Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Iyad Allawi and Hamid Karzai

Let me say that both Karzai (in Afghanistan) as well as Allawi (in Iraq) are sort of my heroes, and if I lived in these countries, they would almost definitely receive my vote.

Allawi, the interim prime minister of Iraq, is a British-Iraqi neurologist, a fellow scientist, so to say. Although he started as a member of the Baath party, Saddam Hussein attempted to murder him, but Allawi survived. Allawi is a tough guy, and this feature will almost undoubtedly be important for the leader of Iraq in the next couple of years.

As far as I know, Karzai is the only one among five brothers who does not know how to cook. Unlike one of his brothers who owns a restaurant here in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he became a president of Afghanistan. The elections in Afghanistan during the weekend were certainly far from perfect, but we cannot afford to be perfectionists in this case. No doubt, 22 opponents of Karzai did not have enough resources and opportunities to advertise themselves throughout Afghanistan, especially because most citizens have no access to the mass media and they are mostly illiterate. Whatever, it's their problem. I think that democracy worked before the television was invented. A country benefits from the ability of its citizens to read, and it suffers if they cannot read. But it's important to note that the whole country suffers, not just the 22 opponents. Democracy should work with whatever available resources. I hope that Karzai will win, he will become a legitimate president, and the life in Afghanistan will be slowly improving.

Maybe it's true that he would be better as a showman on TV, but it seems pretty clear to me that his most obvious opponents would be a worse choice for that country as well as for the Western civilization. Although Karzai does not control much outside Kabul, he seems to be the only choice.

Iraq is in a slightly different situation. Allawi is a great, smart, and brave guy, but he is clearly unpopular in Iraq (even if he's compared to primitive bastards such as Al-Sadr Jr.). I am afraid that the reason is simply that despite Iraq's impressive history and resources, most of the current Iraqi nation is sort of f*cked up, politely speaking. Moreover they seem to be angry about the war. It's a very important general question whether it makes sense to try to export freedom and democracy into a nation that obviously does not dream about it too much. Well, I don't know, but I hope that in a couple of years, we will see that the 2003 experiment was not such a bad idea after all...


  1. "According to former CIA officers, Allawi's INA organised terrorist attacks in Iraq between 1992 and 1995, allegedly including the bombing of a cinema and a school bus that killed school children."

    We can disagree about who we choose as our heros.

  2. I think that the anonymous poster has not lived in a totalitarian regime which implies a reduced understanding for the situation.

    INA was mostly made of military personnel, so it's not shocking that its action had military character. It's absolutely clear that virtually *every* force that is any relevant in Iraq is doing similar things.

    However I will never approve the approach that the attacks in a country like Hussein's Iraq are on equal footing with similar attacks in a democratic country. Sorry. Hussein's regime has been a fucked up one, and there was no one until 2003 who would help those suppressed by Hussein's regime. I find it obvious that those under Hussein's rule had to try themselves, and these attempts could not have been done in a completely peaceful way.

    If the school bus was proved to be among the INA's victims, it would be sad, but I would still have some understanding why their decisions escalated in this way.

  3. I do undertstand that everyone's view of the world is shaped by their life's experience, but it is helpful to see the world beyond that.

    While the Americans (unlike the Soviets) were good for Europe after WWII, they were brutal in Vietnam and Latin America. There are no saints or sinners in world affairs, only people with self-interest, but some a lot more enlightened (like Marshall and Truman after WWII) than others (like French and British after WWI and the current US govt.). And to be fair, there was little of the war-profiteering after WWII in US than seems the norm now.

    Meanwhile, the majority of the world laughs at the suggestion that 'spreading of democracy and freedom' is the main goal of current administration (or even most previous administrations for that matter). Why then do they like totalitarian regimes more (say Pakistan or S Arabia) than true real democracies (like India)? No sir, the real interest is in getting pliant client states, which no true democracy will ever be.
    But they cannot mobilize the US public on that basis; 'democratizing mission' in just a 21st century update of the 'civilizing mission' of the past used for colonialism.

