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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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Monday, 17 April 2006
Springtime for Hitler
Topic: Making Use of History

Springtime for Hitler

In Mel Brooks' The Producers, what the two odd producers are producing is "Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden" - a musical about Adolf Hitler written by fictional Nazi Franz Liebkind. (Read all about it here.) So it's April, and it's Springtime for Hitler, again, but in an odd sort of way.

It is? There's an awful lot of German floating around, and an awful of thinking about Munich, in the late thirties, not 1972 and the Olympics and all that. (Stephen Spielberg made the wrong movie, even if he had the right title)

April 14 there was Bill Montgomery with Munich, explaining that just as the supporters of our upcoming preemptive war with Iran - the one that includes using nuclear weapons to mess up their sites deep underground where they may be in the first stages that would mean they too would have some sort of nuclear weapon - did a whole lot of chatting up Saddam Hussein as "the new Hitler" before the current was, so that odd fellow, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who now runs Iran next door, is now "the new Hitler." Get rid of one and, suddenly, for some reason, there's another.

Where did they all come from, one after another?

Montgomery -
Munich - the name, not the movie - has long been one of the neoconservative movement's most cherished political symbols, a kind of short-hand description for everything the neocons despise about liberals and their approach to foreign policy.

Munich equals appeasement - the worst sin in the neocon theology. It also stands for weakness, cowardness [sic], naivety and an amoral willingness to bargain with the devil, as well as the failure to recognize that the devil never keeps his word.

Munich is a '30s newsreel of a feeble old man standing on an airport tarmac, holding an umbrella in one hand and waving a meaningless scrap of paper in the other. Munich is the betrayal of the Czechs and the perfidy of the French and the sound of jackboots marching down cobblestone European streets. Munich is Winston Churchill declaiming, with righteous thunder: "You have chosen dishonor over war. You shall have both." Munich is the city you never ever want to visit if you're the leader of the free world.

Now history, as opposed to the historical stereotype, is hardly so cut and dried. There is considerable evidence that the British and the French knew full well Hitler couldn't be trusted, and never expected him to keep the peace - for long. They were playing for time to complete their own rearmament programs, and worried (with good reason) about Germany's diplomatic feelers to Uncle Joe Stalin.

Was it a bad call? Almost certainly. But more a Machiavellian miscalculation than the wishful thinking of fools and cowards. However it later became politically expedient to foist responsibility for the entire fiasco of the West's response to Hitler's aggression on to the narrow shoulders of Neville Chamberlain. Ever thus to losers.
Montgomery points to this, the previous day, Hugh Hewitt, saying Iran's announcement that they had managed to enrich a tiny amount of uranium, even at a useless low grade, was the equivalent of Hitler's march into the Rhineland. Right. (For a review of where Hugh Hewitt sits in the pantheon of "big thinkers" on the right, and a bit on his background, see this from several weeks back.)

Is Hugh Hewitt alone? Of course he's not. This is the drumbeat now.

See William "Bill" Kristol in his latest, the lead article in neoconservative Weekly Standard, the public face of the movement (providing explanations for why we have to do what we have to do, and why what we have done is what we just had to do). This particular article is the centerpiece of the April 24 issue, asking the question - "Is the America of 2006 more willing to thwart the unacceptable than the France of 1936?"

Basically, we must remember, we are not French! -
In the spring of 1936 - seventy years ago - Hitler's Germany occupied the Rhineland. France's Léon Blum denounced this as "unacceptable." But France did nothing. As did the British. And the United States.
Yeah, yeah. We need to do something. Blum was a fool and Chamberlain looked funny with his little mustache and those odd glasses, not to mention the umbrella. They weren't real men. So we should be doing "real and urgent operational planning for bombing strikes and for the consequences of such strikes." And nukes are fine. We just have to plan for the fallout, of all kinds. And we need to do the bombing soon, because we're the good guys, and it's morally right -
It is not "moral progress" to put off serious planning for military action to a later date, probably in less favorable circumstances, when the Iranian regime has been further emboldened, our friends in the region more disheartened, and allies more confused by years of fruitless diplomacy than they would be by greater clarity and resolution now.
So it's 1936 again, and this time we nip this Hitler in the bud, just like we did the first one next door. This is what good guys do, as it's morally right.

So this is the public voice of the Bush-Cheney administration. We're the good guys, and those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. That's the line now.

For the superficially scholarly, this will work, and for the masses, just play Edelweiss, sweet and sadly in the background, and remind people of how those mean people made Maria and those cute kids trudge through the cold mountains - heck, everyone has seen The Sound of Music, and that song always brings tears to the eye.

Montgomery covers the actual history of what happened in 1936, of course, and what's happening with Iraq now, and you might want to glance at that -
What Ahmadinejad is not, however, is the absolute dictator of an advanced industrial state with a first-rate military. To pretend that he currently poses the same kind of threat to the world (or even to the Jewish people) that Hitler did in 1938 - or that he will pose such a threat any time within the next decade - is ridiculous. It also discredits the very legitimate concerns that the world should have about Iran and the future of the Iranian revolution.

... In the neocon wisdom tale, Munich is always about Neville Chamberlain and that scrap of paper. But that's only half the story - or not even half. Hitler might never have risen to power in the first place if the allies had dealt justly with Germany and the other defeated powers at Versailles, or if the Western governments of the 1920s and early '30s had shown one tenth the willingness to compromise with the democratic governments of the Weimer Republic that they later did to appease the Nazi regime.

The source of much of Hitler's political appeal - and the topic of most of his stump speeches before coming to power - was the spinelessness of the Weimer politicians in kowtowing to the Versailles Treaty, and the need for a strong leader who would stand up to the allies. The British and French only understand force, the would-be Fuehrer shrieked. Germany must take what was rightfully hers, instead of going hat in hand to plead for concessions.

And of course, the allies proved Hitler right. They insisted on enforcing every humiliating clause of the terms dictated at Versailles. They surrounded Germany with an encircling alliance of smaller states. They forced the German economy deeper and deeper into debt to finance the insane war reparations they demanded. Weimar - and democracy - were discredited and disgraced in the eyes of millions of ordinary Germans long before they started flocking to Hitler's rallies. ...
You get the idea. The devil is in the details - and now we have this pipsqueak state, surrounded by it's own "encircling alliance" of hostile states (nuclear-armed Israel to the west and our new ally, nuclear-armed Pakistan to the east, and most the rest with our troops on the ground or reluctant allies), and we want to humiliate this pipsqueak state with economic sanctions, if we don't nuke them first. History repeating itself. As before, making our own problems, and not at all in the manner Kristol and Hewitt frame the tale.

And of course we will not talk to them, one on one, just as would not hold bilateral talks with North Korea. You don't reward bad behavior. And Neville Chamberlain's mother dressed him funny. So they make all sorts of diplomatic overtures over the years (see this and this), and we tell them to go pound sand.

It's recipe for disaster, of course.

But Montgomery sees a bright side -
The good news, such as it is, is that Ahmadinejad's end-times ideology doesn't seem to include any grand territorial ambitions: no "Greater Iran" (Iran is already a greater Iran), no lebensraum in the east. We also have time - time to see how things shake out, to see if the ayatollahs can hamstring their troublesome protégé, to see if the democracy movement can make a political comeback. Time for Ahmadinejad to lose some of his popular shine as Iran's internal problems worsen. Time for our own hardline warmongers to be booted out of power.

But unfortunately, our divinely ordained president may not be prepared to wait (and the last sentence of the preceding paragraph appears to be one of the reasons.) Which means at this point we probably should be worrying less about what happened in Munich in 1938, and more about what happened there in 1972, when the German police moved in and tried to disarm the terrorists.

