Saturday, March 29, 2003

Did Iraq launch a Silkworm missile against Kuwait today? This will be an interesting development as these horizontal-flying missiles might not be detectable by the Patriot anti-missiles. Fortunately there are no casualties in this latest incident. But I'm sure Kuwaitis will sleep with a lot less comfort from now onwards.

Friday, March 28, 2003

There's a lot of debate about the economic cost of the Iraq war. But does anyone dare believe that the threat of terrorism will be reduced once Saddam Hussein is defeated?

A successful outcome of the war will mean that weapons of mass destruction will be less likely to fall into the hands of Al-Qaeda and other terrorists. But this is offset by the fact that anger could be further fueled within the Muslim and Arab world spawning a new generation of terrorist recruits. Already Muslim extremists in Indonesia are seeing the invasion of Iraq as an act of aggression against their fellow Muslim brethrens by the Great White Satan.

Perhaps the most convincing argument against the war is that it will play into the hands of the terrorists. If this is true, the world will look forward to more troubled times.

There's finally admission from wounded US soldiers that the Iraqis were offering tougher resistance than expected. Now it looks like everyone is bracing for a longer war. No more is it going to be a short and sharp war through 'shock and awe' tactics.

Americans, like what they experienced in Vietnam, always have to go to war with certain handicaps. They have to avoid civilian casualties, they cannot bomb non-military infrastructures and they have to be accountable for any mistakes made. The Iraqis are fully exploiting these. It is a war with a forgone conclusion: against a vastly superior coalition force, it is not one that Iraq can win. But a successful war for the US and its allies are measured by different standards.

Maybe such standards are unrealistic to begin with. And perhaps the Americans have to blame themselves for not setting expectations right from the very beginning.

It shouldn't be a surprise that Singaporeans are still flocking to Johor for food and entertainment despite the many spats in Singapore-Malaysian bilateral relationship. Crossing the causeway for Johoreans and Singaporeans is almost like walking across the street - no one gives too much of a thought about the state of the relationship between the two governments before doing so. Johoreans and Singaporeans just want to get on with their normal lives.

Ordinary Singaporeans and Malaysians have gotten used to these sometimes childish spats between the two countries. Having worked in Singapore for 4 years, I cannot remember a year that passed without a war of words between them.

There are so many similarities between populations of the two countries and yet so many differences. Old-timers like Lee Kuan Yew can still be considered Malayans - English and Malay-speaking. But Malaysians today are often astounded that the young Singaporeans today do not speak any word of Malay - not even pasar Malay. Therein lies the key difference between the two societies. Malays in Singapore, despite the governments effort to encourage them to join the mainstream of society, unfortunately are still very much hanging on to the fringes. This is not because there is a concerted effort to discriminate them by the government but it is the nature of the Malay people to cling to their provincial way of life. Yes, they could be staying in gleaming new HDB flats built by the government but their social values, their aspirations and their culture are still very kampong in nature. It takes time for a provincial society to evolve into a cosmopolitan one. The government might force the difference races to live together in adjacent flats but still you will not find many Chinese Singaporeans mixing closely with Malay people. Not because there is any racial prejudice directed by the Chinese against the Malays but simply because there is nothing much in common between the two races. Both have vastly different social values. It is only natural for birds of the same feathers to flock together.

Even the Chinese in Singapore, who were descended mostly from migrant labourers and traders from South China, still has a long way to go before they can claim to be a modern cultured society of First World standards. The government is again doing a lot to engineer such a society, first by building world-class arts and cultural performance centers such as Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay.

It is a pity that there's so much bad blood between Malaysia and Singapore. There's so much that both can showcase to the world as shiny examples of Third World countries who have managed their economies well and carried out development projects successfully.

I enjoyed my time in Singapore, as I'm enjoying my time in Jakarta now. But I'll always call Malaysia home.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in Francis Ford Coppola's highly aclaimed Vietnam war movie, Apocalypse Now:

You have to have men who are moral... and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordal instincts to kill without feeling... without passion... without judgement... without judgement. Because it's judgement that defeats us.

Senior embassy officer based in Athens, John Brady Kiesling resigned on February 27 when it was clear that the US will pursue war with Iraq. He is now doing the lecture circuit, criticising Bush's foreign policy. He said:

"Sept. 11 created an imperative for the U.S. government to do something which was overwhelming"

September 11 brought war to the doorsteps of every American. No longer is war something that is beyond contemplation. To the US, war has already been declared on them by the terrorists. America has accepted war as a fact of life. It also demands the rest of the world community see it that way too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Nick Nolte as Colonel Gordon Tall in 'The Thin Red Line' - the most haunting war movie of recent times:

"Look at this jungle. Look at those vines, the way they twine around, swallowing everything. Nature's cruel....."

