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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, 25 July 2006
Root Causes
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Root Causes
Tuesday, July 25, 2006, the root cause of all the recent troubles in the Middle East became clear -
Are Israel's troubles in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon and the Hezbollah rockets slamming daily into major Israeli population centers here a result of the Jewish state's tacit support for a homosexual parade slated for next month in Jerusalem?

Some rabbis seem to think so, and they are attempting to block the event from taking place in Judaism's holiest city.

"Why does this war break out this week, all of sudden with little warning? Because this is the exact week the Jewish people are trying to decide whether the gay pride parade should take place in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv," Pinchas Winston, a noted author, rabbi and lecturer based in Jerusalem…

… Winston is one of many rabbinic leaders here to blast the World Pride Parade, a mass international gathering of homosexual, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people scheduled Aug. 6-12.

… Lazer Brody, an author and dean of the Breslov Rabbinical College in Ashdod, Israel, concurred with Winston.

"When God's presence is in the camp, nothing can happen to the Jewish people," Brody stated. "But If the Jewish people bring impurity into the camp of Israel, this chases away God's presence."

Brody contends the "removal of God's presence" led to the recent violence here, but he said he still feels the Jewish state is being protected.

"Over 1,000 Katyusha rockets have been fired thus far, and the damage has been equivalent to scratches," Brody said.
But what will happen if the gay pride parade isn't blocked?

Didn't Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, one or the other, or maybe both, say the same sort of thing back in September 2001 - that what happened in Manhattan and down at the Pentagon was God showing us that he was angry with us all for tolerating gay people? What with those guys, and these rabbis, and the recent public hangings in Iran of young gay men, something is up. Things will be better when we become pure and pious, or something. When men of deep faith are in charge, or can manipulate public policy, things get a little strange. But then, maybe God really does hate the gay folks He created, and all three sides here - Christian evangelicals, ultra-orthodox Jews, and the Muslim fundamentalists - see things more clearly than those who think secular tolerance is fine and that whatever Lars and Spanky do in their place down the block is their business, and of no concern.

Of course these "people of faith" agree with each other. That's odd. But they do see God intervening down here all the time.

Yes, they're peas in a pod, but then, why belabor that particular point? Choose your favorite subset of the fundamentalist vision of the truth of things. That's what the world offers these days. We like ours - we are doing God's work in this world - and the others like their vision of what God wants. Someone's got it wrong, or God is laughing his ass off, or he left long ago, having other things to do.

The funny thing is that there are those who want what is happening in the world to all to make sense in empirical terms. That would mean that instead of assuming God's hand in all of human life, rewarding the those who worship him best (one assumes He really likes that) and punishing those who really tick Him off, you'd turn to reviewing actual events without assuming they were the result of interventions from above. You'd look at national policies, and the motivations of the key leaders, and their personalities, and who would gain what from doing this or that in the world - economics and trade, matters of security and influence - all that stuff. And that's tedious. A jealous and angry God isn't.

And some things just don't make sense. Whether or not caused by the gay folks about to descend on Tel-Aviv or not, the seemingly incomprehensible event of Tuesday, July 25, was this - an Israeli air raid in south Lebanon killed four UN military observers in an attack that United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan described as "apparently deliberate." Yep, he was ticked off, and added - "This coordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long established and clearly marked UN post at Khiam occurred despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that U.N. positions would be spared Israeli fire." And for the record - "The dead included observers from Canada, Austria, China and Finland, a senior Lebanese military official said."

So what game is up here? Was this just an accident? Was it a message to the UN? Was it God punishing the UN for not much liking John Bolton, the man our born-again president sent up there to kick ass and take names? As for it being an accident, the professionalism and skill of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is legendary, and they have all that high-tech command and control and targeting we sold them - we trained them and they must still have the user manuals. As for sending a message, the Israelis over the weekend had said they'd accept a NATO force to manage the neutralizing of the Hezbollah threat to Israel and stop fighting when that was in place, and this isn't exactly welcoming to any third party.

Or maybe they just aren't that professional, as Bill Montgomery notes here -
The last time the Israelis and Hizbullah went at it in a major way, in 1996, the IDF accidentally (I think) lobbed an artillery shell into a U.N. compound, killing 102 Lebanese civilian refugees. It brought the whole operation to a crashing halt - just as the 1982 massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut brought the curtain down on Ariel Sharon's big production.

… If I were the Israelis, I'd stick to punching holes in the tops of ambulances. If you really are looking to encourage NATO peacekeepers to plunk their behinds down in southern Lebanon, this ain't the right way to do it.
No, it isn't. And the Israeli government is now officially outraged at Kofi Annan for saying this was deliberate. He was told that observation post would not come under fire - he had the top level promise - so this was incompetence. No, that cannot be right. It might have something to do with the gay pride parade? Who knows?

Of course this might just be what Montgomery calls War by Tantrum.

The text for that particular sermon is this in the Jerusalem Post -
A high-ranking IAF officer caused a storm on Monday in an off-record briefing during which he told reporters that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz had ordered the military to destroy 10 buildings in Beirut in retaliation to every Katyusha rocket strike on Haifa.
And the sermon goes like this -
For every one of ours; ten of yours. In Roman times, it was a hundred.

Morality aside (since terror now seems to be the order of the day on both sides) this is a very bad sign for the Israelis. It has the smell of panic about it. It's like the 1972 Christmas bombings of Hanoi - an exercise that served no rational purpose other than to vent Richard Nixon's rage at his own inability to bend the North Vietnamese government to his will.

The difference is that Nixon could get away with it - he'd just won a landslide re-election, and the destruction of Hanoi wasn't being covered in real time by every television network on the planet. But in Beirut, now, an order like this is almost the equivalent of asking for terms. It's as if the Israelis were deliberately trying to do something so horrible it would force our idiot president to demand an immediate cease fire in place: Please stop us, because we can't stop ourselves.
That seems a bit too farfetched… maybe. But more likely the IDF Chief of Staff just lost it. This whole "airpower solves everything" business is just not working out.

Montgomery suggests more -
Halutz should be relieved of duty, just as the head of the Israel's Northern Command should be relieved for the original ambush that led to this fiasco. But people who know a lot more about Israeli politics than I do are pretty sure they won't be - both because of the PR blowback and because neither the Prime Minister nor his Defense Minister have the military leadership credentials to fire two ranking commanders in the middle of a war.

If so, then it's another sign of the dry rot that seems to have crept into the Israeli political and military establishment since the Jewish state last fought a major war. This isn't just a matter of military hubris - the inability to adapt to the realities of fourth generation war. The IDF is showing signs of more fundamental problems, like an almost obsessive reluctance to take casualties, which translates into extreme cautiousness, at both the strategic and tactical levels - "The Israelis prefer to stay away from those bunkers, the soldiers said, instead calling in coordinates so forces massed behind the border can hit them with guided missiles."

… One would think that with dozens if not hundreds of rockets falling daily on Israeli towns and cities, the IDF and the Israeli public would have the motivation and the determination to close with enemy - if that's the only way to get the job done. At least, that's what I thought would happen. But it's beginning to look like Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, may have had at least a bit of point when he compared Israel's military will to a spider's web.