Multiply that carnage by a thousand, or a million, and you've got more than a political slogan; you've got a war.
But people do worry about what happened in Munich in 1938, and those who question what we're doing and suggest alternatives eventually get morphed in to the sad and sorry Neville Chamberlain - and what about Maria and all those cute kids shivering in the Austrian Alps bravely and softly singing Edelweiss? What about the children? Will no one think of the children!

What about the actual details? Ah well.

You might also want to check out Glenn Greenwald in Fighting all the Hitlers -
To pro-Bush war supporters, the world is forever stuck in the 1930s. Every leader we don't like is Adolf Hitler, a crazed and irrational lunatic who wants to dominate the world. Every country opposed to our interests is Nazi Germany.

From this it follows that every warmonger is the glorious reincarnation of the brave and resolute Winston Churchill. And one who opposes or even questions any proposed war becomes the lowly and cowardly appeaser, Neville Chamberlain. For any and every conflict that arises, the U.S. is in the identical position of France and England in 1937 - faced with an aggressive and militaristic Nazi Germany, will we shrink from our grand fighting duties in appeasement and fear, or will we stand tall and strong and wage glorious war?

With that cartoonish framework in place, war is always the best option. It is the only option for those who are noble, strong, and fearless. Conversely, the sole reason for opposing a war is that one is a weak-minded and weak-willed appeaser who harbors dangerous fantasies of negotiating with madmen. Diplomacy and containment are simply elevated, PC terms for "appeasement." War is the only option that works.
That about sums it up. As in this -
Anyone who opposes this mindlessly militaristic approach simply seeks, of course, to "appease the mullahs."

This sort of cheap equivalence between Hitler and the tyrant de jour is rather disorienting. One minute, Hitler is a singular manifestation of unique and unparalleled evil to which nothing should ever be compared, lest the uniqueness of his atrocities be minimized. The next minute, though, there are nothing but Hitler spawns running around everywhere, and we need to constantly wage war against each of them in order to avoid suffering the fate of 1938 Czechoslovakia and Neville Chamberlain.
But it's an old trick, and Greenwald documents it.

The president's father here in 1990 -
The most significant aspect of Bush's personal demonization of Saddam Hussein was his comparison of the Iraqi leader to Adolph Hitler. Sometimes this comparison was implicit rather than explicit: "In World War II, the world paid dearly for appeasing an aggressor who could have been stopped."

... On one occasion, he even implied that the Iraqi leader was worse than Hitler: "This morning, right now, over three hundred innocent Americans - civilians - are held against their will in Iraq. Many of them are reportedly staked out as human shields near possible military targets, something even Adolph Hitler didn't do."
Richard Perle in the run-up to our second war against Iraq here -
Appearing on the "Meet the Press" on February 23, Bush administration official Richard Perle compared the charade of visits by United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq with the infamous 1944 visit by Red Cross officials to the Nazis' Theresienstadt ghetto, where the performance of the prisoners' orchestra helped lull the visitors into believing that Nazi treatment of the Jews was not so terrible after all. Perle was referring to Saddam Hussein's systematic effort to hide Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

... Perle's remark was the latest in a series of statements by U.S. officials drawing analogies between current events and those of the Nazi era. President Bush, in his speech after the September 11 attacks, said that Muslim terrorists "follow in the path of Nazism." Other U.S. officials have compared European reluctance to confront Saddam with Europe's reluctance to confront Hitler in the 1930s.
Yeah, yeah. And now just transfer the Hitler label to the guy next door and hum a few bars of Edelweiss. Works every time.

Greenwald -
That, of course, is the central strategy, and it is best accomplished through the never tired Hitler imagery. But this sort of mindset is as simplistic as it is manipulative and, as intended, is a rock-solid recipe for eternal war. Not every dictator is irrational and suicidal. Most are not, including the most brutal. Throughout the 20th Century, the U.S. was able quite successfully to contain, negotiate with, and even form discrete common alliances with a whole array of dictators, thugs, murderous cretins and even militaristic madmen.

And the U.S. is not unique in that regard. No country is pure, and every country, driven by rational self-interest, finds ways to achieve co-existence even with the most amoral regimes. The notion that we have to wage war or even threaten war against every hostile, tyrannical government is itself sheer lunacy, and yet that is the premise driving this crusade for more war.

To be sure, Saddam Hussein was a brutal thug who murdered and oppressed his citizens with virtually no limits, etc. etc., but the notion that he was ever in a league with Adolph Hitler in terms of the threats he posed, the capabilities he possessed, or even the ambitions he harbored, was always transparent myth. This equivalence is even more fictitious with regard to Iran, which - although saddled with a highly unpopular president who is clearly malignant and who uses nationalistic rhetoric to boost the morale of his base - is a country that is, in fact, ruled by a council of mullahs which has exhibited nothing but rationality and appears to be guided by nothing other than self-interest.

We were led into invading Iraq by a group of people who are as bloodthirsty as they are historically ignorant. They are stuck in a childish and stunted mental prison where every event, every conflict, every choice is to be seen exclusively through the prism of a single historical event, an event which - for a variety of reasons, some intellectual, some cultural, some psychological - is the only one that has any resonance for them. Even as we are still mired in their last failed war, they are attempting to impose these stunted historical distortions to lead us into a new one.
But it's what they know. And it sells - simplistic and manipulative works. Fictitious equivalences? A transparent myth? Myths have real power. And "The Sound of Music" made over one hundred and sixty-three million dollars (but "Titanic" - about a hopeless disaster - is still number one). Evil fictionalized Nazis sell.

And we're going to war.

How about a little more German?

Bill Montgomery in a second item explains we sort have to go to war, as it's the old flucht nach vorne - the "flight forward." This, he says, "refers to the tendency of both individuals and institutions to seek a way out of a crisis by becoming ever more daring and aggressive (or, as the White House propaganda department might put it: 'bold')."

Or, as he says, it's like the gambler in Vegas, who tries to get out of a hole by doubling down on each successive bet. And everyone in America is mad about poker. There's hours of it on television, what with the endless "World Poker Tour" and "Celebrity Poker" and all. Yes, it's about as exciting to watch as curling, but people do understand it now, and do understand wagering strategies, and bluffing, and far too much else.

As for this flucht nach vorne business, we're reminded of previous examples - "Napoleon's attempt to break the long stalemate with Britain by invading Russia, the decision of the Deep South slaveholding states to secede from the Union after Lincoln's election, and Milosevic's bid to create a 'greater Serbia' after Yugoslavia fell apart."

But real leaders do have to be bold -
The logic is understandable, if malevolent. Instead of creating a secular, pro-American client state in the heart of the Middle East, the invasion of Iraq has destroyed the front-line Arab regime opposing Tehran, installed a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad and vastly increased Iranian influence, not only in Iraq, but throughout the Shi'a world. It's also moved the Revolutionary Guard one step closer to the Kuwaiti and Saudi oil fields - the prize upon which the energy security of the West depends.

By the traditional standards of U.S. foreign policy, this is a fiasco of almost unbelievable proportions. More to the point, the neocons may believe that unless something dramatic is done to recoup those losses, they cannot safely withdraw large numbers of troops from Iraq, since they are A.) the only remaining source of U.S. influence in the country and B.) the only shield against Iranian infiltration of both Iraq and the Shi'a majority regions of Saudia Arabia and the gulf emirates. Yet the military need for such a draw down becomes more critical with each passing day, as the all-volunteer Army is stretched towards its breaking point.

In other words, the administration, and the Pentagon, have gotten themselves into one hell of a jam - militarily, strategically and politically. As desperate and reckless as attempted regime change in Iran might seem to us, to the Cheneyites it may look like the only move left on the board.
So what the heck, double down. We could get lucky. And if we bomb a lot and use nukes, what's the problem? Yes, you can lose it all. But you might win big. You never know.

