Commentary Magazine


Topic: Nissan

Kurdistan, First Impressions

This whole week I’m in Kurdistan, or Iraqi Kurdistan, or northern Iraq, or whatever you want to call this nation-region within a country. There is not one speck of my being that fails to thrill to the prospect of a self-determined, democratic, pro-West, thriving Kurdistan. My preliminary impressions — and that’s all they are so far — have worked, however, to temper the romance ever so slightly.

For starters, there was the stark reminder of how difficult it can be to thrive, or even function, in this region. Around the time our plane was supposed to land in Erbil, the pilot informed all the passengers that “due to a political situation between Iraq and Turkey,” the airport at Erbil was closed for two hours. He assured us that we had enough fuel to hover or to land in Aleppo if need be. After the full two hours, we landed in Erbil, where everyone was tight-lipped about the details of the “political situation.”

Two flags stood side by side in the airport waiting area: the Kurdistan flag with its bursting sun and the Iraqi flag with “Allahu Akbar” in Arabic script. This is as one would expect. But the room’s other adornments revealed a certain incongruity. Two walls bore framed heroic portraits of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdistan regional government president, and Jalal Talibani, the president of Iraq and a revered Kurdish political figure. Images of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were conspicuously absent. Take that for what it’s worth, but the uneasy question of Kurdistan’s allegiance and independence is certainly a fundamental one.

When I saw yet another framed heroic portrait of KDP founder, Mustafa Barzani, in my hotel lobby, I was reminded, unfortunately, of earlier travels elsewhere. The ubiquity of leaders’ benevolent visages is a sure indicator of a personality cult. Hasn’t the region seen enough of those?

On the way out of the airport, there were definite signs of a booming nation: billboards advertising Nissan Maximas, Land Rovers, and a “New Iraq,” as well as construction sites, were everywhere.

Let’s hope for more billboards and fewer flattering portraits.

This whole week I’m in Kurdistan, or Iraqi Kurdistan, or northern Iraq, or whatever you want to call this nation-region within a country. There is not one speck of my being that fails to thrill to the prospect of a self-determined, democratic, pro-West, thriving Kurdistan. My preliminary impressions — and that’s all they are so far — have worked, however, to temper the romance ever so slightly.

For starters, there was the stark reminder of how difficult it can be to thrive, or even function, in this region. Around the time our plane was supposed to land in Erbil, the pilot informed all the passengers that “due to a political situation between Iraq and Turkey,” the airport at Erbil was closed for two hours. He assured us that we had enough fuel to hover or to land in Aleppo if need be. After the full two hours, we landed in Erbil, where everyone was tight-lipped about the details of the “political situation.”

Two flags stood side by side in the airport waiting area: the Kurdistan flag with its bursting sun and the Iraqi flag with “Allahu Akbar” in Arabic script. This is as one would expect. But the room’s other adornments revealed a certain incongruity. Two walls bore framed heroic portraits of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdistan regional government president, and Jalal Talibani, the president of Iraq and a revered Kurdish political figure. Images of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were conspicuously absent. Take that for what it’s worth, but the uneasy question of Kurdistan’s allegiance and independence is certainly a fundamental one.

When I saw yet another framed heroic portrait of KDP founder, Mustafa Barzani, in my hotel lobby, I was reminded, unfortunately, of earlier travels elsewhere. The ubiquity of leaders’ benevolent visages is a sure indicator of a personality cult. Hasn’t the region seen enough of those?

On the way out of the airport, there were definite signs of a booming nation: billboards advertising Nissan Maximas, Land Rovers, and a “New Iraq,” as well as construction sites, were everywhere.

Let’s hope for more billboards and fewer flattering portraits.

Read Less

RE: The Times Square Terror Attack

We learn today that the administration believes the Times Square car-bombing attempt was “coordinated by more than one person in a plot with international links.” The Washington Post reports:

The disclosure, while tentative, came as the White House intensified its focus on the Saturday incident in New York City, in which explosives inside a Nissan Pathfinder were set ablaze but failed to detonate at the tourist-crowded corner of Broadway and 45th Street.

Emerging from a series of briefings, several officials said it was premature to rule out any motive but said the sweeping, multi-state investigation was turning up new clues.

Separately, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also characterized the incident for the first time as an attempted act of terrorism. “I would say that was intended to terrorize, and I would say that whomever did that would be categorized as a terrorist,” Gibbs said, sharpening the administration’s tone.

Another U.S. official, recounting a conversation with intelligence officials, said, “Don’t be surprised if you find a foreign nexus. … They’re looking at some tell-tale signs and they’re saying it’s pointing in that direction.”

A couple of points are worth noting. First, if accurate, this is the fourth significant jihadist attack since Obama took office. (In case you’ve lost track, there was the Little Rock recruiting shooting, the Fort Hood massacre, and the Christmas bombing — all before this latest event.) If Obama’s array of not-Bush national-security policies were supposed to make us safer, they haven’t.

Second, at least the administration managed to get out the word “terrorist” within a reasonable period of time, and we are told that the president, not on vacation this time, was informed Saturday night. White House message: he’s not out to lunch this time. Finally, I think we can consider the notion of a public trial for KSM in New York or any major city — hopefully any Article III trial — to be finally kaput. The reality — we are a nation at war — at some point overwhelms even the most ideologically driven administration.

We learn today that the administration believes the Times Square car-bombing attempt was “coordinated by more than one person in a plot with international links.” The Washington Post reports:

The disclosure, while tentative, came as the White House intensified its focus on the Saturday incident in New York City, in which explosives inside a Nissan Pathfinder were set ablaze but failed to detonate at the tourist-crowded corner of Broadway and 45th Street.

Emerging from a series of briefings, several officials said it was premature to rule out any motive but said the sweeping, multi-state investigation was turning up new clues.

Separately, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also characterized the incident for the first time as an attempted act of terrorism. “I would say that was intended to terrorize, and I would say that whomever did that would be categorized as a terrorist,” Gibbs said, sharpening the administration’s tone.

Another U.S. official, recounting a conversation with intelligence officials, said, “Don’t be surprised if you find a foreign nexus. … They’re looking at some tell-tale signs and they’re saying it’s pointing in that direction.”

A couple of points are worth noting. First, if accurate, this is the fourth significant jihadist attack since Obama took office. (In case you’ve lost track, there was the Little Rock recruiting shooting, the Fort Hood massacre, and the Christmas bombing — all before this latest event.) If Obama’s array of not-Bush national-security policies were supposed to make us safer, they haven’t.

Second, at least the administration managed to get out the word “terrorist” within a reasonable period of time, and we are told that the president, not on vacation this time, was informed Saturday night. White House message: he’s not out to lunch this time. Finally, I think we can consider the notion of a public trial for KSM in New York or any major city — hopefully any Article III trial — to be finally kaput. The reality — we are a nation at war — at some point overwhelms even the most ideologically driven administration.

Read Less




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