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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, 8 August 2006
War Thoughts: Someone Needs to Tell the Story
Topic: Perspective
War Thoughts: Someone Needs to Tell the Story
So we have wars now in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon - and the ongoing attacks and counterattacks in Gaza, which probably count as one too. They are all covered for us in real-time detail, as are the statements of the leaders of this side or that, explaining why this or that is being done. There are press conferences, audio and video releases to the press or put out on the net, speeches at the UN - the leaders explain themselves and rally their followers, and hope to dismay their enemies.

The problem may be we have no Ernest Hemingway clarifying things, as in this -
As a young reporter, Hemingway met Mussolini. He recognized him as an act from quite early on, when he and a crowd of fellow reporters were summoned into Il Duce's black-shirted presence at the Lausanne Conference.

"Mussolini sat at his desk reading a book. His face was contorted into the famous frown. He was registering Dictator ... I tiptoed over behind him to see what the book was he was reading with such avid interest. It was a French-English dictionary - held upside down." - Toronto Daily Star, 27 January 1923
Who would he interview today? Our incurious president? Anyone can see the parallel, although George Bush is not one to fake book-learning and intelligence - he considers that stuff just not relevant to leadership, where following your instincts and resolve, not details, matter. He's just not a fraud, like the little Italian fellow. What you see is what you get.

And any collection of quotes from Hemingway has statements like these - "You can wipe out your opponents. But if you do it unjustly you become eligible for being wiped out yourself." Hemingway would be banned from Fox News.

And there's this - "They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason."

That's Michael Moore territory, although it refers to a line from an ode of Horace - "Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori" - and to Wilfred Owen describing death from mustard gas in the trenches in Word War One here. Michael Moore doesn't cite the Roman poets.

Who knows what Hemingway would report on Tuesday, August 8, as the Associated Press tells us here that south Lebanon is "closed" - basically Israel shut down south Lebanon with a threat "to blast any moving vehicles?" The ground fighting at the Israeli border intensified, even more, and airstrikes killed at least nineteen civilians. The moderate Arab governments we counted on to reject the Hezbollah "terrorists" all called for a full Israeli withdrawal as a condition of any cease-fire, and we still maintain there really should be a cease-fire, as long as Israel stays there and can continue to go get the bad guys, and as soon as the bad guys agree to disband and find something else to do with their time. That's a hard sell.

The Toronto Star is still around, but Hemingway is long gone, so there's no one to capture the nasty absurdity of all this.

The evening was the US, French and Arab negotiators meeting into the night at the United Nations, and Israel "voicing cautious interest" in a Lebanese proposal to deploy 15,000 of its troops to control the ground in south Lebanon, where Hezbollah has been firing a whole lot of rockets into Israel. But this was going nowhere - the issue of who will patrol southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah militants are doing their thing, is the real sticking point in these UN cease-fire negotiations. Lebanon and other Arab nations were insisting the Israeli forces must leave when a cease-fire agreement is reached, and we said we want an international force to replace the Israeli soldiers, to do just what they're doing, even if it takes weeks to make the switch-out. The talk was maybe something could be worked out by late Thursday, but no one sees how. The Security Council put off for at least a day any voting the US (and French) cease-fire proposal. Why? To allow three leading Arab officials to present arguments that the resolution was "heavily tilted" in favor of Israel and did not "take Lebanon's interest and stability into account." We say there might be room for "limited compromise" - but we promise nothing.

And there was this -
Both Israel and the United States issued positive, if lukewarm, assessments Tuesday of the Lebanese government's plan to dispatch 15,000 soldiers into south Lebanon after a cease-fire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces. "It looks interesting and we will examine it closely," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said.

The White House said it was willing to consider the proposal but is convinced that Lebanon is not equipped to handle the job on its own. "The administration understands that the Lebanese armed forces are going to need some help, and we're working with allies to try to figure out the proper way to do it," White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters gathered near the president's vacation home.
Need some help? On various news shows you could see the fellow from Janes Defense Weekly saying this was hardly an army at all - just no capability, no armor, and all the money that should have been spent on equipment and training went into salaries and pensions, to ensure loyalty. And others point out a third of this Lebanese army is Shiite - not inclined to go fight Shiite Hezbollah.

