Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Molly Ivins Can't Die Yet, Can She?

Word tonight that columnist Molly Ivins has died from breast cancer at the age of 62. Feels like a kick in the teeth to me. I can't think of another media figure for whom I feel such extraordinary affection. There have been better columnists, more fluent in policy, more influential in driving public debate (Krugman comes to mind). But no columnist in my lifetime has had anything like Molly's wit and verve. She could dissect the most loathsome politicians, expose their darkest or dimmest foibles, and leave you feeling better just for having read about it in her poisoned prose. I'm especially saddened that Molly didn't live to dance on Dick Cheney's grave, or at least see George W. and crew thrown out of office. Good night, Molly. We'll keep the light on for you.

"The Threat from Iran"

That was Brian Williams's lead-in to the "fear" segment on NBC Nightly News just now. What the f**k?

Today's Must Read

Chalmers Johnson has a must-read article over at TPM Cafe entitled "Empire v. Democracy". To his excellent reading of Roman History we could add the Athenian example. What ever happened to American statesmen and women being steeped in the fundamental lessons of the Classics? Thucydides and Livy used to be required reading, but these days it seems that we have little more than a tyranny of the ignorant running Washington.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Another Lame Duck Story

No, this post isn't about Bush. I thought that while I'm on the subject of injured animal stories on the evening news sucking oxygen out of other more important stories, I have to say that were I a newsroom manager shopping around for heartstring-tugging pabulum to serve up to the masses, instead of the Barbaro story this week I would have chosen the remarkable tale of Perky the Duck, who recently was shot by a hunter in Tallahassee, recovered by his hunting dog, brought home and placed in a refrigerator, discovered by the hunter's wife two days later to still be alive, taken to the animal hospital, flat lining on the operating table while the pellets were being removed, and then reviving and ducking death again. One thing's for sure, Perky's doc was no mere quack.


Playing WWII

We've all heard the rhetoric for years now. "Axis of evil." The "totalitarian" Enemy, worse than Hitler, or just as bad as Hitler, etc. The "great ideological battle of the 21st century." The Enemy we face--as Frances points out, the Enemy is never really identified--wants to destroy us. That's what makes this an "existential" threat and an existential war, that justifies illegal wiretapping. Indefinite detention of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. The Baby Boomers running the show at the present time have a real jones for the WWII. They dream of fighting "the Good War," what some have called the last good war. (That's wrong, of course. There really is no such thing as a "good" war, which doesn't mean that some wars aren't necessary.)

Today, however, we read again a story that points out just how silly this WWII play-acting by the Boomers in charge really is. In today's Post, we read that the new troops being sent to Iraq as part of the new escalation lack basic equipment. Like some third-rate regional wannabe power, the U.S. is now deploying troops without arms, armor, and transportation. We read, for example, that:

Trucks are in particularly short supply. For example, the Army would need 1,500 specially outfitted -- known as "up-armored" -- 2 1/2 -ton and five-ton trucks in Iraq for the incoming units, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, the Army's deputy chief of staff for force development.

"We don't have the [armor] kits, and we don't have the trucks," Speakes said in an interview. He said it will take the Army months, probably until summer, to supply and outfit the additional trucks. As a result, he said, combat units flowing into Iraq would have to share the trucks assigned to units now there, leading to increased use and maintenance.

Now, if you're play-acting WWII, . . . I seem to remember that the U.S. transformed its economy into an "arsenal of democracy" (a term from the Great War, I believe), converting domestic production to military production to meet the needs presented in fighting an existential war against an evil Enemy. The Government called on Americans to sacrifice so that the men and women in the field would have the arms, armor, and transportation needed to win. There was a draft. There was rationing, and tax increases.

Not this time. The Enemy may hate our freedom, and dream totalitarian dreams. We are told that failure in Iraq would have catastrophic results for the United States. Cataclysmic.

And yet. And yet, we can't manufacture enough deuce-and-a-half trucks to supply the relatively small number of troops we have in Iraq.

Is it because the U.S. can't manufacture the trucks? Don't we have idle manufacturing plants that could be converted to military uses? I'm sure the good folks in the Rust Belt would welcome the work.

Is it because we can't afford the trucks? Don't make me laugh. The U.S. economy is huge. We could afford something much closer to total war than what we have now.

Is it because the military doesn't tell the powers that be that they need the trucks? There it is, in the Post.

I'm left with only one conclusion. The boys (and a few girls) dressed-up in khaki and dreaming Glenn Miller big band songs and V-I Day celebrations don't really mean the shit they say. Their actions belie that this is not an existential war. Their choices illustrate how little, strategically, is at stake.

I'm assuming, of course, that if these folks really believed that this was an existential threat, they would know what to do. So maybe I'm wrong there. But since they talk about WWII so much . . . .

Monday, January 29, 2007

Deconstructing the Donald

Although I'm not a consistent viewer, I consider NBC's The Apprentice a guilty pleasure. The high-pressure competition angle suckers me in every time. But I also love the show as a window into the world of American business and its well-scrubbed strivers.

Here's what I've learned.

1) Always laugh at the boss's jokes. The lamer the joke, the bigger the laugh. After all, it's about his ego, not your pleasure.

2) The boss wants you to be just like him, only quieter and less succesful.

3) The boss is insane. Not in a funny way (see #1 above), just in a vain, capricious, obnoxious, never had to answer to anyone else kind of way. The richer the boss, the crazier the boss.

4) Your job is to be noticeable without provoking the boss's ire. This is especially difficult, given that you need to be like him (vain, obnoxious), while he's being like him (capricious, insane).

5) Never take a stand on principle. It pisses off the boss. Except when it doesn't (see #3).

6) When you lose because you had a really bad idea that you've really badly executed, blame the one person who bothered to dissent from the beginning and accuse them of not being a loyal "team player." This ALWAYS works.

7) When in doubt, throw the weirdest person on your team under the bus. It doesn't matter that they didn't do anything wrong. It doesn't matter that this may be the one creative person you've got. They're weird, and nobody likes the weirdo. Not even your insane boss. The last thing corporate America needs is weird people sucking up to their insane superiors.

I'm sure I've missed something, but these are the core lessons. Of course, you could have learned all this from Dilbert or The Office. But those are fiction, not documentary. Any wonder at what happened when the CEO-wannabes took over the US government?

Barbaro-ians at the Gate

#3 had lamented about the MSM's overblown obsession with the injured race horse Barbaro despite the fact there was plenty of other real and important news to cover. Last night on The CBS Evening News the Barbaro story made a big comeback when they interviewed a friggin' veterinarian for at least 5 minutes about the race horse's impending surgery. 5 minutes of the 20 minutes of the evening news devoted to a horse's surgery. I should think a 5-second mention would have been generous. Now today the news comes that Barbaro has passed on to the great racetrack in the sky. Guess what news story tonight will crowd out things like deaths in Iraq, or Bush's new threats against Iran, or Congress' pursuit of a vote of no confidence in Bush's "surge", or corruption in Iraq contracts, or...?


Who Are We Fighting?

Day after day, television news leads with reports about fierce US fighting in Iraq. On Haifa street in Baghdad last week, near Karbala this morning. These stories never even make a serious effort to identify who it is we are fighting. It is as if this information is irrelevant. Whoever we're fighting is "the enemy," and that's all we viewers need to know. It's Orwellian.

UPDATE: Note the third paragraph of this article. When print journalists have inquired with "Iraqi security officials" into the identity of the fighters outside Najaf, they've received "conflicting accounts." Some say we're fighting Arab nationalists; others say members of the Baath party, members of an apocalyptic Shiite cult, or foreign fighters. No quotes from US military officials in the article. (Not that they have proven themselves trustworthy of late.) But does this mean that the US military won't go on the record explaining what they know of the identity of these fighters? Or does it mean that not even the US military has a good idea who is on the receiving end of its firepower?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Demonstration Disillusionment

To be honest, I found yesterday's anti-war demonstration rather depressing.

There was no real or credible leadership there. Hundreds of thousands assemble on the National Mall to express themselves on the most important issue of the day, and who do they get to headline the rally? Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Jane Fonda, Tim Robbins. Mere celebrities. Sure, there were a couple of members of Congress on the dais earlier in the day - John Conyers, Maxine Waters, Dennis Kucinich. But there was no one capable of translating the enormous public disaproval of the war or the energy of the thousands present into something that might have any impact on US politics whatsoever.

The lack of leadership is not just a matter of who was there on the dais. It is also a matter of who leads the various contingents within the march, an organizational backbone. Left demonstrations always have a substantial presence of the fringe groups that exist (I think) for no other purpose than to show up at rallies: the Socialist Workers, the "9/11-Was-an-inside-job" conspiracy types, etc. They're there with their flyers, banners, pamphlets, signs, chants. But what is so apparent is the relative lack of similar organizations to represent the thousands of mainstream folks who were there. The mainstream presence is so much less visible in the crowd than those exhibitionist fruitcakes.

Where were the churches, the labor unions, the local Democratic clubs, Americans for Democratic Action? Members of all these groups were obviously there in huge numbers, but they weren't well-organized or led. There were a few banners, a handful of actual organized mainstream groups, of course. But so little leadership, so little organizational structure, so few institutions represented.

