Monday, June 30, 2008

One vote is all it takes

In this video, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is seen casting a ballot in his one-man presidential election, trying to make the impression that his country is somehow embracing democracy (opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is currently holed up in the Dutch Embassy, fearing for his life as armed Mugabe supporters await him outside).

I don't even see why Mugabe is even bothering to hold an election, his vote he is casting is the only one that matters, and the only one that will count, in his form of "democracy".

I recently read that Americans are less concerned with foreign policy, and are more focused on domestic issues, like the economy...well, in Zimbabwe, inflation has soared to unimaginable levels, unemployment is rampant, and the people are heavily reliant on food aid. Now, when a leader has failed the people in a way like Robert Mugabe has, the people have a responsibility to remove that leader from office. America's problems pale in comparison to Zimbabwe's, but nevertheless, in November, Americans have the chance to chose a leader they believe will be the most productive, whether that be John McCain or Barack Obama. No doubt the percentage who fail to see their candidate elected will take this right for granted.

With Zimbabwe, the options are clear--vote for Mugabe, or risk having a militia come to your home to torture, kill, and dismember you and your family. In the end, it doesn't really matter, because more of Mugabe will bring the latter with it no matter what.

Also, note the mobile phone footage that was taken for this video, where a police chief is seen sifting through the votes of his fellow officers during the election, only approving those that have checked off Mugabe's name.

I suppose this is just another day in Africa...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The friend of our enemy is our friend...the complex and ironic relationship between the United States, Iraq, and Iran

While writing this post, I was unable to get the lyrics to Bob Marley's renowned song One Love out of my just seemed so fitting, yet so far off (Okay, I was actually playing it on my iTunes).

The position that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and the Iraqi government are currently in is quite an interesting one. Just think, recently, on a trip to Iran, Maliki visited the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini, while not long before that, he was over here in the United States visiting with the families of U.S. service members getting ready to deploy to an Iraq, something the Iranians are vehemently opposed to--and make clear on a daily basis. I often wonder to myself why this question is not asked more often. Sure, it does come up, but seriously, look at these two pictures below.

Here, PM Maliki is meeting with President Bush, with the flags of Iraq and the United States proudly displayed across from one another. The Iraqi government has reiterated its support for American troops to remain in Iraq to counter the insurgency, rebuild the country, and set it on the right path towards democracy. American currently has over 150,000 troops in Iraq, and even with an upcoming presidential election, that number is unlikely to be greatly reduced anytime soon (even if Big O becomes the next president, I think he'll even acknowledge the importance of staying in Iraq)...and this is at the request of a democratically elected government headed by the Islamic Da'wa Party, of which PM Maliki is a member of.

And who is one of Dawa's biggest supporters: Iran.

That is right--Iran. Here, you can see Maliki and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad holding hands in brotherly affection. I couldn't imagine that Ahmadinejad is not well aware of the fact that his Iraqi brother has stood by the side of President George W. Bush, whom Ahmadinejad routinely attacks, and vise-versa. Indeed, Iraq is in quite a precarious position between what the United States has labeled as "The Axis of Evil" and what the Revolutionaries in Iran have labeled as "The Great Satan".

On his recent trip to Iraq, Ahmadinejad stated that it was a good thing to see Iraq free of Saddam Hussein...okay, so who does he think removed Saddam Hussein? It certainly wasn't Muqtada Al-Sadr, or any other Iraqi nationalist figure with connections to Tehran. In fact, this is often tied into the debate over whether or not the United States should have gone into Iraq...some critics of President Bush believe he empowered the Iranians by removing Saddam Hussein, and there is no argument that Iran's influence in the region has grown without Saddam's regime on its western border. Yet for some reason, relations between the United States and Iran could not be at a lower point, never mind that both of them have benefited from the removal of Saddam's Hussein's regime in Iraq, as well as the ousting of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where the United States and Iran actually worked together! Much like the Government of Iraq, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is also a strong supporter of the positive influence he says is coming from Iran and the United States.

