'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

Did conservative attack dogs eat one of their own?

David Frum. Image source is a screen shot from...

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum. (Image via Wikipedia)

Can the Republicans get anywhere by being the party of “no?” This is the question The New York Times takes up in a wide-ranging and provocative new piece.

At the heart of the essay, though, is the human tale of David Frum, a former George W. Bush speechwriter. In the wake of the health care reform bill, Frum wrote a searching, honest post, in which he pondered the Republicans’ position of no-compromise and the bulling, silencing power of the conservative “entertainment industry”:

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or — more exactly — with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother? I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters — but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead …

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.

via Can ‘No’ Revive the Republicans? – Opinionator Blog – NYTimes.com.

In the wake of the post, which went viral, Frum was reportedly called in to meet with the head of the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, where he had long been a resident scholar. Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Healthcare reform, Media, New York Times, , , , ,

Wahabi-lite: The disorienting half-freedoms of Qatar

West Bay, located in Al Dafna

En route from Saudi to NY, a stop in Doha. (Image via Wikipedia)

So I’ve only been in Qatar about 24 hours, but already I am in a kind of gentle culture shock. Riyadh, where I have lived the last 18 months, is a land of men, cars, and dusty buildings behind walls. You rarely ever see women, and there are only two skyscrapers. That’s why my trip to the local grocery store here in Doha was so bizarre.

Doha is a moonscape of new skyscrapers — some finished, some in progress — all perched on the baked sands of a half-moon bay. Our tower is on the so-called west side, a short walk from one of the major malls. Picking my way along the scarred half kilometer — some sidewalks complete, others a gash of rubble — I spied south Asian workers in dusty boots and jumpsuits. But I also saw what I took to be a British woman, in a t-shirt, smiling!

This sounds like pedestrian stuff, but to my eyes it felt like scandal. (Could it be possible that it had been so long since I’d seen a woman walk so casually?) Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Doha, Islam, Middle East, Qatar, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, World, , , ,

VIDEO: The ever-changing map of the Middle East

Hi there, I’ve just gotten set up in Doha, Qatar, where we’ll be based for the next week or so. Out my window, I have a view of the Gulf, the Pakistani embassy, and several construction pits. Leaving Riyadh is always a relief; the weight of Islam — so close to Mecca — is heavy there, and it’s hard to take the long view.

The Middle East, after all, has been conquered and reshaped countless times. What feels like an intractable situation — Israel! Palestine! Iran! Iraq! Al Qaeda — is really just the latest upheaval in a crazy part of the world.

For a little perspective, check out this map of the last 5,000 years as it shifts and bleeds with the comings and goings of empire. (Via the always excellent Saudi Jeans.)

[youtubevid id=”idWkkIKW_yU”]

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Filed under: Al Qaeda, Doha, Islam, Middle East, Qatar, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, World, , , , , , ,

Israel Settlements: Freeze them or put democracy on ice

Bush, centre, discusses the Middle East peace ...

Saner day: Bush with Sharon and Abbas. (Image via Wikipedia)

New Yorker editor David Remnick offers a cold assessment of the question of new settlements in East Jerusalem. Basically, he says, Netanyahu must figure out how to reboot himself as a more reasonable actor in this drama, or risk ever again being able to talk to his Arab partners.

The essential question for Israel is not whether it has the friendship of the White House—it does—but whether Netanyahu remains the arrogant rejectionist that he was in the nineteen-nineties, the loyal son of a radical believer in Greater Israel, forever settling scores with the old Labor élites and making minimal concessions to ward off criticism from Washington and retain the affections of his far-right coalition partners. Is he capable of engaging with the moderate and constructive West Bank leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, and making history? Does there exist a Netanyahu 2.0, a Nixon Goes to China figure who will act with an awareness that demographic realities—the growth not only of the Palestinian population in the territories but also of the Arab and right-wing Jewish populations in Israel proper—make the status quo untenable as well as unjust?

via Obama and Israel : The New Yorker.

There really aren’t many reasons for optimism. Especially if Obama — who has deeply felt, proven sympathies for Israel — is portrayed there as a member of the P.L.O.

Then again, who would have believed health care reform was going to pass…

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Filed under: Barack Obama, East Jerusalem, Israel, Middle East, The New Yorker, World, , , , ,

You are not alone; we are all alone

Northwestern Afghanistan

Northwestern Afghanistan is both real and more real than you can imagine. (Image via Wikipedia)

Another dream. I’m at a crowded airline terminal, and all the other waiting passengers are American high schoolers: Rowdy, urban, multi-cultural, coiled with teen-aged energy.

Under the fluorescent lights, against the soft hush of the industrial carpet, a hefty boy with tanned skin, dark hair, and pimples stands to give a Heil Hilter salute.

He’s rooted there there, tall — is he Mexican, from Latin America? he’s a citizen, though — ramrod and with a blank face, giving this awful salute.

Catcalls ensue. “No he didn’t!” “Oooooh.” “Damn, that boy crazy!”

But he just stands there, rigid, unmoving, this real boy doing something real. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Afghanistan, U.S. Military, War, World, Writing, , , , ,

Yemen blew my mind

The old city of Sanaa

Some of the old quarter's so-called mud skyscrapers date back 2,000 years. (Image via Wikipedia)

Sorry for my absence around here. I just got back from a week in the heartbreaking city of Sanaa, the current capital of the fragile Republic of Yemen.