In the end, this is the reason why demonstrations, no matter how impressively large, don't matter. But it is also the reason why the left as a whole is so irrelevant in shaping mainstream discourse and politics in the US. It's why Congress remains so pitifully afraid of confronting a president with 30% approval ratings. It's why the Sunday shows almost never book anyone who opposed the Iraq war from the start. The American left is just a big mob of individuals unhappy with their government. Its lack of leadership and organizational structure make it so, so much less than the sum of its parts.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Anti-Surge March, Washington, D.C. January 27, 2007

It was a beautiful day, weather-wise, so a few hundred thousand of our fellow citizens turned out to protest the administration's plan to escalate the Iraq war. The sad thing is that these folks are so un-represented in the U.S. political system. And I'm not talking about the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigades and other fringe groups. Thousands and thousands of ordinary, peace-loving Americans, trapped in a militarist political system.

The three photos, btw, were taken at very different points in the day, from different vantage points. The top photo is the rally, pre-march, taken from the east side of Third Street. The speaker stand you can see is part of the stage, which faced west. The middle photo is the march itself going up Capitol Hill on Constitution Avenue. The bottom photo is the march at the turn from Third onto Constitution, after the leading edge had probably already completed the march. There were quite a few marchers.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Of Arabs and Atheists

Feeling very Middle Eastern today, and in that spirit, I'd really hate to drop the debate Paul initiated below concerning Israel and Palestine while there's still FFB blood to be shed. So I'll pose a question: Why is it that, as a general rule, the more intense someone's atheism the more passionately they tend to identify with the Palestinian cause?

If you think about it, this question is really just the flip-side of the allegation that Paul made against me, namely that I am irrationally blinded toward Israeli injustice and Palestinian grievance because I'm Christian, as if being Christian made one naturally sympathetic toward the Jews. The long-view historical record might cast skepticism on such a claim, given the unsavory history of anti-semitism with which we Christians have only recently sought to come to terms. It is true, of course, that many contemporary evangelicals favor Israel from a belief that restoration of the second Temple is a necessary step in the apocalyptic return of JC (not Jimmy, the other one). That hypothesis doesn't explain my sympathies very well, however, since I'm not evangelical, would rather Revelation had never been included in the sacred canon, and don't expect to see fiery horsemen descending from the clouds anytime soon. Now, maybe I admire Israel partly out of a vague simpatico with other "people of faith," but that term certainly includes the Palestinians as well, so it fails to resolve the issue. Let's just assume then, at least for now, that my judgments in favor of the Israeli position have a primarily rational, not emotional basis.

On the other side of the debate, however, I've always found that atheism tends to correlate with a furious defense of the Palestinian cause, coupled with disdain for Israel. I've often found myself in arguments with otherwise very rational people--committed secularists and liberals, typically "anti-war"--who defend suicide bombing as a legitimate, even righteous expression of an oppressed culture's frustrations. Like Paul, many seethe with indignation about the blood on Israel's hands, breaking into rants on how Zionism equals racism or selectively quoting biblical passages designed to make the Jews look like a fascist cult full of bloodthirsty imperialists. Meanwhile, my disputants seemingly fail to recognize that the Palestinians they champion are dominated by their most bellicose and religiously fanatical elements. Why would anti-war, liberal, atheist rationalists embrace a cause that seems the very antithesis of everything for which they claim to stand?

It would be tempting to chalk this all up to anti-semitism. If I were Jewish, that's probably how I would read the indictment that Paul levels below, not just on the Israeli government, but on the very foundations of Jewish faith, which he describes as silly and "immoral." And yet I find the antisemitism thesis unconvincing. Indeed, I presume that Paul, who likely has warm relations with Jews he knows personally, will consider the very suggestion outrageous. Charges of racism and antisemitism get thrown around very casually in debates like this one, and it seems to me that you shouldn't accept them unless you've got some damned good evidence. It also seems unlikely that antisemitism would be a systematic (as opposed to merely individual or random) motivator of atheists as a group. OK, maybe then it's the rational merits of the case that convinces so many atheists. Unfortunately, this thesis fails to explain the fist-pounding, eyeball-popping rage that Israel seems to provoke in the atheist minority, while leaving the vast majority of Americans on the opposite side. Nor does it gel very well with the atheists' tendency to falsify the historical record, as if Jews "stole" Palestine, "breaking into the house," as it were.

So what explains this rather perplexing paradox? I've got a pet theory. As a bonus, it's a theory sure to offend most of you. The answer is that atheists are prone to anti-religious bigotry that makes them incapable of exercising coherent moral judgment when religious disputes are involved.

Atheists presume that religion per se is wrong, but more importantly, they presume that all religion is a grievous moral error: it is superstitious, irrational, violent, and divisive. As a result, atheists tend to have a natural preference for those religions or sects that confirm all their worst opinions about religion generally. If you're going to be religious, at least have the good manners to be insane about it. Don't tell us you're a liberal, democratic, tolerant person of faith! That's hypocrisy, designed to quiet the outrage that you cultists properly deserve. Naturally, then, in a dispute between liberal religion (Israel) and fanaticism (Fatah, Hamas, etc.), atheists instinctively prefer the crazies.

Bigotry is an inflammatory word. In fairness, anti-religious bigotry cannot be simply equated with racial bigotry, sexism, or homophobia. After all, religion is a belief system over which individuals have a considerable degree of choice, whereas race, sex, and sexuality allow much less (although there's still some limited range in each). You're not entitled to courtesy just because you're religious, and "tolerance" does not require agreement or even respect. Hating religion is not the same thing as hating blackness. And yet, atheists abandon coherent moral judgment when they presume the equality of all religions in malevolence. Rather than looking for allies among tolerant, liberal believers, atheists suspect deep down that moderate incarnations of religion are dishonest and even dangerous. Because they see religion as the enemy, rather than religious extremism, they're especially unsympathetic toward the more successful incarnations of humanistic religion in the political realm. Hence, anti-Israel. That's my theory. Prove me wrong.

Anti-Iraq-War March in DC

Are any of the denizens of FFB planning to attend the anti-Iraq-War march in DC tomorrow?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Thoughts on Hillary

A local news station in Cleveland just did a piece on Hillary's chances to become president and as a part of the story they interviewed a professor of political science whose thoughts some of you may wish to hear and to see. It can be viewed here.

Recommended Reading

Glenn Kessler has the best analysis of the State of the Union Address I've seen so far. He does a nice job deconstructing the misleading use of the word "enemy" throughout Bush's speech.

Some memorable moments for me:

I could hardly believe that Bush would reference Lebanon's 2005 Cedar Revolution when--at this very moment--an equally powerful, important, and broad-based counter-revolution is already under way there. Bush implied that any turnaround since the "Arab Spring" was the result of our scheming enemies. But Bush himself gave the go ahead for the discrediting and humiliation of the Siniora government by greenlighting Israel's ill-advised war and blocking any effort to bring it to a speedy conclusion.

Bush said, "We have a diplomatic strategy that is rallying the world to join in the fight against extremism." Rallying the world? The Bush administration's diplomatic strategy? For the world's reaction to the Bush administration's "strategy," diplomatic and otherwise, see yesterday's post.

Thankfully, Jim Webb's response gave us something better to remember. It was, without a doubt, the best Democratic party response to a SOTU address in all the years of the Bush presidency. Forceful and genuine, with a big-picture world view that united both his domestic and foreign policy critique. I understand that he wouldn't read the speech written for him by the Democratic party staff (i.e., the speech by committee). He wrote the response himself, and he seemed to believe in what he was saying. It's about time for the Democrats to show some conviction and leadership.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Reporting on the Future

Before Bush's speech has even begun, the stories about what he said and the reaction of the audience have already been posted here. Maybe I'm a little old fashioned, but I get a bit uneasy about reporting in "real" news sources when I read about how "Democrats — and even some Republicans — scoffed at his policy [in his speech]" before anyone, including this reporter, has even had a chance to hear him speak. Of course making predictions in blogs about his speech before it is delivered is another matter...

A Credibility Chasm

The untenability and futility of the US position in Iraq is virtually encapsulated in a sad incident from yesterday:

US Army officials described how they disbanded what they called a terrorist network whose members killed tribesmen and otherwise sowed fear across large pockets of Diyala province north of Baghdad.

'There are shopkeepers who had closed their doors out of fear, that are now beginning to open their doors,' said Maj. Brett G. Sylvia, speaking from Diyala through a satellite video link to reporters in Baghdad. 'Families are starting to move back into the area. A sense of normalcy is attempting to be reestablished in this area.'

Minutes before the news conference began, armed men kidnapped the mayor of the provincial capital, Baqubah, blew up his office and stole six government cars."

So while military PR stages a press conference to advertise US successes fighting insurgents and returning "normalcy" to Diyala province (passing out press kits about the US commanders), insurgents literally blow up the city hall of Diyala province's capital and kidnap the mayor.

