Just Above Sunset
October 23, 2005 - Doing Good, Doing It Right

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

As regular readers know, I've been trading emails with my nephew, the Major in Baghdad deeply involved in events there. Without revealing too much, he's in the Green Zone with the senior commanders, tracking events and planning. I know he starts his day before seven and sometimes finishes up sometimes as late as ten in the evening. Still he has time to write a note here and there. A lot of what we discuss is non-political, as in our recent back-and-forth about cars (prompted by this). But we have discussed this war and its possible outcomes. Some of his comments have been posted in these pages - in Chatting With Baghdad, for example. He and I disagree a whole lot, as you can imagine, but as I said to him, we can talk like sensible people. That's one of the many things I like about him. He calls that "disagreeing sensibly." As he puts it - "One of the things I've have learned is that if you are not smart enough to speak sensibly to get your point across, you probably don't have a point."

Tuesday, October 18, I received this from him: "Please read the article below and give consideration for comment into your blog. I love it, not only because it declares triumph, but I liked the Smurfs in my earlier years."

Well, before what he suggest we consider, some background by way of this, from the Ottawa Citizen, reprinted from The Daily Telegraph (UK):

Smurfs used as shock treatment in UNICEF's fundraising drive
Cartoon characters' village bombed in anti-war TV commercial
David Rennie - October 8, 2005

So what is this about?


BRUSSELS - The people of Belgium have been left reeling by a public service commercial featuring the Smurfs, in which the blue-skinned cartoon characters' village is annihilated by warplanes.

The 25-second commercial is the work of UNICEF, and is to be broadcast on TV across Belgium next week as a public fundraiser. It is intended as the keystone of a drive, by UNICEF's Belgian arm, to raise about $145,000 for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in Burundi.

The animation was approved by the family of the Smurfs' late creator, "Peyo."

Belgian television viewers were given a preview of the commercial earlier this week, when it was shown on the main evening news. Reactions ranged from approval to shock and, in the case of small children who saw the episode by accident, wailing terror.

UNICEF and IMPS, the family company that controls all rights to the Smurfs, have stipulated that it is not to be broadcast before 9 p.m.

The ad pulls no punches. It opens with the Smurfs dancing, hand-in-hand, around a campfire and singing the Smurf song. Bluebirds flutter past and rabbits gambol around their familiar village of mushroom-shaped houses until, without warning, bombs begin to rain from the sky.
Tiny Smurfs scatter and run in vain from the whistling bombs, before being felled by blast waves and fiery explosions. The final scene shows a scorched and tattered Baby Smurf sobbing inconsolably, surrounded by prone Smurfs.

The final frame bears the message: "Don't let war affect the lives of children."

… The advertising agency behind the campaign, Publicis, decided the best way to convey the impact of war on children was to tap into the earliest, happiest memories of Belgian television viewers. They chose the Smurfs, who first appeared in a Belgian comic in 1958.

Julie Lamoureux, Publicis' account director for the campaign, said the agency's original plans were toned down.

"We wanted something that was real war - Smurfs losing arms, or a Smurf losing a head - but they said no."

The film has won tentative approval from the official Smurf fan club. A spokesman said, "I think it will wake up some people. It is so un-Smurf-like, it might get people to think."

Hendrik Coysman, managing director of IMPS, agreed. "That crying baby really goes to your bones."


Okay. Got it?

The counter reaction is here, recommended by Our Man in Baghdad:

Sometimes it is worth going to war
Mark Steyn, The Telegraph (UK), Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Setting the scene:


I yield to no one in my disdain for the United Nations and all its works, but I did find myself warming up to Unicef the other day. Last week, on Belgian television, the UN children's agency premiered the first adult movie featuring the Smurfs. By "adult", I don't mean it was a blue movie. Only the characters were blue. But it was an adult movie in the sense that the Smurfs were massacred during an air strike on their village, until, in the final scene, only Baby Smurf is left, weeping alone surrounded by wall-to-wall Smurf corpses. It's the first Smurf snurf movie.

Well, I thought, say what you like about the UN, but any organisation that wants to bomb the Smurfs can't be all bad. Instead of those wimps at Dudley council banning Piglet like a bunch of nancy boys, why couldn't they make some blockbuster video nuking the Hundred-Acre Wood and leaving Pooh to die in a radioactive Heffalump pit?

My mistake. Apparently Unicef made the short film as a fundraiser to highlight how children are the principal victims of war. As Baby Smurf wails amid the shattered ruins, we see the words: "Don't let war affect the lives of children."


First point - the airplanes are wrong:


... I can't help thinking that, if you are that concerned for children in war zones, you might have done something closer to what real conflict is like in those places. In Rwanda, Sudan and a big chunk of west Africa, air strikes are few and far between. Instead, millions get hacked to death by machetes. Even on the very borders of Eutopia, hundreds of thousands died in the Balkans in mostly low-tech, non-state-of-the-art ways.

In 2003, Charles Onyango-Obbo wrote a fascinating column in the East African musing on the resurgence of cannibalism, after reports that Ugandan-backed rebels in the Congo were making surviving members of their victims' families eat the body parts of their loved ones.