Certainly, having the IDF Chief of Staff call for terrorist reprisal bombings - which almost certainly would have absolutely no effect on Hezbollah's will to fight - doesn't do anything to change that impression. One can have some sympathy for the Israelis, who love life and don't want to die (although that hasn't stopped them from killing a lot of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians) but considering the stakes, a little more aggressiveness on the ground, against an enemy who can shoot back, would seem to be in order. Unless that is, the Israelis really do want a cease fire sooner rather than later, in which case the psychological map of the Middle East has just been completely redrawn.
Maybe it's none of this, and more like this -
Bush and the public assumed that the army knew what it was doing, and that Israel, with its superiority in manpower, weaponry and technology, would be able to put an end to Hezbollah as a menace to Israel. Little by little, however, a worrying picture has begun to emerge: Instead of an army that is small but smart, we are catching glimpses of an army that is big, rich and dumb.
Maybe so. Or maybe not. There are some inexpiable things going on. It may be a real error to think it all makes sense, empirically or theologically.

Some things are easier to figure out. Sunday the 23rd the president had the Saudis drop in for a chat, asking them to work on getting Syria to stop supporting Hezbollah, as his grand insight is that if Syria just "stops all this shit" everything will be over. It's quite simple. People have made it far too complicated. That Saudis wanted an immediate ceasefire, but he told them that wasn't going to happen, so quit whining and do something about Syria.

Two days later you got this -
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah warned on Tuesday of war in the Middle East if Israel continues attacking Lebanon and the Palestinians, in an apparent appeal to key ally the United States to end the fighting.

"Saudi Arabia warns everybody that if the peace option fails because of Israeli arrogance, there will be no other option but war," state-owned media quoted the king as saying.
Oh crap. This is not what they're supposed to say.

Here's some snark -
Heck. How's the US 'n Israel gonna help the Sunnis defeat the Shi'a and bring democracy tah everybody if they lose their nerve at the least little thing? Surely, they aren't feeling heat from their own people now are they? If so, they just need to tell 'em to stop this shit.

They need to understand that the US is there to spread God's gift of freedom (and, if we're lucky, bring on Armageddon.) Israel is bombing the shit out of Lebanon for its own good.

Man, these Arabs have a helluva lot to learn about how things work in the Middle East...
Yeah, it's hard to get good help these days. And here's some analysis -
There is, of course, only one kind of "war" that Saudi Arabia could possibly try to wage that wouldn't knock the Israelis over laughing - the oil war. But crude's down a buck a barrel today so obviously nobody is taking the threat of an embargo very seriously. Nor should they.

Still, it looks like Hezbollah has won the battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab world - on either side of the Shi'a/Sunni divide.
Yep, the world's top oil exporter, and Jordan and Egypt, fear "that popular anger could escalate and force them to take an aggressive stance over Israel that angers Washington and worsens the crisis." And it's happening. You don't want to appear on the American side, which is Israel's side. Public opinion could turn against you, and "as this goes on longer and more and more Lebanese are killed, it looks bad for them," or so said one diplomat in Riyadh. They're not dumb. This is logical. But then Bush will be angry. So King Abdullah just warned him - domestic pressures may make us go to war against you and the Jews. And you want us to do what, exactly?

This is power politics - and they want a ceasefire now, or they may have to make this a really wide war, just to keep themselves from being thrown out of power. It doesn't get much more basic than that. So they tell the president, who never changes his mind, this might be a good time to give that a try. The Sunnis aren't carrying any messages to Damascus. And maybe the president ought to tell Israel to "stop this shit."

Checkmate. And God is not intervening here. This is pure self-preservation, and logically you could see it coming a mile away. As the Stones put it nicely - "You can't always get what you want, but sometimes, if you try real hard, you get what you need." Or you don't.

Of course sometimes you just fool yourself, as the other side did here - "A senior Hezbollah official said Tuesday the guerrilla group did not expect Israel to react so strongly to its capture of two Israeli soldiers." Oops. An accidental war? It hardly matters now. It's a war. But it seems that everyone deludes themselves. Bush isn't unique.

But for a real show of delusions colliding in the light of day the event of note Tuesday, July 25, was Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visiting the White House for a chat with the president. The New York Times account is here, and it's all about the disconnects. The president wants to tout the success of what we've done in Iraq, and a hundred die each day in the streets of Baghdad in the religious-civil war now raging. He wants to say we have a new ally, and Maliki condemns the Israeli bombing and says he has no problem with Iran - and by the way, he spent years in exile in Damascus, which is Syria of course. And he has said he wants an end to legal immunity for our troops over there, and a broad amnesty for Iraqi insurgents. It was a clown show. But they did agree to take all the reserves the United States has in Kuwait and throw them into Baghdad, before there's total disintegration there, and it may be too late of course. The whole thing was a joke.

And then there was this - the House Democrats demanding that Maliki not be allowed to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday unless he apologizes for condemning "Israeli aggression" in Lebanon. There's this letter party leaders are circulating - "We are unaware of any prior instance where a world leader who actively worked against the interests of the United States was afforded such an honor."

Amusing. Like you'd not expect them to run with this? That one too was something you could see coming a mile away. Just as you could see what positions made Maliki a viable leader. It's like watching a train wreck.

In Thomas Ricks' new book, Fiasco, about how things went down in Iraq, he quotes a colonel assigned to the Coalition Provisional Authority describing his team's mission as "pasting feathers together, hoping for a duck." That'll do. That's what the visit was all about.

It's all a mess. And how did it get this way? Maybe because we were too nice to gay folks. Or maybe no one was thinking things through. Take your choice.

Posted by Alan at 23:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 26 July 2006 06:56 PDT home

Monday, 24 July 2006
We Want Change, Not Peace, and No One Is Helping
Topic: For policy wonks...
We Want Change, Not Peace, and No One Is Helping

The week opened with "a surprise" on Monday, July 24, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice started her brief visit to the Middle East to see what she could do with the situation in southern Lebanon, where Israel and the Hezbollah had been at it for eleven days, with a stop in somewhat disassembled Beirut. She couldn't fly in as the Israeli Air Force had taken out the runways, and fuel depots, at the international airport - so it was buzzing in, in a helicopter in from Cyprus to the American embassy in the hills above the city, in the Christian section - a northern approach pattern - then a convoy down to the city to chat with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, an ally of Hezbollah. The following day with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem would be easier. The following day's meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah would be just strange, as Abbas is not the head of the Palestinian government, the Prime Minister, only a minority figurehead as Hamas runs things now, thanks to the election we insisted upon where they elected to wrong people, according to us - the people we won't talk to.

But the Beirut thing was pretty strange in and of itself. This was probably because the message she carried to Beirut was a downer - she told them the United States government was opposed to an immediate ceasefire. We take the position that just stopping everyone from fighting was pointless. Yes, much of Beirut was rubble and nearly four hundred civilians were dead and all that, and the weak government there in trouble, but what was the point in stopping this fighting if nothing changed? This was a chance to "transform" things. Reuters quotes her as explaining things this way - "Any peace is going to have to be based on enduring principles and not on temporary solutions."

Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on July 12, and all hell broke loose, but if everyone just stopped fighting now, nothing would be resolved, really. Sure, many people would live and all that, but what would change, really?

The message was that Washington was "thinking big" - we want things to change, and lots of folks would just have to die for the big concept. We'd send aid - food and medicine and all that, but that was it. We're all for the idea of a humanitarian corridor to get help to "the needy," and Israel says it could support that idea. It's just that stopping the fighting right now solves nothing, four hundred dead civilians, and climbing, notwithstanding. David Welch, Rice's point man on the Middle East put nicely - "We did feel that Lebanon has been dealt a severe blow; there's a lot of concern about that." But not enough concern to stop any of this.

