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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Tuesday, 30 May 2006
Looking at Things Logically on a Slow News Day
Topic: In these times...

Looking at Things Logically on a Slow News Day

A note on Tuesday, May 30, 2006 - the day after Memorial Day.

The day before brought us the usual carnage in Baghdad, forty killed, one more soldier, and with a twist, two CBS journalists and a key CBS reporter near death. The next day she the was off to Germany for treatment there, the shrapnel in her head carefully removed but major problems with her lower extremities - critical condition, but stable. Tuesday brought much more death in Baghdad, but this time just the locals, with fifty-seven blown up dead, not Monday's forty. Curiously, it was the one year anniversary of the Vice President saying the insurgency was in its "last throes" (short discussion here, if it matters). There were the Monday riots in Kabul too, as the latent anti-American resentment finally burst open. The capital city of our key regional ally, Afghanistan, was still locked down Tuesday. The new details Monday about reports that Marines killed two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, last November in Haditha, were still in the news Tuesday, but there was no new news - the evidence mounts that it did happen, and now we have two investigations, one of the incident and one of a possible official cover-up, and congress wants their own investigation. Maybe the new news was that now the brand new president of Iraq isn't too pleased - "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki broke his public silence Tuesday on the alleged killing of about 24 civilians by U.S. Marines, saying such deaths were never justified, even in the fight against terrorists." They want to investigate? Not good.

What happened Monday was Tuesday's news. But then Tuesday we did get a new Treasury Secretary, the former CEO of Goldman-Sachs, an environmentalist who likes the Kyoto Treaty. What? Daniel Gross covers that well here - either it's big news, or the cabinet officers have been so neutered that it's kind of an honorary thing with no real power of any sort - you get a nice office and great stationary. The latter seems likely - quick, name the current Secretary of Commerce and what dynamic thing he (or she) has done or said Yawn.

But the war stories grind on. And no one was happy.

In the Financial Times of London (UK), there was Neo-Cons Question Bush's Democratization Strategy, where we get this -
President George W. Bush has likened the "war on terrorism" to the cold war against communism.

Addressing military cadets graduating from West Point, Mr Bush reaffirmed at the weekend that the US "will not rest until the promise of liberty reaches every people in every nation".

But as the US struggles to assert itself on the international stage, the president's most radical supporters now dismiss this as mere rhetoric, and traditional conservatives are questioning the wisdom of a democratisation [sic] strategy that has brought unpleasant consequences in the Middle East.

Administration officials speak privately of a sense of fatigue over the worsening crisis in Iraq that has drained energy from other important policy issues. Senior officials are leaving - not so unusual in a second term, but still giving the sense of a sinking ship run in some quarters by relatively inexperienced crew.

Neo-conservative commentators at the American Enterprise Institute wrote last week what amounted to an obituary of the Bush freedom doctrine.
And it goes on to explain. This is not working. And it was their idea.

Christy Hardin Smith is not so kind here -
Only George Bush could take a country run by a violent dictator, where the people were oppressed and murdered and terrorized by secret police and tortured for disagreeing with the government... and turn it into an even less stable country where people are murdered and tortured and kidnapped and killed in cold blood and worse, inflaming sectarian and tribal rivalries and raising the bar on the fight to control Iraq's valuable oil reserves, as armed militias for each faction fight amongst themselves and US troops for control.

It's the Katrina piss poor response writ large in the Middle East, and we are spiraling toward a civil war of our own making in Iraq with no end in sight for our troops if we keep going the way things are.

All because this President chose to fight a preemptive war of his own making, based on ginned up false reasons that were sold to the public with the threat of a looming mushroom cloud hanging in the air - a threat that the President either knew or should have known was altogether false, had he bothered to listen to someone outside his circle of crony yes men.
Smith then links to the New York Times item here, just a little note that General Casey is taking the troops currently staged in Kuwait, one brigade, and moving them into Iraq's Anbar province in the west - it's just gotten too hot and hostile there. As Smith says - "You know, because the Iraqi government is so stable and the Iraqi troops are standing up so much so that we can stand down and... oh, hell...."