So here's what I am wondering. First off, why won't the American and Iranian government face the reality that is inconvenient when the two nations trade barbs, accusations, and threats at each other? Second, why can't Maliki and Karzai bring this issue up, whether they are walking down a red carpet outside the White House or at a receiving ceremony in Tehran? If Iran and the United States truly see Iraq and Afghanistan as strategic allies, then perhaps it is time they trust them to play a much needed role as mediator...a positive role at mediation amongst allies could be the difference between more violence, conflict and war, and a partnership that could prove to make the world a better place in the end.

The United States and Iran will not be able to settle their differences on their own...the leaders of both countries have gone out of their way to make it as difficult as possible, unfortunately. Just look at the recent breakdown of U.S.-Iranian talks on Iraqi security. However, this appeal I am making is to the allies of both countries. A mention of this at a press conference by Al-Maliki or Karzai (whether they be with Bush, the next U.S. President, Ahmadinejad, or Khamenei) would certainly put the issue to the forefront, because it is a reality that cannot be ignored while Iran and the United States battle it out on many fronts to achieve power on the world stage.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Iraqis rally around their soccer team

Iraqis are rallying around their soccer team after Iraq's victory against China. Even amidst futile attempts by terrorists and thugs to sabotage the happiness in Iraq, Iraqis are demonstrating just how strong they stand.

TIANJIN, China, June 14 (Reuters) - Iraq kept their 2010 World Cup hopes alive and buried those of China after Nashat Akram's second half goal gave them a 2-1 win in the third round of Asian qualifying on Saturday.

Emad Mohammed scored a first half equaliser for the Asian champions but it was Akram's 66th minute strike that ensured that Iraq would go into their final group match against Qatar in two weeks with a chance of progressing whatever the result of the Qataris match against Australia later on Saturday.

"The score does not tell the story, this was a difficult game for us especially after going a goal behind," Iraq coach Adnan Hamad told reporters.

"But we are very happy that we delivered on our promise to go back home with three points."

China, who needed to win to remain in the hunt for the second trip to the World Cup finals after 2002, had the best of the game, but after taking the lead in the first half through Zhou Haibin, wasted too many chances and will remain in the international wilderness until at least 2014.

Iraqis, enjoy your victory today in soccer...I hope you will enjoy your victory over the forces of terrorism even more, and we can only hope that will be soon.

By the way, here is yet another example of Al-Qaeda's growing desperation to cause chaos and break the will of the Iraqi people. Much thanks is to be owed to the brave policeman who is mentioned in the above link.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert: in peace

Tim Russert was once of the few media personalities who still upheld the values of traditional journalism...he had a way of being balanced with his guests, and he always focused on the most important issues. Reading the news of his death was no doubt shocking, and I hope that he will be remembered for his qualities and ability to keep his viewers and fans informed about the day's most important events. Today's media could certainly use many more people like Tim Russert, and it is a tragedy that he has been lost. The media has definitely reached a low point between the endless stories of meaningless news, celebrity gossip, and political bias, and Russert offered a much needed alternative and a step back into the way it should be with his insight. My Grandfather has a good saying about Russert's program (He was, and still is, a big fan of Tim Russert): "No matter what side his guests were on, he had a way of holding their feet to the fire". That, I must say, was very true. But it was always in a respectful way, not in the way you might see Keith Olbermann or Bill O'Reilly handle it. Tim Russert was a very good man, may he rest in peace. I will very much miss his political analysis, as will all of those who enjoyed his views, TV show, and his personality.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Barack Obama, Israel, and Iraq

I am already tired of hearing about the presidential election...seriously, you can only listen to so much of it, and it starts to get depressing. I have been trying to watch Fox News and CNN lately and I would say about forty percent of the time, the news is either about Barack and Hillary, fifty percent is about unnecessary stories most informed people would have no interest in, nine percent of the news is about John McCain, and lastly, you could squeeze in just a little bit of international news (which is what I watch the news for in the first place) to make up the remaining one percent. I am no media analyst, but this is the rough impression I get from when I watch the news. There is a reason why I prefer international media--the BBC, the Dawn, etc.

Anyway, this was an interesting story from BBC:

Barack Obama has pledged unwavering support for Israel in his first foreign policy speech since declaring himself the Democratic nominee for president.

He told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), a prominent Jewish lobby, Israel's security was "sacrosanct" and "non-negotiable".

He also said he would do "everything" to stop Iran getting a nuclear weapon.

As the Democrats' primary season ended, Mr Obama received the support of enough delegates to clinch the nomination.