The journalist refers to this as a "Tale of Two Iraqs." I'm not sure what the two Iraqs are. I suppose it's the real Iraq versus the one portrayed by US military spokespersons.

Haven't Hit Bottom Yet

New BBC poll of 25 countries finds that the US hasn't bottomed out yet in world opinion. Only 29% of those polled believe the United States was having a generally positive influence in the world. That's down from 35 percent in the poll last year and 40 percent the year before. It's not an exaggeration to say that the US is approaching worldwide pariah status.

Pollster Steven Kull observed: "The thing that comes up repeatedly is not just anger about Iraq. . . . The common theme is hypocrisy. The reaction tends to be, 'You were a champion of a certain set of rules. Now you are breaking your own rules, so you are being hypocritical."

Sadly, all the particulars that fill out the world's hypocrisy indictment--Guantanamo, Iraq, secret prisons, Middle-East policy generally--are issues on which the Democratic party contiues to abdicate leadership. I doubt that a Democratic president will even have the courage to close the national disgrace at Guantanamo Bay.

Monday, January 22, 2007

One More Mount Vernon Point

In the "education center," the Mount Vernon folks had a display on the challanges facing the Washington administration, c. 1789-97. Three of these, not much dispute with. War debt, etc. But the fourth--Constant criticism from the press. Who designed this display? The Fascist Union? Maybe some folks who never heard of the First Amendment? Maybe Fox News?

Another Al Qaeda Bust

Via HuffPo, ABC's website is reporting that documents captured in Iraq 6 months ago indicate that Al Qaeda is trying to recruit operatives to enter the US on student visas to attack the Homeland. Rather strange that this story is leaked to the press the night before Bush's State of the Union Address, no? Any bets that this big bust will be mentioned tomorrow night in Bush's speech ("Intelligence sources have uncovered an Al Qaeda plot in Iraq and we're fighting the terrorists over there so we don't have to fight them here...")? I'll also wager that once more details of the story come to light, it'll turn out to be a really big bust in another sense too.

Carter's Peace not Apartheid

I just finished Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (Simon & Schuster, 2006). The main thrusts of the book are that the US should become a neutral broker in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and that Israel should begin to abide by several UN Resolutions, including returning to more or less the 1967 borders – something that looks more and more unlikely as they continue to build the new "security wall" and expand settlements into the West Bank. The use of the word “apartheid” in the title and a few times in the body of the book were probably ill-advised, and Carter is taking a beating for it in the press, although to be fair to Carter he was not the first to make the claim and in many ways the comparison is not completely without merit.

Naturally, there have been many scathing reviews of Carter's book. One can find an example here, or here, or here, or just Saturday in WaPo here. Some members of the board of the Carter Center have even stepped down in protest of the book and in their resignation letter they called Carter "malicious." Jimmy Carter may be a lot of things, but malicious isn't one of them.

If you read the reviews you'll see that most are attacking him for using the word apartheid in the title, many are pointing out erroneous "facts" or his "plagiarism" of maps, some criticize him for not taking into account Jewish feelings in light of the Holocaust (as if the Palestinians should suffer for what the Germans and Russians did), some play the anti-Semitic card or say that he's playing into the hand of anti-Semites, others point to comments made by "radical" Arabs or Muslims in other parts of the region such as Iran's Ahmadinejad (as if this also justifies mistreating the Palestinians in the occupied territories), and yet others say that the Israelis are willing to exchange land for peace, but not the Palestinians or Arabs/Persians. In addition, there has long been the claim that other countries in the region such as Jordan were created out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire and World Wars I and II, so why not Israel too? Of course this ignores the little inconvenient fact that the other countries were by and large carved out of existing local populations, whereas modern Israel was created mainly by displacing the existing local population and bringing in outsiders from around the globe. This displacement was brought home to me when I was playing a pick-up game of basketball around 1989-1990. On my team there was a guy who was wearing a t-shirt with a black, white, green and red flag. He played just about every day like me, and he almost always wore the same shirt so finally I asked him whose flag it was, and he said it was the Palestinian flag. I asked him what the colors meant and so forth, and he gave me a very fulsome answer. I then said something to the effect that I imagined he must not be terribly happy with the situation in Israel at that time and he agreed, adding that his parents were some of the Palestinian refugees who lost their home and land. He then said, "If someone broke into your house and took the best rooms and then said, 'Let's just split it now that we're here,' would you be happy?" I've never forgotten that conversation, and have since heard other Palestinians make a similar point.

A couple of things I found useful about the book were the historical chronology at the beginning and the appendices in the back, the latter of which included copies of UN Resolution 242 (1967), UN Resolution 338 (1973), The Camp David Accords (1978) and The Framework for Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty (1978), UN Resolution 465 (1980), Arab Peace Proposal 2002 (I didn't even know the Arab League had even made and passed a peace proposal), and Israel's Response to the Roadmap for Peace (May 25, 2003). It's hard to read all the resolutions without coming to the conclusion that Israel is blatantly breaking or frustrating many of them. I'm sure they feel justified because some Palestinian militants aren't abiding by some of the provisions either, but it's bad form for the US to be the only one on the Security Council standing by Israel so often and to be selectively enforcing UN Resolutions only when it suits our domestic politics.

This brings up another thorny issue, which is how long an historical claim is valid? After all, it was the Romans almost 2,000 years ago in AD 135 who kicked the Jews out of the province of Judea and renamed it Syria Palestina (names which were already in existence). Is that the Palestinians' fault 2,000 years later? And if 2,000 years ago is a legitimate cut off point, why not 4,000 years ago? By that I mean that the Jewish sacred story explicitly tells us that Abraham came from elsewhere (from Ur, wherever this was – probably modern Iraq or Turkey) and settled the area of the Levant and his later descendents warred with the Canaanites and Philistines who were already there (never mind that the Arabs also say they are the descendents of Abraham). The latter group, who inhabited the area of what is now known as the Gaza Strip, are considered by some to be the ancestors of the Palestinians (Palestine comes from Philistine via Greek and Latin – I don't put much stock in tying modern peoples to such distant relatives). Many Israelis and Evangelicals, in fact, feel that Gaza should be the limits of modern Palestine, while Israel should extend into the West Bank as it did at the height of the kingdoms of David and Solomon (it's no coincidence in my mind that Israel has voluntarily withdrawn from Gaza but is settling the West Bank).

It may be worth quoting from the Bible itself to recall God's instructions to the early "Jewish" immigrants and how they first came into possession of their lands. I will bypass all the promises to Abraham c. 1900 BC in the Book of Genesis about how God would give him the land of the Canaanites and Perizzites (who were already inhabiting the region) and how God would multiply his descendents, and instead focus on the point in the Book of Deuteronomy at chapter 20 (NET Bible) when c. 1200 BC the Israelites, led by Moses, had come out of Egypt back to the promised land, which was still populated by Canaanites and Perizzites:

Laws Concerning War with Distant Enemies

20:10 When you approach a city to wage war against it, offer it terms of peace. 20:11 If it accepts your terms and submits to you, all the people found in it will become your slaves. 20:12 If it does not accept terms of peace but makes war with you, then you are to lay siege to it. 20:13 The Lord your God will deliver it over to you and you must kill every single male by the sword. 20:14 However, the women, little children, cattle, and anything else in the city – all its plunder – you may take for yourselves as spoil. You may take from your enemies the plunder that the Lord your God has given you. 20:15 This is how you are to deal with all those cities located far from you, those that do not belong to these nearby nations.

Laws Concerning War with Canaanite Nations

20:16 As for the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is going to give you as an inheritance, you must not allow a single living thing to survive. 20:17 Instead you must utterly annihilate them – the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites – just as the Lord your God has commanded you, 20:18 so that they cannot teach you all the abhorrent ways they worship their gods, causing you to sin against the Lord your God.

Well there you have it. It's hard to read a passage like this and not be jarred by the sentiments expressed therein. It's even harder to square this advice with anything approaching acceptable morality: God orders the new arrivals to steal others' land and personal property, to enslave, and to commit murder, ethnic cleansing and rape (the Israelites weren't allowed to intermarry with these people so the reference to take the women as plunder and spoils clearly points to sexual slavery and rape) because the Israelites are his chosen people and the other groups have the wrong religion. Somehow I think that if there is a God, and he is good, he never would have condoned any such thing. But I digress.

Another thing that struck me about Carter's book was that it lacked any discussion about the rational reasons as to why any US support for Israel is even in the interest of the US. I've often heard Israel is so important to us because "they are our closest allies in the Middle East", but I suspect we'd be a lot closer to a handful of other allies in the region, many of whom are sitting on piles of oil that we so crave, if we distanced ourselves a bit more from Israel. Then there's the more powerful reason why we support Israel so much; namely because of the need for US politicians to assuage the powerful Jewish and Evangelical Christian vote here in the US (note, I think Evangelical Christians in the US are more powerful than the so-called "Jewish Lobby"). Domestic politicking doesn't seem a very good enough reason to me for us taking sides in this ancient dispute, although for politicians I suppose it is practical.