It's bit of a joke, and note this -
A day after his Cabinet conditionally approved dispatching the troops to the south, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora praised Hezbollah's resistance, but said it was time for Lebanon to "impose its full control, authority and presence" nationwide - as directed in previous UN resolutions that also called for the government to disarm Hezbollah. "There will be no authority, no one in command, no weapons other than those of the Lebanese state," he said on Al-Arabiya television.
Saniora is walking a fine line.

And it just gets worse (or better, if you're a Cheney-Kristol neoconservative) -
After four weeks of fighting, nearly 800 people have died on both sides. Rescuers in Lebanon pulled 28 additional corpses from the wreckage of Monday's attacks, raising that day's toll to 77 Lebanese - the deadliest single day of the war. Early Wednesday, Lebanese and Palestinian officials said Israeli gunboats shelled a Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon, causing a number of casualties.

In Tyre, part of the south Lebanon region where Israel declared the no-drive zone, only pedestrians ventured into the streets. Country roads and highways were deserted throughout the region because of the Israeli threat. Although Israel said it would not attack humanitarian convoys, the UN was not taking any chances. "There are two words that sum up where the humanitarian situation is, and these are 'not enough,'" said Wivina Belmonte of the UN Children's Fund. "Fuel supplies are not enough, hospitals are on life support, supplies of humanitarian goods trying to get into the country are not enough."

At least 160 Hezbollah rockets hit northern Israel, most of them in and around the towns of Nahariya, Kiryat Shemona, Maalot, Safed. No Israeli civilians were killed.

Some of the fiercest ground fighting raged around the village of Bint Jbail, a Hezbollah stronghold that Israeli has tried to capture for weeks. Three Israel soldiers were killed there Tuesday, the military said, claiming 35 Hezbollah guerrillas died in the fighting. Hezbollah would not confirm any deaths.

Travel in Lebanon's south has been severely limited since early in the conflict because roads were cut by Israeli airstrikes, many civilians were killed trying to flee the fighting, and rescue and aid workers also were in danger.
Yep, it's that pesky eighteen-mile no-drive zone Israel establish - we warned you civilians to get out, but you figure out how to do it. And good luck with that. The United Nations suspended attempts to send relief to southern Lebanon because of the heavy shelling. They're not crazy.

The tally as of August 9 - at least 689 people have died on the Lebanese side, and on the Israeli side we have 100 killed - 36 civilians and 65 soldiers. It's just a place mark - record of a spot in time.

And no one reporting now has Hemingway's eye for telling detail and gift for narrative compression, so what's being said is a bit pedestrian, although this from Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly gets to the logic underlying the madness of Israel waging major war against folks who don't play by those rules, who are just playing a different game (hide-and seek versus NFL football perhaps) -
Readers more hawkish than me sometimes wonder what it would take to convince me that conventional war is an effective tool even against a guerrilla force in the Middle East. Well, suppose this proposal pans out and we end up with a sequence of events something like this:

1. Israel launches massive assault on Lebanon.
2. Lebanese government eventually sues for peace and offers to send its army to the border.
3. Over a period of months the Israeli army hands off control of southern Lebanon to the Lebanese army and withdraws.
4. Hezbollah isn't destroyed, but the Lebanese army manages to keep control of the border and maintain relative peace. Over time their control increases and Hezbollah's influence decreases.

I don't expect this to happen, but if it did it would mean that in this case I was wrong and the hawks were right - and I would have to reexamine my broader worldview about when and where the use of force is effective.

But how about the reverse? I wonder what sequence of events would cause the hawks to reassess their assumptions?
You get the point, but it's a thought-experiment, and a cold one at that. Of course it captures how Israel and the Bush administration say things will inevitably and certainly work out, just as they have in Iraq for us, or something.

