Blame the British and French

As Iraq disintegrates, Dems are blaming Bush and Republicans are blaming Obama.  And the same arguments will take place when we finally leave Afghanistan and that God-forsaken place falls apart.

But as we apportion blame, let’s not forget the British and the French.

One of the huge problems we’ve had fighting in Afghanistan is that when we pursue the Taliban, they cross the border into Pakistan, where our ability to follow them is severely restricted.  The Afghans have a save haven there because the people are Pashtun on both sides of the border.  Rather than think of themselves as Afghans or Pakistanis, they think of themselves primarily as Pashtuns.  A sensible border would have all the Pashtuns living in the same country, but noooooo.  Back in 1893, a British colonial official created the Durand Line to separate British India from Afghanistan.  When that part of India became Pakistan in 1947, the absurd border remained, irrationally dividing the Pashtuns.

As for Iraq, the British and French arbitrarily drew the Sykes-Picot line in 1916 (and implemented it after WWI), which falsely divided Ottoman Empire territory into Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, separating Sunni tribes with a purely artificial border.  The Iraq side was for the British, and the Syrian-Lebanese side was for the French, with no regard for the Sunnis who should have been assigned to the same country.  If ISIS weren’t welcomed and joined by Maliki-hating Sunnis as they come from Syria into Iraq, they wouldn’t have been able to make the swift conquest they have.

And don’t get me started on the Kurds, who have really gotten the short end of the stick.  They are a distinct people, Muslim, but not Arab.  They should have an independent Kurdistan (and maybe will when this mess get resolved) that unites the Kurds now divided among Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria.

A Sikh, An American

From “A Sikh Temple’s Century,” Bhira Backhaus, NYT:

“The Stockton Gurdwara in California — the first Sikh temple in the United States — is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.  Immigrants from Punjab, India, purchased the lot on Grant Street in early 1912.

“Once in a while, I bring out a black and white photograph of the gurdwara taken a few decades later.  The members of the early families fan out on the steps leading up to its main entrance.  I scan the faces, picking out my mother, my sister, brothers, cousins, aunts and finally, myself.

“On Saturday nights, when my white girlfriends were off to the movies on dates, I drove my mother to the nearby gurdwara for quiet evening services.  I would roll my eyes as I changed out of my jeans into a salwar kameez outfit that I prayed no one but my Indian friends would witness me wearing.  But I can recall very clearly the comfort of having my mother sitting beside me during the service, her bowed head draped in a white veil, the feeling of peace that washed over me when the hymns and chanting began.

“Eventually I left, in pursuit of an education….  And I married outside the Sikh community, causing a painful breach with my parents that had just begun to heal when they passed away.  But when they reached out to me at last, I understood that I still belonged to the community, always had.

“The Sikh communities in California have flourished over the years.  When I visit home now I am impressed by how comfortable the new generation seems in this country, whether they are developing advanced medical therapies for patients or dancing late into the night to bhangra beats.  They have chosen to preserve their heritage while moving forward in the world.

“But people still sometimes ask me, why can’t they assimilate more?  Dress like us.  Talk like us.  Perhaps, some seen to believe, that would prevent the sort of tragedy that happened in Wisconsin.  I never have an easy answer.  But I do know this:  to wipe away what has come before, who we have been over the centuries, also means to forget who our own mothers and fathers were.  It means that how they conducted their lives — the families they raised, the homes they built — didn’t matter. It denies us that basic human impulse, to remember their stories, the unique timbre of their voices.  It would be as if they had never existed at all.”

Ravi Released

Dharun Ravi has been released after serving only 20 days of his way-too-light 30-day sentence, after his filming of his gay Rutgers roommate, Tyler Clementi, resulted in Clementi’s committing suicide.

Ravi will not be deported back to India, which is a shame, since we have enough native-born homophobes in this country and really don’t need any more.

Why Is a Strong Middle Class So Essential for Everyone Else?

It’s striking that we are so focused on building a strong middle class everywhere in the world, that we see it as the magic bullet that solves threats and problems — except here at home.

When we invaded Iraq, we were assured that one of the things in our favor for building a democracy there was the existence of a strong, educated middle class.  By contrast, we’ve been told over and over that one of the reasons for the tough, fruitless slog in Afghanistan is the lack of a middle class.

We’ve been told that one of the reasons the Islamists have been able to emerge strong from the Arab Spring is the lack of a middle class in the Middle East, that a tiny group of very rich people has ruled over an enormous group of very poor, uneducated people for so long.

We’ve been told that the emerging middle classes in India and China are a wonderful thing for the growth of world trade and prosperity and stability.

