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Commentary Week In Review

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week's notable op-eds.

Asian Economies Boom, Democracy Waits

In a June 29 Bloomberg News column, William Pesek noted how 10 years on since Asia's financial crisis, the "region is certainly back," with many saying the "crisis made Asia more resilient."

As a result, Pesek, who homed in on China's "rising global stature," wrote that "it's doubtful many officials in Beijing regret ignoring the U.S.'s democracy-is-best message."

"What may be surprising, though, is how China's un-American views on democracy are gaining favor in Asia," he wrote, adding that one reason "democracy isn't thriving in many parts of Asia is disillusionment with the process, coupled with the example offered by China."

Brown Must Break With Bush

Of all the ink being devoted to asserting how British Prime Minister Gordon Brown should open his tenure as Tony Blair's successor, Jonathan Steele's column in the June 29 Guardian was probably the most direct, carrying the headline: "Brown must seize the day -- and break with Bush now."

Specifically, according to Steele, this means getting British troops out of Iraq. "Blair did not want to appear to be letting Bush down by ending Britain's part in the occupation," he claimed. "Brown now has an opportunity to change that."

However, "Brown's recent utterances are not encouraging," wrote Steele, who explained:

In his keynote speech accepting the Labour leadership last Sunday [Brown] talked of "learning lessons" from Iraq, but did not specify what they were. He talked of "meeting our obligations", but declined to say what these were either. He talked about "defeating terrorist extremism", as though this was the central issue in Iraq -- a clear sign that he has not yet bothered to focus on the matter or have candid discussions with Britain's top brass. They want out of Iraq.

'Chemical Ali' Didn't Act Alone

Since we're on Iraq, Peter W. Galbraith's June 28 Los Angeles Times piece exhaustively argued for why the swift sentencing to death this week in Baghdad of Ali Hassan Majid, a.k.a. "Chemical Ali," has done anything but deliver justice to Kurds targeted by the Iraqi government during the late-1980s.

Galbraith offered this synopsis of events that surrounded the use of Chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurds:

Saddam Hussein had put Majid in charge of the Baath Party's Northern Bureau ... [in 1987], and conferred on him absolute authority to deal with an intractable Kurdish rebellion that had arisen in the midst of Iraq's war with Iran. Majid, who was Hussein's cousin, began by ordering the destruction of villages, ultimately leveling 4,500 of Kurdistan's 5,000 villages by 1990. Also in 1987, Iraq began to use "special ammunition" -- chemical weapons -- against villages in Kurdistan's remote Balisan Valley. These attacks earned Majid his nickname. ...Concerned that Iraq might lose the Iran-Iraq war, the Reagan administration deliberately obscured responsibility for Halabja by suggesting that both Iran and Iraq may have had a role in the gassing. But the Iran-Iraq war ended on Aug. 20, 1988, and five days later Hussein and Majid launched chemical weapons attacks on 48 villages in Dahuk province, more than 100 miles from Iran. There was now no doubt as to who was responsible. ...While confirming that Iraq had used poison gas on its own people, the Reagan administration thought sanctions too extreme a response, and months later the new administration of President George H.W. Bush actually doubled U.S. aid to Iraq.

Galbraith goes on to assert that when the Kurdish genocide trial began last year in Baghdad, Hussein was originally on the docket alongside Ali, but Prime Minister Nouri Maliki changed that by "rushing Hussein to the gallows after his conviction in a case associated with his own Shiite Arab-based Dawa Party."

"Without Hussein present, Majid insisted that he, not Hussein, was responsible for what happened in the north," wrote Galbraith, adding that "the Kurds now fear that Arab revisionists will claim that there was no organized, government-sponsored genocide -- only the unfortunate acts of a few individuals undertaken during a war. Cheated of justice by a country that committed genocide against them, it is not surprising that most Kurds want nothing to do with Iraq."

Europe's Second Muslim State

No matter how politically, ethnically, religiously and geographically complicated it may seem, Michael Djorjevich put the issue of Kosovo's independence bid into notably simple terms in the June 29 Washington Times, writing that "currently in Kosovo, America is aggressively forcing the establishment of the second Muslim state in Europe." -- (The first being Bosnia, according to Djorjevich).

"This is in contravention of international law and despite serious misgivings in Europe and resolute resistance by Russia," wrote Djorjevich, who claimed "an independent Kosovo would be a failed state, ethnically and religiously cleansed of Serbs and other minorities."

He explained:

During the past eight years of U.N. and NATO control of the province, the non-Albanian population experienced ethnic cleansings, destruction of a great number of homes and more than 100 churches and other medieval evidences of overwhelming Christian presence. Add to this a flourishing international drug and white slave trafficking, Kosovo is rather far from the democratic and multicultural model that the U.S. foreign policy establishment professes to support. Obviously these are not credentials for independence.

Don't Privatize U.S. Spies

Patrick Radden Keefe's op-ed in the June 25 New York Times focused on the "huge espionage-industrial complex" that has developed during the first decade of the 21st Century, as government spymasters "outsourced everything from designing surveillance technology to managing case officers overseas."

His piece was packed with sobering claims:

Today less than half of the staff at the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington are actual government employees...at the C.I.A. station in Islamabad, Pakistan, contractors sometimes outnumber employees by three to one. ...private contracts now account for 70 percent of the intelligence budget. ... in the decade after the cold war the intelligence community's budget was cut by 40 percent. ...the number of "contractor facilities" cleared by the National Security Agency [for establishment in suburban Washington, D.C.] grew from 41 in 2002 to 1,265 in 2006. ...traditional Beltway Bandits -- military-industrial giants like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman -- established intelligence and homeland security divisions.

"There is nothing inherently wrong with all this," wrote Keefe. "We want our spies to have access to the best technology and expertise, and if that means they have to look outside the building -- and pay top dollar -- then so be it. The problem is that the "symbiotic relationship" has turned decidedly dysfunctional, if not downright exploitative.

The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR's Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.