Daniel Goldhagen is a bit more dour in the August 8 Los Angeles Times with this review of the options Israel really has in dealing with Hezbollah -

- Deterrence. Won't work because Hezbollah doesn't care if Lebanon gets bombed.
- Genuine peace. Impossible because Hezbollah will never agree.
- Conventional war. Not effective against a guerrilla army.
- Put up with the status quo. Intolerable because Hezbollah's attacks will only escalate.
- War with Syria and Iran.

So that's the only option, of you want to rid yourself of this "mortal enemy."

That summary also comes from Kevin Drum, who adds that when you put it like that, a massive regional war almost sounds reasonable. But he adds this -
Sure, Israel should retaliate against Hezbollah's rocket attacks and destroy what infrastructure they can, but beyond that wouldn't it be wiser for the US and Israel to retain the support of surrounding Arab countries by helping to steadily strengthen Lebanese civil society and the Lebanese government until it gets to the point where it can control Hezbollah?

Yes, this might easily take another decade. And yes, it might not work. But while it may be comforting to think that a massive military assault would work better, recent history suggests this is naive. Sometimes the only answer is the slow and agonizingly frustrating one.
But our administration doesn't like "slow" - and "agonizing frustration" doesn't come easily to the former frat boy and former alcoholic at the helm.

That is captured by Daniel Froomkin in his summary column in the Post, Tuesday, August 8, here -
A vacationing President Bush briefly suited up and faced the media hordes yesterday morning to outline his administration's vision for an eventual cessation of hostilities in Lebanon. Then he high-tailed it back to his sprawling country home, leaving Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to do the heavy lifting.

Bush was generous with the familiar talking points but didn't exactly give the impression of someone who feels any sense of personal urgency to stop the killing.
Hemingway would have made much of that, but he's gone. Ah, but we still have Norman Mailer capturing the essence of the whole thing in a speech to The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco a few days before we rolled into Baghdad with this -
Because democracy is noble, it is always endangered. Nobility, indeed, is always in danger. Democracy is perishable. I think the natural government for most people, given the uglier depths of human nature, is fascism. Fascism is more of a natural state than democracy. To assume blithely that we can export democracy into any country we choose can serve paradoxically to encourage more fascism at home and abroad. Democracy is a state of grace attained only by those countries that have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom but to undergo the heavy labor of maintaining it.

The need for powerful theory can fall into many an abyss of error. One could, for example, be wrong about the unspoken motives of the administration. Perhaps they are not interested in Empire so much as trying in good faith to save the world. We can be certain at least that Bush and his Bushites believe this. By the time they are in church each Sunday, they believe it so powerfully, tears come to their eyes. Of course, it is the actions of men and not their sentiments that make history. Our sentiments can be flooded with love within, but our actions can produce the opposite. Perversity is always looking to consort with the best motives in human nature.

David Frum, who was a speechwriter for Bush (he coined the phrase "axis of evil"), recounts in The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush what happened at a meeting in the Oval Office last September [2002]. The President, when talking to a group of reverends from the major denominations, told them, "You know, I had a drinking problem. Right now, I should be in a bar in Texas, not the Oval Office. There is only one reason that I am in the Oval Office and not in a bar: I found faith. I found God. I am here because of the power of prayer."

That is a dangerous remark. As Kierkegaard was the first to suggest, we can never know where our prayers are likely to go nor from whom the answers will come. When we think we are nearest to God, we could be assisting the Devil.

"Our war with terror," says Bush, "begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end ... until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated."

But … what if America ends up alienating the whole world in the process?

… "At some point, we may be the only ones left," Bush told his closest advisers, according to an administration member who leaked the story to Bob Woodward. "That's okay with me. We are American."
So why worry? You decide.

And what about what Ulysses S. Grant - a tanner's son who knew his business - called the Butcher's Bill, as Bill Montgomery discusses here? That's a detailed discussion of the "kill ratio" - Hezbollah guerillas to Israeli regulars to date. Israel expected 10:1 in their favor and it looks like 2:1 at the moment.

The problem -
At a kill ratio of 2:1, that would equal 656 (rounded down) Israeli KIA - about a quarter of Israel's combat deaths in the Yom Kippur War, when it was fighting the armies of two Arab states. At a 4:1 kill ratio, it would be 328 KIA - about half of total Israeli deaths in the first Lebanon War.