It's not like we don't want a ceasefire at all. We just think Israel has the best plan - Hezbollah pulls back from the border to allow an international force to deploy, Hezbollah is disarmed, and Israel gets the two guys back, without conditions. And then this hypothetical international force stops Hezbollah from doing bad things, fighting them in whatever sort of combat comes up - instead of the Israelis fighting them, or the half-assed Lebanese army. You see, then things would be different.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who had pleaded for an immediate ceasefire, knew he was going to get nowhere with that idea. And the Reuters item notes they talked about how Rice's plan would work, and the sequence of events for any deal - and Nabih Berri, the ally of Hezbollah and close to Syria, told her a ceasefire should come first, followed by an exchange of prisoners and then discussion of other issues. She was not impressed. The ceasefire had to follow all the terms being met. He gave it up. Hezbollah has long fought Israeli attempts to drive it from the south, and they'd just fight this hypothetical "international force" of course. This was all pretty pointless.

Throughout, watching the news, you could sense her frustration - small minds with their petty concerns just don't understand just what America is up to, transforming the world through neoconservative will to make everything the way it should be. It's that "Triumph of Will" thing. Surely people are willing to die for the prospect of a brave new world. But it seems they'd rather not. One suspects she was seething that the Lebanese and Palestinian people just didn't get it. Nor did the rest of the world, but what are you going to do? What can you do with these folks? It's enough to make Bill Kristol cry, and all the other founders of the Project for the New American Century mutter about all the little minds who just don't understand them.

As for assembling an "international force" to smack down Hezbollah, the American Jewish magazine Forward was reporting that we're working on how that would look, as we see here -

During a briefing with senior officials at several major Jewish organizations, Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams reportedly said that a multinational force in Lebanon would have to be "combat ready," authorized and appropriately equipped to engage Hezbollah militarily if needed. Such a force, he said, would also have to patrol not only Lebanon's border with Israel but also Lebanon's border with Syria, to prevent smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah. In addition, such a force would have to observe Lebanon's sea and air ports to make sure that Iran is not rearming Hezbollah, Abrams reportedly said.
That's a tall order for a proxy army in this war on terror. But we know just what we want, and what the task orders would be.

Kevin Drum here points out the obvious -
This is fascinating. At a guess, something this ambitious would take a minimum of seven or eight combat brigades plus associated support and logistics. Call it 40,000 troops in round numbers.

The United States has previously said that it won't be able to participate in this because our troops are tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan. The UN can't help since it deals only in peacekeeping missions, not combat missions. None of the troops can come from Middle Eastern countries, of course. NATO troops are largely committed to Afghanistan, and Europe has in any case been notably reluctant to commit combat troops to either the Middle East or Africa.

What's needed here are (a) large numbers of (b) quickly deployable (c) combat troops. Offhand, I can't think of anyplace this could come from. Am I missing something?
No, he's not, and running classified ads in Soldier of Fortune magazine wouldn't work either - all the mercenaries are now happily employed. We've found jobs for them in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Elliot Abrams may have a detailed deployment plan with specific tasks and rules of engagement and all the rest - he just doesn't have an army. That's no small detail. Surely people are willing to die for the prospect of a brave new world. But it seems they'd rather not.

Elaine Sciolino and Steven Erlanger in The New York Times review how there are just no volunteers -
Support is growing for the creation of an international military force to stabilize the Lebanese border with Israel and to bring an end to the fighting. But there is no agreement on the size, mandate or mission of such a force and little enthusiasm around the world for sending troops.

The United States has ruled out its participation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization says that it is already stretched thin, France is calling the mission premature and Germany said it was willing to participate only if both Israel and Hezbollah called for it.

"All the politicians are saying, 'Great, great' to the idea of a force, but no one is saying whose soldiers will be on the ground," said a senior European official. "Everyone will volunteer to be in charge of the logistics in Cyprus."
Of course France and the United States have been burnt before, with that multinational force in Lebanon in 1982 after an Israeli invasion. You get all messed up in a civil war. Then there was Hezbollah's suicide bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983 - 241 US Marines and 56 French soldiers dead. And then the Arab League sent in Syria to calm things down, which they did, and they were forced to leave only last year. People remember such things.

But maybe Israel can twist arms -
Olmert and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, played it tough with some of Europe's foreign ministers on Sunday, European and Israeli officials said. Olmert rejected an immediate cease-fire and said that the Israelis could keep up its fight with Hezbollah for a year if needed, European officials said.

"The Europeans want us to stop, and we wonder how badly they want us to stop," an Israeli official said. "It's unacceptable for them to say cease-fire and then wash their hands of the consequences. If you're not part of the solution, then don't complain."
So send your troops or stop bitching. Israel will keep smashing south Lebanon in the meanwhile. Hezbollah had to go. Either the Israeli Army or this "international force" would have to do it. It had to be done. So put up or shut up.

And there is some movement, but not much -
On Monday, the German defense minister, Franz Josef Jung, said that Berlin would be willing to participate if both sides requested German participation and if certain tough, and potentially insurmountable, conditions were met, including a cease-fire and the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

"We could not refuse a peace mission of this nature if these conditions were met and if requests were directed to us," Jung said on German television.

In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair said that he hoped a plan, including an international force, a mutual cease-fire and the release of the captured soldiers, could be negotiated and announced in the next few days.

"If someone's got a better plan I'd like to hear it," he said. "It's the only one I've got and I'm trying to make it happen."

As for France, Douste-Blazy left his meetings with Israeli leaders on Sunday convinced that the idea of an international force for Lebanon was "premature," French officials said.

The European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said on Monday in Brussels that an international force would not be "an easy force to deploy," but added that talks were under way to deploy such a force under a UN Security Council mandate.

"I think several member states of the European Union will be ready to provide all necessary assistance," he said, but did not name the countries or what they might be prepared to do.

At NATO headquarters in Brussels, meanwhile, officials said that they were taken by surprise by comments of Israeli officials that they would welcome a NATO-led force to secure their border.

"No request has been made to NATO," James Appathurai, the NATO spokesman, said by telephone. "The possibility, the shape, the structure of any international force - none of them have been seriously addressed. We have had no political discussions and don't intend to have any political discussions of NATO's role."
Surely people are willing to die for the prospect of a brave new world. But it seems they'd rather not. Or maybe they just don't want to get involved if it means being the enforcement arm of the United States and Israel. Being seen as America's "muscle" may not be in any nation's national interest these days. Jackie Ashley put it succinctly in The Guardian (UK) here - "So why would a progressive European government want to have anything to do with the one-sided diplomacy of a fading president, driven by extreme theology?"

Good question, and besides, these guys are not what we've been told, a bunch of religious flakes who just bumble around.

See Hezbollah A Tough Foe for Israeli Military (Steven Gutkin, Associated Press) -
Fearing a prolonged quagmire and heavy casualties among its troops, Israel says it has no intention of launching a massive land invasion to defeat Hezbollah. But the past several days' small-scale pinpoint operations to root out guerrilla positions along the border are proving far more daunting than expected, according to soldiers returning from battle.

The troops complain of difficult terrain and being surprised by Hezbollah guerrillas who pop out from behind bushes firing automatic weapons or rocket-propelled grenades. Two Israeli soldiers were killed and 20 were wounded Monday as they tried to take the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbail amid a heavy exchange of gunfire, missiles and mortars.