But we are told that all this talk of a new war with Iran and bombing the snot out of them, and using nukes for the first time since Nagasaki, is just wild speculation. We're going to fix this one with diplomacy. Of course we will not meet with them on any level at any time on any topic. Like the last time, we are urging the UN to do something, and if they prove themselves as hopeless, corrupt and dithering as our new UN ambassador has long said they are, well, what choice will we have? Someone's got to do the right thing.

It's the same old thing. See Gregory Djerejian at "The Belgravia Dispatch" with this. He's done all the legwork and compiled all the denials from the president and top military and civilian folks before the current Iraq war - there are no war plans, we seek a diplomatic solution and all the rest. He provides all the quotes, with links. And he also provides what we know now. The best is the president publicly saying he has no war plans on his desk, when he was deep in discussions of the details of the war plan he had requested. But he didn't lie, of course. It was on the coffee table by the sofa? "Fool me once, shame on you - fool me twice..." You know how that goes.

Greenwald - "...the array of unreliable and misleading statements made with regard to many matters prior to the invasion of Iraq have completely destroyed this government's credibility, making its word automatically subject to serious doubt by any rational person - including, most destructively, its own citizens, in a way that is almost certainly unprecedented in our nation's history."

Maybe so. But if they do that Hitler thing enough, and tap into our memories of Christopher Plummer singing Edelweiss, the doubts will fade. Maybe.

Yep, it's Springtime for Hitler, again.

Posted by Alan at 21:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 18 April 2006 06:22 PDT home

Sunday, 16 April 2006
Hot of the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot of the Virtual Press

Just Above Sunset logoThe new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 16 for the week of April 16, 2006.

This week it's five extended commentaries on current events, from the week beginning with the immigration controversy still hot, then the move to more pressing matters of the week, the upcoming war with Iran, maybe, if it's not already underway, to the revolt of the generals and all the implications of that, to the national narrative changing and the press waking up, or something.

Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, sends a short item with photos from New York, of all places, covering the massive rally in lower Manhattan of all the immigrants, legal and not, and their supporters, saying it sure would be nice to be real Americans. (Then he flew back to Paris.)

There's also one of those infrequent arts columns, some comments on the one hundredth birthday of Samuel Beckett, and the celebrations in Paris, and the lack of notice in Hollywood.

The photography, Easter in Hollywood, and for the pagans, mythological beasts on Melrose Avenue, surrealism on the Sunset Strip, and some nature shots - palms, water studies and the usual botanicals.

Our friend in Texas gives us more of the weird of course, and there are quotes pertaining to this revolt of the generals.

And there are links to two more photography pages at Just Above Sunset Photography.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________


Stormy Monday: Too Much News
Thought Experiment: "When a culture is as historically clueless and morally desensitized as this one appears to be..."
The New Master Narrative: The Hits Keep Coming
Press Notes: Do We Get a Fair Fight This Time?
Something Is Up: The Grand Unified Theory

On the Scene: Somebody Believes in America!
The Arts: Beckett and Hollywood

Southern California Photography ______________________

Easter
Far Out: Mythological Beasts in Hollywood
Fame: The Eye on Sunset Boulevard
Patterns: The Geometry of Palms
Ripples
Botanicals: Easter Blooms

The Weird: WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL
Quotes for the week of April 16, 2006 - The Revolt of the Generals

Also, at Just Above Sunset Photography ______________________

Squirrel's Foot Fern (Davallia trichomanoides)
Diversions: France

Posted by Alan at 16:32 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Saturday, 15 April 2006
The Arts: Beckett and Hollywood
Topic: The Arts

The Arts: Beckett and Hollywood

Full moon over Hollywood, Thursday, April 13, 2006There was a full moon on Thursday, April 13th, the one hundredth birthday of the playwright Samuel Beckett. How odd. The photo at the right is the moon that night floating over the Hollywood Hills. Of course, no one noted this man's birthday much in Hollywood, as his works really could not be turned into movies. Generally plays do not make good movies, or more precisely, good plays make for dull movies, as in various versions of "The Glass Menagerie" not exactly lighting up the box offices across America and so on. Take a fairly crappy stage play, never produced, and you can make a fine movie. The obvious example is "Casablanca" - just voted the best screenplay of all time and based on "Everybody Comes to Rick's" by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, which seems to have never been produced on stage.

Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" was first performed in Paris in 1953 and ran for four hundred performances at the Théâtre de Babylone, and went on to become perhaps the most important play of the twentieth century - but it's not for Hollywood. The man may have who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, but his stuff can't be marketed to those who consume what is produced in these parts.

But Paris is not Hollywood, and on the 13th, as AFP reports here - "In a scene which might have appealed to Samuel Beckett's sense of the absurd, French and Irish fans marked the writer's 100th birthday Thursday at his grave topped with a bowler hat, flowers and a banana."

It was only about forty people in the Montparnasse cemetery, nor far from where Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, hangs his hat. There were reading in French and English which dealt with "Beckett's fundamental themes of birth and death."

The bowler hat, flowers and banana? The characters in "Waiting for Godot" wore bowler hats. In "Krapp's Last Tape" the nearly blind and deaf man lives in a one filthy room, living on bananas. The flowers were just conventional, of course.

AFP background -
Beckett, who was born near Dublin on April 13, 1906, was buried in a simple, granite grave here after his death in December 1989.

Ever struggling to capture the bleakness and futility which he saw in the human condition, Beckett, who moved to Paris in 1937, wrote many of his most memorable works in French first, delighting in the economy forced on him by writing in a foreign language.

Those who marked the 100th anniversary of his birth both in Paris and in a larger ceremony held in Dublin on Thursday, remembered a man, who despite being intensely private, was also generous and kind.

"Beckett was a writer who turned a relentless searchlight on the human condition, directly and courageously, making each of us confront our deepest selves with little help along the way except those flashes of black humour," said Ireland's ambassador to France, Anne Anderson.

... The widow of Beckett's French publisher Jerome Lindon has now donated the French manuscript of "Waiting for Godot" to France's National Library, the library announced on Thursday.

Beckett, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, was "Irish by inspiration and in his imagination, his syntax and his cadence. He was deeply, pervasively Irish," Anderson told the gathering.

But we know how French he was too. He loved France, he chose to live here, he wrote in French, he thought in French. So, French and Irish, we gather together to honor this great man."
It seem that Marianne Alphant, a curator at the Pompidou Centre, is organizing a major Beckett exhibition there for March 2007 (the Los Angeles stuff will be gone by then).

There was no one from Hollywood at the Montparnasse cemetery, or none mentioned, but there were his old neighbors from the village of Ussy-sur-Marne, not far from Paris. And in regard to this man who stunningly portrayed existential angst, and how one can or cannot get along in this sorry world devoid of inherent meaning, one villager, Paule Savane, noted this - "He was very solitary and looking for peace and calm. But every Sunday when the children returned home from their catechism lessons, he always had chocolates and sweets for those who knocked on his door."

The world may be devoid of inherent meaning, but there's no point being a grump when the kids drop by.

A good appreciation can be found here - Richard Ouzounian in the Toronto Star. That opens with this - "He opened the door to what looked like a darkened room and invited us to step inside. Once our eyes grew accustomed to the shadows, we could see things more clearly than ever before. That's the achievement of author Samuel Beckett, who was born 100 years ago this week."

And Ouzounian notes the irony of Beckett's birth in Ireland in 1906 - it was in both Good Friday and Friday the 13th. That about sums it up, as there is this in "Waiting for Godot" - "...one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more."

But the serious part -
Beckett has variously been called a minimalist, an absurdist, an existentialist, a nihilist, a pessimist, an anarchist and an atheist, but he would shrug off all those labels, insisting instead "the words, the words, the words - they speak for themselves." One of the few times he was ever lured into categorizing himself was when someone asked him how he would compare himself to James Joyce, his mentor, friend and fellow Irish literary giant.