And practical is where I'll end. At this point the state of Israel is a fact on the ground – they have nuclear weapons and aren't going to pushed off the land anytime soon whatever the US does. On the other hand, Israel will turn 60 next year and it seems to me that it's about time they acted more like mature adults and stood on their own two feet. Did we expect the French to continue to coddle us 60 years after we declared independence? Do good friends really involve others in their deadly quarrels when there's nothing really in it for them? So, I say put Israeli foreign aid on par with our other allies in the region. Nor do I mind if the US once again decides to be a broker in the peace process, in fact I hope we do, but peace and a cessation of terror threats won't be on the table any time soon as long as the US isn't neutral and Israel continues to build the wall and settlements in the West Bank. And these were Carter's overall points, and with them I agree. Indeed, I think they're unassailable.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Steep Hillary to Climb

She's IN! Can you control your excitement?

Kevin Drum offers a post today suggesting that HRC is so formidable as to be almost unbeatable in 2008, although I assume he's talking about the Dem primaries rather than the general election. 'Cause I'd assume that, on that front, she's unelectable. For me, that latter point is the inescapable beginning for any discussion of her campaign. I suspect this is true for a lot of Dems, which is also why I suspect Drum is wrong about the primaries. There may be alternate universes where a polarizing, liberal, woman senator from NY can get elected to be a wartime president, but I won't believe I'm actually living in that universe until I wake up fully immersed in it. Even then, I'd probably assume that I developed some sudden psychotic disorder that made me unable to properly perceive reality ("Bush-polar"?).

Hillary's little roll out yesterday also got some buzz concerning her dropping the usual press conference for a video statement to the nation. My cringe moment? Calling for a national "discussion" and "dialogue" on our problems. Ugh. I could tolerate this kind of sappiness from the Big Dog, probably because I always felt I knew who he was and where he stood. (Maybe, also b/c he's a man, and I'm all about the double standards.) From HRC it comes across as unforgiveable mushmouthedness. I don't want a conversation. I want leadership. If I don't like your ideas, I will tell you--loudly. I don't need an invite to the rap session from a wannabe theapist-in-chief.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

First in War, Yadda Yadda

So, we made our way out to Mount Vernon today for a little (local) tourism. The house itself is worth the visit, and the grounds are interesting . . . but the brand-new "educational center" is a bit much. Or, more precisely, a bit heavy on the militarism. Really, the present conception of Washington's life, as presented by the nice old ladies of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, is a bit blood-thirsty.

The introductory film (18 minutes) at the visitors center focuses on the Revolutionary and French and Indian Wars, as though Washington were the U.S.'s greatest general. His role in the Constitutional Convention and as our first president is left to some text at the end of the Battle of Trenton. Lots of blood and gore, but little on Washington's life away from war. That is, little on most of his life. That's an interesting way to present the man, especially when you're about to tour his house, which was not really part of his military life at all.

We also watched the 14-minute special effects show on the Revolutionary War, at the new "educational center," in which one is given a high-tech presentation on the battles of Boston, Trenton, and Yorktown. The high-tech is shaking seats, flashes of light with cannon fire, and fake snow during the crossing of the Delaware preceding the Battle of Trenton. This show makes one thing clear, at least: Washington was an "opportunistic" commander, always willing to take maximum advantage of his opponents' mistakes. So Howe leaves the heights overlooking Boston Harbor undefended, Washington moves in fortifications and makes like he will bombard the British fleet. Howe withdraws. The Hessians pull their sentries on Christmas Eve, and don't defend the crossings of the Delaware--Washington attacks, on Christmas morning. Cornwallis decides to march his forces to the end of a peninsula and await the British fleet--the French fleet blockades the Chesapeake and French and Continental forces besiege the garrison.

Btw, in the history of warfare, Cornwallis's decision to move his army to Yorktown and await the fleet has to be one of the worst, and most arrogant, tactical decisions ever made. I can imagine a junior officer on his staff recommending a different location--since, on a peninsula, one is easily cut off. And Cornwallis ranting that his is the best army on the face of the earth, yadda yadda . . . .

So, GW--first in war, first in peace? Not so much, at Mount Vernon today.

Oh, one last thing: On the tour of the house, there was this sort-of know-it-all woman, who asked whether Washington's family was English or Welsh (Jefferson's family was Welsh). The guide answered: "British." That's for you, Rebecca and Sam.

Think About It

So, watching Faux News, where the phrase "anti-war Left" is being used. Now that folks like Chuck Hagel are speaking out, and George Voinovich has stopped dreaming the dream, I'm not sure how "Left" the anti-war opposition is, at this point.

But I don't want to comment further on the "surge." I want to talk about the word "anti-war." In a sane, rational world, of course, this would be the default position, and "pro-war" would be a synonym for crazy. Because I don't really need to argue that war is a really bad thing, do I? (I will, if I must. But seriously, people?) So every sane, rational person should be anti-war. That doesn't mean that there might not be situations where war is necessary, as a last resort. Actually, I describe my position as last resort plus. By that, I mean that a nation should resort to war in cases of self-defense only, only when all options short of war have been exhausted and when exhausting those options has actually imposed costs on the nation. So I'm not a pacifist. But I'm decidedly, definitely, defiantly anti-war.

Maybe the term is used more specifically--the folks on Faux only mean anti-Iraq war. Of course, a majority of Americans are now opposed to the Iraq war, so this isn't special to "the Left." But my sense is that "anti-war" is used to smear opponents of this particular war as loopy pacifists. My point, if I have one, is that pacifists are less loopy than warmongering War hawks, including those on "the Left," who think that the systematic use of highly mechanized violence by the United States against other human beings is often a positive force for good in the world. At times, it's a necessary evil, but no more.

The problem is that we don't live in a sane world. And "anti-war" can be used as a term of derision in the world we live in.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Exclusive offer

Dear FFB readers,

I have just had the pleasure of receiving this kind e-mail directly from Prince Fayad Bolkiah of Brunei. I, however, am unable at this time to respond to the Prince's exclusive offer, which is just too good to be...kept to myself. So, rather than let this opportunity languish in my inbox I have decided to post it here, unedited, so that some one of you may share in this serendipity (I realize the Prince asked me not to do this, but maybe he won't notice?). At the end of the message, you will see that his royal highness has a yahoo account by which you may contact him. He awaits your kind response, apparently in Estonia where he must have been exiled.

Dear Friend,
I know you would be surprised to read from someone relatively unknown to you before now. My names are Prince Fayad b.s. Bolkiah, the eldest son of Prince Jefri Bolkiah,former Finance Minister of Brunei, the tiny oil-rich sultanate on the Gulf Island, .I will save your time by not amplifying my extended royal family history, which has already been disseminated by the international media during the controversial dispute that erupted between my Father and his stepbrother, the sultan of Brunei Sheik Muda Hassanal Bolkiah.As you may know from the international media, the sultan had accused my father of financial mismanagement and impropriety of US$14.8 Billion dollars. This was as a result of the Asian financial crisis that made my father's company Amedeo Development Company and government owned Brunei Investment Company to be declared bankrupt during his tenure in office.
Though, I would like to hold back certain information for security reasons for now until you have found time to visit the website stated below to enable you have insight regarding what I intend to share with you, believing that it would be of your desired interest in one way or the other.>>
Also, could you get back to me having visited the above website to enable us discuss in a more vivid manner to the best of your understanding. I must say that I'm very uncomfortable sending this message to you without knowing truly if you would misconstrue the importance and decide to gopublic.In this regards,I will not hold backto say that the essence of this letter is strictly for mutual benefit of you and I and nothing more.I will be more vivid and coherent in my next email in this regards.Meanwhile,could you send me an email confirming that you have visited the
site and understood my intentions?PLEASE SEND YOUR REPLY TO THIS MY PRIVATE EMAIL
Awaiting your kind response.

Does al-Maliki Read FFB?

Just the other day, I posted on the autonomy that client states have vis-a-vis their patrons--that once a superpower, or great power, installs a regime in a client state, the leader(s) of the client state have the ability under many sets of circumstances to make life difficult for their "masters." And just this week, Iraqi P.M. answered a question about Bush administration criticism of his regime by claiming that such criticism only emboldens terrorists. That's the scenario, exactly. Maliki was asked whether Bush needs him more than he needs Bush, and Maliki laughed.

It is an interesting question: Who needs whom more?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Anxiety Dreaming

So last night I had one of my recurring anxiety dreams--not sure why, last night, as I'm not feeling particularly anxious. I think that this is one that many people have: I'm enrolled in a course, for an entire semester, but I stop going to class, stop doing the homework, and then it's time to take the final exam. Usually the course is a math course, often calculus, in my dreams. But last night, it was psychology, which adds a special level of irony, no?

