, though the punishment for adultery was stoning, adultery was made such a fantastically difficult crime to prove that the punishment was impossible to apply. Historically, stoning was very rarely implemented in the Islamic world, which is ironic, since today the Saudi and Iranian governments apply it as though they’d never heard of the strict Islamic constraints on it.

The vast majority of Muslims today do not believe in stoning people for adultery, and many are working hard to eradicate it. Stoning is horrific and has no place in our world. The miniscule percentage of Muslims who advocate it are imposing the medieval penalty while ignoring all the myriad limitations meant to make it inapplicable.

As for other scary stories attributed to shari’a, like honor killings, veiling of women, and female genital cutting, these are cultural practices and not Islamic. They are practiced by non-Muslims of certain cultures as well as Muslims.

Shari’a is a set of religious principles and is not the law of the land anywhere in the world. The 50-some Muslim-majority countries are all constitutional states and nearly all of them have civil codes (many of these based on the French system). Being Muslim does not require a governmental imposition of something called “shari’a law,” any more than being a Christian requires the implementation of “Biblical law” (though there are, of course, a tiny minority of both Christians and Muslims who do advocate such things, including Sarah Palin).

As for Islam being a political system, there is nothing in the Qur’an about an “Islamic state,” and the Prophet himself never tried to implement an “Islamic state,” despite hysterical accusations to the contrary. Those under his leadership practiced a variety of religions.

Traditionally, in the Islamic world, the institutions that governed were always separate from the institutions that developed religion. In fact, they often checked and balanced one another. Although no civilization has been free from all conflict, every Islamic empire was a multi-religious, multicultural empire, in which religious minorities were governed by their own laws.

The term “Islam as a religion and a state” really only became popular in the 1920s, as a reaction to Western colonization of the Muslim world. In fact, Islam contains plenty of concepts consistent with modern democracy — for example, shura (consultation) and aqd (a contract between the governed and the governing). In other words, Muslims can be perfectly comfortable in America, following state and federal laws.

The Qur’an contains many verses advocating religious tolerance, too, though the anti-Islam protesters won’t believe it. The Qur’an says that: God could have made everyone into one people, but elected not to (11:118); God made us into different nations and tribes so that we can learn from one another (49:13); there is no compulsion in religion (2:256); and that we should say, “to you your religion, to me mine” (109:6).

The only verses about fighting in the Qur’an refer specifically to the polytheistic Arab tribes who were trying to kill the Prophet in the 7th century. So the Islamophobes who look in the Qur’an for the fighting verses and assume that these verses refer to them personally are simply being narcissistic. Contrary to counting Jews and Christians as “infidels,” the Qur’an repeatedly commands particular respect of Jews and Christians. It is established in Islam that you don’t need to be Muslim to go to heaven.

Repeating a lie over and over again doesn’t make it true; but it certainly results in people believing the lie. That’s what the Islam-haters are counting on. That, and the ignorance about Islamic tenets.

So the best thing to do is find out what Islam really is about. Talk to a Muslim in person. Read an introduction to Islam (try a fun one like mine). Read Loonwatch to read about the holes in the anti-Islamic rhetoric. Or take a look at the University of Georgia’s informational website on Islam, for some quick answers and further reading. If you read the anti-Islam fear-mongering websites, all you’ll learn will be tall tales.

Bigotry may be a human tendency, but America has never stood for bigotry. I believe in an America that stands for pluralism and multicultural understanding. The hysteria and hate toward Muslims – resulting in several acts of violence against Muslims just this week, such as a stabbing and arson – is un-American. We must stop it, and the first step is understanding and education.

Sumbul Ali-Karamali is an attorney with an additional degree in Islamic law, as well as the author of “The Muslim Next Door: the Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing.”

Monsieur d’Nalgar’s note:  “Take Me to the River” was a 1974 song written by singer Al Green and guitarist Mabon “Teenie” Hodges, who wrote the song while staying in a rented house very near here.  To me, it evokes the translation of the Arabic — “the road to the watering place.”


Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2010/11/08/take-me-to-the-river/

Like a koan

Monsieur d’Nalgar’s note:  The following reaction was set in motion by the arrival of a poem/article/essay by Ange Mlinko, entitled “Letter from Beirut.”  It was published in the July/August 2010 issue of Poetry.  The photo below (©2006 Derek Henry Flood) is of a woman looking at the destruction of Haret Hreyk after the ceasefire was declared on August 15th, 2006. 

“There is not a sheep’s eye in the whole performance.”