"James Joyce was a synthesizer, trying to bring in as much as he could," he said. "I am an analyzer, trying to leave out as much as I can."

What he chose to leave out was what the theatre tended to thrive on in the mid 20th-century: elegant settings, sumptuous costumes, twisting plots, and happy endings.

Instead, he gave us such things as a stage bare except for a single tree, occupied by two shabby tramps waiting for someone who never comes.

On that empty stage and in those tattered souls, he offered us a wealth of brutality, compassion, hope and despair.

Still, he would constantly denigrate the value of his work to anyone who would listen. "What do I know of man's destiny?" he would sneer. "I could tell you more about radishes."

"I have an Irish soul and a French brain," he once laconically quipped. "That explains it all."
But why do all these Irish writers end up in Paris? These two, friends there, and the earlier Irish-born Oscar Wilde (but not his choice exactly). Who knows?

Ouzounian's biographical and literary notes follow, and they're worth a read. And this nugget is cool -
He moved back to Paris in 1937 and kept writing, although his books sold very little and his strongest work from the period, Murphy, took years to find a publisher.

Still, Beckett was starting to form a distinctive voice of his own, though it was nearly stilled forever when a deranged pimp stabbed him through the lung on a Parisian street. Joyce rallied to his side, as did a young woman named Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil, who would soon become Beckett's constant companion, finally marrying him in 1961.

The arrival of World War II brought one of the strangest chapters in the previously apolitical Beckett's life. As the Nazis drew near to his beloved Paris, he never thought of returning to Ireland but instead became radically politicized and joined the Resistance, where he was known by the code name "L'Irlandais."

He would later dismiss his activities as "just Boy Scout stuff," but the French Government awarded him the Croix de Guerre in 1945 "for extreme bravery."
So he was not only nice to kids, he fought the good fight, for the good guys.

And in the fifties he turned to writing fro the stage -
It took four years for actor-director Roger Blin to raise enough money to get En Attendant Godot on stage in Paris, in a decrepit venue in Montparnasse called Théâtre de Babylone.

When it opened in January of 1953, the critics were dismissive and the initial audiences confused. But people kept filling the theatre. There was something that drew them to this simple work about two tramps, a bully, a mute and a little boy, all waiting for someone who never comes.

Director Peter Hall brought it to England, but Ralph Richardson turned down the lead on the advice of John Gielgud, who called the play "rubbish." Richardson was later to pronounce it "the biggest mistake of my career, turning down the greatest play of my generation."

It opened quietly in the summer of 1955, once again to confused reviews and baffled audiences, who still couldn't keep away.

But some of the critics began to grasp the message, and the venerable Harold Hobson in the Sunday Times called it "something that will securely lodge in a corner of your mind as long as you live."

When it opened on Broadway the next year, starring the great comedian Bert Lahr, The New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson, while admitting that the play mystified him, hailed "the strange power this drama has to convey the impression of some melancholy truths about the hopeless destiny of the human race."

Over the decades, Waiting for Godot has proven to be one of the most durable scripts of our time. It has been cast all white, all black and rainbow-hued. Mike Nichols took it on a mad comic ride with Steve Martin and Robin Williams...
Ah Hollywood folks. But still, it's a different sort of thing than is done out here.

Ouzounian quotes Harold Pinter on Beckett, and we see how far from popular entertainment Beckett really was -
He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going, and the more he grinds my nose in the shit, the more I am grateful to him.

He's not fucking me about, he's not leading me up any garden path, he's not slipping me a wink, he's not flogging me a remedy or a path or a revelation or a basinful of breadcrumbs, he's not selling me anything I don't want to buy - he doesn't give a bollock whether I buy or not - he hasn't got his hand over his heart. Well, I'll buy his goods, hook, line and sinker, because he leaves no stone unturned and no maggot lonely. He brings forth a body of beauty.
Yep, Pinter, explaining Beckett, just explained Hollywood.

So the anniversary passed without much notice out here. But the full moon was mighty fine.

Posted by Alan at 17:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 16 April 2006 17:19 PDT home

Friday, 14 April 2006
Something Is Up: The Grand Unified Theory
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Something Is Up: The Grand Unified Theory

As the week ended, Friday, April 14th, those who spend some of their time thinking about what's happening in the country were making efforts to make some sense of the events of the last six days. Setting aside the questions swirling around what we should do about the problem of all these illegal immigrants - a problem not exactly suddenly discovered, but one that now had to be solved before November's mid-term elections when every member of the House and a third of the Senate is up for reelection - and setting aside the new revelations about the CIA leak scandal (it seems that Cheney may have ordered the secret agent exposed and Fitzgerald was after the vice president all along, if you consider this) - the real issues that seemed to puzzle people centered on the New Yorker item Seymour Hersh stunned everyone with last weekend (the item is here and a summary here) - are we planning another preemptive war, this time with Iran, using tactical nuclear weapons to set back their efforts to become a nuclear power, or is this all either, possibly, just the usual contingency planning we always do, or posturing to let them know what we could do, in a heartbeat, if they don't shape up? And then there was the revolt of the generals, six or more now, calling for the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, to resign or be fired. What's up with that? And what does it mean that one of them ran CENTCOM, one the 1st Infantry, one the 82nd Airborne, and one was the head planner for the Joint Chiefs of Staff? It's not like they're minor figures. And then, are the two things connected - did the generals speak up because of this incipient third war, or what the White House will probably explain when the president announces we have just used nuclear weapons on Iran, this third front in the Global War or Terror, or the Long War as they sometimes call it? Yeah, the generals were saying Rumsfeld was micromanaging the war, and doing it badly - tactically, strategically and operationally as one of them said. And yes, one or two of them said the war in Iraq was in itself a bad decision, as Iraq wasn't ever the real problem. And yes, they resented being undermanned, saying so, and having Rumsfeld publicly say no one ever told him such a thing. And they didn't like their men and women dying because of all these things. But why now?

Gee, you might think something is up. Could it be this third war is already underway and these guys want to stop it before it comes to the massive bombing and the nukes, thinking things are just out of control and getting really absurd, and really dangerous? It's possible, but then maybe it's just a coincidence that both stories broke in the same few days.

Or maybe it isn't.

The week ended with usual from Baghdad, as in this - "Two U.S. Marines were killed and 22 wounded - two of them critically - in fighting in western Iraq, the U.S. military said Saturday. It was the biggest number of American casualties reported from a single engagement in weeks."

And that AP item also had this -
Sunni and Kurdish opposition to the Shiite choice of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari for another term has blocked progress toward a new government.

Leaders of the Shiite alliance, the dominant bloc in the legislature, said they would attend Monday's parliament session, called to break the political logjam. Shiite politicians had earlier suggested they would boycott the session unless the dispute over al-Jaafari as well as other political posts that require parliamentary approval were resolved first.
More of our guys die and almost four months after the parliamentary elections they may meet and talk about how to form a government, or meet and shout and bag it for another month.

The generals are miffed, to say the least. You can see why. Just what are we doing?

But that's just immediate context. Shouldn't we talk the long view of things?

Michael Kinsley does that here in an item published Friday morning -
So, after more than half a century of active meddling - protecting our interests, promoting our values, encouraging democracy, fighting terrorism, seeking stability, defending human rights, pushing peace - it's come to this. In Iraq we find ourselves unwilling regents of a society splitting into a gangland of warring militias and death squads, with our side (labeled "the government") outperforming the other side (labeled "the terrorists") in both the quantity and gruesome quality of its daily atrocities. In Iran, an irrational government that hates us with special passion is closer to getting the bomb than Iraq - the country we went to war with to keep from getting the bomb - ever was.