Of course, if Israel goes to the Litani it would then find itself waist deep in a prolonged guerrilla war of attrition, which no doubt would result in even more Israeli casualties. But we'll leave those off the back of the envelope for now.

Israel has a total population of just over 6 million - about 2% of the US population. So proportionally, 656 Israeli KIA would equal roughly 33,000 American combat deaths, or about two-thirds of US losses for the entire Vietnam War. And like I said, that would probably just be for starters.

Does the Olmert government have the stomach for that kind of fighting? Is the Israeli public willing to pay so much blood to conquer a piece of ground that almost certainly will have to be given back later? And what if the big push doesn't stop the rocket attacks but only reduces them temporarily? Would it still be worth such a price?

These are the questions the Israeli prime minister and his cabinet will have to answer if a ceasefire cannot be arranged. I don't envy them.
But they've made their choice, and they're rolling in, having replaced their top general in the north. Hemingway interviewing Olmert would be cool.

On the other hand, some things are just naturally good and absurd narrative, as in this -
"The position that we're taking in the UN is just nuts," a former White House official close to the US decision-making process said during the negotiations. "The US wants to put international forces on the ground in the middle of the conflict, before there's a ceasefire. The reasoning at the White House is that the international force could weigh on the side of the Israelis - could enforce Hezbollah's disarmament"

… A former US Central Intelligence Agency officer confirmed this view: "I am under the impression that George Bush and Condoleezza Rice were surprised when the Europeans disagreed with the US position - they were running around saying, 'But how can you disagree, don't you understand? Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.'"
Indeed it is, but the whole idea is loopy, even if the rest of the world is being polite and not laughing in our faces.

And who needs the severe Hemingway when you have the flamboyant Montgomery with this -
This is supposed to encourage the French to plunk their people down in the middle of a hot LZ?

Ever since 9/11, there's been this attitude among the Bushies that the most important thing is to convince the world that America's enemies (who are now identical with Israel's enemies) represent the ultimate in evil - the Wal-Mart of evil, the Pittsburgh Steelers of evil, the Dr. Evil of evil. Once that goal has been accomplished, why then of course the "free world" will line up and enlist in Uncle Sam's army. Or so the thinking seems to be.

In other words, the PR strategy is also the diplomatic strategy - and, as we've seen in Iraq, the military strategy as well.

… To paraphrase a slogan, Manichaeism is not a plan. Other than Tony Blair, even our closest allies no longer buy the shining-city-on-the hill act - if they ever did (and Blair may just be a good actor with an eye for the main chance.) The French, like the rest of the non-Islamic world, look at the United States and see a great big muscle-bound bundle of great power ambitions, resource hungers, security paranoias and ideological arrogance - in addition to the good things America represents (or once represented, back in the day.) They look at Hezbollah and see a complex mixture of religious fanaticism, grassroots loyalty and political pragmatism - as well as Iran's proxy in Lebanon. A problem to be handled, but handled with care.

The distinction between these two viewpoints has been overanalyzed to death in recent years. America is from Mars, Europe is from Venus, etc. But at this point it looks pretty fairly straightforward: Americans believe their own PR spin and the Europeans don't. But the French are the ones being asked to put boots on the ground in southern Lebanon, not the Americans. The French aren't very happy about doing this because it's not really in their interests - although papering over their differences with the Cheney administration is in their interests. But they certainly won't go in unless they're satisfied Hezbollah is ready to stop shooting. So if Shrub wants a French-led peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, he has no choice but to accept French terms, which at this point means accepting Hezbollah's terms, which means getting the Israelis out of Lebanon.

… What matters is whether a ceasefire, on terms acceptable to Hezbollah, would be more evil or less evil than allowing the continuation of a war that no longer has much point to it (not unless the Israelis really are prepared to fight their way far enough north to put Hezbollah's rocketeers out of business.)