Any good dreams lately?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Prodi government drop kicks the Dal Molin ball back to Vicenza

I had blogged here about the controversial plans to expand the Dal Molin airport at Vicenza, Italy into the largest American army base outside of North America despite the fact that about 2/3 of the local residents of Vicenza are against it. The Vicentini were waiting for the recently elected center-left government of Romano Prodi to revisit the issue. Prodi had kept his cards close to his chest over the last few months, but in Bucharest yesterday he finally played his hand. He said, "Non sono mica il sindaco io ...una questione urbanistica e locale e non un problema politico... non si oppone alla decisione del precedente esecutivo e a quella del comune di Vicenza a che venga ampliata la base militare americana," or "I myself am not at all the mayor [of Vicenza; the mayor is a center-right guy named Hüllweck]... this is a local issue of urban planning and not a political problem....[The government] is not opposed to the decision of the preceding executive [=Berlusconi] nor to the decision of the local government of Vicenza to expand the American military base." So, Prodi punted the issue back to Vicenza. While he's smokin' crack or lying when he says it's not a political problem (the far left of his tenuous coalition is going to give him hell over this and I suspect that’s why he made his announcement outside of Italy) I agree with him that it should be treated more as a local issue than one decided at Rome. That means letting the citizens of Vicenza hold a referendum on it. At any rate, if the center-right coalition of Hüllweck does not let it go to a popular referendum, I bet he and his center-right allies will be railroaded out of town. Also, if the expansion goes through without a referendum, the base and American soldiers will be a greater target of local harassment; the expansion may even spawn groups similar to the Brigadi Rossi of decades' past.


These (Rogue) States

The US meddling in the Horn of Africa hasn't received much coverage in the news or much attention in Congress. Judis provides a disturbing update.

Civilian life has become very cheap to US policymakers when they use an AC-130 gunship to hunt down a single terrorist.

Daily the world seems to become more and more like the dystopia portrayed in Children of Men, a dystopia in which the indiscriminate brutality and inhumanity of the radicals/terrorists is matched and sometimes exceeded by the indiscriminate brutality and inhumanity of the government.

Different But Still More of the Same

So, Obama's declaration that he's "exploring" a presidential run included a vow to seek "a different kind of politics." He said: "Today, our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, common sense way. Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can't tackle the big problems that demand solutions."

It's funny. Don't we hear the same thing every four years? We need a different or new politics, based in pragmatism, practical thinking, problem-solving . . . common sense. We need to bridge partisan divides, reduce the influence of money and . . . influence, "the special interests."

The big reason why I'm less than thrilled by Obama is not his lack of experience. It's that his spiel is so tired. If I'm right--and I'm sure I am--that we hear this every four years, then the previous common-sense-pragmatist-reformers-uniters-not-dividers have all failed, for the most part, at tackling the big problems with homespun treacly goodness--from Carter, at least, through W. Why? There are lots of reasons, from ineptitude (Carter) to insincerity (W.). But isn't that the point? We've heard it before, it never works. Either Obama doesn't realize he's spouting cliche after cliche, which I doubt, or he knows that this is pablum but continues to spoon feed us. In which case, he's a cynical operator. The political equivalent of an infomerical promising that you can lose all the weight you want to lose without exercising, or counting calories, or dieting.

Of course, I'm sure Obama will go far with this shit, because it's like crack for mainstream political pundits, like Broder and his ilk.

How Do You Feel?

In the last few days I finished reading Cormac McCarthy's new novel, The Road, and saw Children of Men at the theater. Both paint very grim pictures of the End of the World and the (potential) extinction of the human species. This follows closely upon having finished The Brief History of the Dead last week--that's about the end of the world and the extinction of the human species, too. Is there something in the air?

The Road tells the story of a father and son, "on the road" in a post-nuclear holocaust America, trying to make it South and to the coast--ostensibly seeking out other people. Of course, all the time there are people seeking them--in order to eat them. I'm talking cannibals. I can't remember the last time I read a book in which cannibalism featured so prominently. It's "Mad Max" without cars, or hope. I'm not sure I can recommend it--it's dark, and unrelenting--but if you "like" that sort of thing, or you like McCarthy, worth a look.

Children of Men is excellent. You should go see it, as soon as possible. You probably know the story. Clive Owen is a depressed, alcoholic bureaucrat in a dystopian future in which the "youngest" human being, "Baby Diego" (a major celebrity), is in his twenties. This "mass" infertility is never explained, but that's not really necessary since it poses a serious problem for the species, not to put too fine a point on it, whatever it's source. Owen's character gets sucked into an effort to save the species, and thus the "world of men (and women)." The last half of the film is basically a chase film, but the premise is so great, the production values so amazing, and the vision of the world so complete and bleak--this one is an instant classic. Maybe one of the best science fiction films ever.

I would actually like to see COM again.

But back to the "serious" question. Is there something about the zeitgeist that explains the end of the world as we know it as a theme in contemporary letters and film?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Laundering a Smear Job

For those of you interested in a new, creative way to apparently pull (I love to boldly split my infinitives wherever I go) off a political smear job in the age of Wikipedia and Blogs, check out this purported gem of a hatchet job on Nancy Pelosi. Yeah, something smells fishy with this story all right. Maybe one of you could tell me, but is it even legally possible that Nancy Pelosi's husband could own 17M in Del Monte stock without her having to report it on her Congressional Financial Disclosure forms in some manner? Unfortunately a Google search on whether or not any respectable journalistic source has checked out this story is overrun by all the rightwingnut blogs that have pounced on it.

The End of the Cold War

So both Judt, in Postwar, and Gaddis, in The Cold War: A New History, agree that Mikhail Gorbachev is the person most responsible for the end of the Cold War. But neither account paints a very flattering portrait of Gorby. Both scholars agree that, while Gorby recognized that the Soviet system was just not sustainable, he really didn't have any substantive ideas about what to do about it. Glasnost and perestroika were slogans, policy goals without actual, um, policy. So he started to "reform" without any ideas about where it was leading. (That might be why he was so surprised when the coup in 1991 happened?)

Most tellingly, even before Gorby, the Soviet leadership had determined that the Brezhnev Doctrine was dead. By which, I mean, that the Soviets had determined that they wouldn't repeat the invasion of Czechoslavakia, in response to the Prague Spring of 1968, or the invasion of Hungary in 1956, were uprisings to roil one of the "fraternal" nations of Eastern Europe. According to Gaddis, the Soviet leadership was concerned that another such invasion would cause more trouble than it was worth. The Red Army troops sent into Czechoslavakia had been told that they would be greeted as liberators, and that had proven not to be the case, which actually caused discipline problems. Plus, there was the damage that the Communist revolutionary movement suffered whenever it had to put down popular dissatisfaction with tanks (or build a wall to keep its citizens in). Gaddis claims that the Soviets were bluffing about inading Poland in the early 80's, when the Polish government imposed martial law because of a fear of a Soviet invasion.

Basically what happened in 1989, then, was that popular movements, disgusted with their low standards of living, lack of basic freedoms, etc., started to dissent and were met by Soviet inaction. Gorby made clear to the leaders of the fraternal nations that their problems were their own . . . at which point, regimes without significant popular support were forced to either reform, which was untenable for the then-leadership to attempt, or to crackdown, at which point their public support would evaporate and they would fall. There were sinply no Red Army tanks to prop them up, so they fell, in quick succession.

Things could have been much worse. (Gaddis especially points out how few people died in the 1989 revolutions.) The reason Gorbachev is "most responsible" for this fortunate chain of events is the decision, carried out, to stand aside and let things run their course in the fraternal nations of Eastern Europe.

The only reason that such an eventuality could result, of course, was that the West had acted, mostly in concert, to contain Soviet expansionism, and had pursued its own course of economic prosperity and freedom. In the end, the western alliance had not needed to fire a shot to bring down the "evil empire." The Cold War, then, was resolved through political leaders, from Truman through Reagan, temporizing.

This is yet another one of the points that our current leaders don't really grasp. If you are faced with evil regimes that lack popular support, but have weapons, it might be the best course to temporize, make the most of a bad situation, work around the edges, push for negotiation, and, well, wait. Wait for a change in leadership. What for a change in context, in domestic politics within the evil regime. Because if the regime you are seeking to change ("regime change") is one that genuinely lacks popular support, the worst course of action to keep it permanently on a war footing. Because even unpopular leaders can generate domestic political support when there is a threat from an enemy without--an enemy easily characterized as evil. Propaganda works, but it needs something to work with. That's why efforts at detente, although unpopular with hard-liners, are so dangerous for tyrants. Because if "the Leader" is going to do business with the "evil" capitalist dogs, then the propaganda doesn't work so well. And if you erode domestic support generated from fear of an external enemy, then regimes without popular support internally become much weaker.

Or, of course, you can pound the war drums and threaten air strikes. Against Iran, for example. But that will almost certainly increase popular support for the mullahs. Imagine, on the other hand, how weak the mullahs would become if the U.S. administration made security guarantees to the Iranian regime. If the U.S. promised to respect Iranian sovereignty and territory, and maybe even reduced its presence in the Persian Gulf, then the flowering of a reform movement in Iran would face fewer obstacles. But right now, the mullahs can use the threats of the Bush administration to stifle internal dissent.

Again, I just read this in a book. But maybe some of the "grownups" have other ideas.

A 3-Way anyone?

The big news today is that the fair Condoleezza will have a 3-way with Olmert and Abbas. Man, after her date at Tim Horton's with Peter Mackay in Nova Scotia, her prospects sure have fallen off. Let us pray that no pictures will emerge.