His rival, Hillary Clinton, has yet to concede.

Okay, great...Barack Obama is pledging support for Israel. He has also stated he wants to go after Al-Qaeda in the tribal belts of Pakistan. Now, if only he would make a pledge like this to support Iraq no matter what...and stand beside the Iraqi people, regardless of poll numbers or what his left-leaning base says. I would sleep a lot better if I knew that both candidates--McCain and Obama--were saying the right things on foreign policy. Obama has made history being the first African-American to secure the democratic nomination for president, now I suggest he do something just as symbolic...he should take McCain up on his offer for both of them to visit Iraq and see first-hand the amazing progress that is taking place over there. They could meet with American and Iraqi commanders on the ground, and promise that no matter what, the United States will support Iraq in its battle against Al-Qaeda and Muqtada's boys in Sadr City.

Both McCain and Obama have repeatedly stated they want to unite the country and end "partisan" politics, and I think that a joint visit to Iraq to make a promise to the Iraqi people would be the best way to do that.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Separating Islam from Al-Qaeda

It is widely speculated that a massive car bomb attack against the Danish Embassy in the Pakistani capitol of Islamabad on Monday is reaction to the Danish cartoons that have been the subject of great controversy in recent months. The first thing on everyone's mind will be the notion that Islamic extremists are somehow "defending Islam" by driving a car packed with explosives into a foreign embassy, but let's remember something--there are over 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, and even if only 10 percent of them embraced Al-Qaeda's beliefs, the world would quickly be brought to its knees in a sea of destruction. The suggestion by some that attacks like this are the mainstream view in Islam are incorrect, the numbers themselves prove that wrong. Instead, controversies like the Danish Cartoons and the Dutch film "Fitna" give Al-Qaeda and other extremists a chance to recruit followers by convincing them that their religion is being insulted...and also put more distance between Muslims and westerners, who should be embracing each other in the fight against extremism. Anyone who reads my writings knows that I am a strong supporter of Islam and believe that the faith has been twisted into a sadistic ideology by some to advance certain beliefs--beliefs that are far from what is taught in the Koran. Someday, Al-Qaeda's lasting legacy will be the horrendous destruction it has brought upon Muslim countries and the religon it claimed to be fighting for, and not necessarily the attacks it has succeeded in carrying out in the west, which pale in comparison.

There's another reason not to believe the speculation that this is only about "blasphemy". Consider that AQ's #2 man Ayman Al-Zawahiri has openly declared that the Danish cartoons merit a response from Muslims, but why is it that Mr. Zawahiri doesn't have much to say when his Taliban allies in Pakistan's northwest blast their way through crowds of worshippers in mosques to target security officials and politicians? Surely, that is FAR more degrading and harmful to Islam than anything a Danish newspaper can print or anything Geert Wilders can say in his misguided film, yet Al-Qaeda and their fellow extremists do so with glee not only in Pakistan, but in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim countries. Al-Qaeda is exploiting this issue--and I strongly suggest the Dutch film "Fitna" and other anti-Muslim propaganda should be pulled, but by the looks of it, Al-Qaeda is far more interested in killing innocent people (mainly Muslims) and bringing about destruction in Muslim countries, so it isn't fair to say they are standing with their "fellow Muslims" to defend a religion they have greatly perverted.

Here's the story about the attack from The New York Times. Keep in mind Pakistan's government is trying to engage in "peace talks" with the Taliban, including militant leader Baitullah Mehsud, who is believed to be responsible for some of the many suicide bombings that have plagued Pakistani cities the last year and a half--including the assassination on Benazir Bhutto and the previous attempt on her life that killed scores of her supporters two months earlier.

A powerful car bomb exploded outside the Danish Embassy in an upscale area of the Pakistani capital Monday, badly damaging the building and killing at least six people, according to reports from hospitals.

A senior official at the Interior Ministry, Rehman Malik, said one foreigner was among the dead, but he did not give a nationality. Casualty lists posted at two hospitals said that six people had died and more than 20 had been injured. Mr. Malik said the police were investigating whether the blast was a suicide attack. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The blast, heard around the city at about 1 p.m., was the second effort to single out foreigners in Islamabad in the last few months and came as the civilian government has signed a series of peace deals with Islamic militants in the nation’s tribal areas.