That's the choice, and all the harrumphing in the world about the "evildoers" isn't going to change the basic power equation. If Bush doesn't like the choices on the diplomatic menu, then he needs to be ready to send in the 82nd Airborne - and accept the consequences. It doesn't look like he is.
But the problem is the neoconservatives, of course -
The neocons are absolutely hooked on unilateralism: It's hardwired into their brains and it doesn't look like any number of fiascos will be enough to rearrange the circuits. The unilateral exercise of American power, particularly military power, is the fundamental, defining, unifying idea of neoconism. It can't be abandoned or the whole pretentious edifice collapses.

A unilateralism that reflects an accurate reading of underlying power relationships is one thing - it may be ugly, but it can certainly "work," from a realpolitik point of view. Just ask Otto von Bismarck. But a unilateralism based on nothing more than a conviction of one's own inherent superiority is a foreign policy disaster waiting to happen (and now it's happening.)

… As a practical matter, it makes no difference whether such delusions are based on imperial tradition, fantasies of racial supremacy, or a deeply held belief in one's own superior morality. Napoleon once said that the moral is to the physical in war as three is to one. Which may be true, but you still need to have that one. And in this particular situation - like so many situations these days - Shrub doesn't have it.

What this means is a need to choose: between a conviction of moral superiority that lives within its means, so to speak, or a much more aggressive mobilization of America and its resources to fight the "long war." But that kind of mobilization doesn't seem to be on anyone's to-do list, except for a few Fox News gasbags.
Well, Montgomery is not Hemingway, but the man can write. He'll do just fine. Someone needs to tell the story.

Posted by Alan at 22:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 9 August 2006 07:09 PDT home

Monday, 7 August 2006
Applying Logic, or Not
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
Applying Logic, or Not
Okay, as Americans we have been conditioned to disregard anything any Palestinian has to say - such people have their own agenda, the destruction of Israel and the Jews and all that, so we scoff at ideas coming from that corner. It's a mirror of how our government has come to operate in the last four and half years, and particularly since some months ago they abused the vote we graciously allowed them and elected Hamas to run things for them. We have noting to say to Hamas and we don't much care what they say, and are certainly not interested in what they think. We stopped all aid and severed diplomatic relations. They made their choice. They have to live it. Whatever they have to say, we don't want to hear it.

That is why you'll find an item from Marwan Bishara, the Palestinian writer and editorialist, in the International Herald Tribune, published in Paris, not in its parent publication, the New York Times. Of course there Bishara is a local - a lecturer at the American University of Paris and the author of Palestine/Israel: Peace or Apartheid (written in French but available translated into English).

The item, Three Conflicts, Two Mind-Sets, One Solution, hit the Paris paper on Monday, August 7, and it is rather clear-headed. And the Times can always run it later, if the folks in midtown Manhattan decide it's not too parochial, not just a Paris thing.

The thing about it is that it gets to some obvious core issues of the mess we're in and lays them out logically -
Behind the fighting in Lebanon, as in Palestine and Iraq, there is a fundamental conflict of views. America sees each as a clash between freedom and terrorism, while the Arabs think in terms of freedom versus military occupation and unjust wars. Unless the two opposing approaches are reconciled politically and diplomatically, the Middle East will sink into perpetual war and chaos.
And that's broken out getting down to the real basics -
The Bush administration charges Islamist fundamentalists and their sponsors in Tehran and Damascus with spreading an authoritarian ideology of hate against the will of the Arab majority. Washington believes that there is an American-style freedom-lover inside every Muslim, and that its mission is to drag it out by hook or crook. After all, the cause of liberty in America, according to the new Bush doctrine, is dependent on the cause of freedom abroad.

