Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Biden Monologues

Joe Biden once had a plan for Iraq. Many kept a distance from it. It was embarrassing. He didn’t even want it brought up during the campaign, and many pro-Obama journalists obliged. Consequently, I find the recent headlines that say that Biden is “the man with the alternative plan” for Afghanistan strange and worrying. First of all, I’d like to know who is bringing him into those grown-up strategy meetings at the White House? What’s next? Getting him a chemistry set? I worry, I really do.

Here’s what I imagine Biden saying at the meetings:

“We don’t need more troops in Afghanistan. General McCrystal is a fool. There’s nothing in his report about building a Death Star. Gentlemen, Hillary, we need to built a Death Star. That is the only way we shall be able to zap Al-Qaeda with an intergalactic laser. We should also ask Congress to allocate funds in the next fiscal year for a Drone Army. I put myself forward as the prototype for the clones, what with my awesome pectorals and head full of hair, I am the Warrior Knight personified.

“Otherwise, we must ambush the Taliban. Turn the tables on them. We shall wait for them to wade through a stream, and then, when they least expect it, we’ll drop a toaster in the water, with a really long extension cord, from one of our satellites. Zap, zap, bzzzzzztttt. No more Taliban. I am not wedded to this plan; I may contemplate exchanging an AM/FM clock radio for the toaster. Or a hairdryer. I own a hair-dryer that you can have. I have many hairdryers because I have a lot of hair. On my head. Here, look. Don’t touch.

“The CIA must recruit handsome pigeons. Otherwise, we can recruit ordinary looking pigeons and give them expensive plastic surgery treatments, feather-implants and what not. These pigeons will be trained to intercept and seduce the female carrier pigeons that work for Al-Qaeda. Once in the love claws of our feathery boys, they’ll lead them on and then break their little pigeon hearts. Al-Qaeda’s pigeons will be forlorn and crestfallen. That’s when we get all Manchurian Candidate on their tails. We’ll program them to lay Hellfire eggs, right inside the cavernous lairs of the terrorists.

“Afghanistan must be partitioned along elevational lines. High altitude Afghans cannot get along with low altitude Afghans, not with the valley people hogging all the oxygen. I propose three regions for the country: below sea-level to 2000 feet, 2000 feet to 4000 feet, and 4000 feet and above. We’ll build giant fans in the valleys, pointed upwards, to ensure proper circulation of oxygen to the mountaintops. Equitable distribution of oxygen will give the various segments of the multi-elevated Afghan people room to breathe. “But what about transportation for the ‘4000 & Abovers’ demographic?” you say. I have one word for you: circus acrobats. Those high wire performers can carry several 4000 & Abovers on their shoulders as they move from one mountaintop to another. I can anticipate your next thought: yes, we need to fund and train a Circus Corps, alongside our other military formations. Which brings up another point, do our intelligence services have enough highly experienced mimes in their ranks?

“We must reassure the American public. How about a headline: “White House: U.S. Will Not Pull Out of Afghanistan.” Get the Associated Press on the line. We should also add that U.S. troops will remain in Wyoming. And that rabbits will continue to be fluffy. Wait. Is there such a thing as carrier rabbits? Could Al-Qaeda be using rabbits instead of pigeons? Just to be on the safe side, get the CIA to breed extra-fluffy rabbits.

“I know how to fix this Iran pickle. We will give them nuclear weapons. That way they won’t go sneaking behind our backs, enriching uranium, and breaking the law. Once they have them, then they’ll get bored, and quickly get back to lighting kittens on fire. Oooh, those incorrigible little rascals!

“I shall challenge Putin to a bout of wrestling. We’ll get all oiled up, in the Turkish fashion. I shall establish my alpha-maleness. I am sure I will win. I have more hair than Putin. On top. Don’t touch."

It is at this point at the meeting when President Obama looks up and asks, "Muffins. Everyone likes muffins. I certainly do. How about a strategy of 'muffin engagement'? Would Chavez say no to a muffin? With colorful sprinkles?"

After all they'd heard, everyone in the room agrees that the president's plan is brilliant. Following an initial wave of disbelief, Hillary will shake her head, shrug her shoulders, and say, "Fuck it. 'Muffin Engagement' you said? Sure Mr. President, I'll get my Assistant Secretary for Baked Goods on it right away," grumbling under her breath, "It's not my f-ing presidency." Secretary Gates leans in and whispers to her, "Don't forget the sprinkles."

Teleprompter is switched off. Meeting is adjourned.

[Some humor is necessary from time to time. I really hope the Obama administration decides quickly on fighting the good fight in Afghanistan. Defeating Al-Qaeda and the Taliban is not America's sole responsibility, yet it is everyone's gain. Here's to hoping that the European allies don't wuss out. I may not want Obama re-elected in 2012, but I don't want to see America fail or weaken during his presidency. It may be easy to turn Biden into a caricature, but he's a man of experience and (some) smarts. However, I think his 'alternative' plan to disengage militarily from Afghanistan, while keeping Al-Qaeda on guard through airstrikes, is impractical. Obama will eventually have to follow his general's recommendation: 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Doing otherwise, or half-assing it, is not sustainable on any political level. I'm so glad that no such hard decisions need to be taken on Iraq, which is doing fine comparatively.]