The Times -
One senior American commander said recently that military officials still remain hopeful that they can reduce the troop presence in Iraq by 25 percent by the end of the year, but he admitted that there was no timetable and much of that hope rests on the performance of the fledgling Iraqi government in coming months.

How much the decision to deploy the entire reserve brigade from Kuwait will increase the total number of American troops in Iraq and for how long was unclear. Nor is it clear how the additional troops will be employed as commanders seek to quell the violence in Anbar in coming months.

One official said the additional troops would be deployed to "fill in the gaps" that now exist and that will get worse when the Pennsylvania Guard unit pulls out.

The top commander in the province, Gen. Richard Zilmer of the Marines, said in an interview last month that a large-scale assault on insurgents in Ramadi, similar to block-by-block fighting by the Marines in nearby Falluja in 2004, was not under consideration. Instead, he said, the Marines expect more targeted actions against insurgents in the city.
No one is coming home soon. The Washington Post covers it is slightly different detail here. What did Cheney say a year ago?

Smith adds this -
The US launched a previous offensive in March of 2006 to clear out the insurgents in the region - but clearly we were only playing whack-a-mole with too few troops to ever do much more than chase them out of one town and into another. We don't have the force levels to hold any area once we've cleared it of insurgents, let alone be able to cover the borders, and our troops end up fighting the same battles over and over like some nightmare version of Groundhog Day where they risk life and limb in a failed policy of war on the cheap.

And the Iraqis themselves are staring into a long abyss of civil war at the moment, with a government which still has not filled some essential positions, where factional infighting has been the norm even in the "halls of power," and has been greeted with skepticism among the rest of the Arab world.
Groundhog Day? That's this movie, but this isn't Punxsutawney.

Congressman Murtha is from just southwest of Punxsutawney, and last November he said this -
The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public is way ahead of us. The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq, but it is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk.
We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf Region.

General Casey said in a September 2005 hearing, 'the perception of occupation in Iraq is a major driving force behind the insurgency.' General Abizaid said on the same date, "Reducing the size and visibility of the coalition forces in Iraq is part of our counterinsurgency strategy."

For two and a half years, I have been concerned about the U.S. policy and the plan in Iraq. I have addressed my concerns with the Administration and the Pentagon and have spoken out in public about my concerns. The main reason for going to war has been discredited. A few days before the start of the war I was in Kuwait - the military drew a red line around Baghdad and said when U.S. forces cross that line they will be attacked by the Iraqis with Weapons of Mass Destruction - but the US forces said they were prepared. They had well trained forces with the appropriate protective gear.

We spend more money on Intelligence that all the countries in the world together, and more on Intelligence than most countries GDP. But the intelligence concerning Iraq was wrong. It is not a world intelligence failure. It is a U.S. intelligence failure and the way that intelligence was misused.

I have been visiting our wounded troops at Bethesda and Walter Reed hospitals almost every week since the beginning of the War. And what demoralizes them is going to war with not enough troops and equipment to make the transition to peace; the devastation caused by IEDs; being deployed to Iraq when their homes have been ravaged by hurricanes; being on their second or third deployment and leaving their families behind without a network of support.

The threat posed by terrorism is real, but we have other threats that cannot be ignored. We must be prepared to face all threats. The future of our military is at risk. Our military and their families are stretched thin. Many say that the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on their third deployment. Recruitment is down, even as our military has lowered its standards. Defense budgets are being cut. Personnel costs are skyrocketing, particularly in health care. Choices will have to be made. We cannot allow promises we have made to our military families in terms of service benefits, in terms of their health care, to be negotiated away. Procurement programs that ensure our military dominance cannot be negotiated away. We must be prepared. The war in Iraq has caused huge shortfalls at our bases in the U.S.

Much of our ground transportation is worn out and in need of either serous overhaul or replacement. George Washington said, "To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace." We must rebuild our Army. Our deficit is growing out of control. The Director of the Congressional Budget Office recently admitted to being "terrified" about the budget deficit in the coming decades. This is the first prolonged war we have fought with three years of tax cuts, without full mobilization of American industry and without a draft. The burden of this war has not been shared equally; the military and their families are shouldering this burden.