An Example of Real Reporting

The purpose of this article is to evaluate the truth of the administration's claims about the causes of the Iraqi civil war. It systematically documents the politically motivated oversimplifications in the administration's account. This is not an opinion piece published on the op-ed pages. It is straight reporting. In other words, this article does what reporting should do, but almost never does: hold government claims to a free press's natural skepticism. I can't remember the last time I saw a story do this. Normally, the best readers get is, "Government Claims X; Experts Disagree."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Limits of (Super)Power

Gaddis describes an interesting situation in The Cold War: A New History. Sometimes the superpowers (back when there were two) would find themselves losing control of situations, unable to dictate the actions of their "client states" or subordinate powers, but trapped into less-than-optimal outcomes or policies because their client states would have them over a barrel. This took two forms, for the most part. The first form is the "weak" client, always and allegedly on the verge of falling to the other side. Any efforts by the United States to get such regimes (e.g., South Korea for a very long time) to become less authoritarian, for example, would be met with complaints that any additional liberties would cause the regime to collapse and the country to go over to the other (Red) side of the Cold War. Thus the United States would be in a relatively weak bargaining position, even with a country like South Korea that only existed because U.S. troops were on its border, protecting it. Even an administration interested in improing human rights would be confronted with a Cold-War-power-stakes argument when it tried to push pressure on its "clients." The superpower, in short, couldn't just call the shots.

The second form was when a subordinate power had the option of playing one side against the other--Tito in Yugoslavia and Mao in China played this one against the Kremlin, despite their Marxist governments. This really gave the subordinate or client power to bargain and play the sides against one another.

The former version of this superpower dilemma is much more relevant to the present situation in Iraq--i.e., the clusterfuck--than the latter, but both have some relevance. (Thus, the current "Unity" government in Iraq has much closer relations with Iran than the United States--at least, some of the factions included in the "Unity" government do. So they can make visits to Iran that must worry certain members of the Bush cabinet, no?)

The Bush administration constantly talks about putting pressure on the Maiiki government is Baghdad, but really, the bargaining stakes aren't that even. Maliki knows that the Bushies can't let things deteriorate beyond a certain point in Iraq, if they have the power to prevent it (or have the option of escalating the clusterfuck to prevent it). So the Bushies' hands are tied--there's a limit to what they can do to pressure Maliki. Withdrawal isn't an option, for them, and thus he gets their continued support. No matter what he does, or doesn't do. Because if he's pressured, he can claim, with some plausibility, that after him, the deluge. So if he says that he's moving against the militias, for example, as much as he dares, what is Hadley to say? "Do more." And then Maliki says, "If I do more, the government will collapse and you will dealing with a full-fledged civil war." What does Hadley say then? "How can I help you prevent that?" See how this works?

There is a kind of naive idea that superpowers, like the United States, get to call the shots. That if Bush says jump, the Iraqi "Unity" government has to ask, "How high?" But in reality, once you are in a situation where your superpower goals depend on others' actions, no matter how many cruise missiles you have, there's a limit to what you can do without the active cooperation of your "allies," "clients," or whatnot. And allies have their own agendas and goals, sometimes ones that are at odds with the superpower's.

This should have been obvious in trying to set up a functioning Iraqi democracy. That any such "young democracy" would be fragile, and thus that any efforts to move it in certain directions would be met by claims, by the powers-that-be-now, that such efforts would cause the whole thing to collapse. Some of these claims may be bogus, but that's not the point. If you can't just tell the Iraqi leadership what to do--and you really can't, because unless you're willing to send in the tanks (think Budapest 1956) or to support a coup (South Vietnam, Diem, 1963), you're stuck with the client state that you have been supporting. Because it's hard to remove support from people you've been presenting as crucial allies in the GWOT for so-o-o-o long. (Btw, neither Budapest nor the Diem assassination worked out that well for the superpower in question, in the long run. But that's another post.)

Of course, I'm not an expert in foreign policy, or anything. I just learned this from reading a book. On foreign policy. Now, of course, that book was just published in 2005, but this strikes me as an idea that's probably been around for some time.

Behind the Curve

This Week with George Stephanopolous this morning featured an interesting exchange on political punditry. Enter this as a follow-up to Paul's look at the forces that propel a Victor Davis Hanson or Fred Kagan to national prominence and cushy sinecures.

On today's Roundtable, Fareed Zakaria objected strenously to Katrina Vanden Heuvel's contention that the US public has always been way out ahead of policymakers on the Iraq question. Zakaria bristled at the very idea that his brilliant insights and highly remunerated expertise were merely "behind the curve" set by mass opinion.

But the sad thing is, of course, that public opinion always has been more skeptical of the Iraq adventure than our political leaders, elite journalists, op-ed writers, and pundits on shows like This Week with George Stephapolous.

On the eve of the US invasion of Iraq, polls showed that nearly 1 out of 3 Americans opposed the invasion (30%). And, of course, the percentage opposing the war would have been higher had so many Americans not thought the attack on Iraq had something to do with 9/11. And it would have been higher still had they been exposed to a greater diversity of respectable elite views on the issue.

But even today, years after the debacle has exploded for everyone to see, the Sunday shows rarely represent that 30% of America who thought invading Iraq was a bad idea from the beginning. Has there ever been a Sunday program focused on Iraq on which 30% of the guests and commentators were war opponents from the start? In venues where politics are discussed before a national audience, the shut-out of these views was and remains nearly as complete as it was before the war started.

The blame for the Iraq War extends far beyond the Bush administration. It represents a complete failure of American political elites, both inside and outside government. Vanden Heuvel didn't press the point nearly far enough today, but Zakaria knows where she was driving. And he, along with the whole political establishment that makes him rich and famous, is vulnernable to it.

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Iran is in the crosshairs

It's pretty clear from Richard Bruce-Epaminondas-Sherman-Patton Cheney's interview on Fox News Sunday and Hadley's interviews on Meet the Press and This Week that Iran is back in the Bush administration's crosshairs in a big way. The charge made by The Dick and Bush is that Iran has created "networks" that supply Iraqi insurgents with arms and materials to kill US soldiers in Iraq and we're going to go after these "networks" (if that's not code for we're heading into Iran, then it is just foolish blowhard bluster). Of course the vast majority of US casualties in Iraq are caused by IEDs, and the vast majority of IEDs are employed by Sunni insurgents. Are we really to believe that Shiite Iran is cooperating with Iraqi Sunni insurgents? I'm very skeptical and it will be interesting to watch this time around how the US press handles the Bush administration's hard sell to expand the war into Iran and Syria. Will there be US journalists who actually go into to Iraq to verify these assertions of Iranian involvement in IED production? Will there be US journalists who dig around in the US to see whether this is part of a misinformation campaign?

The plain, strategic fact is that Iran, like Iraq, sits on a pile of oil and natural gas that can fund their aspirations in the region, or it can be used as leverage against the aspirations of others' interests in the region, including US and Israeli interests. The US brain trust invaded Iraq with a view to strengthening our hand in the region (i.e., energy supplies and Israel), but by so doing the US ended up strengthening the interests of Iran by strengthening the Shiite majority in Iraq. Now Iran is in the cat-bird seat and can more or less sit back and let the Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq push the US out -- they don't need to supply the Shiites with arms. The question for the American people is what should our response to this strategic blunder and the politics of oil be? The Bush administration's view is that we must continue our reliance upon oil, so it's time to knock Iran down a peg or two and anyone who challenges US interests in the Middle East. I see no way to do this without permanently taking away their oil – most of the indigenous people of the Middle East are simply never going to use oil money to further US interests. But our grabbing the oil or inserting puppet governments to control it would be extremely bloody, costly, and destabilizing. As it is, if we throw in the current cost of maintaining our military operations in the Middle East, which are there almost exclusively to safeguard our interests in the oil and gas reserves there, the price of gas is over 7 bucks a gallon. If we add in environmental and social costs, the price goes up to at least 15 bucks a gallon. My question for this dependence upon oil is, cui bono? Do average American citizens really benefit from this huge cost of keeping us addicted to oil (the real costs of which are cleverly kept hidden from us)? Do average American people really care whether we use oil to fuel our cars or another fuel? I think there's a better way . We have the technologies and ability over the next 5-10 years to get away from oil to the point that it drives the price down so low that it weakens our adversaries and makes Middle East oil irrelevant (as well as Russian, Venezuela...) while helping the environment, but it would take a change in government policy to do it. The problem is that this new strategy of getting off oil addiction would make a lot of military spending unnecessary and it would hurt the bottom lines of the oil titans. Guess whose bottom lines and interests the Bush administration will try to protect while hiding behind the flag and patriotism? The irony is that the probable expanding of the war into Iran and Syria will undoubtedly blow up in our faces again, and average American citizens will pay a heavy price with their blood, taxes, and jobs and the view of America as an imperial resource-grabber around the globe will gain more traction and fuel more terrorism.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

What about Pro-War Academic Pundits?

