Christopher Dickey

Stories by Christopher Dickey

  • Shadowland: Sandbagged in Baghdad

    The sandbags, you see, are biodegradable. When they were first thrown up around U.S.-occupied buildings in 2003 nobody thought they'd have to last very long. The Iraqi insurgency looked like a minor headache back then, and sandbags were a short-term solution to what seemed a short-term problem. So some lowly American bureaucrat who bought into this vision brought eco-friendly sandbags that tattered and dissolved in sun and rain, leaving my friend's digs, today, surrounded by something less akin to a fortress than to a sandcastle.It's that same sort of short-term expediency with an eye on long-term ideals--and a remarkable obliviousness to miserable medium-term realities--that riled up some of those Democratic U.S. senators grilling Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice this week. They wanted to talk about past mistakes and the highly problematic here and now. She wanted to prove she had that vision thing for the future. And, let's be straight, that vision thing really is...
  • THE NEW ACTIVISTS: VOICES ON THE EDGE

    For more than 30 years, much of the Muslim world has been sliding backward, away from modernity. Maybe the West and Israel, defeat and humiliation, dictators, emirs or mullahs are to blame. Or maybe it's one of those cycles of fanatic religiosity that afflicts every society from time to time. Some voices of reason, however, have to stand up and say, "Enough!"Well, at long last that chorus is growing. And if you listen to the most strident voices, damned if they don't sound like an all-woman band. They're way out there on the edge of the faith; their message and their lifestyles are so far from the torpid Muslim mainstream they're almost in the desert. Yet precisely because they're taking such radical stands, they're doing what dissidents often do: drawing fire from zealots, angering the complacent--and creating space for more moderate voices.Right now it's a 36-year-old Canadian Muslim, Irshad Manji, who's singing loudest. Her in-your-face book, "The Trouble With Islam," is a...
  • Death-Squad Democracy

    Having watched the slaughter in El Salvador first hand during the early 1980s, having lost many friends and acquaintances to the butchers there--among them nuns, priests and an archbishop who will someday be sainted--and having been targeted myself, I have something of a personal interest in this notion. I'm not about to forget the bodies lying unclaimed in the streets, the families of the victims too afraid to pick them up lest they become targets as well. When I hear talk of a Salvador Option, I can't help but think about El Playon, a wasteland of volcanic rock that was one of the killers' favorite dumping grounds. I've never forgotten the sick-sweet stench of carnal refuse there, the mutilated corpses half-devoured by mongrels and buzzards, the hollow eyes of a human skull peering up through the loose-piled rocks, the hair fallen away from the bone like a gruesome halo.Still, I'm prepared to admit that building friendly democracies sometimes has to be a cold-blooded business in...
  • WHAT'S HOT IN | ITALY: YOUR SOLE PROVIDER

    Until recently, Geox shoes were synonymous with "geek," even in Italy, where they're made and marketed all over the place. Their chief selling point: little holes in the sole of the shoe let out air, while a fine membrane lining keeps water from coming in. Nobody questioned that they were light and comfortable. But now, suddenly, they're starting to look pretty good, too. The new lines are in the spirit of other Italian moccasins and city shoes--but cost two-thirds less than luxury brands. Even Italian troops in Iraq are wearing them, from a specially produced line by Geox. Our pick for civilians: men's City Oxfords, available in black and brown at nordstrom.com ($125).
  • Riskier and Riskier

    Now hundreds of journalists from the United States and the rest of the world are about to descend on this town to cover the elections scheduled for Jan. 30. Do they have any clue what they're getting into? Many don't, judging from the calls they're making to the U.S. Embassy for support. "We've heard American media are coming in force," says an embassy spokesman. "One network plans to send five crews. Another is going to send its anchorman." Network affiliates--read: local TV stations--are planning to send crews, too. Not to mention photographers, radio reporters and low-profile scribblers like myself.Many blithely expect the U.S. military or the embassy to take care of them. But the soldiers and the diplomats are hard pressed just to protect themselves. Even in their own compounds, they're required to wear body armor every time they set foot outside. When diplomats venture into the streets, they're supposed to have PSDs (personal security details) that may number a dozen...
  • WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