And in Afghanistan - site of the Iraq war prequel that actually followed the script (invade, topple brutal regime, wipe out terrorists, establish democracy, accept grateful thanks, get out) - the good guys we put in power came close, a couple weeks ago, to executing a man for the crime of converting to Christianity. Meanwhile, the bad guys (the Taliban and al-Qaeda) keep a low news profile by concentrating on killing children and other Afghan civilians rather than too many American soldiers.

When the United States should use its military strength to achieve worthy goals abroad is an important question. But based on this record, it seems a bit theoretical. It's like asking whether Donald Trump should use his superpowers to cure AIDS. Or what George W. Bush should say when he wins the Nobel Prize in physics. A more pressing question is: Can't anyone here play this game?
This is followed by discussion of the history of how we've operated in those parts - the story of how Iran once had a democracy of sorts, a parliament balanced by the shah. But when the elected legislature there voted in Mosaddeq as prime minister, who said things about nationalizing the oil industry, the Eisenhower administration had the CIA instigate some riots and stage a coup. So we got the shah in power in 1953, and a bunch of very angry people, all leading to Ayatollah Khomeini and a strict Islamic state in 1979, with the shah ending up retired in Panama, and sixty-six Americans held hostage in Terhan for more than a year in our own embassy.

What about Iraq? Kinsley frames things there this way -
Meanwhile, next door in Iraq, an ambitious young dictator, new to the job, named Saddam Hussein sensed both danger and opportunity in Iran's chaos. So he decided to invade. Thus began the Iran-Iraq war, lasting eight years. It turned hundreds of thousands of people into corpses and millions into refugees. When it was over, nothing had changed. But it wasn't a complete waste. It provided another opportunity for the United States to promote its interests and values.

On the "enemy of my enemy" principle, the United States all but officially backed Iraq. We overlooked Saddam's use of chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers (many of them children), and against his own people. Many of the human rights abuses President Bush and others have invoked two decades later to justify the decision to topple and try Saddam were well publicized in the '80s. But in the '80s, we didn't care. President Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld, then a drug-company executive, as his "special envoy" to tell Saddam that we didn't care.

Meanwhile, of course, Reagan was also secretly selling weapons to Iran.
And course there's Afghanistan. We arm the mujahideen and help them toss out the Russians, and they do, and they morph into the Taliban, and we had to go in and take care of them - "Then we marched into Iraq and got rid of Saddam Hussein. Now we're - well, we haven't figured out what, but we're hopping mad and gonna do something, dammit, about Iran."

So the generals want Rumsfeld out, but it won't make much difference. This brief history gives the facts of the matter. The problem is bigger than this secretary of defense, and perhaps bigger than this administration, although this administration is well on its way topping anything done previously, with some of the same players from the past, like Rumsfeld. It's not that hard to understand how these generals, and others who have been silent so far, might have had enough. What's been done tactically, strategically and operationally for the last fifty years or more has been a bit absurd. Rumsfeld just wants to extend and amplify it all - but when you send troops, for whom you are responsible, out to fight for all this and face death, sometimes enough is enough.

Not that anything will change - "Pulling rank, President Bush on Friday rebuffed recommendations from a growing number of retired generals that he replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. 'He has my full support," said the commander-in-chief." Rumsfeld himself dismissed all the chatter - just three or four people disagree with him, so there's really no problem. Such things happen.

So the president sees no problem, things are going well, our strategy is working, and Rumsfeld is doing just fine. Pay no attention to the generals. What do they know?

And all those reports about the operational plans to nuke Iran are just "wild speculation" - so everyone calm down.

By why all this, now?

Digby over at Hullabaloo has some ideas -
It's obvious to me that this call for Rumsfeld's resignation by six generals is about stopping this operation in Iran first and foremost. It is not a coincidence that the first salvo came from Sy Hersh last Sunday.

The question I had to ask myself was whether it was really about the nuclear thing or something more that had the military up in arms. In reading back over Hersh's articles of the last year or so, it became quite clear to me that this has something to do with the fact that Bush instituted the plan to invade Iran more than a year ago when he believed he had been crowned Emperor in the 2004 elections - and that the plan has gone forward without any consideration of changing circumstances on the ground in Iraq. Furthermore, the plan itself comes from the same comic book from which Rummy and Newtie cooked up their RMA fantasy about invading Iraq with only 30,000 troops, a cell phone and a toothpick.

And the beauty of it is, the clandestine operation on which it depends has been folded into the Pentagon and has no congressional oversight.
What?

Well, there is this from the same New Yorker reporter back in February 2005 (emphases added) -
George W. Bush's reelection was not his only victory last fall. The President and his national security advisers have consolidated control over the military and intelligence communities' strategic analyses and covert operations to a degree unmatched since the rise of the post-Second World War national security state. Bush has an aggressive and ambitious agenda for using that control against the mullahs in Iran and against targets in the ongoing war on terrorism during his second term. The C.I.A. will continue to be downgraded, and the agency will increasingly serve, as one government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon put it, as "facilitators" of policy emanating from President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. This process is well under way.

Despite the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, the Bush Administration has not reconsidered its basic long range policy goal in the Middle East: the establishment of democracy throughout the region. Bush's reelection is regarded within the Administration as evidence of America's support for his decision to go to war. It has reaffirmed the position of the neoconservatives in the Pentagon's civilian leadership who advocated the invasion, including Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Douglas Feith, the Under-secretary for Policy. According to a former high level intelligence official, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly after the election and told them, in essence, that the naysayers had been heard and the American people did not accept their message. Rumsfeld added that America was committed to staying in Iraq and that there would be no second guessing.

"This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone," the former high level intelligence official told me. "Next, we're going to have the Iranian campaign. We've declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah - we've got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism."

Bush and Cheney may have set the policy, but it is Rumsfeld who has directed its implementation and has absorbed much of the public criticism when things went wrong whether it was prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib or lack of sufficient armor plating for G.I.s' vehicles in Iraq. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have called for Rumsfeld's dismissal, and he is not widely admired inside the military. Nonetheless, his reappointment as Defense Secretary was never in doubt.

Rumsfeld will become even more important during the second term. In interviews with past and present intelligence and military officials, I was told that the agenda had been determined before the Presidential election, and much of it would be Rumsfeld's responsibility. The war on terrorism would be expanded, and effectively placed under the Pentagon's control. The President has signed a series of findings and executive orders authorizing secret commando groups and other Special Forces units to conduct covert operations against suspected terrorist targets in as many as ten nations in the Middle East and South Asia.

The President's decision enables Rumsfeld to run the operations off the books free from legal restrictions imposed on the C.I.A. Under current law, all C.I.A. covert activities overseas must be authorized by a Presidential finding and reported to the Senate and House intelligence committees. (The laws were enacted after a series of scandals in the nineteen seventies involving C.I.A. domestic spying and attempted assassinations of foreign leaders.) "The Pentagon doesn't feel obligated to report any of this to Congress," the former high-level intelligence official said. "They don't even call it 'covert ops' it's too close to the C.I.A. phrase. In their view, it's 'black reconnaissance.' They're not even going to tell the cincs" the regional American military commanders-in-chief. (The Defense Department and the White House did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)

In my interviews, I was repeatedly told that the next strategic target was Iran. "Everyone is saying, 'You can't be serious about targeting Iran. Look at Iraq,' " the former intelligence official told me. "But they say, 'We've got some lessons learned not militarily, but how we did it politically. We're not going to rely on agency pissants.' No loose ends, and that's why the C.I.A. is out of there."
The obvious conclusion? After the last election, which the president interpreted as a mandate on all he had done and said he would do, he authorized a covert war with Iran, with no congressional oversight and without the cooperation of the commanders-in-chief. As Digby says - "This makes Iran-Contra look like the Canuck letter." (Only politcial junkies and policy wonks will get that, of course.)