Frances links to some great thoughts on punditry by Juan Cole. The Jebediah Reed piece at Radar to which Cole links is worth a read as well. Of particular note to the readers of FFB may be the fact that Reed employs the term clusterfuck!

I really like the premise of Reed's piece: let's see what all these pro-war pundits said before the war, what they're saying now, and how it has impacted their careers. Guys like Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria, who on November 29, 2001 attended a pre-Iraq invasion pow-wow organized by Wolfowitz (himself now Prez of the World Bank) to craft some language that would justify the taking out of Saddam (as reported on p. 84 of Woodward's Denial; the meeting is confirmed by Zakaria, although he denies he knew it was to craft language for the war effort -- another attendee at the meeting says this denial is laughable). Now Zakaria struts around as a war critic. I can sympathize with Americans from all walks of life and educational backgrounds who were snookered about WMDs or whether it was a good idea to invade Iraq before the invasion, given that most of the reporting of the so-called "liberal" MSM also walked lock-step with the Bush administration and cheered it on (or were afraid to speak out), but I have little sympathy for those whose job it actually is to report the news. We rely upon them to at least check the assertions of our government officials, rather than become cheerleaders and speechwriters for their policies.

One conservative reporter whom I would add as an honorable mention to Reed's list is George Will. Michael Isikoff and David Corn (Hubris, pp. 159-60) report how in the Fall of 2002 during the run up to the war after the UN Resolution was passed, he was invited to attend a tête-à-tête with The Dick to discuss a book at the VP's residence on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory. There were other notables at this same meeting, one of whom I will mention in a moment along with his book. There they talked about the upcoming conflict with Iraq. Now after-the-fact George Will, like his fellow frequent pundit of This Week with G. Stephanopoulos Zakaria, is also a big war critic. Funny how no one ever, or rarely, asks either of them or their other fellow pundits about these meetings, what they said and so forth. It would at least be gratifying to watch them plead the 5th.

We shouldn't, however, just pick on journalists. What about pro-war academic pundits? I'd like to hear from the rest of you about your favorite picks for academics who were cheerleaders for the war and now should be nourishing themselves solely from the egg on their faces. My number one pick goes to another attendee of that same party George Will went to in the Fall of 2002. His name has come up on this blog before – it's none other than Victor David Hanson. Not only has he walked lock-step with the Bush administration on Iraq, but he has walked in hoplite lock-step, publishing his inane pieces about how we're winning and we just need to persevere. It is not without good reason that in her column of April 10, 2003, Maureen Dowd sarcastically dubbed him Cheney's "war guru." It turns out that Cheney had read one of Hanson's books, The Soul of Battle, and was impressed with it. In this book Hanson profiled (or rather caricatured) 3 notable generals in history: Epaminondas (great Theban general who lead Thebes during her brief hegemony over mainland Greece circa 370-360 BC), Willliam Tecumseh Sherman, and George Patton. Hanson's premise in this book was that all three leaders were unfairly criticized in their own day for their ruthless tactics, but their willingness to show no mercy, to completely destroy their enemies, and to instill fear in the local populations had been effective and was necessary in war. Cheney had invited Hanson, Will, Scooter Libby, and Bernard Lewis to this affair in part to discuss the book. Cheney, Hanson would later tell Isikoff or Corn, clearly thought of himself as one such leader – willing to go balls to the wall with anyone and take the heat. He was a strategist, after all, who took the "long view." Cheney's viewing himself in the company of Epaminondas, Sherman and Patton is particularly disturbing and delusional given that he has no actual experience in the field of battle.

I will leave it to the rest of you to draw your own conclusions about Hanson's point about Sherman and Patton. As for Epaminondas, Hanson's entire premise about him is bullshit. Epaminondas was elected Boeotarch several times in the decade ca. 371-362 BC, and if he was maligned in his own day, it was by non-Theban and non-Boeotian sources, especially Athenian sources that dominate this time period. The point is whether you are maligned by your own people, not another country's. Worse yet, most of the other historians and commentators of the time, including Athenian sources, actually admired him as a "liberator of Greece", because he defeated the Spartan army at Leuctra by means of his brilliant tactical innovation of strengthening the left side of his own phalanx to take on the Spartan's stronger right side, rather than put his best men on the right to face the weaker left side of the Spartan line. An interesting historical aside on this tactic was that the core of this strengthened left side of the phalanx was manned by an elite corps of troops known as the Theban Sacred Band. One of the unusual qualifications of this elite group (think of US Marine Special Ops or Navy Seals) was that they had to be what today we would call homosexual lovers. Epaminondas thought that men who slept together would be more willing to die together and apparently he was right, because they were unbeatable until Epaminondas was killed at Mantinea in 362 BC. The ancient sources, in fact, are so overwhelmingly favorable to Epaminondas, that the famed Roman statesman and orator Cicero would later call him "the first man of Greece." So, Epaminondas was not unpopular in his own day, not even amongst many of his adversaries. Furthermore, it was his military tactics against foes in the field that won him the day, not ruthlessly harassing local populations.

The other misleading thing about Hanson's analysis is that he seems to imply that Thebes' merciless tactics began and died with Epaminondas. They did not. Thebes initiated the surprise attack on Plataea in 431 during a religious festival with the help of some pro-Theban oligarchic Plataeans. This unprovoked attack is considered the first salvo of the Peloponnesian War (Plataea occupies a significant passage between northern Greece and the Peloponnesus so it was highly prized ground). After finally taking the city in 427 with the help of the Spartans, Thebes settled the pro-Theban Plataeans back in their city, but one year later they apparently double crossed them, kicked them out, leveled the town and leased the land to Theban farmers (one wonders right now whether all along Bush and his cronies have been thinking about occupying the oil fields in Iraq if all doesn't go as planned). At any rate, Thebes occupied Plataea until they were forced to give it up in 387, but then 14 years later in 373 they attacked it again, destroyed it again and occupied again until 338 BC, when they, along with the Athenians, were defeated by Philip II at the Battle of Chaeronea. Shortly after Chaeronea the Plataeans were restored back to their homeland for the second time. So Thebes didn't suddenly become more ruthless under Epaminondas, and after he died, they continued their brutal tactics, but the problem was that eventually they ran up against new military tactics developed by Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great (using the sarissa spear in the phalanx...).

Now remember according to Hanson (as reported by Isikoff and Corn), Cheney was attracted to Hanson's book because he was a statesmen who thought of himself as one who could endure criticism of harsh war tactics in the short term because of his "long view." And what was the end result, what was the "long view" for Theban fortunes? In 335 BC Alexander the Great persuaded a bunch of other Greek states to join him in sacking, utterly destroying and depopulating the city, which they happily did. So just 27 years after Epaminondas died, Theban ruthless tactics eventually got a pay back, not only from the Macedonians, but other Greeks, including the recently restored Plataeans. Fortunately for the surviving Thebans, 20 years later Cassander decided to rebuild and restore them to their native land. The Thebans then learned their lesson and eventually even reconciled to the Plataeans and never again invaded other Greek cities. In 86 BC they were destroyed again by the Roman general Sulla for siding with Mithradates (dumb move to rebel against Rome), but they eventually recovered and became the seat of Byzantine Hellas. After a few more sacks and Turkish occupation, today nothing is left but a humble village built over the top of the ancient remains. Some American archaeologists, with the financial backing of David Packard Jr., a few years ago proposed buying up the entire village and excavating the ancient city, but the Greek government sensibly voted against displacing its local population for another big dig funded by foreign cash and under foreign control.

As for Hanson, like the pro-war pundits of Reed's piece his fortunes have improved too. According to Wikipedia he is no longer a professor at The Unversity of California, Fresno but a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Fellow in California Studies at the Claremont Institute. He also has joined the class of punditocracy writing weekly columns for National Review and Tribune Media Services, and has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, American Heritage, City Journal, The American Spectator, Policy Review, The New Criterion, and The Weekly Standard, among others.

Possibly the only other scholar I can think of who could outdo Hanson is Frederick Kagan (as TPM points out, apparently the brains behind the recent surge and a scholar on Napoleon!). He too has attained something exceedingly rare amongst Humanities professors -- a sinecure at the American Enterprise Institute that has allowed him to leave the academy.


Definition of Punditry

Juan Cole offers the best definition of political punditry I've ever seen:

Jebediah Reed at Radar Magazine makes the point that pundits who were wrong about the Iraq War have been well rewarded, whereas those like Bob Scheer and others who warned about its dangers have been fired or marginalized even though they were right.

This is because punditry is not about being right or wrong or exhibiting good judgment. It is about producing and reproducing elite American political discourse for the masses. It is more important that they can continue to justify changing elite policy than that they supported past policies that didn't work out very well.

Friday, January 12, 2007


Watching Condi testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on DVR, and I'm finding it interesting that she won't use the term "surge," and she objects to the term "escalation" (more on that in a minute). Instead, she talks about the "augmentation" of the policy in Iraq. But does anyone use "augmentation" in any context, any more, other than in the phrase "breast augmentation"? And that is, of course, a kind of cosmetic surgery. So this policy is just for show?

