Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I’m sick of david brooks.

Now I don’t usually read brooks’s columns in the new york times, partly because he’s a terrible columnist, partly because he makes me angry, and partly because of that whole “pay more money” times select bullshit that tries to deny you half the articles online. But as long as the new york times hasn’t figured out yet that I’m not paying to read these articles, I occasionally venture into the land of timesselect just to see what’s going on. Today I made the mistake of reading david brooks’s article, “The Road to Partition.” Clever title. Not. Anyways,

For those of you who don’t have times select, I’ll just copy-paste the body of the article for you to read:

Op-Ed Columnist
TimesSelect The Road to Partition

Published: September 11, 2007

Zealots don’t laugh when elevators break. Shatha al-Musawi did laugh. She smiled at the camera crew that was following her to her Baghdad office, and she sighed, “We’ll have to take the stairs.”

Thoughts of Musawi ran through my head as I watched David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker testify yesterday. Musawi was the subject of a profile by Damien Cave that ran on the front page of The Times a few weeks ago, and a Web cast on The Times’s Web site by Damien Cave and Diana Oliva Cave.

Musawi is a moderate Shiite member of the Iraqi Parliament who earned a university degree after her children grew up. She speaks thoughtfully and gently, but there is a wall in her mind separating Sunnis from Shiites, a wall that was erected during Saddam’s persecution and that has been fortified by the violence since. For her, the conflict with the Sunnis is not over oil; it’s a matter of honor. She wants them to accept historical guilt and grant Shiites moral supremacy.

As she said in the Web cast: “If they come and apologize to victims, if they admitted their faults and asked for forgiveness, maybe we can forget about it. But now with this continuous killing and continuous crimes against us, how could we? How could we?”

This is how many Palestinians and Israelis talk. When conflicts become struggles for moral capitulation, they take forever to end.

Musawi’s words are just one more piece of evidence that Iraq will not be put together the way it was. It’s one more piece of evidence that America’s best course is not to reunify Iraq, but simply to inhibit the violence as Iraqis feel their own way to partition.

What we’re really trying to build, in other words, is a road to partition. We’re trying to build a pathway to separation that involves the sort of low-intensity civil war that Iraq is enduring right now. We’re trying to prevent a pathway that is even worse — a high-intensity genocide.

As I was watching yesterday’s hearings, I was thinking of the sensible yet sectarian Musawi. How many American lives is it worth to save those like her? Is it realistic to think U.S. troops can help Iraqis move on that less barbaric path?

If you look around, you see this is the wrong time to give up hope, for circumstances in Iraq are better than they were in the spring.

First, there’s clearer evidence than ever that U.S. forces can inhibit violence. Despite all the debates over the data, violence over all is on the decline. In neighborhoods where 30 and 40 bodies used to show up a night, now only one or two do. After rising in 2006, violent civilian deaths of all kinds are down 45 percent since December.

Second, the worst of the ethnic cleansing may be over. For years, Shiites and Sunnis have been purging each other from towns and neighborhoods. That ugly process may be nearing its completion, and stabilization may be possible. As Damien Cave and Stephen Farrell wrote in The Times last Sunday, “Iraq’s mixed neighborhoods are sliding toward extinction.”

Third, the tribal revolt against extremism is real and growing. Few anticipated it. Few predicted that it would spread from Anbar to Diyala to Salahaddin and beyond. But it has, and U.S. troops are essential to its success.

Fourth, U.S. commanders finally have a realistic definition of their mission. We’re not trying to determine the future shape of Iraq, Petraeus said yesterday. We’re just trying to ensure that Iraqi sects compete for power in less violent ways.

Fifth, American diplomats are no longer waiting for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Yesterday Crocker made some dubious assertions about Iraqi elites discovering the virtues of power-sharing. But the concrete parts of Crocker’s efforts do not require those virtues. They involve bulking up municipal governments and disbursing money from Baghdad.

What we have then, is a confluence of events, a series of processes that weren’t happening four months ago. Obviously, these processes are tenuous. But, given the consequences, it would be foolish to give up now. It would be foolish to weaken U.S. support for the sane sectarians just when they are striving to create a segregated yet inhabitable Iraq.

Shatha al-Musawi is one of those Iraqis unwilling to reconcile. In that way, she’s part of the problem. But she doesn’t want to die in some cataclysmic civil war. There may come a time when the U.S. can do nothing for her. But with all that is happening, that time is not now.

Anyways, I have a couple of things to point out really quick about why this man needs to just get fired and go back to school.

1 – he opens the article by trying to shock you with the news that a “zealot” might have a sense of humor. Way to reinforce stereotypes and closemindedness. I’m not impressed. No style points to you.

2 – he seems to think that the concept of a “wall in the mind” separating one group of people from another is some kind of big news. He’s all shocked that this woman seems smart and has one such “wall.” Well david, I’m no genius but is it possible you’ve got a couple of those walls up too? From what I’ve read of yours in the past, I’d say there are some pretty thick walls separating you from oh, say, black people. And women. The difference between you and the woman in the article: she, apparently, is thoughtful.

3 – he actually uses the word “barbaric” in reference to Iraqis. That’s not even bad journalism, that’s being a bad human. Well, it’s a little of both. And just a few sentences earlier he suggests that American lives are more valuable than the lives of these apparent “barbarians” with the walls in their minds.

4 – he uses the phrase “the worst of the ethnic cleansing may be over.” Again, no expert, but is it possible that sentence doesn’t make a whole lot of sense? “hey doc, what’s the news?” “oh well the bad news is you’re still gonna die. But the good news is, the worst of the terminal illness is over. I can probably go home and watch some tv while you finish up here yourself.”

5 – amidst all that bullshit, he manages to make a note of something that actually IS very interesting, and then completely ignore it. In the fourth paragraph of the article he quotes Shatha al-Musawi as saying, “If they come and apologize to victims, if they admitted their faults and asked for forgiveness, maybe we can forget about it. But now with this continuous killing and continuous crimes against us, how could we? How could we?”

Brooks then moves on, dismissing this as basically idiotic. Again, no expert, but if you’re aiming for reconciliation, isn’t it maybe a good idea to listen to what people say would help them forgive, rather than deciding they’re stupid and sending for more troops? You can’t beat someone into forgetfulness. But I think history has shown there are a lot of things societies CAN do to heal after violence. And “continued occupation by American troops” has never really been one of those.
Sigh. What really bothers me is the fact that a lot of people seem to share Brooks’s point of view, and more to the point, don’t seem to find any problems at all with any of the things I just mentioned above. That’s probably the reason he still has a job when his column is a pile of culturally insensitive, shallow, conservative shit. And that makes me pretty sad. I get that the new york times needs a conservative columnist, but I don’t think they’re doing anyone any favors by employing one who sucks at his job. I guess I wouldn’t want to see a conservative columnist who actually argued his point effectively, but I mean, you’d think the new york times would want to see that. Wouldn’t you?

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