Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday Reading

Happy Easter. Let’s get down.

Separatism and Patriotism: From The Atlantic, Reihan Salam says that Jeremiah Wright’s controversial sermon has reintroduced Americans to the challenge of black separatism.

As the mostly glowing reaction to Barack Obama’s intelligent and humane speech on race fades into the background, we’re left with a number of broader questions. Does Jeremiah Wright represent a vibrant and vital tradition in American life? Does this tradition represent a danger to America’s civic health, or does it merit our attention and respect?

Some, including Chris Hayes of The Nation, believe that much of the hostile reaction to Wright’s sermon is rooted in racism. Perhaps there is something to this. One critic of the speech created an extraordinary YouTube video that remixes Wright’s sermons with public statements made by Barack and Michelle Obama with a visual pastiche of 1960s black militancy. Note, however, that the narrative thread of the video is about the rejection of patriotism. It centers on an oppositional sensibility embraced by some black intellectuals, Wright among them. Wright not-always-eloquently interrogates the moral foundations of American patriotism, arguing that an authentic Christian commitment runs counter to the reflexive assertion of American rightness.

Wright’s message becomes more potent still when considered in light of the particular circumstances of black Americans, and the women and men in his inner-city flock. Do they owe the “U.S. of K.K.K.A.” any allegiance? If you accept Wright’s reading of American history, dominated by a remorseless white elite dedicated to subjecting the poor of this nation and all nations, the answer is clearly no. Wright is a dissenter who damns capitalist, militarist, racist America in the same strident terms used by the radical abolitionists of the 19th century.

But just as the radical abolitionists gave rise to less-strident abolitionists like Abraham Lincoln, who championed “the better angels of our nature,” perhaps something good, healthy, and constructive can grow out of Wright’s brand of racialized rejectionism. By bridging the seemingly unbridgeable divide between black separatists and middle-class patriots, Obama is doing more than trying to “be all things to all people,” a common complaint — he is trying to deepen our democracy by drawing in those who are most skeptical and indeed contemptuous of its supposed promise.

So who will make the compromises necessary to close this yawning gap? As nice as it would be for all sides to make concessions, the truth is that it is the separatist minority of a minority that will have to make a leap of faith — they need to give the institutions they damn as irredeemably corrupt a second chance. For now, at least, Obama appears to be the only figure who can make that happen. As some voters have second thoughts about the candidate, this is worth keeping in mind.

Thanks of a Grateful Nation? Not. A Kurdish translator is denied a Green Card because he once worked to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

During his nearly four years as a translator for U.S. forces in Iraq, Saman Kareem Ahmad was known for his bravery and hard work. “Sam put his life on the line with, and for, Coalition Forces on a daily basis,” wrote Marine Capt. Trent A. Gibson.

Gibson’s letter was part of a thick file of support — including commendations from the secretary of the Navy and from then-Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus — that helped Ahmad migrate to the United States in 2006, among an initial group of 50 Iraqi and Afghan translators admitted under a special visa program.

Last month, however, the U.S. government turned down Ahmad’s application for permanent residence, known as a green card. His offense: Ahmad had once been part of the Kurdish Democratic Party, which U.S. immigration officials deemed an “undesignated terrorist organization” for having sought to overthrow former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Ahmad, a Kurd, once served in the KDP’s military force, which is part of the new Iraqi army. A U.S. ally, the KDP is now part of the elected government of the Kurdish region and holds seats in the Iraqi parliament. After consulting public Web sites, however, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services determined that KDP forces “conducted full-scale armed attacks and helped incite rebellions against Hussein’s regime, most notably during the Iran-Iraq war, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Ahmad’s association with a group that had attempted to overthrow a government — even as an ally in U.S.-led wars against Hussein — rendered him “inadmissible,” the agency concluded in a three-page letter dated Feb. 26.

In an interview Friday at Quantico Marine Corps Base, where he teaches Arabic language and culture to Marines deploying to Iraq, Ahmad’s voice quavered, and his usually precise English failed him. “I am shamed,” he said. He has put off his plans to marry a seamstress who tailors Marine uniforms. “I don’t want my family live in America; they feel ashamed I’m with a terrorist group. I want them to be proud for what I did for the United States Marine Corps,” said Ahmad, 38.

The logic of this escapes me unless the Bush administration thinks that they were the only people who had the right to overthrow Saddam Hussein. But wouldn’t that make them an undesignated terrorist organization and inadmissible as well?

It’s Not a Tunnel: Carl Hiaasen on five years in Iraq.

On the five-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, President Bush declared that the United States is on the way to winning the war.

He made this stupefying pronouncement in the safe confines of the Pentagon, where it’s unacceptable to question the commander-in-chief, no matter how dense or self-deluded he might be.

If Bush had dared to make the same speech in a public town hall, among civilians, the reception would have been chillier. According to almost every opinion poll, about two-thirds of all Americans now stand opposed to the war in Iraq.

When reminded last week of this statistic, Vice President Dick Cheney responded: ”So?”

Bush sent Cheney to Baghdad to mark the dubious anniversary of their costly, misbegotten adventure. What better way to buoy the spirits of the 160,000 U.S. soldiers who are now stuck in Iraq — a surprise visit by The Man Who’s Never Been Right.

True to form, the vice president repeated his dark assertion that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had close ties with al Qaeda, a claim discredited and rejected by every U.S. intelligence agency.

Cheney also described the American effort to bring stability and democracy to Iraq as ”a successful endeavor.” Compared to what — the landing of the Hindenburg?

There’s still no stable, functioning democracy in Iraq. Provincial elections might finally be held in October, although the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites continue to fight about how power should be apportioned. It’s an ancient argument that won’t subside anytime soon.

After years of training, the Iraqi armed forces still aren’t prepared to keep order in the country, and senior U.S. military commanders don’t know when that particular miracle will come to pass.

Bush acts like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The problem is, it’s not a tunnel — it’s a pit.

Doonesbury: body imagery with powdered sugar.

Opus: growth!