Digby's conclusion -
These retired generals are speaking for a military establishment that has been used like monopoly money by Rummy his fellow magical thinkers (like his "advisor" Newt Gingrich) who have spent the last five years attempting to destroy the military with their useless, incompetent war planning and their surreal Toffler-esque vision of a military that doesn't require an actual army.

I realize that the armed forces always resist change. But I think it's fair to assume, considering the Iraq cock-up, that Rummy doesn't know what in the hell he's doing. The military is finally saying "enough." We are witnessing a coup by media.

The congress has completely abdicated its oversight responsibility, the media is shallow and incompetent, our allies are considered irrelevant, the UN is being run by a nutcase even more far-out than Rummy and the wishes of the people are, as usual, not considered. It looks like the only institution in America that can bring us back from the brink of a tragic, tragic mistake is the military itself.

If these guys can't get through, and it doesn't appear that they will, then it's time for some of these active duty officers to resign in protest. It would take a lot of guts, but that's their business, right?
We'll see about that, but Rumsfeld stays, because "the problem may be that Bush can't replace the person who is running his secret war."

Now there's an interesting take on things - we are not considering war with Iran. We've been waging war for there for two years, but no one was supposed to know.

Maybe so.

Digby also notes Colonel Sam Gardiner, the retired colonel who taught at the National War College, the Air War College and the Naval Warfare College, on CNN, Friday, April 14th, in this exchange with Jim Clancy, CNN's International Anchor (emphases added here too) -
CLANCY: Well, Colonel Gardiner, from what you're saying, it would seem like military men, then, might be cautioning, don't go ahead with this. But what are the signs that are out there right now? Is there any evidence of any movement in that direction?

GARDINER: Sure. Actually, Jim, I would say -- and this may shock some -- I think the decision has been made and military operations are under way.

CLANCY: Why?

GARDINER: And let me say this - I'm saying this carefully. First of all, Sy Hersh said in that article which was...

CLANCY: Yes, but that's one unnamed source.

GARDINER: Let me check that. Not unnamed source as not being valid.

The way "The New Yorker" does it, if somebody tells Sy Hersh something, somebody else in the magazine calls them and says, "Did you tell Sy Hersh that?" That's one point.

The second point is, the Iranians have been saying American military troops are in there, have been saying it for almost a year. I was in Berlin two weeks ago, sat next to the ambassador, the Iranian ambassador to the IAEA. And I said, "Hey, I hear you're accusing Americans of being in there operating with some of the units that have shot up revolution guard units."

He said, quite frankly, "Yes, we know they are. We've captured some of the units, and they've confessed to working with the Americans."

The evidence is mounting that that decision has already been made, and I don't know that the other part of that has been completed, that there has been any congressional approval to do this.

My view of the plan is, there is this period in which some kinds of ground troops will operate inside Iran, and then what we're talking about is the second part, which is this air strike.

CLANCY: All right. You lay this whole scenario, but there are still a lot of caution flags that one would see out here.

GARDINER: Sure. True.

CLANCY: If they do decide on a military option...

GARDINER: Right?

CLANCY: ... what's the realistic chance of success? What's your - your prognosis for that kind of reaction here?

GARDINER: Yes. Let me give you two answers to that. First of all, the chance of getting the facilities and setting back the program, I think the chances go from maybe two years to actually accelerating the program. You know, we could cause them to redouble their efforts. That's on one side.

The other side is this sort of horizontal escalation by the Iranians.

My assessment is - and it's because of regime problems at home - that if we strike, they're likely to want to blame Israel. Now that's - because that sells well at home.

Blaming Israel means that there's a chance that we could see Hezbollah, Hamas targeting Israel. We could very easily see this thing escalate into a broader Middle East war, particularly when you add Muslim rage.

You know, if you take the cartoon problem and multiply it times a hundred - you know, the Danish cartoons, you could see how we could end up very quickly with a very serious problem in the Middle East.

CLANCY: Former U.S. Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner. Not a very rosy outlook here. A man who thinks the decision may have already been made.
Digby - "My tin foil hat is beeping and honking like crazy right now. These generals coming forward is huge. I really think it's possible that Bush and Rummy have already got a secret war going on, one that has not been revealed to congress in any form. It's designed that way. Bush is not going to fire Rummy - he can't. He's already committed himself to this thing. This could be the ultimate action of the unitary executive."

That would explain things. It's an odd sort of grand unifying theory.

But there's an even grander unifying theory of what this is all about, as Arthur Silber in "The Power of Narrative" explains here -
... an attack on Iran, even if confined to the use of conventional weapons, would confirm beyond the point of any remaining dispute that we have abandoned all the constraints on military action that the world has accepted for some time. We would make indisputably clear that we believe we have the "right" to make war on any nation, at any time, and on the merest whim. The existence of a threat to the United States is irrelevant and unnecessary to our actions. In effect, we will have declared war on the entire world, at least by implication. No one will be able to view themselves as safe: those we consider allies today might be viewed as enemies tomorrow. All concepts of "right" and "morality" would be jettisoned forever. We will have entered a world where brute force and military superiority are all that matter. Since no other nation can view itself as safe from our wrath, we can expect the rest of the world to make plans accordingly.

When the unprovoked, aggressive and non-defensive use of nuclear weapons is added to this picture, we will have entered a world of potential global holocaust.

... we like to tell ourselves that the United States represents the highest point of human development. ... Since we have the best solution to human existence, it is our right - indeed, our obligation - to share it with the rest of the world. At this critical juncture in history, anyone who gives a damn at all must step beyond partisanship: this perspective is not limited to the right or the left. It is a Western perspective, found in its most extreme form in the United States.

... It is this same perspective that results in our political leaders, whether Republican or Democrat, and in most Americans minimizing the horror of an attack on Iran, or of our war on Iraq. The worst criticism to be offered about the catastrophe in Iraq by most members of the political establishment is that it was handled "incompetently." They are unable to say that our invasion of Iraq was immoral at the core, because they refuse to surrender the belief that we act for the "right reasons" and on behalf of history's "ultimate solution," which only we have. We may execute the plan remarkably poorly, but it can never be doubted that we had "good intentions."

The same kind of thinking will cause them to minimize the meaning of an aggressive, non-defensive use of nuclear weapons. Since many of the national Democrats have been out-hawking Bush on the question of Iran's potential nuclear capability, probably the strongest criticism they will offer will be that we should have tried diplomacy longer, and that it was not yet the time for military action. But they will not dispute that Iran cannot be "allowed" to have nuclear weapons - because they will not dispute that it is our "right" to dictate the course of events across the entire world, even if those events do not directly threaten us. And no politician will dare to say that we will have ushered in a new Dark Ages and a time of barbarism, because that would directly call into question America's innate "goodness" and "nobility." That can never be permitted, even as nuclear clouds spread across the globe - clouds that we first created.
But we are exceptional aren't we? We can nuke the bad guys and irradiate the region, because it's the right thing to do.

Well, yes and no -
We may tell ourselves that we have the "right" to engage in monstrous acts on this scale because of our "exceptionalism," and the majority of Americans and our political leaders may successfully delude themselves on that point. Let us grant the fantasists their rationalization: let us say that we are that "exceptional," and that we do possess history's "ultimate solution." Even if that were true, it does not change the brute reality on the ground: if we can make that argument, others can as well. And make no mistake: they will. If we can repeatedly engage in aggressive, non-defensive war - and if we can use nuclear weapons offensively - other countries will make the same arguments. Self-justification is not our exclusive domain. We may want to believe that we can control events across the world: the last few years have demonstrated conclusively that we cannot control events even within Iraq. But if we continue to seek to control events on a worldwide scale in the manner we do today, we will achieve one end at some point: destruction of a kind that will make the twentieth century pale in comparison.