    Regarding the 2003 'experiment', it has already failed , despite the sugar-coating in the media here.

    But the real problems facing the countries are not in foreign affairs, but in economy here and in Japan and most of W Europe, thanks to the baby boom generation retirement, irrespective of who wins in 2004.

  4. I don't think that the USA are hostile towards India, on the contrary. If there were a war between India and Pakistan, I find it unlikely that Pakistan would be really supported by the US government.

    Well, there are also people in the world who consider seriously the statement that America is spreading freedom and democracy. For example I am one of them... Vietnam was an example, too. It just got out of control. And Latin America? Which country do you exactly have in mind? I would probably disagree who is good and who is bad in these conflicts as well.

    Let me say that people like Che Guevara - but even Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro - were (or are) commies and criminals, and I would go after them, too.

  5. I think you will be mildly surprised to read the extract reproduced below (regarding the 1971 Indo-Pak war):

    "And the hostile attitude taken toward India by the U.S. during the crisis had along lasting effect on Indian attitudes. Pres. Nixon and Sec. of State Kissinger chose to view India's actions as hostilities aimed at a U.S. ally and thus as an act hostile to the United States, rather than a case of a western-style democracy coming to the defense of a people being brutally persecuted by a military dictatorship for attempting to exercise its democratic rights. The U.S. even went so far as to dispatch an aircraft carrier battle group to the Indian Ocean in an ill-conceived, obscurely reasoned, and ineffectual attempt to pressure India. The feeling that a superpower had attempted to coerce India in affairs affecting India's vital interests became a cause celebre for advocates of the nuclear option (although they never clearly explained how a limited nuclear capability would counter U.S. pressure)."

    (The gossip is that Kissinger threatened (the Indian PM then) to drop a nuclear bomb in India during the conflict; three years later, India tested a bomb for 'peaceful purposes').

    Look, I am no 'anti-US' zealot, the kind you find on the cheap everywhere in the world, lately W Europe. I have lived there (Boston) and liked the people very much. After all, who cannot be moved by the Declaration of Independence talking about the 'self-evident truths', one of the truly remarkable documents in human history. And there are plenty of things to admire about the US. However, I draw a big distinction between the government and its people. I think a majority of the American people genuinely decent and truly egalitarian (unlike India or W Europe for that matter) and would want democracies (representative govts) everywhere, but not the US government. And it is not just US; the European powers would like to do the same, but are quite powerless now anyway.

    The word 'communist' means different things in different countries, it is interesting to note that the states ruled by the communist party of India, especially Kerala, are the most progressive states in the India. Kerala has among the lowest per capita in the country but has a literacy rate comparable to advanced countries and life expactancy equal to that of the US.

    So labels (like communists) can sometimes be misleading (well, the Chinese communists are hardly communists).

    But I do understand the brutal effects of Stalinism/fascism on several parts of the world (or other such isms). Hats off to you for dedicating your thesis to the victims!

    Anyway, just my two cents...

    BTW, I want to commend you for your efforts on the strings newsgroup and now the blog. I learn a lot of interesting stuff from them, even if I don't agree with string theory as the definitive description. So MANY THANKS and keep up the great work!

  6. Hi!

    Thanks for your interesting and insightful comments. You obviously know more than me about the conflict in 1971, and it would be unreasonable if I tried to promote my opinions about that too much, especially if my guess is that you are from India and you know the history much better. ;-)

    But anyway, let's try. :-)

    We should admit (and realize) that the appearance of a new nuclear power is always unpleasant, even if the new nuclear countries are democratic (and I have no idea whether India in 1971 was as democratic as today) and it was certainly unpleasant for others in the case of India as well as Pakistan, too. Well, one may still ask why the States have the right to have the bomb while others don't.