"While colonialism is bad," he said, "the coloniser who arrives by plane, vehicle or ship is better - because he will have to build an airport, road or harbour - than the one who, like the Ugandan army, arrived and withdrew from most of eastern Congo on foot." Just so. If you're going to be attacked, it's best to be attacked by a relatively advanced enemy. Compared to being force-fed Grandfather Smurf's genitals, having his village strafed in some clinical air strike is about the least worst option for Baby Smurf.


Second point the whole concept doesn't fit the war we have –


Well, whether intentionally or not, they are evoking the war that most of their audience - in Belgium and beyond - is opposed to: the Iraq war, where the invader did indeed have an air force. That's how the average Western "progressive" still conceives of warfare, as something the big bullying Pentagon does to weak victims.

But this week is a week to remember that there are worse things than war that "affect the lives of children". If I were Papa Smurf, I wouldn't want Baby Smurf to grow up in Saddam's Iraq. I don't mean just because we'd be the beleaguered minority of Smurfistan, to be gassed and shovelled into mass graves.

Even if we were part of Saddam's own approved class living in the Smurfi Triangle, it's still a life permanently fixed between terror and resignation, in which all a parent's hopes for his children are subordinate to the whims of a psycho state.


And that old Iraq is gone now - a good thing.


Whatever the Americans got wrong, they got one big thing right - that, if you persevered, Iraq had the potential to function as a free society in a part of the world where no such thing has ever existed.

That was a long shot, and much sneered at, not least by British "conservatives". But Washington judged correctly: given the radicalisation of the Arab world, and the Arabification of the Islamic world, and the Islamification of much of the rest of the world, in the end you have to fix the problem at source.

... Pushing back the Islamists on their ever-expanding margins will never work. Reforming the heart of the Muslim world just might.

Sometimes war is worth it. And, if you don't think so, look at the opening scenes of that Unicef video - Smurfs singing, dancing, gambolling merrily - and try to imagine living in a Smurf enclave in a province that wants to introduce Sharia.


So go read the whole thing, as it is full of references to the main UK and US arguments for and against the war, and comes down on the side that this was mainly a good thing. (And enjoy the Brit spellings and capitalization and verb agreement oddities.)

Smurfs aside - and as one of an older generation I never warmed up to these little blue folk, so this advertising campaign doesn't "resonate" with me at all - this is a "straw man" argument.

Was there anyone on the left, beside Michael Moore in his famous film, arguing Saddam Hussein was a fine man and Iraq under his rule a fine place where everyone was happy? And even Moore, in his film, doesn't argue the former, only the latter - that the civilians there as the war started were just living their lives as best they could, and look what happened to them. In short, opposing this war was not the same thing as endorsing the regime of Saddam Hussein. It was suggesting that, given the major problem of that man and that government, and that something had to be done, and soon, there was an array of alternatives. War for "regime change" was an option. There were others.

The odd thing about the shift in US diplomacy under Bush was not only the new policy of "preemptive war" - wipe out the bad guys before they could even think about doing bad things - but the constant call for "regime change" in nations we found threatening, or with whom we had disagreements. We sponsored a coup in Venezuela that almost came off. We've called for "regime change" in North Korea - we wouldn't even talk to them one-on-one as that would be "rewarding bad behavior." We still won't. We are funding and supporting those deep inside Iran who would overthrow the government there. And so on.

The idea of sitting down and giving our position, and listening to the other side's, and working out agreements, and if that came to nothing applying diplomatic and economic pressure, was discarded as seeming weak.

Then too, idea of flooding an enemy with the tools of soft power - free trade and Coca Cola and rock music and books and ideas, and KFC and fast cars - to subvert old ways in favor of ours, was similarly dismissed. If fact, for decades, starting long before this administration, we have isolated Cuba - instead of opening trade and flooding the island with parts for all those old cars and consumer goods and Starbucks and all that is South Beach, Miami - thus making Castro's Stalinist-lite communism look foolish to everyone there. Heck, we helped him by NOT doing that - we looked nasty and mean and he plays the hero. Maybe applying such "soft power" tools makes us less manly, or something. It's not - it's just sneaky, and effective. And it's the opposite of what Karen Hughes is now tasked with doing - explaining we're the good guys without any of the "soft power" tools. All she has is words. She has a tough sell there.

What were alternatives to the war we waged? Well, we might have had to go to war eventually, but we could have examined the real threat more thoroughly. Had inspections gotten tighter and tighter, as they slowly were, in spite of the impediments raised again and again, we might have had a better sense of what we had to do when. Could we have roped in key players in the region to work with us on containing the problem? Every nation in the region had, and has, a stake in stability there. They're not exactly chopped liver, if you know that question.

Could we have turned to our traditional allies - Germany, China, Russian and even France - and asked them for ideas? They all said this war was a bad idea. We could have asked what their ideas were, and listened, even if we might reject some of those ideas. This was everyone's problem in some way. A summit would have been workable - "What do you think we, and that's all of us, should do?" An open forum for everyone who had a stake in stability and oil supplies and terrorism - and that was every nation.