Hmmmm.  This is not a koan: it’s an observation about authenticity, particularly in an Arab context. My apologies to Chris [name omitted] and Philip [name omitted] both for casting aspersions at a recognized artist’s take on our shared, our mutual heritance, the love that we have for Lubnan.

But, howevermuch authenticity we might have for Ange(minus the L, please) Mlinko’s established credentials, as revealed in her prizewinning etc., we must admit that there are curious omissions from her Lebanese views: just to start with (this is the first of many such, so please read on, and don’t dismiss the conjecture out of hand), she has a curious inability to master nouns, particularly proper nouns.  The place ‘in the Qadisha Valley’ is obviously our beloved Zahle … why can’t she remember that?  Who knows where the Qadisha is?  Does she remember it because it’s lacking the English ‘u’ after the Semitic ‘q’?  Crikey. And when did bkhattrak become bihatrak?  Whose transliteration is this? Does she even have any interest in the alphabet that she derives from the Phoenician, that includes both ours and …. (gulp!) theirs (=read, Arabic).

And how many of us – really? – remember Rue Bliss (or even shara’a balis) as … Bliss Street?  Is she attracted to the name because she relates to the emotion?  Or does she relate to the name, and the history – and for God’s sake, the people, our ACS people –– as we do? … or should. Why doesn’t she name the school her children go to, or the university through which she drags her Cypriot oranges? If she were here for a week or what the Brits call a fortnight (in order to accomplish what I think must be her ‘travel poetry’), this might be understandable – this lack of perspicacity when it comes to places and their names, if she is actually living there — must be a kind of cultural blindness.  Whyever would she raise the specter of her mother’s unfortunate spudding duties (does anyone actually ‘pick’ potatoes in any version of the universe, except maybe in bad translations?) in what must surely be the Soviet Union’s collective farms … waidaminnit. If she’s a Zionist, or an Israeli, or a Jew, she’d probably say ‘kibbutz’ at this stage … but, no, she says what she says … which is strange.  In Russian, and probably in Ukrainian as well, there is ‘kollektivnoye khozyaystvo’ for ‘collective farm’ … but everyone who has ever lived on one or described it has referred to it as kolkhoz.  Is she translating?  Is she translating badly?

Why don’t you people understand that (1) yes, any mention of our homeland is better than none at all, or (2) bad mention (comparison with Morroco, etc.) is probably not good – lending to our dismissal by the powers-that-be, by the ‘Poetry Magazine’ and people who support the notion that there are other people who know what they are doing better than we do (ie, poets)?  Crikey.  There is no such underclass.  There are only the people who believe that Ange Mlinko is superior because she has (1) been there, and (2) done that.  Ladies and gentlemen: I was in Vietnam.  I (1) was there, and (2) did that … which in no way releases me from any obligation to observe ANYTHING beyond my original observation that Saigon was – with its mustards and its dark blues and its language – a colonial French city very much like the one I’d grown up in … Beirut.  Ya haram, ya ferengi.  Ya’ish lubnan.

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2010/11/03/like-a-koan/

No solution

“There can be no elegant solution to a poorly defined problem.”

Dear Friends:

This past summer I was privileged to participate in a very small retreat with four friends who came from totally different professional backgrounds and walks of life — one a Christian minister who is president of a small liberal arts college, one the athletic director of a major Division I university, and two highly successful business executives from entirely different sectors of the corporate world.  As a long-retired USG Middle East specialist, I expected to be the odd man out, but we all came to realize very quickly how much we had in common when sharing our personal concerns about the present state of American society and our country’s role in the world today.  At the end of three days of completely candid discussion, we discovered that even when viewed from our distinctly different perspectives, the most fundamental problems that we could each identify in our respective areas of expertise were amazingly similar, and that we could all benefit greatly from each other’s individual insights and experience.  In summarizing our conclusions at the end of our mini-conference, we agreed on one general rule of life that fit all of us equally: do not expect to make wise decisions unless and until you have taken the time and trouble to understand the underlying fundamentals of the issues to which you are seeking a solution.  Stated more succinctly, it comes across best as this tidy little maxim:  “There can be no elegant solution to a poorly defined problem.”

That simple message came home to me again last week, and provided an opportunity to illustrate how appropriate the advice can be — even when applied to U.S. national policy at the highest level.  I hope you will find the following little essay interesting and informative.