It is understandable that most people prefer not to grasp the full nature of the situation in which we now find ourselves. The possible end of civilization as all of us have known it, either in slow motion or on a faster schedule, is almost impossible to comprehend. It is the material of science fiction, not of real life. But whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, this is the nature of where we are today, and this is the critical historic juncture at which we stand.
Too broad? Okay, a bunch of general are mad at Rumsfeld, but that will settle down, and that reporter from the New Yorker is just too excitable, as we're doing all sorts of diplomatic stuff, even if we refuse to speak with anyone in Iranian government. And the war is going well - we're winning. And things will be just fine.

Oh, and it rained all day here in Los Angeles.

rain on the roof in Hollywood


Posted by Alan at 22:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 14 April 2006 22:29 PDT home

Thursday, 13 April 2006
Do We Get a Fair Fight This Time?
Topic: NOW WHAT?

Do We Get a Fair Fight This Time?

Elsewhere, in The New Master Narrative, there is a discussion of all these retired generals, the big guns, publicly calling for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to resign, or for the president to fire him. Four of them. Obviously this is extraordinary, and it's hard to recall anything like this. Of course Harry Truman fired Douglas MacArthur in April of 1951 - but that was because MacArthur was insubordinate, not just making strategic decisions on his own, but showboating as he did. MacArthur wasn't terribly subtle - he seemed to enjoy implying the president was an unqualified fool in way over his head. What did MacArthur expect to happen? So late in the month, that same April, MacArthur gave his famous retirement speech to congress (audio here) about "just fading away." And that he did.

This April, fifty-five years later, none of these generals show any sides of fading away at all. But unlike MacArthur, they don't seem to have political ambitions (MacArthur ran for president in 1952). They seem to be angry at how badly things in Iraq are going.

Do they want things to go better, or do they hope when all this is analyzed and assessed - how we took over Iraq and didn't quite manage to force the stunned Iraqis to form a secular, western-style democracy with a free-market, deregulated economy, and that was friendly to us - they won't get blamed? Or are they just angry at the waste and the death of the men they led there in good faith? Maybe it's a mix of all that.

But the note, on the four generals calling for Rumsfeld to just go away so someone who actually knew what he was doing could take over, was a note on the state of play mid-week, late Wednesday night in Los Angeles. Thursday, April 13th the four became six - "Two more retired generals called for Rumsfeld's resignation on Thursday. Retired Army Major Gen. John Riggs told National Public Radio that Rumsfeld fostered an 'atmosphere of arrogance.' Retired Army Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack told CNN that Rumsfeld micromanaged the war. 'We need a new secretary of defense,' he said."

Something is up. Many of course are pointing back to one of Rumsfeld's Rules, those "How to Succeed in Washington" insights that got a lot of play in early 2000 when he took his post. The one people now point to is this - "Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the President and do wonders for your performance."

That's not going to happen, as we see here -
The White House came to the aid of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday, rebuffing calls from several retired generals for his resignation and crediting him with leading the Pentagon through two wars and a transformation of the military.

"The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation's history," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said at a briefing. He went on to read long quotations from the nation's top military officer, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, praising Rumsfeld's dedication and patriotism.
But what will Peter Pace say when her retires? He knows better than to say anything about his civilian boss right now. You don't trash your boss, at least publicly.

Of course no one is questioning Rumsfeld's dedication and patriotism in the slightest. The problem seems to be his judgment, and his way of managing a giant organization. Perhaps Pace is being subtle, and one day will be the seventh general to say the man is useless when he's not dangerous. Or not.

There are a lot of odd dynamics here. Some might worry that having generals, even if they are retired, having some say in who the civilian boss should be, is dangerous, although this seems to be a call for just a set of minimum criteria for the job. But it's troubling. We don't want the military to run the country, do we? That's not how we do things. And, on the other hand, since the secretary of defense serves at the pleasure of the president, and does what the president wants (or what he's been told he wants), who are these generals, the workers really, to question even the details of the implementation of national policy that is set by those far above their pay grade? That's not their job. Thirdly, since the military implements the strategic decisions of the civilian leadership, for some who see the military as, obviously, the armed portion of the Republican Party, at least the neoconservative wing of the party, this is maddening. Next there will be people in the armed services, here and there, who actually vote for Democrats. As unlikely as that seemed before, there's something in the air.

What's in the air? People aren't doing what that should. In the run up to the Iraq war the administration could feed a few tidbits to their plant at the New York Times, Judy Miller, and there'd be that story about Saddam's chemical weapons, or his efforts to build a nuclear weapon or three (Miller was big mainly on the chemical thing). Cheney and Rice and Powell could then go on the Sunday talk shows and say we really, really, really had to go to war immediately - even the liberal Times was reporting on the obvious danger to us all, after all. Cool. Very clever. And the rest of the news media fell in line - the Times is the nation's most authoritative paper after all. And too, you had to report such things, or re-report them, as those who questioned some of what was said were "on the side of the terrorists" or "hated America" and all that. Investigative reporting, the examination of all the facts, was left to the foreign press, and the Knight-Ridder papers. The curious and inquisitive, who wanted to know all of what was going on, and the skeptical, and the left, ended up on the net reading The Guardian (UK) and the Philadelphia Inquirer, but you never mentioned that to your friends at work - too dangerous. And God help you if you logged onto Al Jazeera to see what they were saying about things.

But times have changed.

Now the press isn't playing along, and the planted stories are just not getting traction any longer.

Well, the evidence is meager, but there is evidence for that.

The administration seems to be beating the drum for the next war, the one where we take out Iran's nuclear sites with tactical nuclear weapons. Of course they may just be sending a "don't toy with us" massage and would never launch an unprovoked nuclear strike on a nation without nuclear weapons and still in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty they did sign, even if they do bluster a lot. But it sure feels like a repeat of the first time around, even down to the "we don't want war" and "we want a diplomatic solution" stuff. Been there, done that - got the t-shirt. Here we go again.

And the methods are the same.

Early Thursday, April 13th, if you went to Matt Drudge's site, Drudge Report, the giant headline was "Could Iran Produce A Nuclear Bomb In Just 16 Days?" Alarming, but this was the guy who broke the Monica Lewinsky story that got Clinton impeached, so he does get a scoop now and then.

Drudge's source was this, carried in Bloomberg News - Stephen Rademaker, the assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation (John Bolton's old job before Bolton became our UN ambassador), tells reporters in Moscow that Iran could "produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in sixteen days." All they need is 50,000 centrifuges.

Sixteen days? It must be time to use the nukes for the first time since Nagasaki. We don't want to see Tel Aviv a radioactive pile of rubble before the month is out.

So did that item get screamed across the pages of the American press?

Not exactly. Peter Baker at the Washington Post decided to look at the numbers here - Iran's big claim is that they now have a network of one hundred sixty-four centrifuges working together now, perfectly, enriching uranium to 3.5 percent. That needs to be ninety percent to be useful, and they're a tad short of equipment. Of course they do say within a year they hope to have three thousand centrifuges all humming along in harmony, and one day they may have 54,000, but in the Post Parker notes getting all 54,000 working together, perfectly synchronized, is "no small feat." So start your sixteen days when they get all that worked out.

And over at the New York Times, William J. Broad, Nazila Fathi and Joel Brinkley work on exorcizing the ghost of Judy Miller with this, saying Iran just does have the materials to build the centrifuges themselves - "It took Tehran 21 years of planning and seven years of sporadic experiments, mostly in secret, to reach its current ability to link 164 spinning centrifuges in what nuclear experts call a cascade. Now, Tehran has to achieve not only consistent results around the clock for many months and years but even higher degrees of precision and mass production. It is as if Iran, having mastered a difficult musical instrument, now faces the challenge of making thousands of them and creating a very large orchestra that always plays in tune and in unison."

You have to love the musical comparison, even if Judy Miller is probably seething.

So the press is not falling in line, at least on this one. It's details and facts this time around? Seems so.

