Starting this is hard. I promised to have this done by Sunday night, and here it is Saturday night and 20 words down. I needed a deadline to actually produce, so I told Matt Sunday night. So here I am, the wife and baby asleep, trying to produce.Matt asked me what I was going to write about. “Something geopolitical,” I said. Smart sounding way a of saying I’m not sure. “Something geopolitica,l” it can really cover an endless body of blathering, as I hope we will soon find.
Maybe an introduction first, I’ve been on the boards but this is my first story. My name’s Joshua. 34, married 7 years, one daughter. Professional journalist, photojournalist in detail. Been in “the business” 8 years, now working at a daily newspaper in the Baltimore/DC area. No, not that one. Not that one either. The plan was to slowly move up the ladder and land at one of the big guys, then sit back and work for thirty years. It seems, however, that when I wasn’t looking the ladder had caught fire and maybe it wasn’t going as high as we were led to believe in the first place.
Which brings us to The Dagger. I used to work with Brian and Matt and Kristi at a newspaper, a good newspaper. I like to think we worked hard, and at the end of the day I hope at least we did no harm. One of the best parts of the day was sitting around and just talking about the news. Not what we’d write or photograph, but what we thought. What was funny about a council meeting, the way that a politician you’d spent months hammering would make a joke and suddenly become a real person in front of you. Awkward press conferences, with bold faced liars promising the moon and the stars when they knew that we knew it was all bullshit. Public meetings, where some housewife would stand up and crystallize exactly what everyone else was trying to avoid talking about. The odd connections between stories, how the players and motivations would change depending on where you were looking at it from that day. We’d talk about all of this and eventually someone would say that thats the kind of stuff we should be covering. Maybe one day, someone else would say.
Now here we are, a little older and in way over our heads. We’re in charge, and I still haven’t written anything geopolitical, which by the way I’ve misspelled on the first try every single time I’ve typed it.
So, the reason you’re reading a photographer attempt writing is pretty simple. From where I’m sitting, the world’s fucked up. It’s a mess. A real, rolling, smoking mess of potentials and opportunities, losses and chaos. It feels out of control, it makes me feel out of control. Somedays I look around, and I can almost see the bedrock of our world cracking, I can hear it creak. I’m talking everything, politics of course, war and business, art and media, jobs, everything is showing the strain. That’s what I’m going to be aiming for, try and pin it down a little, point out some connections that maybe aren’t being talked about. Worry the strings a little bit. It’ll be geopolitics today, just to warm up. I’m also aiming to get you into it, so comment or flame away. I’m not trying to make you angry, but I will if you’d like.
Pakistan is as good a place to start as any, isn’t it? As of tonight General Pervez Musharraf has promised elections, why shouldn’t you believe a man who disbanded the courts and placed his chief rivals under house arrest. The joke’s always been that killing the lawyers would be a good start. Actually seeing suit and tie lawyers battling police in Islamabad last week wasn’t funny at all. That’s about the worst thing you can see. Not much further to fall after that. It could not be any worse news for the people of the Middle East, and it could almost not be any worse news for us.
As far as I can figure, we like Musharraf because he’s not an Islamic fundamentalist. We think he thinks like we do. At least as far as holy wars and self immolation go. Musharraf is standing against a movement to revolutionize Pakistan into an Islamic fundamentalist county. All well and good, because apparently Pakistan is packed with folks who are Islamic fundamentalists. And currently, they are all about holy war and self immolation.
And why, one asks, do we care particularly about Pakistan? Because of its proximity to Afghanistan and its aid in the war with their Islamic fundamentalists? Well, not really. That’s the story, but it’s getting old. The only aid in the war they appear to be giving us is to not be fighting against us. Yet. So, what’s my hare brained theory? I’m glad you asked.
In this case, the I’s have it. The first I is Pakistan’s neighbor to the south, the country we call India. Not in ANY coverage of the current Pakistani crisis have I seen one mention of India, and they are the eight armed elephant in the room. India and Pakistan don’t get along, you see. First, there is a key piece of territory they both claim, Kashmir, situated right along the border. They’ve been fighting over it for a long, long time. It’s more natural for them to be fighting over it then not. Secondly, lets throw in the incredible clash of the two (at least two) religious cultures at play, Islam and Hindu. There’s a fight that’s been going on for a long, long, long time.
We do not want a war between India and Pakistan. They both have nukes. If the holocaust of literally millions of deaths doesn’t grab you, we need India. They’re big players now, like it or not, and our economy is dependent on their economy. A crashing, warring India leaves us swaying in the wind. China doesn’t want that war either. Russia might, but that’s for another article.