    JON STEWART"He's starting to be taken seriously as a political force." (2003)The U.S. media took a lot of heat for their coverage of Iraq and the elections this year. Much of it came from "Daily Show" host Stewart, who has pulled no punches in attacking everyone from the president to Palau (for joining the "coalition of the willing"). The show's "Indecision 2004" coverage and regular examination of "Mess O'Potamia" were played for laughs, but found deeper truths behind the wall of spin that often blocks more traditional news organizations. Stewart, 42, and his writers also teamed up for the satirical best seller "America (the Book): a Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction," which was voted book of the year by Publishers Weekly. Suddenly, Stewart is indeed being taken seriously. His thoughts about that? "The world must be very confused," he says.GAEL GARCIA BERNAL"A talent--and a face--that really translates." (2003)He'd already sizzled in "Amores Perros" and "El Crimen del Padre...
  • Shadowland: Forget, Hell!

    One of the more unusual souvenirs brought home from Iraq this year is a shoulder patch bought in the embattled Green Zone, where thousands of Americans (and the government they support) are holed up in the heart of Baghdad. A lot of the T-shirts and trinkets there have American eagles and American flags and fighting slogans, the usual pumped-up, hoo-ha stuff peddled to soldiers. But this is a little different. It shows the Confederate battle flag from the American Civil War modified, weirdly, for the Iraqi Civil War. On one diagonal is the English phrase IN GOD WE TRUST. On the other diagonal, written in Arabic, is "Allah Akbar," God is great, just as Saddam Hussein put it on the Iraqi flag during the 1990s.Now, I don't know who comes up with these things, or what they're thinking. But as I look at this patch pinned to my bulletin board, it's a potent reminder of the most enormous obstacle between the Middle East and the future. Put simply: memory.The Middle East and the American...
  • ROCKING THE CASBAH

    For more than 30 years, much of the Muslim world has been sliding backward, away from modernity. Maybe the West and Israel, defeat and humiliation, dictators, emirs or mullahs are to blame. Or maybe it's one of those cycles of fanatic religiosity that afflicts every society from time to time. Some voices of reason, however, have to stand up and say "Enough! There is a modern world and Muslims should be part of it." Some apostles of progress have to do more than bemoan their fate, bow to the diktats of intolerance, make excuses for willful ignorance or turn their backs on the faith altogether.Well, at long last that chorus is growing among Muslims, and if you listen to the most strident voices, damned if they don't sound like an all-woman band. They're way out there on the edge of the faith; their message and their lifestyles are so far from the torpid Muslim mainstream they're almost in the desert. Yet precisely because they're taking such radical stands, they're doing what...
  • Shadowland: The Cassandra Quotient

    Realism really is a curse, especially when you're writing about terrorism and the Middle East. Nobody wants to read a relentless flow of pessimism, and no reporter really wants to be like Cassandra, the Trojan prophetess whose visions of doom were always accurate--and always ignored. (Did you see the movie "Troy"? Hollywood wrote her out of the script.)Optimism has got to have some place in real-world scenarios. But apart from the opinions of our immortal Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice, who've been reliably wrong about almost everything, the news you're going to hear in the near term is likely to be bad. And worse.In what looks like a search for more upbeat predictions, lots of think tanks and conferences, including the CIA's National Intelligence Council earlier this year and the World Economic Forum at its annual meeting in Davos this coming January, are turning their attention to the world as it might look 15 years from now...
  • THE MONEY TRAIL - ARAFAT FAMILY VALUES

    Yasir Arafat amassed billions to buy loyalty. An aide shadowed him everywhere with a bag of cash--as much as $2 million, according to a Palestinian diplomat. Another, Mohammed Rashid, an Iraqi Kurd, ran a business empire for Arafat in the 1990s. In partnership with well-connected Israelis, it embraced a casino in Jericho and cigarettes in Gaza, as well as vast webs of hard-to-trace foreign bank accounts and investments estimated at anywhere from $300 million to upwards of $1 billion. But Arafat never trusted anyone completely with the money he saw as the key to his survival: no single aide, none of his political heirs, not even--and, some sources say, especially--his wife, Suha.Thus the stage was set for the ugly scenes as Arafat wasted away in a French military hospital from a blood disease doctors were never able to diagnose. When his political successors announced they were coming to Paris to check on him, Suha phoned Al-Jazeera in the small hours of the morning. "I tell you they...
  • Shadowland: No Way Out?