Our military has been fighting a war in Iraq for over two and a half years. Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty. Our military captured Saddam Hussein, and captured or killed his closest associates. But the war continues to intensify. Deaths and injuries are growing, with over 2,079 confirmed American deaths. Over 15,500 have been seriously injured and it is estimated that over 50,000 will suffer from battle fatigue. There have been reports of at least 30,000 Iraqi civilian deaths.

I just recently visited Anbar Province Iraq in order to assess the condition on the ground. Last May 2005, as part of the Emergency Supplemental Spending Bill, the House included to Moran Amendment, which was accepted in Conference, and which required the Secretary of Defense to submit quarterly reports to Congress in order to more accurately measure stability and security in Iraq. We have not received two reports. I am disturbed by the findings in key indicator areas. Oil production and energy production are below pre-war levels. Our reconstruction efforts have been crippled by security situation. Only $9 billion of the $18 billion appropriated for reconstruction has been spent. Unemployment remains at about 60 percent. Clean water is scarce. Only $500 million of the $2.2 billion appropriated for water projects have been spent. And most importantly, insurgent incidents have increased from about 150 per week to over 700 in the last year. Instead of attacks going down over time and with the addition of more troops, attacks have grown dramatically. Since the revelations at Abu Ghraib, American causalities have doubled. An annual State Department report in 2004 indicated a sharp increase in global terrorism.

I said over a year ago, and now the military and the Administration agrees, Iraq can not be won 'militarily.' I said two years ago, the key to progress in Iraq is to Iraqitize, Internationalize and Energize. I believe the same today. But I have concluded that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is impeding this progress.

Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are untied against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence. U.S. troops are the common enemy of the Sunnis, Saddamists and foreign jihadists. I believe with a U.S. troop redeployment, the Iraq security forces will be incentivized to take control. A poll recently conducted shows that over 80% of Iraqis are strongly opposed to the presence of coalition troops, about 45% of the Iraqi population believe attacks against American troops are justified. I believe we need to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis. I believe before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for mid December, the Iraqi people and the emerging government must be put on notice that the United States will immediately redeploy. All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free. Free from United Stated occupation. I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process for the good of a "free" Iraq.
Anbar. Same thing. Groundhog Day. But that woman from Cincinnati said Murtha was a coward.

Ah well. Another Memorial Day. We fight on. There's the global war on terror, of course. GWOT.

How about some logic on that from Digby at Hullabaloo, who offers this -
But then it isn't really fair to deride it as a "war on terror," is it? That's just the shortcut phrase. The real term is "war on terrorism" which makes just as little sense but in a different way. Terrorism is a method of warfare - a specific type of cheap and dirty violence which is not eradicatable, certainly not eradicatable by force. It is special only in the sense that it makes no distinctions between civilians and warriors. (And if you could eliminate a particularly harsh and inhumane method of warfare, it would certainly make no sense at all to try to do it by throwing aside all civilized norms and engaging in even more odious taboos like torture.)

When you think about it, a "war on terrorism" is actually a "war on warfare" which kind of brings the whole damned thing home, doesn't it? All warfare is terrifying. Metaphorically, a war on warfare is a nice concept. I can picture some lovely bumper stickers and t-shirts along the lines of "War is not healthy for children and other living things." "Let's declare war on warfare" expresses a rather basic premise that war is a bad thing. (Somehow, I don't think that's what the architects of the GWOT had in mind.)

A war on warfare is entirely absurd, however, in a literal sense. Using war to eradicate terror or terrorism is an oxymoron. And yet the nation has been drunkenly behaving as if it is a real war, spending the money, deploying the troops, inflicting the violence.

Setting Iraq aside, which was a simple imperialist invasion with no ties to this threat of terrorism, we are dealing with a "war" against certain stateless people who are loosely affiliated with Muslim extremism but could just as easily be nationalists or Christian fanatics or even environmentalists, as our justice department has recently decreed. Make no mistake: the GWOT is not a simple shorthand for fighting the "islamofascists." Islamic extremism is an ideology centered in a religion and it has no "place" - it is not a nation or even a people. Warfare as it has been understood for millennia will not "beat" it. The GWOT masterminds knew this which is why the phrase War on Terrorism was coined: it represents a permanent state of war, which is something else entirely.