The second I is a name we’re hearing daily lately, Iran. Iran is an Islamic fundamentalist country, a country that appears to have its house in order. They are Pakistan’s neighbors to the east, another fact left out of most coverage. They probably don’t need nuclear bombs going off on their border, but I would guess they would love to see another Islamic fundamentalist neighbor. They appear to feel really threatened by the west, and could tip an Islamic revolution in Pakistan similiar to the one that was their genesis. We have very real reasons for not wanting that. Now, is Iran an actual threat to us? That’s a dicey question, and deserves its own article. But they are most certainly a threat to our last I, the wild card in this deck of faith and apocalypse.
Israel. It always comes back to Israel. Never mentioned in the stories about Pakistan, or Iran, or Iraq for that matter. We talk about the intifada and the Palistinians, sure, but what about the Israeli connection to the rest of the middle east? Now, I’m not talking the usual line about Zionist conspiracies or the Illuminati. For the record, because people love to know, I am Jewish. I’m talking about pure military strategy here.
Israel believes that its survival depends on being able to fight and defeat the Arab world. And they might be right. Their short history is proof of that, dozens of wars and skirmishes with the entire Arab world. They must believe that an Islamic fundamentalist government in Pakistan is a direct threat to their existence, because of the nukes. They cannot let that happen, and when Israel decides to act they do. We all seem to have forgotten how in 1981 Israeli plane destroyed nuclear facilities in Iraq. The people who did that? They’re still in charge there. That’s how we know Iran doesn’t have nukes.
Because if they did, the second they did Israeli planes would be bombing them. How might Israel react to a religious revolution in Pakistan? Not in any way we’d want to see. How would the rest of the Islamic world react to Israel taking such a step? Ditto.
It seems, at heart, despite recently starting a small war, the goal of the west is to avoid the big war. We’re standing with our arms held out, trying to keep everybody apart and alive. And Pakistan is a nightmare.
Do we support an oppressive dictator who jails his opponents and suspends justice, or do we try and force democracy to run its course? And likely end up, like in Palestine with Hamas, with exactly what we are most afraid of staring back at us?
Art Helton says
Josh: Enjoyed your article.Thought you did a great job of capturing the complexity of the many relationships in the middle east. Sure is a real mine field the United States must walk to see that stability is maintained. Your maiden voyage was successful. Congratulations. Art
Carl Corse says
Wow…where to begin.
Iran appears to have their house in order?
We know Iran does not have nuclear weapons capabilities because Israel hasn't bombed them yet?
Your analysis of a subject that has a massive surface area in the x-y plane cannot assume a z depth of an inch or so. Although some may appreciate your Romper Room assessment of democracy versus fundamentalist revolution because it limits the argument to the evil-doers versus the good guys, it is a bit insulting to those of us who actually look beyond the Aegis for our international reporting.
No, I take that back…that was a bit harsh. You are obviously an articulate, sans the editing thing, and well-read fellow.
But it all comes back to Israel? Are you kidding me?
I'd like to come down in the middle, somewhere between Art and Carl.
Nice essay, but maybe this isn't quite the forum to opine on such a broad topic. I don't guess anyone from the Rand Corporation or the Center for Strategic Studies is "tuning in" to the Dagger for their geopolitical (I spelled it right the first time!!) news fix.
From the overall tone of this blog, I'd say unless your topic line has to do with Art, or Rudy, or Fred, or any other Aberdeen-centric news item, you won't get much play here.
By way of praise, though, you're mostly right about Israel. Look at what they just did in Syria.
"I’d say unless your topic line has to do with Art, or Rudy, or Fred, or any other Aberdeen-centric news item, you won’t get much play here."
This is not an Aberdeen blog, desite the numerous articles Brian and Matt have written on the topic. There have been several other non-Aberdeen articles on The Dagger. We're here to engage viewers on a wide array of global topics while still offering the locals something close to home. And, believe it or not, we get a lot of viewers from all over the world on this site. We can track where they're coming from and what they read. And it's obvious that even locals care about the very topic Josh is "opining" about.
Josh, great first article. You have so much energy in your words. Certainly a topic to brood about, if not get actively involved in.
Nice job writing your first article Josh. I enjoy hearing from someone else who is into international politics. This certainly is a big topic to tackle and would be interested in seeing you write some more.
I think it is important to note that Pakistan has not been a very strong ally with the United States. They were involved in some underhanded stuff during the rise of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, as was the United States. It seems as though no country stick clearly in the wrong or right. Politics and international relations generate a ton of gray area.