But here at home, our middle class is suffering and shrinking.  And we’re told that the growing chasm of income inequality, that the falling back of so many families into poverty, that the failure of so many children to do better than their parents as they have historically, is nothing to be alarmed about.

Can someone explain this?  Mitt?  Reince? Paul Ryan?  John Boehner? Anybody?

Dharun Ravi Gets Measly 30 Days

When Tyler Clementi, a gay Rutgers student, discovered that his roommate, Dharun Ravi, had been spying on him with a webcam when he was engaged in romantic activity, he committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

Today Ravi, who could have gotten up to ten years in prison, was sentenced to a measly 30 days.  Clementi and his family deserve more than this token punishment.  Ravi should have gotten a much longer sentence, and he should be deported back to India.  We have enough awful people in this country we can’t get rid of, there’s no reason to keep the ones we don’t have to.  It is a privilege to live here, and Ravi obviously doesn’t appreciate that privilege.

Might Tyler Clementi eventually have killed himself without Ravi’s provocation?  No one knows.  But he wouldn’t have killed himself when he did.  The official cause of death is that Clementi jumped.  But I would say Ravi pushed him.

A Victory in the War on Terror

Americans reading that Pakistan has normalized trade relations with India may think this is irrelevant to their lives, but actually it helps lessen the risk of another terror attack here.  Any lessening of tensions between India and Pakistan moves Pakistan further along the path of realizing that its number one threat is Islamic terror, not Hindu India.

Pakistan harbors and supports terrorists to use as proxies in its conflict with India.  The more that tension is eased, the less reason Pakistan has to back the terrorists who are fighting us in Afghanistan and plotting to strike us here.

Trade negotiations don’t get the headlines and attention of drone strikes, but this news is a victory for the U. S.  in the War on Terror.


If Pakistan Won’t Listen to Us, Will They Listen to China?

Our pitch to Pakistan that the internal threat from Islamic extremists is their biggest threat, not India, has long fallen on deaf ears.  They remain obsessed with India even as terrorists the Pakistanis have encouraged and aided turned against their masters and conducted operations within Pakistan itself, not just as they were supposed to in Kashmir, India, and Afghanistan.

As relations between the U. S. and Pakistan have grown contentious, Pakistan has turned more and more to China. But now the Chinese are warning about the terrorist threat within Pakistan.  China has just cancelled a $19 billion deal in coal, power, and chemicals, because, as the Wall Street Journal reports, of concerns for the safety of their workers.  So Pakistan’s willful blindness to the threat everyone else sees is costing them their largest foreign investment ever.


President Obama Cannot Give a Trivial Speech in a Towering Setting

A speech before a Joint Session of Congress, like the one President Obama will give on Thursday, is a huge deal.  Sometimes, as after 9/11, it is a command performance, when the American people expect to hear from their president after a major shock.  But when the president asks both for our attention and for that particular stage, he’d better live up to it.

If President Obama offers a laundry-list of minor job proposals, if the speech is not both instructive as to why we are in trouble and inspiring as to how we will triumph, he will be dwarfed by his setting and appear small and foolish, as unworthy of his office.

This is a truly awful moment to be president.  President Bush had the brilliant idea of cutting taxes while adding a new health care entitlement, the prescription drug part of Medicare, and fighting two wars.  Warnings about a Wall Street that had become Las Vegas with more tasteful decor, about an unregulated “shadow economy” of derivatives, were ignored.  The financial crisis we suffered is different from a generic recession, and takes much longer to recover from, especially with respect to job creation.

But there are larger forces at work here, aside from the domestic mess President Obama inherited.  Americans prospered because much of the rest of the world consisted of illiterate peasants.  Today, India and China are filled with young people who know math and science and know them better than many of our young people.  We prospered because we educated more of our people than other developed countries.  We didn’t force the bulk of our young people off the college track at a tender age, the way they did in Europe.

Our prosperity was based on our people, our unique American combination of a willingness to work hard and limitless opportunity for those who did.  Today, all over the world, other people are competing effectively with us.  President Obama needs to explain how these people, this rising global middle class, can become our customers rather than our competitors.

We have gone from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing economy to a service economy.  Where do we go now?  We are ready to hop in our covered wagons, metaphorically speaking, and go on to the next frontier.  But what is it, where is it, and how do we get there?

Ten years after 9/11, the president does not have to deal with our towers falling literally.  But they are falling figuratively.  We really need a national unity government to address the big picture of our current crisis and our uncertain future.  But a Republican Party obsessed with kicking President Obama out of the Oval Office will never sit down with him in that office to listen to experts and govern accordingly.  They aren’t interested in wisdom, only in winning, which is a loss for the American people, especially our unemployed.