The pinpoint incursions are supposed to accomplish what the 4,000 Israeli air sorties have been unable to achieve. But the twin strategy of airstrikes and limited ground offensives will not be enough to force Hezbollah to refrain from launching attacks, said Israeli counter terrorism expert Boaz Ganor.
Asymmetrical warfare is a bitch. Overwhelm force and superior technology aren't working that well. It's not fair. They were supposed to be amateurish clowns - murderous clowns, but clowns nonetheless.

But we've always got that wrong, as James Wolcott notes here -

Wolcott had been watching Shepard Smith of Fox News, stationed on the Lebanese-Israeli border, saying the Israeli soldiers looked "stunned" at the ferocity of the Hezbollah fighters, and how deadly and sophisticated their tactics were. And that leads to -
... one of the arch paradoxes of the War on Terror - that nearly five years after 9/11 we persist in both overestimating and underestimating our enemies. The hawks warn about a clash of civilizations, nuclear clouds as smoking guns, the global network of sleeper cells, an octopus with a thousand tentacles: a foe that kills without pity or remorse or discrimination, and ranks with Nazi Germany as a juggernaut of evil. Yet at the same time the politicians and pundits (particularly on the right) persist in deprecating the strength, agility, and ingenuity of the very foes they claim could bring down Western society, mocking Bin Laden in his cave (the greatest mass murder in American history, and the Bush administration treats his non-capture as a neglible detail), sluffing off the Iraqi insurgents as embittered Baathists and "dead-enders," and deluding ourselves that massive air power will bug-squash guerrilla fighters and shock and awe the remnants into submission. We still regard them as savage primitives of low cunning who sporadically lash out. Our commentators and military strategists suffer from a catastrophic failure of imagination, unable or unwilling to see the world through our enemies' eye and to think like them, assuming that our thought processes are superior, sufficient, and will prevail.

... It doesn't help that nearly every Retired Military Expert on cable news spouts the same Rumsfeldian faith in technopower and the supremacy of Western intel (through spy satellites, unmanned drones, etc) and fighting capability, pointing at terrain maps as if grabbing landscape had much relevance in the era of Fourth Generation warfare. They still talk confidently about air strikes "softening up" pockets of resistance, with "mopping up" operations later to clear out the remaining riffraff.

The early coverage of the Israeli-Hezbollah fight reflected this standard Pentagonthink. On MSNBC one of their resident talking warheads - retired Lt Col Rick Francona - was also smug as he related how excellent Israeli intel was in Lebanon. This was before Israel dropped 23 tons of explosions on a bunker to take out the Hezbollah high command. They took out the bunker, but the Hezbollah inner circle was otherwise disposed. Similarly, Israel has struck civilian convoys and ambulances, which means either their vaunted intel is scantier than advertised.
So who are the clowns here?

There's this - "Famed for its penetration, Israeli intelligence failed this time. It didn't detect the new weapons Iran and Syria had provided to Hezbollah, from anti-ship missiles to longer-range rockets. And, after years of spying, it couldn't find Hezbollah"

There's this - "Nine days ago, the Israeli army ordered the inhabitants of a neighboring village, Marwaheen, to leave their homes and then fired rockets into one of their evacuation trucks, blasting the women and children inside to their deaths. And this is the same Israeli air force which was praised last week by one of Israel's greatest defenders - Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz - because it 'takes extraordinary steps to minimize civilian casualties.'"

Israel has PR problem, at best. Hezbollah doesn't -
The Hezbollah soldiers on camera look normal, no masks, no keffiyahs, just jeans. They speak English. They are courteous, even helpful to the reporters.

Despite its capacity for violence, Hezbollah is being treated with a level of respect no Arab state fighting Israel has ever gotten. You are hearing normal people testify to the good works of the Hezbollah quasi-state.

I mean, this isn't two seconds of news, but detailed interviews with women and children, English speaking kids, testifying to their good works.

The Western public is getting a new view of Israel and the Arabs, and if the Israelis had a clue beyond bombing TV towers, they wouldn't drop another bomb in Beirut and stop shooting up convoys and gas stations. Because you have American reporters running from Israel bombs and American citizens trapped there and Hezbollah is getting a hearing.
Wolcott -
Conversely, you have images of Condi Rice flying into the region today with a big Pepsodent smile and a jaunty manner. What's she got to smile about? I've never seen a fireman grin as he entered a burning building. It's a bit late for a charm offensive.
The international force that Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams envisions would not be on the side of charm. You're asking these nations to align themselves with the neoconservative transformational theorists and the dismantling of Lebanon and all the death, for the concept.

But a simple ceasefire the talks and terms and prisoner releases and all the rest following isn't in the cards. We want change, not peace. No one is helping.

Of course it would help if we got the concept of what changes we want straightened out. More and more our explicit policy in the Middle East is that we are now the ally of the Sunnis on a mission to crush the Shi'a crescent - we will line up Sunni Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan and the rest to fight the Shi'a madman in Iraq and Syria and the stateless Hezbollah and al Qaeda. Except before we were out to get that madman Saddam Hussein who suppressed and killed all the Shi'a he could find in his Iraq, as he was sure those Shi'a fanatics would bring him down, which would make him on our side now. Huh? Keeping the good guys and bad guys straight gets harder all the time.

Bill Montgomery finds this in the Daily Telegraph (UK) -
White House aides have said they consider the Lebanon crisis to be a "leadership moment" for Mr Bush and an opportunity to proceed with his post-September 11 plan to reshape the Middle East by building Sunni Arab opposition to Shi'a terrorism. Yesterday Mr Bush cited the role of Iran and Syria in providing help to Hezbollah.
Now wait just one second. The plan all along was to help the Sunnis fight Shi'a terrorism? No one mentioned it before. That would have been nice to know. It's was WMD stuff, or that Saddam was behind the September 11 stuff, or even bringing democracy to Iraq. The grand plan was helping the Sunnis? Oh. Missed that.

Montgomery says this -
The question is whether this astonishing statement is the product of bad writing, the slack-jawed stupidity of the Telegraph's Washington correspondent, or a deliberate Eastasia/Eurasia switch by our fun-loving Orwellians in the Cheney administration.

If it's just bad writing or stupidity - if the phrase "building Sunni Arab opposition to Shi'a terrorism" doesn't actually modify "post-September 11 plan," but instead is just another way of pretending that Shrub is capable of the kind of leadership that has its "moments" - then the sentence is only unintentionally hysterical. However, given the current situation on the ground (all 18 zillion square miles of it) it may well be precisely the lie it appears to be, to wit: that fighting "Shi'a terrorism" was the point of Shrub's post-9/11 master plan all along.
But that's what Saddam Hussein was doing, on a local level. Damn, it's confusing.

And the Israelis are on board -
An adviser to Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz told The Observer: "We are finally going to fight Hizbollah on the ground. The Israeli people are ready for this, and the Sunni Muslim world also expects us to fight Shi'a fundamentalism. We are going to deliver."
Israel will fight for the Sunnis? Of course. Things shift a lot, don't they?

Digby has a good take on this here -
The truth is, I don't think it matters a damn anymore which "terrorists" we are fighting today or what the goals allegedly are. This is the GWOT and the enemies of "non-terror" are whoever is deemed "terrible" today. It's irrelevant that the terrorists we were supposed to be fighting yesterday are now our allies against the terrorist we are fighting today. It's all good.