But when you cannot use the "news" sections of the papers, you still can use the op-ed pages - there you need not deal with pesky facts. The Post editorial the same day has this - "Some in Washington cite a U.S. intelligence estimate that an Iranian bomb is 10 years away. In fact the low end of that same estimate is five years, and some independent experts say three."

No facts there. Just "be afraid, be very afraid."

The editors don't seem to read their own paper, or they know it's still not safe to seem "soft" on the bad guys by citing facts - they're worried about their circulation figures if they question this wildly popular president, or worried the White House will say bad things about them and stop giving them inside scoops? Or they still think it's 2002 or something.

They should drop by the newsroom more often and glance at the copy, and read the polling on this wildly popular president, and consider what those leaks, that great insider access, did for the reputation of their great rival, the New York Times.

But we seem to be on the path to war again, no matter what the news media do this time around. And this time we probably will use nukes, at least that was the import of the New Yorker item Seymour Hersh stunned everyone with last weekend (the item is here and a summary here).


Some people are upset we'd launch a nuclear war "on speculation" and others wonder what it is with the president - all that messianic stuff and his saying he wants "to bomb Iran to secure his legacy" a legacy as the only president with the guts to stop the fundamentalist madmen for developing nuclear weapons they could use to... start a war for no good reason when they we're attacked? It seems the man is a bit dangerous. And what people say, and what the press reports with all its facts, just doesn't matter.

Here's an odd view. Matthew Yglesias thinks it's not Bush -
Rather, there's a widespread view on the American right that it's always a mistake to reach diplomatic agreements with "evil" regimes. There's also a widespread view on the American right that, contra the examples of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, nuclear deterrence won't work against "crazy" leaders. At the intersection of those two opinions is the conclusion that we ought to be very, very, very, very willing to use unilateral preventative military force against countries that have nuclear weapons programs or that we merely vaguely suspect of having nuclear weapons programs. Both of those ideas are foolish and dangerously wrong, but they're also widespread - not private oddball notions of Bush's. If liberals want to push this country's foreign policy in a better direction over the next five-to-ten years, we need to attack the whole network of ideas (including a non-trivial number of ideas whose origins are inside the Democratic coalition) that gave us the Iraq War and that threaten to give us the Iran War.

Bush's poor leadership skills have made and continue to make things worse than they might otherwise be, but the basic problems here are much bigger than the man himself.
Yep, it's the whole ideology, and the Democrats too afraid to question it, for fear of losing the votes of the "we need no facts" patriots.

Digby at Hullabaloo has this -
There has been a substantial amount of brainwashing done on the American public that needs to be immediately countered. These ideas have been floated in the media as American policy for years now. It doesn't sound in the least bit jarring or inappropriate to many of the public.

... Iran is a member of the axis 'o evil. It is, therefore, already presumed to be batshit crazy and the new president has certainly helped with his holocaust denial and loony rhetoric. It will not be that difficult for Bush and his minions to transfer their earlier madman images to Iran.

The idealistic portion of the neocon fantasy has probably been discredited: creating democracy from the ground up through unilateral invasion and occupation is now seen as a non-starter by everyone but George W. Bush. But the dark side of the PNAC wet dream is alive and well. They are still convinced that there is only one way for America to maintain its hegemony (and by God it must be maintained) and that is for it to militarily dominate the world. Furthermore, they believe that they must constantly demonstrate American military might to sustain the world's belief in its overwhelming power. After out little boo-boo in Iraq, it may now be important to these people that we demonstrate our awesome, unmatched air power. Eventually a little nuke action might be necessary too. The only way to protect America from the boogeyman is to prove over and over again that we are willing and eager to use force.

We may very well have a president named John McCain after 2008, or some other Republican with a chip on his shoulder. They don't have to be card carrying neocons to buy into this notion. The Bush administration is still busily dismantling the post WWII system and Pax Americana, so far, is the only thing ready to take its place.

Democrats have a lot of good ideas, but until they develop a cogent narrative to counter the dominant neocon story, we are going to be in danger of this "madman" rhetoric rearing its ugly head every time the Republicans need a little boost in the polls or feel it's time to show some muscle and remind everyone who's in charge.
And there's Greg Saunders here -
If you're a Democrat, you might want to figure out how you're going to vote in the Iranian War Resolution of 2006. "What war resolution?" you might ask, but don't be so naive. We all know that from a marketing standpoint you don't introduce a new product in August... I mean, April. Right now we're in the viral part of the marketing campaign. Just like you can't sell floor cleaner to someone who doesn't think they have a dirty floor, you're not going to convince people to nuke Iran without making an argument that they've got it coming.

Seriously, how would Democrats respond to a use of force resolution against Iran? The obvious answer would be to oppose it on the grounds that the Bush Administration has already shown itself to be dishonest and incompetent with Iraq, but do the Democrats in D.C. have the guts to vote against a war resolution, especially when it concerns a country that, in contrast to Saddam Hussein's caginess, is openly flaunting its nuclear technology? Considering that it was a Democratic Senate that gave Bush the authorization to invade Iraq in 2002, I have my doubts about whether the current slate would be willing to risk looking weak on national security in order to do the right thing.

Things look peachy for the Democrats right now, seven months out from the midterm elections, but let's not confuse disgust with the GOP with an infatuation for Dems. Even now with all of the troubles the GOP has had, I'd be willing to bet they're a scare tactic away from regaining their strength in the polls. If the Democrats want to win in November, they need to start connecting the dots for the American people before they get put on the spot. It's not enough to wring your hands in public and hope for the best, you've got to make the case again and again that Republicans are wrong for the country and that they can't be trusted with another war. If you must, make jokes like "The Bush Administration wants to bring their Hurricane Katrina style of leadership to Iran," but do something. Please.
Why not? The press is waking up. And the polling shows this next war will be a hard sell. The public isn't buying the scare tactics this time - this will have to be really, really scary this time around.

It might be time to slow this all down.

You might check out "William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security" in the Post with his latest -
The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has been conducting theater campaign analysis for a full scale war with Iran since at least May 2003, responding to Pentagon directions to prepare for potential operations in the "near term."

The campaign analysis, called TIRANNT, for "theater Iran near term," posits an Iraq-like maneuver war between U.S. and Iranian ground forces and incorporates lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In addition to the TIRANNT effort and the Marine Corps Karona invasion scenario I discussed yesterday, the military has also completed an analysis of Iran's missile force (the "BMD-I" study), the Defense Intelligence Agency has updated "threat data" for Iranian forces, and Air Force planners have modeled attacks against "real world" Iranian air defenses and targets to establish new metrics. What is more, the United States and Britain have been conducting war games and contingency planning under a Caspian Sea scenario that could also pave the way for northern operations against Iran.

... The President of the United States insists that all options are on the table while the Secretary of Defense insists it "isn't useful" to discuss American options.

... I think this sends the wrong message to Tehran. ...The United States military is really, really getting ready, building war plans and options, studying maps, shifting its thinking. It is not in our interests to have Tehran not understand this.
And there's this - on the orders of Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and bypassing the State Department (pissing them off no end), the terrorist group Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is being used for special ops in Iran to pave the way for a military strike.
According to all three intelligence sources, military and intelligence officials alike were alarmed that instead of securing a known terrorist organization, which has been responsible for acts of terror against Iranian targets and individuals all over the world - including US civilian and military casualties - Rumsfeld under instructions from Cheney, began using the group on special ops missions into Iran to pave the way for a potential Iran strike.

"They are doing whatever they want, no oversight at all," one intelligence source said.
There's much more here, but the game is afoot. And the press may be changing sides, and the generals too, and maybe even one or two Democrats.

It's the realists versus the idealists. This time it may be a fair fight.

Posted by Alan at 22:40 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 13 April 2006 22:57 PDT home

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