FYI: people are freaking out about Benazir Bhutto trying to take over. News flash: she used to be the leader of Pakistan, until Musharraf overthrew her. If you ask me, this is payback.
Carl promotes me from a Romper Room assessment to a 321 Contact assessment, so I'm going to put that in the plus column.
I'd think another world war would be at least slightly Aberdeen-centric. While some of us have been debating over essentially who gets to be dog catcher, Pakistan has been rounding up judges and shutting down tv stations. If they revolt and convert to an Islamic fundamentalist government, we lose any influence we had in whether they go to war with India or ship trainloads of missles to Iran.
I wasnt trying to take sides, I was more trying to point out that there is a interconnectedness to stories that general media puts into seperate categories. A Pakistan story on A1, and Iran story on A2, and a Israel story on A3 are all the same story.
If I were to take sides, I might ask what kind of Secretary of State could let things get into such a bad spot. Heckuva job, Condi.
Condi has had no frame of reference for any of her decisions. You only need to take one college course on the Middle East to understand how everything is connected and that not everything is so cut and dry. Also, all these leaders and countries are not 100% evil. And the entirity of the Muslim faith is not crazy fundamentalist.
Just for the record, I'm not trying to implicate anyone of the Muslim faith as crazy at all. And certainly no judgements about good or evil. But its clear that we have stated interests that are contrary to the stated interests of the Islamic fundamentalists, the statement being, "We are at war with you". From both sides.
Carl Corse says
Dell and Joshua,
Which of the Israel argument was mostly right? The part where you imply that Israel is a filterless moral hammer and we are the tired peace-makers that must respond as a parent defending their child? Or the part where you state that all the same people are in power from the 1981 incidents?
Carl Corse says
I just looked up 3-2-1 Contact.
Sorry, my Romper Room comment was a bit dated. But c'mon, who is not familiar with:
I see Josh
I see Dell…
That was Americana at its best. That's the problem with the dang kids these days, no respect for the classics.
vietnam vet says
I think it was a very' good article.as matt lake quoted as saying over at a curse .com.there's hope for the human race. that's if and maybe, as long we are able to retain our ability as police of the world.if we can not do that.we can kiss our self good bye.
First of all Josh, nice article. Secondly, it's nice to have something other then Aberdeen on the Dagger.
As a current traditional reservist, I found myself in J-bad the later part of January 2002. I can tell you that the Pakistani people are very unique. They are likewise very confused by us. Maybe the locals I was given access to were the exception, but for the most part they were very helpful. The only real problems we had were culture clashes (music and entertainment mostly). I had occasion to go back and forth a few times from Kandahar and although I will most likely never see them again, I made a few very strong friendships. I can tell you that the average people long for the type of freedoms we enjoy.
We were never allowed to discuss politics however we did find ourselves deep in conversations about the Muslim religion a time or two. I was shocked to learn that Muslims believe that Judaism and Christianity are sister religions. They also believe that there was a Jesus Christ; however they believe him to be a great profit and not the actual son of God. (They think that's arogant of us)
I don’t know what the final outcome will be. I hope someday that there will be a sustained and lasting peace between all Countries in the Middle East. I’ve had a couple close calls and have been to a few too many funerals. I have a few close friends that continue to be placed in harm’s way. And of course there is always the chance I may have to return to either of the two theaters myself. So you could say I have a vested interest in such a peace. But I am a realist and I know that the hatred between some of the tribesman in area have been going on since the beginning of time. And solving these issues will take probably longer than forever.
Just my thoughts, sorry for the length.
I come to praise Ceasar, not to bury him. It's just that I had become fatigued by the overarching theme of most of the postings here (I won't rehash).
Have to admit I was pleasantly suprised to see this topic discussed here.
Carl, I'm not too young to remember the magic mirror. I served in the Gulf War (the one EVERYBODY agreed was the right thing to do), though I've been out for over a decade.
Israel does what it thinks it should to preserve it's state. They have done what the US, with it's wishy-washy, hand holding, kum-by-ya State Department, have become loathe to do, which is act unilaterally, without the "go ahead" nod from the UN.
The world was a much safer place when all it took to pacify an entire region was a Carrier Battle Group over the horizon. Now that battle group needs a UN resolution before it even sets course. Our enemies know this.
What other true allies do we have in the region? Saudi Arabia? Please. Kuwait and Qutar? Not exactly superpowers. Afganistan, Pakistan (nuff said).
I can get geopolitical. I read stuff. I read stuff good. Real good.