... The US managed somehow, against the best efforts of Karl Rove, to separate the Iraq war from the broader "War on Terror." It looks as though they are taking another crack at it and are now trying to conflate every problem in the Middle East with its alleged fight against terrorism. This, I believe, is purely for domestic political consideration. It must be, because it is completely incoherent on the substance: we simply cannot be "fightin' terrorism" as allies of the Israelis and Sunni Muslims against the Shiites while we occupy Iraq and say we are promoting democracy. The mind reels at the cognitive dissonance embodied in that statement.

Unfortunately, while the nutty rhetoric must have the rest of the world wondering who put the acid in the sweet mint tea, here in the US it makes perfect sense. We're fightin' 'em over there - whoever those Ayrab/Jews/terrorists are - so we don't have to fight 'em over here. Don't worry your pretty little heads about the details -- here's a tax cut, go out and buy one of those big screen Teevees and watch you some American idol. Republicans will keep you safe from all of 'em.
The mind reels at the cognitive dissonance of it all. No wonder most of the adult population throws up its hands and says, whatever, and decides its best just to let those in power do what they will, and explain it any way they want. It's not supposed to make sense. The neoconservative transformational theory is too tricky for mere mortals. And no wonder the rest of the world is not helping. It's a wonder they're not laughing.


Posted by Alan at 22:49 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 25 July 2006 07:41 PDT home

Sunday, 23 July 2006
Hot Off the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements
Hot Off the Virtual Press
The 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 30, for the week of July 23, 2006.Click here to go there...

This week's commentary is mostly on the new war of course - you've got your Afghanistan War, not finished as the defeated and extinct Taliban are busy retaking towns in the south, and you've got your Iraq War, which may not be our war anymore but just one where the locals have at it and we try to keep a lid on things, hoping not for the best but the least-worst, and you've got the new two-front war Israel is waging with our approval. And with all the talk from the neoconservatives saying that this is just the right time to take care of Syria and bomb Iran back to the days before anyone discover nuclear energy or weapons - we've got them all on the run so let's kick as now - you may get two more wars. And the detail and perspective is here. But then there's an item on what seems to be missing in action - any sort of domestic policy.

At the International Desk, Our Man in Tel-Aviv, Sylvain Ubersfeld, perhaps picked the wrong time for a quick vacation, a few relaxing days in the Golan area. He offers an account of trying to spend a few pleasant days in the Golan Heights, on the Syrian border, as a war breaks out, with exclusive photos to give you a feel for the place. Amazing. Our Man in Paris (where there is no war), Ric Erickson, reports on the extraordinary heat wave there, with photographic documentation.

The Southern California photography this week covers the ultimate Hollywood statue (it's huge and newly restored), and last weekend's very odd Los Angeles Bastille Day, and the rest is the birds and the bees, quite literally, along with more extraordinary blooms.

Our friend from Texas of course provides your weekly dose of the weird, and the quotes this week are for the Jung at heart.
Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________________

War Talk: On the Sixth Day of the More-Than-Six-Day War
Research: Is the Sky Falling?
War Thoughts (Day Ten)
Learning from Experience
MIA: Say, What Ever Happened to Compassionate Conservatism?

The International Desk ______________________________

Our Man in Tel-Aviv: Never a Dull Moment
Our Man in Paris: Paris-Plages, Unusual View, Real Palms
Paris Extra: The Heat Wave

Hollywood Matters ______________________________

Glamour Restored: The George Stanley Fountain at the Hollywood Bowl

Southern California Photography ______________________________

Bastille Day, Los Angeles
An Office: Just what it should look like...
Shore Birds
Botanicals: Morning Light
One Bee

The Weird: WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL
Quotes for the week of July 9, 2006 - Forever Jung (Carl Gustav Jung)

Posted by Alan at 18:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 23 July 2006 18:23 PDT home

Saturday, 22 July 2006
MIA: Say, What Ever Happened to Compassionate Conservatism?
Topic: For policy wonks...
MIA: Say, What Ever Happened to Compassionate Conservatism?
Yes the third war is being waged - you've got your Afghanistan War, not finished as the defeated and extinct Taliban are busy retaking towns in the south, and you've got your Iraq War, which may not be our war anymore but just one where the locals have at it and we try to keep a lid on things, hoping not for the best but the least-worst, and you've got the new two-front war Israel is waging with our approval. And with all the talk from the neoconservatives saying that this is just the right time to take care of Syria and bomb Iran back to the days before anyone discover nuclear energy or weapons - we've got them all on the run so let's kick as now - you may get two more wars.

Back in the days when wars were metaphoric - the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs, for example - they weren't any easier to win. Like the War on Terror, these were wars on abstractions. Still there were those who thought one of them, Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, was a rather fine idea, even if a bit more conceptual than real. Johnson may have launched the thing to divert attention from the Vietnam mess, but doing something to get people who were in trouble working and fed and housed and educated seemed like that might do the country some good.

The push back from the right was the usual. These people had to take personal responsibility, not handouts, and what they needed was to be forced to work for what might sustain them and eventually get them into the mainstream. The day of handouts was over - as it wasn't fair that those who worked hard then were being forced by the evil government to chip in to keep those who had bad luck or dark skin and made the mistake of being born in the wrong place from dying in the streets. These losers needed to be forced to do for themselves, like everyone else. This was called compassionate conservatism, or tough love, or the American Way, or something, and thus we got welfare reform, where you got the food stamps and other aid, if you put in forty hours a week doing something, anything at all. There would be no more lazy "takers" - whining people playing victim and taking the money of those who worked hard and did useful things. To just give them help was wrong - it was "soft bigotry of low expectations" and the conservatives were not bigots. They knew these people were capable of becoming rich, or something.

Oddly the real welfare reform came in the Clinton administration, as he was doing that triangulation or "third way" thing, mixing liberal stuff with conservative stuff in an attempt to pull the country together. Unfortunately, there was the Monica lass.

With the conservatives taking control of the government - first with the Newt Gingrich revolution of 1994, where congress was convincingly won be the conservatives, to the present situation where both hoses, the executive branch, and most of the judiciary are in the hands of the conservatives - things might have been even harsher. But as there is a baseline of people in the country disturbed by the thought of millions of homeless dying in the streets and children starving and all that, the line became "sure we're conservative and think people should take care of themselves and the government has no business in helping people with anything, but we're not heartless." Thus Republicans ran on the platform of "compassionate conservatism" - no one deserves anything from the government, but we'll make a few exceptions here and there. George Bush ran on that idea, and got the votes of those who were resentful any of their tax dollars went to someone not working when they were, but felt a little guilty when each winter another homeless woman or two froze to death under the bridge down the street. Those who felt no guilt at all - serves 'em right for being so lazy - knew the whole thing was a ploy. There are things you have to say to get elected, and they understood.

And the have been right. In the Washington Post, in the pages not devoted to the wars, there was this, a discussion of how the administration has said nothing at all about poverty in America since the president gave that amazing speech in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina - we would do something about the poverty that led to all these deaths, of the people who didn't have the means to get out of the path of the storm, and yes it was a racial thing too, and we'd fix that too. Enough was enough. The post notes that was it. It was a one-shot. Not only were the issues never mentioned again, anywhere or at any time, the speech was never referred to again, and no actions of any sort were taken of any sort to even vaguely related to the issues of poverty or race. It seems other things came up. And even if they had not come up, one wonders if anything would be different.