The Arabs, for their part, blame U.S. and Israeli wars and occupations for turning citizens into freedom fighters and providing terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda with fresh recruits and ideological alibis. They hold America and Israel responsible for death, destruction and surging extremism, in pursuit of narrow geopolitical interests rather than of universal values.
And the twain shall never meet, which may be, as Bishara notes, because of the myths and images that come with the opposing sets of beliefs. We and our allies (the UK, Israel and someone else, although it's hard to tell who these days) love to remind ourselves of 9/11, the Madrid bombings, the London Underground attacks, Bali, Casablanca and all the rest - they hate us for our freedoms and want to kill us all. The Arabs harp on the invasions and occupations of 1967, 1982 and Iraq 2003 - and on Abu Ghraib, which is old news and hardly worth a shrug over here, and on Guantánamo, a topic which bores most Americans (none of us is in there, after all) - and then there all the hundreds of "massacres," from Der Yassin in 1948 to last month's Qana bombing in southern Lebanon. We can say they're being picky and dwelling on the past, and they can say we're whining about events perpetrated by a few crazies that in the big scheme of things just aren't that very significant - bad stuff, but it's not Hiroshima or the Holocaust or anything.

One suspects the idea is that we should go and get the bad guys, the crazies, and give up on the idea of regime change to fix everything, where we invade, toss out the government and occupy this place or that until things settle down. That makes things worse, and it's only logical -
Under occupation, frustrated and angry people who see themselves as having nothing to lose turn to acts of terrorism, which in turn are exploited by the occupiers to justify continuing their domination. The fact that violent terrorist acts perpetrated by resisting groups are illegal and criminal should not overshadow their root cause - military occupations that cause mass suffering, humiliation and hatred. Occupation provides a permanent state of provocation.
No kidding. It might be wise then to decouple the 9/11 attacks (and their sister acts of terrorism) from the current Middle East conflicts. They may not have anything much to do with each other.

And Bishara makes the claim that "an overwhelming majority of Arabs do not recognize their religion in the image of Islam projected by Al Qaeda. And in the region there is little identification with the Taliban, except in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia." American readers may scoff at that claim, but heck, even the president keeps saying Islam is a religion of peace, even if all policy decisions in the region and the public justifications for the policies says the opposite. (People are either confused by this contradiction, exasperated, or feel they're "in" on the sly joke.)

What if the wars in the Middle East really don't have much to do with 9/11 and the rising threat of mad Muslims? We are told that cannot be so. The official position of our government is that all of this, really, is one big struggle - the global war on terrorism. Israel is, when you think about it, fighting back to avenge the fall of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan and the 757 punching through the way of the Pentagon - it only seems to be about Hezbollah grabbing two of their soldiers and habitually lobbing rockets into the north of Israel. And of course taking care of Gaza, arresting forty percent of the government they elected, the targeted assignation and all, isn't really about keeping buses and coffee shops in Tel-Aviv from being blown up by suicide bombers - it's about they Axis of Evil and all that. Palestine is no different than Iran or North Korea or whatever. And of course we're fighting "them" in Iraq so we don't have to fight here - even if there's still no evidence "they" want anything but to have a working country of some sort and have us good and gone, and we're the problem in the first place. But this is considered deep thinking these days - seeing everything as all the same thing. It elegantly simplifies matters, even if it's quite wrong.

So the asymmetrical wars in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq rage on. And it's gotten religious, and hopeless -
Washington's strategy of "constructive chaos" - which is also Al Qaeda's and Tehran's - needs to be seen against a backdrop of mounting religious fundamentalism. In claiming to answer a higher calling, the likes of President George W. Bush and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran are theologizing what were colonial and imperial conflicts, recasting them in terms of jihad versus crusade.

If the 20th century is any guide, it is evident who will be the eventual loser in these conflagrations. America and its allies might possess far more advanced and destructive firepower, but they are far less committed than their opponents and far more prone to losing momentum.

Highly trained and highly equipped American, Israeli and British soldiers strive to stay alive as they fight low-tech volunteer militants who are more than ready to sacrifice themselves and die as martyrs. As America mourns its deaths, resisting Islamist and secular groups celebrate theirs. Military interventions have generated a huge reservoir of pent-up violence among Arabs, while hardly shaking Palestinian, Iraqi and Lebanese resolve against foreign domination.
So time is not on our side, and we're not quite as frantically religious as our foes - we still do pay lip service to separating matters of state from religious matters, where everyone must believe one same thing, although the president does say, repeatedly, that God want everyone to live in some sort of western-style democracy. He just knows that, or rather, that is, he says, what he truly believes, and what all Americans should believe. Isn't it pretty to think so? Maybe, though, God just doesn't care about such stuff. And of course military occupation plays right into the hands of religious fundamentalists, and discredits all the "freedom talk."