    Lame-duck Secretary of State Colin Powell can expect a pretty cool reception when he shows up on the warm shores of the Red Sea next week for a conference of Iraq's neighbors. "Why don't we just call the whole thing off?" suggests a member of one Gulf Arab delegation. There are hard questions to be addressed, and every party there is vitally concerned with stabilizing the region. But Powell is hardly the guy to give credible answers these days. "What's he going to do?" asks Mr. Gulf, "Serve coffee?"The U.S.-anointed Iraqi government will be meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt, with every country on Iraq's borders, and the G8 club of the world's most industrialized countries will be providing its patronage. But Powell can't give them a convincing answer to the most important question on most of their minds: does the United States ever intend to leave Iraq? And, if so, when? How?You might think you've heard the answer. On the eve of the U.S. elections, Powell himself categorically...
  • 'Cher George'

    At the top of a letter congratulating the president of the United States on his re-election, French President Jacques Chirac wrote in fountain pen the simple phrase, "Cher George": "Dear George." At the end, this Frenchman who has so often postured as George W. Bush's most dedicated adversary among America's traditional allies, scrawled a promise of his "most cordial friendship."Throughout Europe and the Middle East, politicians and statesmen who'd hoped fervently, if privately, for a change in the White House are now striving to come to terms with the mandate Bush received this week from the American public. Thus Chirac downplayed his old claims that Europe could offer an alternative pole to U.S. power and called instead for "a tight transatlantic partnership." Karsten Voigt, a close advisor to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, talked about the need for Bush and Europe to pull closer together "in rhetoric, in gestures, but also in substance."Longtime Bush-backers like British...
  • HUNTING ZARQAWI

    What a loser. At 17, he dropped out of high school in the small industrial city of Zarqa in Jordan. One of 10 children of a Bedouin herbal healer, he quickly developed a reputation as a drunk and a rabble-rouser. By one account, he was jailed for sexual assault, and took up the ideology of jihad in prison. After his release, he drifted for a while and then went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. But by the time he got there, the war was over. So he got a job in Afghanistan with a small jihadist newspaper, even though he was nearly illiterate, writing in a child's scrawl. Back in his homeland, his first terrorist operation, in 1993, was an utter failure, and he and his confederates were jailed until 1999. He was freed in an amnesty. Then he returned to Afghanistan, but was apparently rejected by Al Qaeda, instead running his own training camp in Herat. "He had no learning," says a former Jordanian intelligence officer. "He was a thug." Yet today, at 37, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi has...
  • Shadowland: Malign Neglect

    If "the old man" dies, and it's looking like he might, both George W. Bush and John Kerry have some explaining to do. Like, what's their policy toward Israel and the Palestinians? Do they really even have one?To date, 75-year-old Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat-known to friends as "the old man" and Abu Ammar, known to enemies as a liar, murderer and thief--has provided both our president and his challenger with a convenient cop-out. If they mentioned the peace process at all, it was to bash Arafat. "You know," said Bush in the second TV debate, "I've made some decisions on Israel. That's unpopular. I wouldn't deal with Arafat because I felt like he had let the former president down, and I don't think he's the kind of person that can lead toward a Palestinian state."Otherwise, what's passed for policy toward Israel in stump speeches by the candidates and their boosters has been nothing but a transparent appeal to Jewish voters. The candidates assume that Jews want to be told that the...
  • CASH FROM CHAOS