Somehow I feel that this war is inevitable. The conventional wisdom is to oppose the war. But I also feel the world has come to the point where a decisive event is needed to redefine the world community. Our world political structure now is a direct result of World War II, serving us for better or worse for the past 58 years. The US has emerged as a hyperpower after the end of the Cold War. This war will redefine the US's role in future: how should a hyperpower behave in a unipolar world? Will the US learn a bitter lesson by being drawn into a costly and protracted war, earning the villification of the world in the process? Or will they be vindicated by a swift victory followed by the reconstruction of Iraq as a model democratic Arab country? And then following up on their promise of a peace roadmap for Israel and Palestine? It is a moment of reckoning for the US.

It seems to me that the world has to go through this bitter war experience to move on. All the karmic forces have gathered together to come to a point of resolution. We have to face it with equanimity and let the forces work themselves out. Arjuna faced the same dilemma when he was confronted with a decision to fight and kill his own relatives in the climatic battle of Mahabarata. But his charioteer, who is the incarnation of the Lord Krishna advised him to face the battle resolutely. The Arjuna Dilemma is what the world is facing now.

The battle has to proceed. The karmic forces cannot be stopped. Like the process of birth, Nature has to go through its throes of intense pain before a better and brighter possibility emerges. War is cruel. So is Nature.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

62-year old retired navy pilot called Harlan Ullman is the person who invented the "shock and awe" strategy as a way of overwhelming the enemy into realising that there is no point in fighting. It is designed to secure victory with minimal fighting and casualties. However the concept is often misunderstood by the press as massive firepower unleased to decimate the enemy.

According to Ullman, the initial assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein on the first day of the war is "classic shock and awe". If it had been successful it would have brought a quick conclusion to the war. The surprise is that the inventor of "shock and awe" himself does not support the present war. He would have preferred to wait for a second resolution from the UN. Iraq according to him, does not present a case of clear and present danger.

The Iraqis now are claiming that it is the coalition forces that are now in "shock and awe" after they have offered stiff resistance to the advancing forces. Whether we are shocked or awed, war is a reflection of a world gone awry.

Coalition forces claim that Iraq is using illegal tactics to fight such as pretending to be surrending to draw out coalition forces before ambushing them and having soldiers dressed in civilian clothes.

From the Iraqi's point of view, this is a lopsided war which they have no chance of winning given the coalition's vastly superior weaponry. Deception, trickery and psychological warfare using the media is their best hope of defending themselves. They might even have a legitimate claim that the war itself is illegal and the US themselves are the aggressors. Whatever the Iraqis do are in self-defence.

The Taliban prisoners taken from Afghanistan have none of the rights that POWs nor common criminal have. War is a bad time to talk about justice.

Monday, March 24, 2003

How horrifying it must be for family members to see their loved ones being captured by the enemy and paraded on TV. Do they take perhaps take a bit of comfort in knowing that their husbands or sons are at least alive? Will images of torture and grimy prison cells haunt them every night?

The ironic thing is that only Man can subject his fellow beings to despicable acts of inhumanity. Animals don't torture their prey. Man, with their knowledge of what constitutes pain, inflicts their most-feared terrors on their enemies. Animals only kill for food or self-defence. It is Man who who inflicts pain for pleasure. And when they do so, we say that they behave like animals.

The US issued a travel alert asking its citizen to avoid Indonesia due to fears of terrorist attacks as a result of the Iraq war. Australia was even more specific in their alert - it mentioned Surabaya as a possible place for terrorist attack.

Despite these warnings you will still see foreigners partying away at places like Tanamur and JJ's until the wee hours of the morning. Sex and aggression are powerful instincts.

Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan on Iraq's resistance to US advance:

"These operations are going on in an excellent and comfortable manner for Iraq"

The rhetoric from the Iraqis are often very colourful. All their statements are spiced with words such as 'traitors', 'infidels', 'cowards', 'rats' and 'mercenaries'. Now they have described their resistance so far as being 'comfortable'.

And from the comforts of our homes, we watch the war opera unfolds.......

Spent a restful weekend watching lots of good Premier soccer on ESPN. Liverpool managed to bounce back from their UEFA cup quaterfinals defeat to Celtic to over-power Leeds 3-1. A good win but there's still room for improvement. For the first 25 minutes, Liverpool was magnificent creating chance after chance. But after they were 2 goals up, they let Leeds get back into the game.

Manchester United and Arsenal also registered good wins over their opponents with United looking very impressive indeed. While the championship race is hotting up, the battle in Iraq is also gathering in intensity. The US is suffering a bit of set back with stiff resistance in a few cities south of Baghdad. They also had to suffer the inominy of having US POWs paraded on Iraqi TV, not mention the accidentally downing of a British fighter jet by a Patriot missile. Coalition casualties are also mounting.

The war is not over yet. The longer it takes, the tougher is the task. At the meantime, the body count continues.

Someday we'll be able to control machines directly with our brains. Right now the technology is still in its infancy - planting electrodes into the brain is still an intrusive way of connecting man and machine. And scientist have not been able to decipher the exact language of the neurons yet. But progress in this field is inevitable.

This and genetic engineering is going to be the most promising area for technological advancement.