What does God want, really? That depends on whether He's speaking to Ahmadinejad or Bush. There is a chance He's not spoken to either of them and they're imagining things.

Until that's straightened out - and the clouds part, He speaks, and chooses sides - Bishara suggests trying UN Security Council Resolution 1559 - that one calls for complete withdrawal of foreign troops and the disarming of local groups. That means United States and Israeli withdrawal from Iraq and Palestine as well as Lebanese and Syrian lands, and then you have the disarming of all "armed groups" and freeing prisoners there.

That's just not going to happen. We need to avenge 9/11 and fight evil and spread democracy. The other side doesn't much like being humiliated and living in a war zone occupied by foreigners, and all the death and chaos, even if we say they'll like the freedom and the Wal-Mart down the street, later.

Bishara may be logical, but doesn't understand we're making the world better. This, logic, is what you'd expect from a Palestinian teaching at a university in Paris. Didn't the Enlightenment - that big change in the eighteenth century that ushered in the Age of Reason and the idea you should examine reality and think things through - pretty much start there? Our president operates from a deeper level than logic - he operates from belief. So does Ahmadinejad.

And it is all beyond logic now as Glenn Greenwald points out here -
In his radio address last weekend, George W. Bush defined the goals of our Middle East policies, including our occupation of Iraq, this way:

"The lack of freedom in [the Middle East] created conditions where anger and resentment grew, radicalism thrived, and terrorists found willing recruits. We saw the consequences on September the 11th, 2001, when terrorists brought death and destruction to our country, killing nearly 3,000 innocent Americans ...

"The experience of September the 11th made it clear that we could no longer tolerate the status quo in the Middle East. We saw that when an entire region simmers in violence, that violence will eventually reach our shores and spread across the entire world."

According to the president, American security is threatened when anti-US resentment grows in the Middle East and the region is awash in violence. Our goal, then, is to bring about a new Middle East where the US is viewed as a force for good and peace and freedom can take hold. That is the essence of the neoconservative worldview.
The problem might be this -
That is the inescapable incoherence that lies at the core of neoconservatism. It claims as its goal the transformation of "hearts and minds" but the only instruments it knows are air raids and ground invasions. This approach is no different than trying to extinguish a fire with gasoline, and unsurprisingly, the flames that for decades were simmering are now raging, with no limits and no end in sight.
Yeah, well, "inescapable incoherence" doesn't bother these guys. That's for those who chop logic - a term used long ago to mock the thinkers of the Enlightenment.

But this writer (echidne) finds the initial Bush quote the most interesting thing here -
Note how many sweeping simplifications he manages to squash into one short statement: Lack of freedom is what caused resentment and terrorism and 911, and we need to fix this lack of freedom.

"Freedom" is never defined. What are the nations of the Middle East supposed to be freed from or freed to? As George Lakoff points out in his new book Whose Freedom?, we can't be sure that we know what this term might mean to George Bush.

And then there is the lumping of all types of resentments and terrorisms into one amorphous seething mass. No attempt to distinguish Sunnis from Shias or Wahhabis, for example. No attempt to tie the storyline to the actual historical events in the various nations of this geographical area.
Of course not. That's for those stuck way back in the Age of Reason. This is the twenty-first century now, and if not exactly the Age of Belief again, although that seems to be a good name for the age, it certainly is the age of gut instinct (historians can capitalize it later).