    A massive tower of smoke roiled skyward above the green landscape of the Niger Delta on the west coast of Africa. Oil was burning near a ruptured pipeline, and the huge Anglo-Dutch multinational Shell Petroleum Development Co. of Nigeria reported sabotage caused the break. Were rebels behind it? Terrorists? Or just thieves trying to steal oil and scrap metal? The only clue was a hacksaw at the scene, apparently dropped in a moment of panic when the line erupted like a gusher.International oil markets shuddered. YOUTHS TORCH OIL PIPELINE, PRICE HITS $54.45 PER BARREL, screamed the headline of Nigeria's leading paper the next day, exaggerating the connection, certainly, but not by much. The global oil supply is so tight, the market psychology so close to the brink of crisis that even small disruptions can send prices soaring to new records.Wasn't it just last year that we heard the invasion of Iraq would help make oil cheaper, safer, more secure? President George W. Bush came to...
  • The Executioner's Song

    The well-orchestrated rise of Jordanian thug Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi to superterrorist stardom may soon come to an abrupt end. The Americans and the Iraqi government say they are closing in on him. Almost daily the U.S. military announces airstrikes against his "safe houses and weapons-storage facilities" in the embattled city of Fallujah. The government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi thinks it sees a political opening, too. Iraqi rebel groups feel overshadowed by this foreign butcher's gruesome showmanship: the Webcast beheadings of Americans, Britons and other captives; the suicide attacks slaughtering Iraqi civilians. "The others are fed up with Zarqawi," a top Iraqi official told me by phone from Baghdad. "He's getting all the publicity and their own cause has been obscured by his fanatic cause."So we may soon hear the good news that this executioner of innocents has met his own end.(In fact, there were erroneous wire reports over the weekend that he had already.) How soon? Perhaps...
  • EUROPE'S SOUTHERN SHADOW

    Most of the tragedies go almost unnoticed, like the disaster that descended last week on El Foqra. It's just a small Moroccan village near vast phosphate strip mines west of the Atlas Mountains, a place like so many others in Africa where jobs are few and hopes are fewer. People there come to believe the only decent future they'll ever have will be in Europe--if they can get there....
  • Shadowland: Dangerous Loose Ends

    The bones of the children should tell us why Saddam Hussein had to go. They're being excavated right now from a killing field in Kurdish Iraq, where Saddam's enemies were shot and bulldozed into mass graves. The men in one. The women and children in another--hundreds of them slaughtered in that one place back in the late 1980s. But in those days the Reagan administration and the first Bush administration couldn't really be bothered about such things.Human-rights organizations railed in vain against Saddam's brutal regime, but Washington was happy to have him signing lucrative contracts and killing Iranians. He used more than 100,000 artillery shells and bombs filled with poison gas against Iran's troops, sometimes aided by U.S. intelligence showing where to target the biggest concentrations.Having spent a quarter century covering terrible atrocities in this world, I'd like to think we had the commitment to end them. But let's not imagine that we invaded Iraq to wage a righteous...
  • To Have And To Hold

    "After the American elections there will be great massacres," a leading Lebanese statesman told me the other day. I listened closely, because the Lebanese have more experience with massacres than most of us, and this particular guy is also very well connected in Paris and Washington. "The Americans will clean out these people who are fighting them," he said. They will go into Fallujah. They will drive into the other no-go towns around the country. "But it will be a big, big massacre," repeated the very portly politician, nodding and sipping his Splenda-sweetened tea. The Lebanese got so experienced with slaughter during their 15-year civil war that they sometimes sound as if they're talking about mowing the lawn.Mr. Splenda figures the U.S.-led massacres in Iraq will be successful enough to allow the government of U.S.-anointed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to hold a vote in January, and get itself elected, and gradually--very gradually--build sufficient credibility to hold on to the U...
  • Shadowland: Freedom's Just Another Word

    I can tell you the week the United States lost the war in Iraq. It was 18 months ago. Baghdad had fallen with almost no resistance. The dictator Saddam Hussein had fled. A U.S. Marine draped an American flag over the tyrant's statue and then Symbolic Saddam was dragged to the ground, proclaiming Iraq's freedom with a photo op.Freedom. What could that mean to Iraqis? Many things. What did it mean? Looting. Baghdad, which surrendered virtually intact, was soon torn apart by mobs of scavengers sacking government buildings, pillaging the great museums, ransacking the struggling hospitals, vivisecting the electrical guts of the national infrastructure just to strip copper from the wiring. Meanwhile the American soldiers on the scene stood by, and watched, and did nothing, because nobody told them to do otherwise and, anyway, there weren't enough of them on the ground to impose order.When asked that week about the chaos sweeping Baghdad's streets, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had...
  • Shadowland: 20/20 Foresight