It was great to read your post. That's exactly the kind of thing we hope for here — that our readers will provide real insight into the topics we're discussing. A belated Happy Veteran's Day to you (and to all our readers who are vets). As far as length, don't apologize for running long — there's a whole city full of journalists and politicians 50 miles south of here who couldn't soberly sum up the problems of the Mid East half as well as you did. -Matt
Rick Denu says
Good article and a refreshing shift…thanks Josh.
I agree Matt, Mac summed it up well with his personal experience there.
How about this as an idea… Has terrorism and extremism become a "cottage industry"? Many extreme groups and or terror groups have gotten what they wanted, but still continued their same course.
After all we are talking millions of dollars in support of what would be impoverished people.
Mac, Rick, and Vet, thanks for reading. Mac, your account was especially interesting. I've often wondered about the daily, person to person encounters being created due to various deployments, how east and west percieve each other.
Welcome home, and luck to your friends.
It's now noon on the east coast on December 27th, and the first reports of rioting are coming in from Pakistan. Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assasinated at a political rally earlier today, apparently shot twice and then the shooter detonated a suicide bomb.
Here is the best story I've found that tries to talk about the players, and the names are no surprise. Taliban, Bin Laden, Saudi Arabia, Islamists, American funded campaigns. The usual.
It's easy to be light when you're on the other side of the globe. But more people are going to die today, and tommorow, and the next day. Lets pray for some common sense and restraint around the world for the next few weeks. We are all going to need it.
From Times OnlineDecember 27, 2007
Who killed Benazir Bhutto? The main suspects
Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent
The main suspects in Benazir Bhutto’s assassination are the Pakistani and foreign Islamist militants who saw her as a heretic and an American stooge and had repeatedly threatened to kill her.
But fingers will also be pointed at Inter-Services Intelligence, the agency that has had close ties to the Islamists since the 1970s and has been used by successive Pakistani leaders to suppress political opposition.
Ms Bhutto narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in October, when a suicide bomber killed about 140 people at a rally in the port city of Karachi to welcome her back from eight years in exile.
Earlier that month, two militant warlords based in Pakistan's lawless northwestern areas, near the border with Afghanistan, had threatened to kill her on her return.
One was Baitullah Mehsud, a top commander fighting the Pakistani army in the tribal region of South Waziristan. He has close ties to al Qaeda and the Afghan Taleban.
The other was Haji Omar, the “amir” or leader of the Pakistani Taleban, who is also from South Waziristan and fought against the Soviets with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.
After that attack Ms Bhutto revealed that she had received a letter signed by a person who claimed to be a friend of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden threatening to slaughter her like a goat.
She accused Pakistani authorities of not providing her with sufficient security and hinted that they may have been complicit in the bomb attack. Asif Ali Zardari, her husband, directly accused the ISI of being involved in that attempt on her life.
Mrs Bhutto stopped short of blaming the Government directly, saying that she had more to fear from unidentified members of a power structure that she described as allies of the “forces of militancy”.
Analysts say that President Musharraf himself is unlikely to have ordered her assassination, but that elements of the army and intelligence service would have stood to lose money and power if she had become Prime Minister.
The ISI, in particular, includes some Islamists who became radicalised while running the American-funded campaign against the Soviets in Afghanistan and remained fiercely opposed to Ms Bhutto on principle.
Saudi Arabia, which has strong influence in Pakistan, is also thought to frown on Ms Bhutto as being too secular and Westernised and to favour Nawaz Sharif, another former Prime Minister.
Saw a report this morning that Pakistan gov't is claiming to have intercepted a phone call between two al Qaeda dudes talking about the Bhutto assassination. Kind of unconvincing so far.
Musharraf stands to gain the most from her death. Hands down.
He's walking a thin line pumping up the al Qaeda angle. He can deflect blame from himself, but he's admitting that al Qaeda is going strong within his borders. He has been unable to do anything about the tribal areas, and now they're emboldened to expand operations.
That al Qaeda story sounds like a lot of bullshit to me. Oh, they happened to intercept a phone call AFTER the assasination, guess McNulty wasnt up on the wire in time.
Their first choice was to blame it on the ever mysterious and flexible al Qaeda. Their second choice is probably going to be an escaped tiger.
chicken little says
Joshua I agree but I don't think they expected the riots and the al Qadea story was to shift the focus from Musharref's people even if he was not in on it. Now the sunroof story is so that it seems more like an accident and the elections can be held January 8th so that her party can't find a replacement candidate. Heard today they might exhume the body and do an autopsy – that should be interesting. No wonder they said no to US forensic assistance.