Several European bomb experts who examined the blast site said that the bomb appeared to have contained about 110 pounds of explosives and left a crater nearly three feet deep. It was powerful enough to wreck cars up and down a street that is home to many diplomatic residences, schools and a nearby shopping center.

Sometimes it might take a perspective from the other side of the world...

The most obvious goal of a blogger should be to write posts that people will want to read. With that, it might seem difficult to convince Americans that their country can learn a lesson from a tiny island nation off the coast of India...a country that many Americans probably can't even locate on a map, name its capital, or have a good understanding of what is happening on the ground over there.

The quote below might seem sound like it is coming from a center-right candidate running for president here in the United States, or they may sound like the work of a "neocon" strategist, or maybe even George W. Bush. But they are not, instead, they are the words of Sri Lanka's Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona, a name which by all means would leave just about any voter casting a ballot this November scratching their head and wondering "who?"

"There is no room for terrorism in this modern world. Terrorism is an unacceptable means of political expression"

Take a minute to realize that Kohona is a foreign minister of a country that faces terrorism on a daily basis...Sri Lankans are reminded of the grim reality of fanaticism regularly, even when we Americans are most concerned Barack Obama or John McCain accepting endorsements from a controversial figure or making "gaffes" on non-isses. The stakes will be very high in the coming months as American voters chose the next leader of the free world...and the most important issue of all remains terrorism, and the threat it poses to people of all walks of life and from all over the world. There is no doubt the issue has been politicized by both sides--some on the right have used it as a "fear mongering tool", while others on the left continue to deny terrorism is a real threat and beat the drum saying that America is the real villain in the world, and not the homicidal fanatics who blow up innocent people and burn cities. then of course, there are the Ron Paul types, who fear our "civil liberties are being violated" in the name of counter-terrorism.

But at the end of the day, it might not hurt to have a look at a country like Sri Lanka, which is engaged in a violent power struggle with terrorists who are determined to sabotage its democratic way of life. No matter what their political beliefs, Sri Lankans who are trying to make a living and go about their lives need to do so with an eye for danger, even with the simple things, like riding a bus or a train, which is something a disgruntled businessman dissatisfied with President Bush's handling of our efforts in Iraq probably doesn't contemplate much.

Imagine what it might be like for a second to live in Sri Lanka, perhaps in the northern Jaffna Peninsula where the Tamil Tiger rebels engage in fierce battles with government forces on a daily basis while targeting civilians, in addition to plotting the next deadly strike against public transportation.

By the way, here is part of the article in which Foreign Minister Kohona was quoted in, which I provided a link to above. What would things be like if America was faced with a domestic terror threat like this?

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels are becoming more violent as they suffer setbacks because of a new government offensive, a top official from the war-torn South Asian nation said Saturday.

Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona said the Tigers have shown no interest in negotiating for permanent peace to end 25 years of separatist violence on the island nation off southern India.

On the contrary, there is a "continuing focus on their part to resort to violence and terrorism" — evident from recent deadly train and bus bombings — Kohona told reporters on the sidelines of a regional security conference in Singapore.

"It looks like they are absolutely committed to terrorism and nothing else. Maybe because in the battlefield they have been pushed back methodically by the government and their only response is to blow up civilians," Kohona said.

Public affairs personnel for the Tamil Tigers were not immediately available for comment.

Definitely worth thinking about, isn't it? At least the libertarians out there who fear for our civil liberties can do so in the safety and security of an American city.

One other thing I would like to say...when I mentioned fanaticism up above, notice I was not specifically referring to "Islamist" extremists. As I have noted many times here on this blog, the LTTE--the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist group which was the focus of this post, is a devout secularist group that embraces (and often sets the bar) the same destructive means of committing brutal acts of violence against the most innocent of all people as anyone from Al-Qaeda, Hamas, or the other "Islamic" groups. It is also worth noting that the threat we here in the west are primarily concerned with, so-called Islamic terrorism, is primarily setting its sights on Muslims who refuse to go along with their ideology, which I believe betrays everything the religion of Islam teaches in the first place. The true and good Muslims in this world are in this battle with us just as much as people in Sri Lanka or any other country in the world faced with the threat of terrorism.

This is a reality that cannot be stressed enough.