There's always another alternative, or two, or three. It wasn't "make war now or you must love Saddam Hussein and everything about him." Nations, and just ordinary folks who like to think things through, resent being demonized as wimps and apologists for murdering dictators. These are the "work smarter, not harder" types, the folks who say sometimes it's better to "do it right" than to just "do it now."

But that wasn't this administration's style. We adopted the new "one note" approach to things. We'd been wronged. We'd decide what to do. Agree or admit you love Saddam.

It's bullshit, but simple enough for an angry nation to swallow.

You want to breed resentment and cause problems? That'll do it.

Oh well, it doesn't matter now.

As for what Mark Steyn argues here, well, yes, getting ride of the Saddam regime did some good. Who is arguing otherwise? The devil is in the details.

And this week's details are not encouraging. Forget Abu Ghraib. We just did something worse.

What happened here is not making things better.


Australian television on Wednesday broadcast footage of what it said was U.S. soldiers burning the corpses of two dead Taliban fighters with their bodies laid out facing Mecca and using the images in a propaganda campaign in southern Afghanistan.

The television report said U.S. soldiers burned the bodies for hygienic reasons but then a U.S. psychological operations unit broadcast a propaganda message on loudspeakers to Taliban fighters, taunting them to retrieve their dead and fight.


And this detail –


Attention Taliban you are cowardly dogs," read the first soldier, identified as psyops specialist Sgt. Jim Baker.

"You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be."


Something was lost in translation there. He probably said "girly men."

Think this isn't serious. From the New York Times see this from the AP wire:


"Abu Ghraib ruined the reputation of the Americans in Iraq and to me this is even worse," said Faiz Mohammed, a top cleric in northern Kunduz province. "This is against Islam. Afghans will be shocked by this news. It is so humiliating. There will be very, very dangerous consequences from this." Anger also was evident in the streets. "If they continue to carry out such actions against us, our people will change their policy and react with the same policy against them," said Mehrajuddin, a resident of Kabul, who like many Afghans uses only one name.

Another man in the capital, Zahidullah, said the reported abuse was like atrocities committed by Soviet troops, who were driven out of Afghanistan in 1989 after a decade of occupation. He warned that the same could happen to American forces.

"Their future will be like the Russians," Zahidullah said.


We are doing good, then the "psychological operations" guys get a bit too enthusiastic.

So it's damage control


The U.S. military and the Afghan government said Thursday they will investigate a TV report that claimed U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan burned the bodies of two Taliban fighters and taunted other Islamic militants.

The U.S. military said such abuse would be "repugnant," and the State Department said U.S. embassies around the world have been told to counter a potential backlash by telling local governments that the alleged actions do not reflect American values.

A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said the government has launched its own inquiry.

"We strongly condemn any disrespect to human bodies regardless of whether they are those of enemies or friends," said Karzai spokesman Karim Rahimi.

... Cremation of bodies is not part of Islamic tradition, which calls for remains to be washed, prayed over, wrapped in white cloth and buried within 24 hours.

Dupont [the SBS-Australia cameraman] said the soldiers who burned the bodies said they did so for hygiene reasons. However, Dupont said the incendiary messages later broadcast by the U.S. army psychological operations unit indicated they were aware that the cremation would be perceived as a desecration.

"They used that as a psychological warfare, I guess you'd call it. They used the fact that the Taliban were burned facing west (toward Mecca)," Dupont told SBS. "They deliberately wanted to incite that much anger from the Taliban so the Taliban could attack them ... . That's the only way they can find them."

The SBS report suggested the deliberate burning of bodies could violate the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of enemy remains in wartime. Under the Geneva Conventions, soldiers must ensure that the "dead are honorably interred, if possible according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged."


Can this be fixed? Someone might suggest to the "psychological operations" guys that, in the short term, this may have flushed out a few of the local Taliban, maybe - but in the medium and long term this is really stupid.

"Our Man in Baghdad" knows we're doing good. We are. Saddam is gone. But this sort of thing?

Yes, Saddam was an awful man. Andrew Cochran, on the right, says the act was "pretty stupid" but suspects it will be used as propaganda by Arab media who "will play it up and continue to ignore or minimize both Saddam Hussein's cruelties during his reign of terror and the chilling stories of murder and intimidation perpetrated in the name of the caliphate by Al-Zarqawi and his thugs." And he suggests those over here who oppose the war will do the same. It may be "pretty stupid" but the other guys are worse.

No. This has nothing to do with "Saddam Hussein's cruelties" or "Al-Zarqawi and his thugs." No one is forgetting those two. We just want to be better than that, and not by a little bit.

Think back to the Fallujah Bridge - March 31, 2004 - four private military contractors from Blackwater USA were dragged from their vehicle and killed. Their bodies were then mutilated and burned. A crowd estimated at over a thousand beat and dragged the burnt corpses behind automobiles, then hanged the dismembered remains from the girders of that bridge over the Euphrates River - and this all was videotaped by journalists and broadcast worldwide. We all saw it. Bush was pissed. He said so. And we leveled Fallujah.

And now?


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....