Poverty? Never heard of it. The New Orleans speech stands out as an anomaly - something from an alternative universe, the Universe of Compassionate Conservatism. It's the stuff of Marvel Comics - a place where everything is reversed, and Superman is a bad, and dumb.

Ezra Klein explains -
... the roots of the Bush administration's betrayal on poverty reach far beyond Katrina. Compassionate conservatism, after all, was once more than an empty catch phrase; it described a policy philosophy that sought economic uplift through government incentives. Myron Magnet, author of the foundational compassionate conservative work The Dream and the Nightmare, met with Bush repeatedly during the campaign, and visitors to Karl Rove's office used to leave with a copy of the book in hand - according to Rove, it laid out the campaign's roadmap. So when Magnet assured us that "At [Bush's compassionate conservatism's] core is concern for the poor - not a traditional Republican preoccupation - and an explicit belief that government has a responsibility for poor Americans," it was safe to assume he knew what he was talking about.

Only he didn't. Compassionate conservatism retained only its disinterest in small government conservatism. As the years ground excruciatingly onward and the Bush administration's domestic policy priorities crystallized, it became abundantly clear that this administration was corporatist, not conservative in nature - theirs was a philosophy of industrialist, not indigent, uplift. It didn't have to be that way: Bush's early moves were promising, with No Child Left Behind a flawed but supportable attempt at codifying equality in our schools. After 9-11, though, the war president killed the poor's president, and Bush turned his already meager interest in the mechanics of governing entirely away from domestic issues.

I've never been entirely convinced by the explanations for why that happened. Bush's record in Texas and his rhetoric on the campaign trail never suggested the sort of leader that would emerge. September 11 changed him, but it's not precisely clear why it enabled such an abandonment of the domestic realm.
Maybe because it was a joke to begin with? Just as the evangelical Christians tell us you have to understand when Jesus was just kidding - like that turn the other cheek business and that love everyone stuff - so you need to understand the New Orleans anomaly the same way.

Or as Digby at Hullabaloo puts it -
I would argue that there never was a "compassionate conservative" Bush, but a political slogan that was adopted when the face of the party was the slavering beasts of the Gingrich years who shut down the government and impeached a popular president against the will of the people. The game plan was to run Bush as a Republican Clinton without the woody.

And to the extent that they actually believed any of their campaign blather about "soft bigotry of low expectations" and prescription drug coverage, it was only to massage certain constituencies they needed to cobble together a majority - which they didn't actually manage to do in 2000. Karl was just buying votes like any smart pol does.

... They failed on social security, the big ticket domestic item of the second term, but the reason was that they always overestimated the amount of political capital a "war president" who only won a second term by 51% of the vote actually has. He had plenty of juice after 9/11 but he used it all up on Iraq - and when the WMD didn't show, most of that evaporated over time.

But the tax cuts, the indiscriminate deregulation, the expansion of executive power (not only through the programs like the illegal wiretapping but through the passage of the Patriot Act as well) can only be considered great successes by the standard he set forth. The reason his "compassionate conservative" agenda wasn't part of that package is because it was just a campaign ploy to begin with. After 9/11 they made the calculation that he could win by running solely on national security with a smattering of homo-hating. And he did.
Poverty just didn't matter.

But now it may, as those in the middle start the slow descent to the levels below. The economy is booming, a wages for most are falling, and have been for several years. This would be no problem if only CEO's were allowed to vote, and those who have large portfolios (those who own the capital). The problem is we allow those who live off their labor alone, their work, to vote. The problem is so obvious that even John Derbyshire at the old-line conservative National Review sees it -
If the rich get richer while the middle class thrives, and some decent provision is made for the poor, I'm a happy man, living in a society I consider healthy and am proud of. If, however, the rich get richer while the middle class is struggling, or actually declining, I am not a happy man. There are some reasons to think that is happening, and you don't have to be a socialist to worry about this.
Amd even the folks over at the Wall Street Journal, of all places, see the problem, as Steven Rattner notes here -
After months without a domestic agenda to capitalize on Bush administration unpopularity, Democrats are moving - haltingly, disjointedly, belatedly - toward embracing the mother of all electoral issues: the failure of robust top-line growth in the U.S. economy to filter into the wallets of Americans below the top of the pyramid.

... No amount of chaff can hide the failure of our remarkable productivity surge (and the accompanying robust growth of the overall economy) to meaningfully boost average wages, which have barely grown with inflation. Separated by income level, the picture is more dismal. From 2000 to 2005, for example, average weekly wages for the bottom 10% dropped by 2.7% (after adjustment for inflation), while those of the top 10% rose by 5.3%.
No amount of "but the economy is booming talk" can override the fact of the empty wallet at the gas pump. Interestingly he uses the word chaff, the foil that used to be dropped from bombers to befuddle the guys on the ground at their radar screens. The working man's radar may be able to see through it, even if the Democrats screw up this issue too. Rattner seems more worried about those who work for a living than any Democrat.

Is the day of reckoning at hand? If you're told you're really doing well, and you've dropped your health insurance and are skipping meals, and you can't pay even the monthly minimum on your credit cards, are you going to believe that? Who needs the Democrats? You may just feel these guys have screwed you.

Well, they always said government doesn't solve problems, government is the problem. That was one of Ronald Reagan's favorite lines, and he's said to be the father of all the concepts at play.

That leads to this rant, on the underlying issues, presented here in full, as the writer no doubt wants this widely disseminated -
What Did You Expect, America?
by SusanG
Sat Jul 22, 2006 at 03:16:59 PM PDT

Would you hire a babysitter who hates children and thinks they should be eliminated? Or who declares for years in your hearing that children are irritants who should be starved to be small, unseen and mute?

Would you hire cops who think laws are stupid and useless and should be abolished?

Would you hire a conductor for your orchestra who believes music itself an abomination?

Then why would you hire - and you did hire them, America; they are your employees, after all, not your rulers, despite their grandiose pretensions - members of a political party who think government is useless, ineffective, bloated and untrustworthy?

You've hired for your kitchen the chef who spits in your food because he despises preparing meals.

You've hired for your yardwork the gardener who sets out to kill your roses to demonstrate his assertion that they will die in your climate.

You've hired for your office the accountant who's staked his career on proving no accurate books can be kept.

In electing Republicans, America, you put people in charge of institutions they overtly, caustically loathe and proudly proclaim should not exist. Good thinking, USA, and stellar results: Katrina, Iraq, Medicare D, trade and budget deficits, mine disasters and on and on and on and ...

Conservatives have declared officially for decades that they hate public programs and love private business. Why then, do Americans profess shock when these same people run the public credit card up to bunker-busting levels to line the pockets of friendly corporations, leaving taxpayers - current and the as-yet unborn - the bill? It's the dine and ditch mentality writ large, and American citizens are the unfortunate waiters having their lowly pay docked to cover the deadbeat loss - and their future grandchildren's pay docked as well.

We are witnessing an orchestrated, unprecedented transfer of public wealth to private pockets, a national one-party feeding frenzy that's making beggars and beseechers of us all, and yet many Americans stand around muttering in a daze of semi-apathetic befuddlement about gosh darn how did all this come to be and how sure as shit, uh-huh, those Republicans shore were right, government doesn't do a the little guy a damn bit of good, no sirree bob. Better drown it some more. Cut them taxes, privatize something, anything, pronto!

Kee-rist on a pogo stick.

If you put people in charge of running a project they are ideologically committed to proving a failure, it will fail.