Last week, I attended a large meeting in Washington of an organization called The National Council on US-Arab Relations.  One of the keynote speakers was Ryan Crocker, who retired last year after serving as our top diplomat in Iraq following similar appointments in Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon — making him surely one of the most experienced and knowledgeable experts on the Middle East who ever served our government.  He is now Dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

In his speech last week, Ambassador Crocker stated that an eventual new Iraqi government headed by present Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is likely to request an extension of a US military presence in Iraq beyond the year 2011, and that he expected the Obama administration to be receptive to this request.  The clear implication was that a Maliki regime, lacking adequate trained manpower and sophisticated defense capabilities, would necessarily be dependent to a significant degree on US military power to defend itself effectively against both foreign and domestic opponents.

I was stunned by this statement, and double checked with several people to confirm that I had heard Ambassador Crocker accurately.  I had indeed.  The following message to you summarizes my reactions to that information.

To me, it is astonishing and troubling that our government would even consider placing US military power (and therefore commensurate American national prestige) to any degree whatsoever, and even if only implicitly, under obligation to a government headed by an Iraqi leader whose political agenda and personal ambitions can never be confidently relied upon to support objectives consistent with American interests, either inside Iraq or regionally.

I take this to mean, in short, that until we have completed the training and equipping of Iraq’s national security forces to the point of self-reliance, the United States will be willing to assume some as-yet-unspecified level of responsibility to defend the Iraqi homeland against external enemies and protect the incumbent regime from internal challenges.

Some clarification is definitely called for.

Against whom, and in response to what types of threats, would the Iraqis contemplate calling for US military assistance?  Who, and by what decision-making process, would the leaders of both parties reach agreement as to the identity of the “enemy” that we Americans would be called upon to oppose?  Who would decide what level of military action was appropriate, and who would determine when American intervention should begin and when its mission could be declared “accomplished”?  What if reinforcements were required in cases where US forces met unexpectedly heavy resistance or suffered unacceptable numbers of casualties?  (Surely not another surge?)  Those questions, and many more in the same vein, make me extremely uncomfortable.  The same goes, I’m sure, for my congressman, my grandchildren, and the relatives of every man and woman in the US armed forces.

How could President Obama, considering the other staggering problems he faces domestically and internationally, possibly justify (much less implement) an indefinite and highly controversial expansion and extension of our military and political commitments in Iraq?

How can anyone expect the American people (i.e. you and me, and Congress) to accept the high degree of risk that our forces would be drawn into any of the numerous ethnic, sectarian or regional conflicts that will obviously remain unresolved for at least the next decade in Iraq?  What would be the rules of engagement when US combatants were caught in the middle of spontaneous and tactical-level “fog of war” incidents — that will frequently and inevitably occur in Iraq over the next decade or more?  On a strategic level, would we refuse an urgent demand from the Maliki government that we intervene to forestall a Kurdish takeover of Kirkuk?  Would we help government security forces suppress a potentially violent Sunni protest movement demanding a more equitable division of political and economic resources — considering that our refusal to take sides might mean endangering the survival of the central government and/or increasing the likelihood of uncontrolled sectarian conflict and civil war?  Who would pay the costs of maintaining our forces in Iraq for years to come?  (Not my tax dollars, please!)  How would Iraq’s neighbors react to a startling reversal of Obama’s repeated pledge to bring American military forces home next year?  Might this provocative new posture not incentivize Iran to instigate violent attacks against other US interests in the region?  (To say nothing of the certainty that Al-Qa’ida would also rise to the challenge in similar fashion.)  The list of hideous potential repercussions goes on and on.

Ambassador Crocker’s explanation that without long-term American support Iraq’s armed forces will continue to lack the air power, artillery, armor and intelligence capabilities with which to defend their homeland against external attack (and to maintain internal unity and stability) is undeniably a valid consideration, and one that we have worried about for seven long and expensive years already.  But for the United States to leave behind a cadre of essentially non-combatant military trainers is not what is being considered here, as I understand the issue.  I believe Ryan Crocker meant precisely what he implied — that we will respond positively to an Iraqi Government request that the US reverse its present drawdown plans and retain in Iraq for an indefinite period a level of combat-ready forces sufficient to act as guarantor of the Iraqi state against external and internal threats.  What other meaning could he have intended to convey?