    Well, I see two related reasons. One of them is that the USA have the longest record of peaceful use of the nuclear power - in some sense, the nuclear bomb saved the world from the 3rd world war - and the second reason is that the USA have invented the weapon, and therefore they have the know-how and the copyright to hold it (and hopefully not use it). ;-) I was just watching a TV document about the Soviet spies who stole the nuclear secrets from the USA - a very interesting history.

    OK, let's now accept the fact that India has the weapon. I still think that both India and the USA and others will agree that it is better if other countries don't join this nuclear club, is not it?

    Let me also say that I not only like the Indian physicists and other Indians we know from Boston very much, but I also have the feeling that others like them a lot. Not only that, it seems to me that the US administration may be treating them better in many respects than some of the US allies in Central Europe ;-). And by the way, the Czechs have visa duty for India which is not the best contribution to *our* relations either.

    Average Americans probably don't remember the history of US-Indian relations from the early 1970s, and if there were anything wrong, I think that the Indians should forget it, too. Is not forgiving a part of traditional Indian philosophies? Otherwise their negative emotions may be blamed for damaging the relations today - and I believe that the relations today are (today) more important than the relations in the 1970s.

    Look, India is not only one of the seeds of human civilization as such, but it is also potentially a country of the future that may take over. We will also probably disagree which Indian party gives the country the biggest promise to make real progress in the future ;-), but I hope that the disagreement is OK. Nothing against the socialists from the Congress today, they're just fine. The inflow of sophisticated jobs in the software industry and related industries to India is probably very helpful, but it is not a trivial thing, and I believe that the previous government should still take some credit for allowing these developments.

    China's economy is not really a communist economy - you're definitely right - but there are some other aspects about the Chinese society that still justify to call China a "communist country" - well, it's the way how politics is decided.

    Concerning "egaliterian Americans". Come on! First of all, it is not true that there is a gap between the American people and the US government. In fact, it seems to me that the US government is closest to the regular citizens. In some sense, this is what makes democracy work, even if it means that the leaders are not necessarily the smartest and most peaceful people in the nation. ;-) You may be judging the American society according to the Cambridge academic environment. Well, Bush got less votes in 2000 in Cambridge than even Ralph Nader! :-) Harvard is called "The Kremlin on the Charles".

    This is not how American nation looks like! Normal Americans are nice, but they are far from being egaliterian. Their thinking is probably most pro-capitalist and "conservative" in the US sense among all nations in the world, which is why the mainstream liberals in the US are comparable to the right-wing parties in Europe and elsewhere. Most people at Harvard are not even mainstream liberals, they are far left liberals. Nothing against them personally. ;-)

    Let's also admit that the communists may do a good job under some special circumstances - it is conceivable that the communist system may be useful for post-war reconstruction; for spreading literacy, for eliminating mass poverty, and so forth. But believe me that as soon as India or any other country becomes comparable to other developed countries in the world, the effect of communists - as well as the effect of strong egalitarianism - becomes very damaging, and this statement has been tested quite extensively.

    Thanks for your nice words about some other issues.

    All the best

  7. I will clarify the comment on US being 'egalitarian'. Poor choice of words. What I really meant was that in the US, unlike in most of the world, people really do not care much about the ethnic or family background of the person. The example of the successful immigrants of all ethnic groups--Jews, Asians, etc-- is an example. I don't think it would be possible in most parts of the world, including most (all?) of W Europe. I did not mean it in the sense of it being a society where everyone is paid equally.

    Your points are well taken, though I have some disagreements. But I want you to spend more time writing about string theory, so I will stop arguing :)

    BTW, although I don't agree with string theory as the answer, I still try to follow it and it seems to have some kernels of truth that I find fascinating---at least very interesting exercises in mathematical physics. I completely agree with your assessment of LQG; the people studying that subject should first learn about particle physics.

  8. I see! I completely agree, Most Americans are much less racist than most other nations.