Seems pretty straightforward to me. But hey, I'm a Democrat. You know, one of those people who think universal quality public education is a massive good to society, that maintaining our highways and levees and bridges and dams is part of what makes this country great, that paying first-responders and nurses what they're worth helps guarantee our public health and safety, that providing for fellow citizens who fall on hard times is not only the ethical thing to do, but the pragmatic one, ensuring that this country does not incubate a permanently inflamed and disgruntled underclass ready to drop a match on a pool of social gasoline.

Here's a thought - just a thought, mind you, beloved America: Perhaps it's time to return to government the party that has an ideological stake in making it ... you know ... succeed. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to raise our sights a wee bit and elect people who think public service is more than an opportunity for the "Biggest! Fire Sale! Ever!" for their friends and loved ones. Perhaps it's time to insist on greater - if not great - expectations from the employees we decide to hire or fire every two years to carry out our will under the constitution.

As one-party Republican rule has clearly shown, when you expect incompetence, corruption and deceit from your government, you get exactly what you vote for. In spades.
Enough said. But logic seldom works.

Posted by Alan at 18:54 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 22 July 2006 18:58 PDT home

Friday, 21 July 2006
War Thoughts
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
War Thoughts
Friday, July 21, the week ended with the war between Hezbollah and Israel in its tenth day, with Israeli troops and tanks lining up to cross into southern Lebanon for the ground phase - cleaning out the tunnels and bunkers and getting at the stores of the fabulously inaccurate but deadly rockets that Hezbollah has been popping into northern Israel. The word is they have thirteen thousand of them and have only used about a thousand. Time to get the rest. On the other front - Israel fighting Hamas, the folks the Palestinians elected to represent them, to the south in Gaza - the day brought the news of Israeli forces shooting and killing a nurse tending one of the wounded in the streets. War is like that. Things happen. And this will not be over quickly. The day brought the news that our secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, will finally go over there to chat with some of the folks involved, dropping in briefly on her way to an Asian summit. It's on the way, if you fly east.

But all day long the news was playing the clip of her saying that, unlike the UN and the Europeans and Russians and most everyone else, the United States will certainly not call for a ceasefire.

Our UN ambassador, John Bolton, had previously said such a thing was simple-minded and stupid - you cannot deal with a non-state terrorist organization as if it were a nation or anything. Who there has the authority to enter into a ceasefire agreement? Yeah, yeah, Hezbollah is part of the government of Lebanon, with seats in their parliament and a few cabinet ministries, but they aren't the official government, although, if you think about it, they might as well be. The nominal government is somewhere between feckless and useless, with a small army of seventy thousand, with maybe forty thousand deployable, with no modern equipment and no battlefield experience. Like they'll go stomp on Hezbollah, their fellow Shiites, for being so stupid and making so much trouble? Or they'll go up against Israel with its F-16's we sold them and the drones overhead and all the tanks and artillery? You actually might want to work with Hezbollah, as the only thing like a government there.

Rice's take on the matter was slightly different. Her position, and thus the position of the United States, is that there's no point in getting some sort of ceasefire agreement, as Hezbollah would just break it, and you need to break and humiliate Hezbollah, and disarm them, first. Then something can be worked out. Those weren't her exact words. But the idea is there should be no ceasefire that puts things back to where they were two weeks ago, or for the last ten years. The cease fire must be based on Hezbollah just going away. Hezbollah is not impressed. But then, we don't talk to them.

It's unclear who she will talk to when she drops in. There are the Israelis, the Saudis, and the Egyptians. When the Palestinians elected Hamas, in an election we insisted upon (that spreading democracy thing), we cut all communication with them and cut off all aid too. We don't deal with terrorists. That only makes them think they're legitimate. Similarly we don't speak with Hezbollah. We isolate terrorist organizations, and shun them, lest they think they're important and get all uppity. We long ago cut all diplomatic relations, and stopped all back-channel talks, with Syria and Iran, as they sponsor terrorism. So we punish them all by just ignoring them. That'll show them. Of course this means Rice could not help negotiate any ceasefire anyway. There are only the Israelis. That makes for a rather pointless conversation about terms and conditions. The Saudis and the Egyptians aren't even in the fight. The other players and their sponsors are probably saying, "What are we, chopped liver?" Well, probably not - too Jewish.

One commentator, Digby at Hullabaloo (becoming one of the most insightful writers on this madness), say this business always had "a certain kabuki element," explained this way -
In the past when these situations would flare up, Israel would take an aggressive action to demonstrate that it wasn't a pushover and the US would step in like a Dutch uncle and reluctantly pull the pissed off Israelis back. In a dangerous part of the world, these face-saving kabuki's can prevent things from hurtling out of control while allowing each side to stage a little bloodletting. It's an ugly, ugly business, but ultimately it has managed to help keep this volatile region from hurtling out of control. The "honest broker" thing may have always been phony, but sometimes a phony "honest broker" is all you need.
But we don't do that any more. We're, as he notes, "letting Israel off the leash to do some real damage" before we "step in."

But why? Things could easily spin out of control, or more out of control. A regional war would be messy, and the disruption in the oil markets devastating. And we aren't exactly winning hearts and minds, and building consensus with other nations, by saying a ceasefire would be wrong right now. What's the deal?

The Washington Post ran an article where they seem to think they found out what the real deal is. The president thinks he's really smarter than everyone else on all this, and more farsighted.

The core of the Post investigation (emphases added) -
When hostilities have broken out in the past, the usual U.S. response has been an immediate and public bout of diplomacy aimed at a cease-fire, in the hopes of ensuring that the crisis would not escalate. This week, however, even in the face of growing international demands, the White House has studiously avoided any hint of impatience with Israel. While making it plain it wants civilian casualties limited, the administration is also content to see the Israelis inflict the maximum damage possible on Hezbollah.

As the president's position is described by White House officials, Bush associates and outside Middle East experts, Bush believes that the status quo - the presence in a sovereign country of a militant group with missiles capable of hitting a U.S. ally - is unacceptable.

The U.S. position also reflects Bush's deepening belief that Israel is central to the broader campaign against terrorists and represents a shift away from a more traditional view that the United States plays an "honest broker's" role in the Middle East.

In the administration's view, the new conflict is not just a crisis to be managed. It is also an opportunity to seriously degrade a big threat in the region, just as Bush believes he is doing in Iraq. Israel's crippling of Hezbollah, officials also hope, would complete the work of building a functioning democracy in Lebanon and send a strong message to the Syrian and Iranian backers of Hezbollah.

"The president believes that unless you address the root causes of the violence that has afflicted the Middle East, you cannot forge a lasting peace," said White House counselor Dan Bartlett. "He mourns the loss of every life. Yet out of this tragic development, he believes a moment of clarity has arrived."

One former senior administration official said Bush is only emboldened by the pressure from U.N. officials and European leaders to lead a call for a cease-fire. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan demanded yesterday that the fighting in Lebanon stop.

"He thinks he is playing in a longer-term game than the tacticians," said the former official, who spoke anonymously so he could discuss his views candidly. "The tacticians would say: 'Get an immediate cease-fire. Deal first with the humanitarian factors.' The president would say: 'You have an opportunity to really grind down Hezbollah. Let's take it, even if there are other serious consequences that will have to be managed.'"

Digby's comment - "They are now officially crazy."