Commitment of US armed forces in an entirely new combat mission like this in Iraq today would be, in my view, the legal equivalent in every respect of launching a completely separate and distinct new military intervention in the Arab Middle East — one that should only be undertaken with the broad domestic and international approval and support that were so tragically lacking before the original invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Yet another aspect of the problem:  Have we blissfully ignored the uncomfortable truth that any large and effective internal security apparatus that we organize and train in Iraq (and likewise in Afghanistan, for that matter), will eventually become the dominant instrument of power in the country — to be employed at the whim of a government over whose actions and policies we will have no control and virtually no influence?  Today, before Iraqi forces are ready to take over full responsibility for their own security, we are apparently willing to commit our own military forces, under some vaguely-defined agreement, to augment and support the actions of an Iraqi regime that we not only cannot control, but one which we know perfectly well is corrupt, repressive, unstable and unreliable.  (Read Afghanistan if you will.)  Is it not utterly foolhardy to commit the lives of untold numbers of American men and women to what could easily evolve into another long, costly and probably futile new war?  Once we are in, how do we get out?  That’s the ill-defined foundation of decision-making that gives me heartburn.

For someone with Ryan Crocker’s experience at the policy-making level of our government to casually announce that, at this late date, the United States will probably accept an Iraqi government request that we reverse ourselves and agree to maintain a large military presence in Iraq for many more years, with the dangerously imprecise mission described above, is extremely hazardous and irresponsible, in my opinion —- especially considering that there has been (to my knowledge) absolutely no effort yet planned or initiated to obtain clear popular and governmental mandates to enact this policy in either Baghdad, the United Nations, Congress or Main Street, USA.

After suffering the terrible costs of ignoring expert advice before blundering into Iraq, should we not expect this government of ours to pay closer attention to experienced veterans advising us to keep out of yet another potential quagmire?

Ray Close

Monsieur d’Nalgar’s note:  This was emailed by Ray Close on October 29, 2010 under the subject heading “Dangerous escalation of US military commitment in Iraq?”

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2010/10/29/no-solution/

Gristle in your tea

This darling piece, another in the ongoing saga of “reasons to hate Muslims” (Sentinel Record, October 27, 2010, page 25), was a jewel of illogical brevity:

Attacked by Muslims

Dear editor:

On Sept. 11, 2001, America was attacked by Muslims. Muslim extremists, to be sure, but they were not Catholic extremists or Jewish extremists or Hindu extremists or Japanese or German or Russian – every person who planned, trained for and executed the flights of those four planes was Muslim. Muslim first, extremist second. Not all Muslims are extremists and not all extremists are Muslim, but on 9/11, America was attacked by Muslims, who were extremists

M. Wayne Spencer
Hot Springs

Inspired by its brilliance, I offer the following parody (just barely)…

Attacked by Idiots

On Sept. 11, 2001, America was attacked by tomato-eaters.  Extremist tomato-eaters, to be sure, but they were not carrot-eating extremists or banana-eating extremists or mashed-potato-eating extremists or women or giraffes or Republicans — every person who planned, trained for and executed the flights of those four planes ate tomatoes.  Tomato-eater first, extremist second.  Not all tomato-eaters are extremists and not all extremists eat tomatoes, but on 9/11, America was attacked by tomato-eaters, who were extremists.

…now if you’re looking for reasons to hate Muslims, that utterly silly paragraph probably makes perfect sense to you.  But, if you need something more to gnash your teeth on, here are a few lumps of gristle for your tea:

9-11 was a colossal intelligence failure.  People who know how this clandestine business operates will all tell you that the red-hot trail of the 9-11 terrorists suddenly, inexplicably, grew stone-cold.

Sarah Palin is a nimrod.

George Bush and his “ilk” (seems to be a popular word, n’est pas?) – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Bremer, Wolfowitz, Libby, Blair, Wurmser, etc. – are war criminals.  If not in this life, then surely in the next.  If there is a God, justice cannot be postponed forever.

Did I mention that Sarah Palin is a nimrod?

Christians, in their post-Judaic holy texts, are instructed to watch.  Read Matthew 24:42, 25:13, 26:41, Mark 13:33/35/37, 14:38, Luke 21:36, Acts 20:31, 1 Corinthians 16:13, Colossians 4:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:6, 2 Timothy 4:5, 1 Peter 4:7, and Revelation 3:3.  Here are some things to watch:


America’s problems started long before a black President with a funny name took office.  Instead of acting like hysterical villagers clamoring for the head of Frankenstein’s monster, stop and look in a mirror.  Every time you buy cheap food picked by migrant workers who have no rights, or a cheap product made in near-slave conditions in China or Vietnam or any of the other sweatshops around the world, you are the monster staring back in the flickering torchlight.  America’s problem is you.

…and me.  Read the lyrics of James McMurtry’s song “We can’t make it here.”


Above all else, hate a Muslim.  It’s the Christian thing to do…

Jacques d’Nalgar (also a tomato-eater, and a very imperfect follower of Jesus)
Hot Springs, Arkansas

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2010/10/27/gristle-in-your-tea/