    Every so often, a reader who doesn't like what I've written about the present or the future, accuses me of failing to say such things in the past. An e-mail from a U.S. Marine in California is more articulate than most:"I find it absurd that so many Americans (like you) have 20/20 hindsight vision ... 'We shouldn't have gone into Iraq ... One thousand servicemen have died ...' Boo hoo," says this chief warrant officer, who tells me he served two tours in Iraq. "Our purpose and mission is noble and just. It's a little late to whine about the cost to America. If you don't have the stomach to pay the price in blood, maybe you should have thought about that before the military was sent to Iraq. I believe in this war and want to see it to its conclusion. Iraq must stand as an independent nation with its own elected government capable of defending itself. Then (and only then) the United States can leave Iraq's fate to the Iraqis."Well, it's a matter of record that what I've written on...
  • Online Forum: Editors on the Future of Energy

    Experts generally agree that our current reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable. Clean energy sources like wind and solar power--not to mention still-unproven hydrogen technology--are gaining popularity, especially in Western Europe. But even as prices approach $50 a barrel, the alternatives don't yet make enough economic sense to replace oil. Will that change? What are the most promising innovations to use alternative energy sources? And what about hybrid options like "green' gizmos and the popular Toyota Prius? You wrote to us with queries about the future of energy. Here are the responses to some of those questions from NEWSWEEK Middle East regional editor Christopher Dickey and Forbes.Com editor Paul Maidment.Tacoma, WA: Will the move to alternate energy sources destroy the economies of the Middle East oil exporters? How might they respond?Paul Maidment: Probably not in our lifetimes; and I say that without knowing how young you might be. The world will be using fossil fuels...
  • THE NEXT NEW OIL IS A GAS

    The scene was the Algerian port of Skikda, where processing plants take natural gas pumped from the Sahara and cool it under enormous pressure to 162 degrees below zero Celsius. At that temperature the gas turns into a liquid that can be shipped all over the world in a new breed of refrigerated supertankers. When it arrives at its destination, liquefied natural gas, commonly called LNG, is then warmed very carefully until it becomes, again, the clean-burning stuff with the fine blue flame that sizzles hamburgers in countless kitchens, warms offices and bedrooms and generates an increasingly large share of the electricity in the United States.At 6:39 that January evening, one of the plant operators at Skikda noticed that the steam-pressure indicator in Train 40, an array of compressors and separators, was rising fast. He tried to slow the fuel flow to the burners. One minute later another operator reported that a vapor cloud was forming around Train 40. A disaster was taking shape...
  • Poisoning Patriotism

    The parking lot in front of the Bi-Lo Supermarket at Pawley's Island, S.C., is full of cars with decals of Old Glory or twisted ribbons stuck to their sides. The yellow-ribbon decals say SUPPORT OUR TROOPS. Those in red-white-and-blue say FREEDOM ISN'T FREE. Just inside the store there's a big bulletin board with clips from local newspapers about the men from the South Carolina National Guard who shipped out for Iraq this summer. They've always trained as an artillery battalion, but their new assignment will be as military police--cops on the beat on the meanest streets in the world. Six of the Pawleys contingent are related. All are male. Most are black.Beneath the bulletin board is a big box with a sign that says PLEASE HELP A SOLDIER, and an official list of some 60 kinds of items these men might want you to buy them at the store, from "baby wipes, batteries, beef jerky," to "flea collars (for ankles)" to "shoe boxes (for shipping)" to "washing powders (liquid)." This morning...
  • FUEL'S FUTURE

    BUSINESS SEES CLEAN NATURAL GAS AS THE NEXT DOMINANT FOSSIL FUEL. BUT THERE WILL BE POLITICAL STORMS ALONG THE WAY.
  • Fuel's Future

