In and after Iraq
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., February 12, 2003) – With war in Iraq all but inevitable, it’s time to figure out how to wage it at the least expense to human life and physical destruction. It’s also time to figure out what happens once the dust settles.

The New Yorker

That’s what Nicholas Lemann went to the Pentagon to find out, as he reports in “After Iraq” in the February 17/24 issue of the New Yorker. In particular, Lemann examined the idea that a fringe benefit – if you can call it that – to a successful regime change in Iraq would be a loosening up of the monarchical and dictatorial reins in the Arab world in favor of more responsive, democratic-leaning governments (if something short of full-fledged democracies).

Lemann quotes Douglas Feith, under-secretary of defense for policy, that the democratization of Iraq and its neighbors is not in itself a reason for going to war – that remains eliminating Iraq’s capacity for producing and distributing weapons of mass destruction.

“Once you contemplate using military force for that purpose,” says Feith, “and you’re thinking about what do you do afterward, that’s when you can think that if we do things right, and if we help the Iraqis, and if the Iraqis show an ability to create a humane representative government for themselves – will that have beneficial spillover effects on the politics of the whole region? The answer, I think, is yes.”

Lemann also spoke with Stephen Cambone, a former deputy of Feith’s now in charge of weapons systems. Cambone and Feith both hint that “bringing down Saddam… would have the happy effect of destabilizing both Syria and Iran,” two of the most oppressive nations in the world in terms of human rights (especially those of women and minorities), and two nations that probably do a lot more than Iraq to perpetuate terrorism around the world.

Lemann admits that this scenario -- which in its most fully realized vision includes the lining up of Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinians and even Saudi Arabia all on the side of truth, justice and the American way -- is “breathtakingly ambitious and optimistic.”

The Jerusalem Report

It’s a somewhat sobering thought that when we go to war in Iraq, the battlefield will be the very cradle of Western civilization, where the great Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian and Mesopotamian empires once stood and in so many ways shaped the world – for better or worse – as we know it.

A particular irony is pointed out in “On the Warpath,” written by an unnamed “special correspondent” reporting from Baghdad in the February 24 issue of the biweekly Jerusalem Report. The remains of the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq lie along a likely route for American forces entering Iraq from Kuwait. It was from Ur that Abraham – the original monotheist and patriarch shared by the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions – descended to Haran and Canaan, thus setting in motion the story of these three great civilizations. How sad that all three seem destined to meet again in Ur to settle scores.

As for damage to ancient remains, there will undoubtedly be some, but most of the antiquities that remained in the region have already been looted and are now available on the black market with the assent of the current Iraqi regime.

The Atlantic Monthly

For the better part of the last two decades, Wynton Marsalis has reigned as the indisputable king of jazz. As leader of his own band and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, as artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, as a prolific recording artist (whose work includes classical repertory), as an author, and as an all-around spokesperson for jazz music, Marsalis’s influence is unrivaled.

Or at least it has been. In the March issue of the Atlantic, Billy Strayhorn biographer David Hajdu reveals that Marsalis has fallen on hard times, both personally (a recent marriage engagement was broken) and professionally (he is currently without a record deal).

Hajdu dispels several myths, including the one that credits (or blames) the trumpeter singlehandedly with instilling a neo-traditionalist tendency in jazz. As Hajdu clearly documents, a wave of nostalgic preservation was sweeping the jazz establishment several years before a teen-age Marsalis left his home of New Orleans to attend Juilliard in New York.

Secondly, Hajdu makes much of the filial rivalry between Wynton Marsalis and his brother, saxophonist Branford. He sees them as polar opposites, the former the dignified classicist, the latter “a musical anti-hero,” the Elvis of jazz.

Hajdu catches Marsalis in a bitter mood when the subject of world music comes up – “I like jazz,” is about all that Marsalis can muster up in response. He ends the article with a suggestive bit of parallelism, noting that like Marsalis, Duke Ellington also left Columbia Records at age 40, when he was considered something of a washout. Ten years later, he created some of his greatest, most lasting works.

The best quote in the article comes from a former New York City clubowner lamenting the emphasis on dead jazz icons and its detrimental effect on live jazz. “They’ve been saying jazz is America’s classical music, and it deserves respect,” says James Browne. “Well, now it’s America’s classical music. Thanks a lot. What do we do now?”

In the same issue, James Fallows talks with former president Bill Clinton about what it’s like to be former president Bill Clinton, and how he can carve out a life more meaningful than the one that would find him participating in celebrity golf tournaments every other weekend.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on February 15, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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