No, the man simply believes things are going just fine in Iraq, where we have shown the terrorists and the religious nuts who's boss - we defanged them all. And Israel is doing the same thing in south Lebanon and Gaza. So you don't tamper with success. We're on a roll.

Yep, that's madness - all the facts are just wrong. This may be denial, a form of self-protection for the ego, or all the ambitious staffers making sure he hears what they know he wants to hear, or delusion. "Everyone else is wrong, and I'll show them." Maybe it's a personality thing - the insecure bully showing off. It doesn't really matter one way or the other. He's the decider, and the decisions have been made, including this one - "The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. ideas for ending the Middle East conflict are still evolving but Washington does intend to contribute humanitarian aid to Lebanese people displaced by fighting between Israel and the militant Islamic group Hezbollah."

We're on a roll. Why bother?

Some foreign policy, but maybe it's not Bush. Digby thinks it's all Cheney - "I won't bother with Junior - he's a foreign policy ventriloquist dummy."

And Dick is mad as a hatter. The pointer is to Frances Fitzgerald in the New York Review of Books here -

In "A World Transformed," the memoir that he and Bush senior published in 1998, [Brent] Scowcroft makes it clear that while all Bush senior's top advisers had different perspectives, the fundamental division lay between Defense Secretary Richard Cheney and everyone else. By his account, and by those of others in the administration, Cheney never trusted Gorbachev. In 1989 Cheney maintained that Gorbachev's reforms were largely cosmetic and that, rather than engage with the Soviet leader, the US should stand firm and keep up cold war pressures.

In September 1991 Cheney argued that the administration should take measures to speed the breakup of the Soviet Union - even at the risk of encouraging violence and incurring long-term Russian hostility. He opposed the idea, which originated with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell, that the US should withdraw its tactical nuclear weapons from Europe and South Korea. As a part of the preparations for the Gulf War he asked Powell for a study on how small nuclear weapons might be used against Iraqi troops in the desert.
So we get this conclusion from Digby -
This is the person who is playing a longer game than the tacticians, not Little Bushie. And he is playing a long game. His shark-like, relentless, predatory concentration on achieving long held goals no matter what the current circumstances is quite awesome to behold. The problem is that he's nuts.
Maybe so, but he's not the only enabler here.

There's the new Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte - the man who administered our death squads in Nicaragua and such, later our ambassador to the UN, and then to the new Iraq. It seems he likes to keep the boss happy, and we see here that he has told the CIA not to do any National Intelligence Estimates any longer. There's too much risk things will be leaked, and the last one, in 2004, was "too negative." When that got leaked the president had to say publicly it was just opinion, and he wasn't paying much attention to it. It's supposed to be the best assessment at the world situation and what could be a bother soon.

Yeah and a new one might be a bit uncomfortable, as things get real nasty in Iraq -
"What do you call the situation in Iraq right now?" asked one person familiar with the situation. "The analysts know that it's a civil war, but there's a feeling at the top that [using that term] will complicate matters." Negroponte, said another source regarding the potential impact of a pessimistic assessment, "doesn't want the president to have to deal with that."
What is there to say? Is it best he doesn't know? Tell him things are going fine, and the media is filled with people what hate him (except for Fox News) and are lying, and who hate America. Let him work with that and things will be fine.

Whether the leader of the free world should be protected from bad news, so he can retain his optimism and strong convictions, is an interesting question. When a leader is misinformed does he make better decisions? That is both an interesting management theory and model for government.

And the upcoming meeting where Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of Iraq meeting with the president in the Whit House could be more than awkward, as everyone seems to be pointing to what Reuters reports here -
Iraqi leaders have all but given up on holding the country together and, just two months after forming a national unity government, talk in private of "black days" of civil war ahead.

Signaling a dramatic abandonment of the U.S.-backed project for Iraq, there is even talk among them of pre-empting the worst bloodshed by agreeing to an east-west division of Baghdad into Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim zones, senior officials told Reuters.

Tens of thousands have already fled homes on either side.

"Iraq as a political project is finished," one senior government official said - anonymously because the coalition under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki remains committed in public to the U.S.-sponsored constitution that preserves Iraq's unity.

One highly placed source even spoke of busying himself on government projects, despite a sense of their futility, only as a way to fight his growing depression over his nation's future.

"The parties have moved to Plan B," the senior official said, saying Sunni, ethnic Kurdish and majority Shi'ite blocs were looking at ways to divide power and resources and to solve the conundrum of Baghdad's mixed population of seven million.

"There is serious talk of Baghdad being divided into east and west," he said. "We are extremely worried."

On the eve of the first meeting of a National Reconciliation Commission and before Maliki meets President George W. Bush in Washington next week, other senior politicians also said they were close to giving up on hopes of preserving the 80-year-old, multi-ethnic, religiously mixed state in its present form.

"The situation is terrifying and black," said Rida Jawad al -Takki, a senior member of parliament from Maliki's dominant Shi'ite Alliance bloc, and one of the few officials from all the main factions willing to speak publicly on the issue.

"We have received information of a plan to divide Baghdad. The government is incapable of solving the situation," he said.

As sectarian violence has mounted to claim perhaps 100 lives a day and tens of thousands flee their homes, a senior official from the once dominant Sunni minority concurred: "Everyone knows the situation is very bad," he said. "I'm not optimistic."
Nuri al-Maliki will tell him things are fine. You don't upset the boss. If Iraq as a political project is finished, the he'll deal with that later, "if there are other serious consequences that will have to be managed."

And who needs another comprehensive National Intelligence Estimate from the CIA? Other presidents, even his father, would have demanded one - just to know what we're dealing with. This one knows in his gut knows how things are, just as he looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes and saw his good soul, and dismisses all the negative stuff that messes up your head. Cool. And scary.

But people seem to love this approach. After a long discussion of Vice President Cheney telling a campaign crowd, Friday, July 21, that everything we do shows the administration is serious about keeping us safe, and making the right assessments of threats, and the right decisions - and saying the fall elections should be about how right and strong the Republicans are, and the only issue should be "national security" - this Digby fellow says this -
... remember, the Republicans are counting on thirty years of rightwing propaganda to get them over the line again. They expect that many voters will simply fall back into their comfortable understanding of the two parties: the Republicans are tough men who can handle national security and the Democrats are sensitive women who will help you when you need help (if you're a pathetic loser who actually needs help that is.) The Fighters and the Lovers. This is the paradigm under which we've lived for many years and people find it very disconcerting to be asked to relinquish such reflexive internalized beliefs - no matter what they see before them.

I do not know that they can pull it off one more time. We may have finally reached a tipping point. But I'm not counting any chickens.
No one is. There's always something compelling about the strong-willed fellow who says what you see is not actually what you see at all, and the world is not at all what is seems, but much better - so get rid of those negative thoughts and ignore the so-called reality. It'll only bring you down. There's another reality.

That sort of things sells a whole lot of self-help books, and gizmos on the infomercials, and diet-plans. Americans eat it up. We're an optimistic people. And "life is not what is seems" packs the Contemporary Christian churches and drives the forces saying science - Darwin and all that global warming stuff - is just facts, not reality. We're not skinny, bitter, sissy Frenchmen sitting in some left bank café or bistro, smoking odd cigarettes and sipping bad coffee, thinking about reality and what is coherent and valid. This is the new world. That coherent and valid stuff is for losers.

And that may work in November, one more time. War will be perpetual. How else do you make things better?

Posted by Alan at 23:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 21 July 2006 23:04 PDT home

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