    The moment of maximum danger came suddenly on the evening of January 19.The scene was the Algerian port of Skikda, where processing plants take natural gas pumped from the Sahara and cool it under enormous pressure to 162 degrees below zero Celsius. At that temperature the gas turns into a liquid that can be shipped all over the world in a new breed of refrigerated supertankers. When it arrives at its destination, liquefied natural gas, commonly called LNG, is then warmed very carefully until it becomes, again, the clean-burning stuff with the fine blue flame that sizzles hamburgers in countless kitchens, warms offices and bedrooms, and generates an increasingly large share of the electricity in the United States.At 6:39 that January evening, one of the plant operators at Skikda noticed that the steam-pressure indicator in "Train 40," an array of compressors and separators, was rising fast. He tried to slow the fuel flow to the burners. One minute later, another operator reported...
  • Shadowland: Frequently Unasked Questions

    It's hurricane season on the Carolina coast, and right now we're between storms. But every time the sky starts to clear, the morning news announces something big and scary taking shape just over the horizon. I'm supposed to be on vacation, but even walking on the beach is like living a metaphor for the War on Terror. For three years now, just when we think one danger's past, we're told another one is looming somewhere out there, bearing down on us, building strength, about to wreck our present and our future. As if terrorism were some force of nature that you might survive by preparing, and can only avert by praying.President George W. Bush was thinking that way, it seems, when he told NBC's Matt Lauer on the morning news yesterday, "I don't think you can win" the war on terror. And even when the president tried to come back to, um, clarify those remarks today, he suggested some pretty serious change in the globe's geopolitical climate would be required to get the job done. ""In...
  • RACISM'S RISING TIDE

    Foreigners are not strangers to the old spice shop on Genoa's Via del Campo. The narrow little street near the port was first built up during the Crusades. In legend and song, it's glorified as a place where people on the edges of society find their way, and for several decades many of those people have been North African. But when a couple of middle-aged men walked into the shop the other day and asked for some dried fruits in Arabic instead of Italian, the old woman behind the counter blew up. "If they talk their language, then we talk our language!" she shouted--in a Genoese dialect which even many Italians wouldn't understand.Such outbursts aren't unique to exasperated shopkeepers. Resentment of immigrants, along with fear of Muslim terrorists, is fueling intolerance almost everywhere in Europe. Some incidents, like recent desecrations of Muslim and Jewish graves in France, draw wide attention. But Italy is fast acquiring a reputation for pervasive racism that's at once more...
  • Shadowland: Italy's Sleeper Cells

    Who'd have thought laid-back Italy would be a major hub for Al Qaeda operatives? But their reach extends from Casablanca to Baghdad to Milan.With growing frequency and ferocity, Web sites supposedly linked to Al Qaeda threaten Italy with gruesome terrorist attacks "hitting quality targets with nonconventional weapons that will cause a huge disaster." If Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi doesn't pull his troops out of Iraq, bloggers from hell say they'll call on secret sleeper cells to raze Italy's cities to the ground, make people "taste the bitter fruits of blood" ... and so on.Well, some people get to a point where they've been scared so long, they just can't be scared anymore. And some folks just aren't sharp enough to be scared in the first place. Italians may qualify in both categories--at least this month. After all, it's August, and this was the week of ferragosto, when a lot of Italians go to the beach, and those few who are still on the job often act as if they're not....
  • DOES TERROR TAKE A HOLIDAY?

    Ah, summer. A time when Europeans make their annual exodus to the beach, to the mountains, to hiking paths and country lanes. In France, nearly half the population takes August off. Across the continent, even police and medical workers let down their guards. And the record shows that terrorists, knowing this, often take their best shots this time of year. ETA, the IRA, the Real IRA, the Red Army Faction, right-wing Italian radicals and Armenian, Lebanese, and Algerian killers have all mounted murderous terror sprees during summers past....
  • The Chirac Doctrine

    France gives the nod to Turkish membership in the European Union. What is Paris up to?