Btw, the reason Rice objects to "escalation" is that "escalation" means more than an increase in numbers, she says; it would mean . . . a change in policy, and this is not a change in . . . policy. But the president is on the road, talking about how this is a new policy. So, is this a new policy, or not?

This hearing is truly great Senate tv.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


One of my New Years resolutions is to read more--by which, I mean read more books. This will involve reading less of the Internets and bloggity goodness. But there is only so much time in the day. Part of this resolution is to meet my longstanding (and unmet) goal of reading one book a week, outside of work-related reading.

So far in the 007, I'm on track. First, I figuratively devoured Postwar, more than 800 pages of it, much to the surprise of Sam and, well, myself. (It's the flights to the West Coast and back, plus time at the in-laws'). That was week one. Then, for week two, I just finished Kevin Brockmeier's novel (2006), The Brief History of the Dead. It was recommended to me by a friend at work, and it was pretty good. It has an interesting premise: The dead are not really dead, but in a kind of limbo so long as someone with personal memories of them survives. So the dead get a second chance at life, depending on how long "living memories" of them survive. Meanwhile, in the world of the living, in the near future, a deadly virus called "the Blinks" is killing everyone off, until there's just one woman left alive--in Antarctica, of all places. So long as she can hold on, all the folks in the sort-of afterlife survive, too. There's something there about how each person is the whole world, in the sense that each person's memory preserves a world that no longer exists; there's the old saying that to save one person is to save the world. This may be an extended reflection on that. It's a bittersweet allegory about memory, with a number of brilliant character sketches. The novel ends somewhat limply, but how can such a novel end? It's the end of everything, after all.

Next up: I have a few options. I'm toying with alternating b/w fiction and non-fiction all year. So that would mean next is John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History. The next fiction entry, probably The Road by Cormac McCarthy, or Charles Portis's Norwood. I also have a humorous novel, Whisky Galore, on tap, so to speak.

Update: OK, so I'm about halfway through The Cold War. It's excellent, but maybe a quicker read than I thought it would be (i.e., it's not a particularly dense history, if you know the outlines). The one thing that I'm thinking now is, next non-fiction book should be about . . . Mao and China. Anyone read anything along those lines lately? Also, I'm interested in reading more about the nuclear arms race. Any thoughts?


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dumbshit-Clusterbombed-Fuckheaded-I'm-the-Decider-Stay-the-Course Bullshit

Couldn't agree more with #3's assessment here. And Bush's hacks have the gall to call this a surge and a new way forward. 21.5K in additional soldiers is no more than have already sent before -- that hardly qualifies as anything but another ripple -- and it's just the same old dumbshit-clusterbombed-fuckheaded-I'm-the-Decider-Stay-the-Course bullshit. At this point the only way I can see to get our soldiers out of Iraq is to have daddy Bush or his surrogates suggest that we need to add more troops and stay. Or possibly W is really planning on exiting Iraq sooner than we think, via Iran and Syria.

It's On, Bitches

OK, so the President is going on in a few minutes . . . to announce an escalation of the Iraq fiasco, er, clusterfuck, er . . . war. No, clusterfuck is the right term. I've been waiting for this. Because I'm escalating the rhetoric. It's the Iraq clusterfuck in these parts, from now on. Word.

(In some quarters, lefty bloggers are criticized for their foul language. But in foul times, foul language is necessary.)

Update (01-11): So I watched the speech. Is it just me, people, or is our president insane?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Teeny-Weeny 10

Somehow the Florida Gators did the impossible last night: they made a rout look entertaining. Give them credit. Theirs is thrilling brand of football, playground inventiveness played on a grand stage. And they made the Ohio State University look pathetic in the process.

We shouldn't really be surprised. The Big 10 is--how should we say this delicately?--a "wussy" conference. They went 2-5 in bowl games this year, and their glamour teams, OSU and Michigan (ranked #1 and #2 the entire regular season) were both humiliated. As defensive end Jarvis Moss said after the game, "Honestly, we've played a lot better teams than them. I could name four or five teams in the SEC that could probably compete with them and play the same type of game we did against them."

In contrast to the Big 10, SEC teams went 6-3 in bowls, a record approached only by the Big East (5-0, but generally in lesser bowls and against lower competition). Moss may be a bit overstating his case. I'd guess that LSU and Auburn would both have trounced OSU last night, and Tennessee and Georgia could have put up decent fights, but likely would have lost. LSU embarassed honorary-Big 10 "independent" Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, demonstrating that, despite two losses, they're really the second best team in the country right now. Did I mention that the ACC, the PAC 10, the Big 12, and even the Mountain West and the WAC (!!) won more bowl games this year than the Big 10 did? Maybe it's time for a name change guys. How about the Little Bitty Oopsy Daisy Please Don't Hurt Us 10.

MSM Umpiring

Has anyone else noticed the media's game with escalation? Specifically, I'm talking about how our Media Umpires have determined, in advance of any public opinion on the subject, that if Democrats seek to "de-fund" the Iraq War, then they "will have gone too far." I've noticed that that's the narrative, the game, at this point. Democrats are being watched closely for what the media has already determined would-be "overreaching," were it to occur.

Good umpires let the teams play the game. Bad unpires insert themslves into the game. At this point, the media seem determined to prevent de-funding of the war because they believe it would be a political mistake. But isn't that a determination for the American people, and not our Media overlords?

This is not an endorsement of "de-funding" the war. It might, indeed, be a political mistake. But watch how the issue is addressed by the talking heads, and you'll see what I mean.

Judt's Postwar

One of the upsides of the work-related travel that took up most of last week was that I had plenty of time, on planes and in the hotel, to finish Tony Judt's Postwar. I don't believe that I can urge you all to read this book enough. It's a great read, expansively treating multiple aspects of postwar European history--politics and diplomacy, economics, social and cultural (and even intellectual) history. At over 800 pages, it's quite a commitment of time, but I found that the book was actually hard to put down.

To be honest, my favorite parts of the book were the sections on the Cold War and the immediate postwar period. It's not that the lengthy discussions of European economic integration aren't really important. It's just a matter of taste.

Judt argues that the postwar-Cold War period, in retrospect, was a parenthesis, the extended end of the 30-year European civil war that started in 1914--a parenthesis, an interim, rather than a new age of its own. I think that that's pretty persuasive. It also makes me wonder about our present time. There's a lot of talk about "the Long War," about a generation-long "war against terror." But it's likely that, in 10 years, such talk will appear, in retrospect, to have been misguided (at best). I remember the end of the Cold War--one year, the Soviet Union was a great threat . . . the next year it no longer existed. The end of the Cold War demonstrates that major changes can occur quickly, in unforeseen ways.

Now, Judt makes pretty clear that he thinks that Gorbachev brought down the USSR, if unintentionally. And this also makes me think. Powerful states can sometimes be conquered from without, but more often such states come to woe because of the unintentional results of their own leaders' actions. In the case of the USSR, it was partly unsustainable reform, partly a failed military adventure in Asia (remember when the Soviets failed in Afghanistan?).

I'm not saying . . . but . . . it does make one nervous. It certainly can't help matters when a nation's leader decides to escalate a war that has, at best, little support in public opinion.

More Explosions

Going after al Qaeda terrorists is one thing, but I'm not sure that it's a great idea for the United States to insert itself, actively, into what can be interpreted as a conflict between mostly Christian Ethiopia and mostly Islamic Somalia. And that is, indeed, one way of interpreting the airstrike against purported al Qaeda targets in Somalia last night. Link. Probably the spin that al Qaeda itself will try to apply to the airstrike.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Year-End Music Top 10

I've digested my Christmas music, so it's time for my top CDs of the year. I've written about some of these choices before, here and here. I'll add some commentary on the previously uncommented. In case you're wondering, this should be considered the metaphysically correct list of the year's best music.

1) M. Ward, Post War

2) Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, Ballad of the Broken Seas: Campbell used to be in Belle & Sebastian and Lanegan was the lead singer for Screaming Trees and did a stint with Queens of the Stone Age. A very sexy and hypnotic album, featuring one of the best singles of the year, "Honey Child, What Can I Do?" Imagine if Barry White replaced Lindsey Buckingham in Fleetwood Mac for Rumors.

3) Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

4) Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

5) Beck, the Information: very underrated, probably because there was no killer single on the order of "Loser," "Lost Cause" or "E-Pro." Just a really good CD, probably the equivalent of Guero, and I'd say better than Sea Change.

6) Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

7) Bob Dylan, Modern Times

8) the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones

9) the Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers

10) TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain

Honorable Mention to Josh Rouse, Subtitulo; John Mayer, Continuum; John Legend, Once Again; Gomez, How We Operate; and the Decembrists, the Crane Wife. The Decembrists may climb once I hear it more. They always take a while to grow on me: I didn't fully appreciate how good Picaresque was until I'd had it for a long time. I also need to add a caveat. I haven't heard Tom Waits's Orphans yet, which is supposed to be excellent. I'm a Waits fan, but haven't shucked out the $45 for the triple CD set. So it hasn't been part of the judging process. I also haven't yet heard My Morning Jacket's new live CD. Otherwise, my list stands as final.