During my short visit, I feel like I saw as many hawks as pigeons, and as many fighter jets as hawks. And there were guns and daggers everywhere.

I’ll be back in full effect in the coming days. Thanks for your patience.

Filed under: Middle East, World, Yemen, , , ,

Obama's Middle East opportunities

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (R)...

Obama meets this fall with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. (Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife)

Over and over, the smartest people in the room seem to be the good men and women of the International Crisis Group. Consider their crystal clear take on President Obama and the Middle East, from the final paragraph of an op-ed in today’s Washington Post:

The longer the United States remains encumbered by rigid mental habits, the longer it denies itself the means to influence events. Already, Washington has accepted bystander status regarding moves by Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Worse, it can do little to prevent more ominous and increasingly likely developments — a confrontation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, or between Israel and the Palestinians over Jerusalem– all of which carry serious risks of spillover. President Obama is seldom better — and never more himself — than when he escapes the deceptive comfort of inherited certainties. His administration must start by discarding a reading of the region in which “moderates” fight “militants,” and “moderates” prevail. That vision has no local credibility or local resonance. It has no chance.

via Robert Malley and Peter Harling – Shifting allegiances in Middle East mean opportunities for President Obama – washingtonpost.com.

If you live in a country where booze is legal, spill some on the ground for Chas Freeman and his failed nomination. When you’re done, read the whole piece by Malley and Harling. Then wait for it all to come true: Among other things, the U.S. just named a new ambassador to Syria — filling that post for the first time since 2005. Warning: Don’t hold your breath.

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Filed under: Barack Obama, Islam, Middle East, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, World, , , , , , , ,

Building a beautiful arch

Picture showing Armenians killed during the Ar...

Image via Wikipedia

Christopher de Bellaigue, in his new book Rebel Land, describes the “petty and dishonorable” feeling of  interviewing old women in the small town of Varto, where the author is researching a book about painful and sensitive subjects — genocide, Armenians, Turks.

Why not let sleeping dogs lie? Why not leave this poor woman alone, why jog her memories? And then arch of your design starts to fill, and it seems like a beautiful arch, with lessons for us all, and you press greedily on.

Writing in The New York Review of Books several years ago, de Bellaigue wrote  about a period of Turkish history. For his failure to accurately account for the mass killings of Armenians, he was vilified by readers and taken to task by Review editor Robert Silvers.

This new book seems, in part, to be atonement. Words beget words.

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Filed under: Books, Genocide, New York Review of Books, Turkey, World, Writing, , , , , ,

Rare Saudi poll: The kids are alright

A woman carries shopping bags at a mall in the...

Good luck trying to get her to talk. (Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife)

Saudi Arabia isn’t an easy place to gather hard data. Women are shy, men are brusque, and notions of privacy could make approaching a stranger difficult, if not dangerous. In such a traditional and closed society, there simply isn’t any precedent for allowing a stranger to nose around asking questions.

That’s what makes this survey — a poll of 1,000 representative Saudis undertaken by a U.S. firm this November —  so interesting.

The numbers indicate a populous that is generally positive about the future but concerned more immediately by slipping  economics and the problem of corruption. All this is generally good news for a world looking for rationality and reform out of the Islamic Kingdom. But then there’s the percentage of those polled who support Al Qaeda…

Economics:

Forty percent of respondents reported their situation had deteriorated in the last year, compared to 36 percent who said things had improved.

Religious extremism:

A large percentage of both men and women see religious extremism as a problem, but the difference is telling: 48 percent of men see it as a problem while the number jumps to 59 percent for women.

Youthful optimism:

Fifty-nine percent of Saudis aged 18-24 years old said the country was moving in a positive direction, compared to 51 percent those in the 55-and-over age bracket. With a quarter of the population under 24 years old and an unemployment rate that some say puts one out of three youths without a job, it’s interesting to see such optimism.

Corruption:

Maybe the most important fact is that a supermajority — 63 percent — said that corruption is a serious problem. As evidenced by the outpouring of anger after more than 100 Saudis died during flooding in Jeddah this winter — anger that was voiced on the youth-oriented venues of Facebook and YouTube — there’s some reason to believe that younger Saudis will not only disapprove of corruption, but make noise about it.

Al Qaeda:

But at the same time, the survey revealed that one out of five respondents expressed “some support” for Al Qaeda. While it’s true that most Saudis polled didn’t express support, in a country of nearly 30 million people, that’s still a constituency for the bad guys of several million.

BONUS:

So how did they do the polls? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Al Qaeda, Islam, Journalism, Media, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, World, Writing, , , , , ,

Did I see a man die this morning?

Tuwaiq Escarpment on Makkah Road, South of Riyadh

West of Riyadh, Mecca Road. (Image via Wikipedia)

Traffic in Saudi Arabia: After every white-knuckled trip here, I was such a raging, quaking mess that I finally gave up renting a car and took to using a driver.

This morning, heading east into Riyadh, I saw a bronze-colored Camry swerve on the west-bound service road. Trying to overtake slower traffic, he veered onto the soft shoulder but lost control. There was no guardrail, and I saw the vehicle slice into yellow sand and jackknife into the air. Kicking up a dense cloud of dust, the car flipped over once, the dark underbelly exposed, then flipped again. In a concussion of glass and metal, the Camry slammed to the asphalt, rocking on its roof in the middle of a four-lane freeway. Mecca Road. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Traffic, World, , , ,