This is outrageous: the Dalai Lama to be snubbed by Obama (smirk)

So I’ve been waiting for that one event that would signal, beyond a doubt, just how different the new Obama administration is going to handle the democracy agenda, when compared to the Bush years. Little did I know that it would take the form of a callous snub of the most iconic and hip 'freedom' agenda that exists in America: President Barack Obama just isn’t that big on ‘Free Tibet’, despite all the celebrity endorsements.

Check out today’s write up in the Washington Post:

For the first time since 1991, the Tibetan spiritual leader will visit Washington this week and not meet with the president. Since 1991, he has been here 10 times. Most times the meetings have been "drop-in" visits at the White House. The last time he was here, in 2007, however, George W. Bush became the first sitting president to meet with him publicly, at a ceremony at the Capitol in which he awarded the Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress's highest civilian award.

The U.S. decision to postpone the meeting appears to be part of a strategy to improve ties with China that also includes soft-pedaling criticism of China's human rights and financial policies as well as backing efforts to elevate China's position in international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund. Obama administration officials have termed the new policy "strategic reassurance," which entails the U.S. government taking steps to convince China that it is not out to contain the emerging Asian power.
Bush hands out medals, Obama turns a cold shoulder. If the Dalai Lama gets snubbed in such a way, then what chance do Iranian, Syrian, Cuban, Russian and other activists stand with the post-Bush administration? A ‘Free Tibet’ bumper sticker alongside an Obama ’08 now just looks plain wrong.

This event jogged my memory: back in the spring of 1998, a bunch of Iraqi activists were organizing a bus tour of about a dozen U.S. cities to highlight the crimes of the Saddam regime and to get regular Americans on board to support their struggle. The driving force was Los Angeles-based Iraqi-American Mazin Yousif [al-Eshaiker], now of Baghdad. He planned for a number of stops, beginning in California and ending up in Washington DC. I was one of many lending a helping hand. The planning coincided with a visit by the Dalai Lama to my alma mater, Brandeis University, so I wrote a letter asking the Tibetan holy man to endorse and support, in any way, the ‘Free Iraq’ bus campaign. The letter was personally handed to the Dalai Lama by Brandeis president Jehuda Reinhartz; we never got a response.

The bus tour brought back a flood of memories, prompting me to delve into my pictures trunk so that I can scan the mementos and write about them (see below). Many of the faces in those pictures became part of the story of the New Iraq. My friend, Mousa al-Fatlawi, left his home and business in Michigan to fight alongside U.S. troops as part of the Free Iraq Forces battalion. He now lives, and thrives, in Hillah. Abu Ibrahim, if I remember correctly, also joined up for the fight. Mousa’s brother-in-law, Sa’adi Kadhim, is also back in Hillah. Dr. Maha (Mazin’s sister) and her husband, both dentists in Connecticut, paid the travel expenses of a bunch of fighters from the marshes of southern Iraq so that they would have a voice at the General Assembly of the Iraqi National Congress that was held in New York City in October 1999. Safa, last I heard, was back in Baghdad, building highways after doing the same for two decades in Philadelphia. Shakir, of Boston, went back to Nassiriya for a visit, and was planning to move back permanently last time we spoke. Kanan Makiya, who did so much to publicize Saddam’s crimes in the West, went back to Iraq, grew disillusioned, and is back in Cambridge, Mass. Hamid al-Bayati is now Iraq’s ambassador to the UN in New York. Muhammad Alwan, who was forced to leave Iraq in the 1950s as a leftist activist, is still at Tufts, while another face in the pictures is that of Mr. Sheena, who joined us on the Boston leg of the trip; he was part of the Jewish exodus in the early 1950s, but still felt compelled to do his part in supporting liberty for a homeland that ejected him.

There were so many ‘annoying’ memories about that bus campaign: cancellations, getting bureaucrats to issue protest permits, clashing egos and political agendas, little interest from the target audience, never having enough money, …etc. We couldn’t even afford a bus, so we went with a rented minivan! Not only did the Dalai Lama snub us, but so did dozens of Arab and Muslim organizations whose help and support we sought. I still remember that quite a number of DC-based Iraqi opposition ‘poseurs’ didn’t even bother to show up to the concluding rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial; many of them went on to capture top positions in the New Iraq. We all had day jobs, but managed to find the time. Mazin’s efforts, in particular, were awesome. Despite all the hassles and disappointments, the clearest and most poignant memory that remains is that the tour happened anyway. We tried to get public opinion (and celebrity endorsements) but we failed. However, in the end Iraqis got their liberty from Saddam (…thank you W.) while the Tibetans still wait (…no thank you Mr. Obama).

Had we not had April 9, 2003, then I guess the ‘Free Iraq’ bus tour would have been an embittering episode. Now it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling; we did our part, however small.

As Tibetan activists continue their struggle for public awareness about the injustices they must endure, I hope their memories of bus tours, hunger strikes, and silent vigils, don’t turn bitter. But today’s headline in the WaPo couldn’t have been uplifting. ‘Change’? Well, this variety of ‘change’ sucks. I hope Obama is shamed enough (…’Richard Gere on Line 1, Oprah on Line 2’) to receive the Dalai Lama, however much those Chinese loan sharks may fume and threaten.

Here are the pics...Wow, this all happened over a decade ago. I had more hair, on top and around my ever-present smirk. (Click to enlarge)