the lasting effects of intervention in iraq

Iraq had the best university system in the middle east until the 1990s.Iraqi universities went into decline in the 12 years following the Gulf War, and some hoped that the American invasion in 2003 would revive the universities, helping create space for open and critical dialogue. However, the opposite happened, notes Hugh Gusterson in this article, An education in occupation. 

Control over Iraq’s universities now lay in the hands of Andrew Erdmann, a 36-year-old American, well-connected in Republican Party patronage networks, who was senior adviser to Iraq’s Ministry of Education. Erdmann spoke no Arabic and had no experience in university administration.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) did set aside $25 million to help revitalize Iraqi universities — but the money went to American universities to do curriculum development. For example, USAID gave the State University of New York at Stony Brook $4 million (half the amount Congress appropriated to restore the entire Iraqi university system) to develop a new archaeology curriculum on behalf of four Iraqi universities.

Those faculty fortunate enough to move abroad became part of the great middle-class exodus from Iraq under US occupation. It is estimated that 10 percent of Iraq’s population, and 30 percent of its professors, doctors, and engineers, left for neighboring countries between 2003 and 2007 — the largest Arab refugee displacement since the Palestinian flight from the holy lands decades earlier.

In just 20 years, then, the Iraqi university system went from being among the best in the Middle East to one of the worst. This extraordinary act of institutional destruction was largely accomplished by American leaders who told us that the US invasion of Iraq would bring modernity, development, and women’s rights. Instead, as political scientist Mark Duffield has observed, it has partly de-modernized that country.



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the rusdhie affair,de-constructed, a tweet at a time

the best piece i’ve read so far on the rushdie affair. especially glad to see someone point out that claiming to a champion of liberal values is not enough. what matters is also how you fight for them, and the paradox is that in the process you could actually end up undermining those same values. even the fervent defence of liberal values can be fundamentalistic, a liberal ‘you’re either with us or against us’

Rohit Chopra writes,

 Rushdie’s pals, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, and Hitchens—the “liberal supremacists” as Terry Eagelton calls the breed— have made the vilest remarks about Muslims, and yet they are touted as great defenders of liberal values. In contrast, anyone who disagrees—even civilly—with the stance of Rushdie and his acolytes is cast as a narrow-minded, unenlightened, bigot…Eagleton reminds us: “Both Hitchens and Salman Rushdie have defended Amis’s slurs on Muslims”

“The irony is clear. Some of our free literary spirits are defending liberal values in ways that threaten to undermine them. In this, they reflect the behaviour of western states. Liberals are supposed to value nuanced analysis and moral complexity, neither of which are apparent in the slanderous reduction of Islam to a barbarous blood cult.”

read rest of the article here

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superman denounces american citizenship

While Robert Kagan, Drezner, and Walt and others continue  to debate about the decline of America, DC comics is pretty clear. Its new comic series Justice League International  sees  a nation-less, border-less world led by the UN ( and headed by British, Russian, and Chinese officials). Superman is clear which way the world is headed.

In April 2011, Superman — fretting that his close association with the United States had undercut his ability to defend anti-government demonstrators in Iran — went to the United Nations to renounce his American citizenship. “Truth, justice and the American way — it’s not enough anymore. The world’s too small. Too connected,” Superman tells the U.S. president’s national security adviser. “I’m tired of having my actions construed as instruments of U.S. policy,” he adds. Superman may not be a fan of American exceptionalism, but he’s still inclined to go it alone.

read the rest here

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urination distraction

i wrote a piece for the sunday guardian on the controversy about us marines urinating on the taliban. see the piece here. here is a post on duckofminerva that continues in a similar vein.

In fact, urinating on corpses, torturing prisoners, and cheering deaths is predictable in any war.  Indeed, it shows that the military training necessary for most people to kill another human being is working.  No doubt it also shows a failure in training on the laws of war – but there is little doubt which of these two courses of instruction is more fundamental to our military.  Of course we should have laws of war and use them to prosecute violators.  But we should not be surprised if ordinary people placed in contexts of peril and power act brutally.
Low-level prosecutions also divert attention from the higher-ups who are most responsible.  Of course, some at the bottom may truly be sadistic.  But for the most part, they are ordinary men and women caught up in the fury of warfare.  Much of that fervor is in fact drummed up by superiors – through public statements or tortured legal opinions.  Prosecuting a few small fry for understandable if condemnable behavior makes it less likely that those at the top, who made it all possible, will face prosecution.