This is the problem. This elastic war, this war against warfare, this war with no specific enemy against no specific country is never going to end. It cannot end because there is no end. If the threat of "islamofascim" disappears tomorrow there will be someone else who hates us and who is willing to use individual acts of violence to get what they want. There always have been and there always will be. Which means that we will always be at war with Oceania.

I am not sanguine that we can put this genie back in the bottle. The right will go crazy at the prospect that someone might question whether we are really "at war." They are so emotionally invested in the idea that they cannot give it up. Indeed, the right is defined by its relationship to the boogeyman, whether communism or terrorism or some other kind of ism (negroism? immigrantism?) they will fight very, very hard to keep this construct going in the most literal sense. And they will probably win in the short term.

But it is long past time for people to start the public counter argument, which has the benefit of appealing to common sense. Many Americans are emerging from the relentless hail of propaganda that overtook the nation after the traumatic events of 9/11. Iraq confused people for a while, but that confusion is leaving in its wake a rather startling clarity: the "war" as the government defines it is bullshit. It will take a while for this common sense to become conventional wisdom, but it certainly won't happen if nobody is willing to say it out loud.

... But there is no war on terrorism. The nation is less secure because of this false construct. We are spending money we need not spend, making enemies we need not make and wasting lives we need not waste in the name of something that doesn't exist. That is as politically incorrect a statement as can be made in America today. But it's true.
The logic is clear. And it hurts. Drat that common sense.

And as for Memorial Day and all it's about, and if you've actually been to Punxsutawney (some of us have) see Garrison Keillor here -
Memorial Day is a fading holiday, destined to go the way of the Glorious Fourth and Labor Day, which once had ceremonial functions and now are simply bonus Saturdays. It was a small-town institution and a matter of community pride to honor our dead. The citizenry hiked up to the cemetery on Monday morning behind the VFW honor guard and listened to a speech and sang "America the Beautiful" and stood for a rifle salute and "Taps," and then walked quietly home. It's easier to organize this sort of thing in a town of 2,000 than in a city of a million, so it has faded, a victim of urbanization. And also because the speeches were not so good. And because we are young restless people, not old weepy people.

Americans aren't good at memorials. In the wake of President Kennedy's death, his name was attached to many things, including Idlewild Airport in New York and Cape Canaveral in Florida, but naming things isn't the same as remembering. The memorial airport - Kennedy, LaGuardia, Reagan, George Bush, John Wayne, Gen. Edward Logan, Gen. Billy Mitchell - is an odd notion. Airports are beehives. You get your ticket, go through security, get coffee, go to the gate, wait, board, and at what point do you stop to consider the World War II heroism of Navy flier Butch O'Hare?

Likewise, the memorial freeway. A freeway is a strip of pockmarked concrete on which the uglier aspects of human nature are played out every day. You would not want the name of anyone you care for put on such a place.

A memorial is where the memory of a person is made manifest, such as Emily Dickinson's quiet house and garden in Amherst, or the restored Lincoln neighborhood in Springfield, or Hyde Park. Or the Civil War battlefields, which are faithfully maintained and staffed with knowledgeable guides. A three-hour visit can transport you back to 1863. The National Bohemian Historic Sites of Greenwich Village and San Francisco are there to be seen, the ghosts of e. e. cummings and Edna St. Vincent Millay and Allen Ginsberg and Jerry Garcia. William Faulkner's house in Oxford, Miss. The list goes on.

But why the enormous lump that is Grant's Tomb? And Mount Rushmore? After you've driven the length of South Dakota, four faces carved from rock is not the thrill it ought to be. Add Ronald Reagan's face to it, grinning and winking, and liven up the place.
We've lost perspective, and common sense. We are young restless people, not old weepy people, but we're not dumb, or at least no so dumb now. Time to fix things, not rename them, and not call each other names.

Posted by Alan at 22:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 31 May 2006 08:05 PDT home

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