Most fundamentally, condemnations and prosecutions preserve and legitimate the war itself. They portray it – or at least our side’s engagement in it – as rule-bound, controlled, rational.  By making a show of censuring young men and women caught up in the awfulness of war, those in power deflect attention from the far greater awfulness and futility of the war itself – for which they are responsible.

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re-defining national interest

a piece in foreign policy, All Silk Road Lead to Teheran by Neil Padukone about the gains that america could make by working with iran in enabling regional trade and security is essentially an argument for how ‘interests’ can be, and necessarily  so, re-defined. While it is in the American interest to prevent a nuclear Iran, it is also in its interest  to stabilize the middle-east.  The security dilemma that Iran and America are embedded  in can arguably only be escaped if interests are re-defined.

In contrast to the zero-sum logic that defines the current escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, the two countries share substantial interests in increasing regional trade and stability. Tehran hopes to stabilize Afghanistan and export its own natural gas and petroleum — 16 percent and 10 percent of the world’s total reserves, respectively — to the world. Indeed, its existing infrastructure — albeit in need of much improvement — is better suited to bring Turkmen natural gas to market than alternate plans to construct new pipelines across Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, or all the way through the Caspian, Caucasus, and Turkey.

read rest here

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iran has yet to violate international law

perhaps the most sensible piece i have read on iran so far…Yousaf Butt writes in Foreign Policy, Stop the Madness

The many rounds of sanctions put in place against Iran over the past several years go far beyond anything related to its nuclear program. To satisfy the conditions that would allow sanctions to be lifted, Iran would not only have to abandon its nuclear program but basically dismantle the current regime. The sanctions legislation passed last year demands that Iran release all political prisoners and detainees, cease violent repression against peaceful Iranian protesters, conduct a transparent investigation into the killings of Iranian protesters, and make progress toward establishing an independent judiciary. Just in case those conditions are insufficiently implausible, the president must certify further that the Iranian government “has ceased supporting acts of international terrorism.” Even if Iran miraculously did this, it is unlikely that the president could certify it.

Those are certainly noble goals, but they go far beyond the narrow aim of ensuring that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon. Given these far-reaching provisions, Tehran probably senses that no matter what it does with its nuclear program, the sanctions are here to stay. If it is going to be sanctioned anyway, why cooperate with the IAEA on the nuclear issue?

If the United States and Iran hope to escape these sadly familiar episodes of heightened tension and warmongering, they need to reach a simple grand bargain that will cut through the sanctions’ impossible conditions. Perhaps the best way to do so is to offer Iran a simple quid pro quo: If Iran agrees to more intrusive inspections under the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, both the unilateral and U.N. Security Council sanctions will be dropped.

Such an agreement has a chance to convince doubters that Iran is not on the reckless path to a nuclear weapon that Heinonen outlines. Only through shifting the conversation from the impossible goal of eliminating Iranian nuclear capability to a focus on better monitoring it can the world prevent another harmful rush to war.

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public opinion in syria

An older blog entry about Syria essentially argued, to quote the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, ‘ dont just do something, stand there’.  An article in The Guardian this week provides further support to my argument.

The key finding was that while most Arabs outside Syria feel the president should resign, attitudes in the country are different. Some 55% of Syrians want Assad to stay, motivated by fear of civil war – a spectre that is not theoretical as it is for those who live outside Syria’s borders. What is less good news for the Assad regime is that the poll also found that half the Syrians who accept him staying in power believe he must usher in free elections in the near future

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Whats surprising then is how the situation in Syria continues to be reported by western media. The question of what the Syrian public wants is mostly absent from commentary. Rather, the discussion continues as if they simply do not exist; instead, they only seem to discuss the western options in dealing with syria. For example, today’s Washington Post lead on Syria reads,

 Growing indications that a deeply divided international community is either unable or unwilling to intervene to halt the violence in Syria are fueling an armed rebellion that risks plunging the country, and perhaps the region, into a wider war. ( read article here)

Look at how the sentence is constructed. It seems as if the lack of international involvement is causing a war in Syria/ the wider region. The focus is on the international community, not on Syria.

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