As for one subset of this all, Bill Montgomery has been following things by reading the news there from the Center for Democracy and the Rule of Law (CDRL) - an independent, non-profit first established in July, 1994 as Campaign for Good Governance in Lebanon. And they find good quotes, like this from Israeli General Halutz saying this will escalate -
However, the officer said, "we are now in a process of renewed escalation. We will continue hitting everything that moves in Hezbollah - but we will also hit strategic civilian infrastructure…. "It could be that at the end of the story, Lebanon will be dark for a few years," said one [officer].
Is this helpful? Montgomery says that is unlikely -
The Israelis must not believe their own propaganda rhetoric about what a brutal, ruthless terrorist Sheikh Nasrallah is, or they would certainly understand that such threats will move him not at all. Hizbullah isn't going to cry uncle because of a little terror bombing - no more than Uncle Ho (the original, not Horowitz) was willing to submit to a fleet of American B-52s over Hanoi. By talking such crazy talk, Halutz only demonstrates what a weak hand the Israelis are now holding, which strengthens Sheikh Nasrallah's hand immeasurably. Halutz really should check himself back into the hospital, and stay there.

… I don't know how much the Israelis have contributed to their own bad bargaining position by flexing their jawbones so much, but there's no question we've seen an amazing turnabout over the past three or four days. Now it's the dimwitted sheriff and his clown posse who are looking for a way to get out of the showdown while Hezbollah, the bad hombre in the black hat (or turban, as the case may be) is coolly standing in the middle of the street outside the saloon saying "take your best shot, pardner."

Whether this is because Sheikh Nasrallah thinks his hand is so strong he can bluff the Israelis back across the border, or whether it's because he believes a long, drawn-out war of attrition with the IDF actually suits his interests even better than a ceasefire (and to hell with the agony and death it will inflict on the Lebanese people) I don't know. I'm also not willing to venture a guess.

… But I have to say, the spectacle of Israel's political and military establishment dancing anxiously on the diplomatic sidelines, hoping the UN Security Council will step in with a timely ceasefire, while their Arab enemy impassively declares his willingness to keep on fighting, is a sight I truly never expected to see.

To call it the world turned upside down doesn't do it justice by half.
But there you have it. Logic is not at play here. Logic is in a closet in some back street in Paris, a closet that hasn't been opened since 1751 or so. Diderot's closet (with the draft notes of the Encyclopédie).

But things in Iraq get just as puzzling, as most Americans just won't get this, and just resent how ungrateful these people are -
Iraq 's prime minister sharply criticized a U.S.-Iraqi attack Monday on a Shiite militia stronghold in Baghdad, breaking with his American partners on security tactics as the United States launches a major operation to secure the capital.

… Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's criticism followed a pre-dawn air and ground attack on an area of Sadr City, stronghold of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.

Police said three people, including a woman and a child, were killed in the raid, which the U.S. command said was aimed at "individuals involved in punishment and torture cell activities."

One U.S. soldier was wounded, the U.S. said.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, said he was "very angered and pained" by the operation, warning that it could undermine his efforts toward national reconciliation.

"Reconciliation cannot go hand in hand with operations that violate the rights of citizens this way," al-Maliki said in a statement on government television. "This operation used weapons that are unreasonable to detain someone - like using planes."

He apologized to the Iraqi people for the operation and said "this won't happen again."
It won't? One imagines Dick Cheney is the shadows of his darkened office muttering what must be on his mind - "Who does he think he is?"

After all, hours earlier the president had said -
My attitude is that a young democracy has been born quite quickly. And I think the Iraqi government has shown remarkable progress on the political front. And that is that they developed a modern constitution that was ratified by the people and then 12 million people voted for a government.

Which gives me confidence about the future in Iraq, by the way. You know, I hear people say, well, civil war this, civil war that. The Iraqi people decided against civil war when they went to the ballot box. And a unity government is working to respond to the will of the people. And, frankly, it's quite a remarkable achievement on the political front.
You can watch the video of that here - he displays his attitude, and his confidence, and no matter what his generals said, there just is no civil war over there, really, and things are as they should be. The facts on the ground? What about those? "Say, do you notice how confident I am, and my attitude - don't they matter more?" Well, that's the gamble he's taken, that they do matter more. That may wear thin, finally. Or not. Americans like to be hopeful.

And as for the cease-fire in Lebanon, late Monday, August 7, this -
The Lebanese prime minister rejected a UN cease-fire plan backed by President Bush, demanding on Monday that Israel immediately pull out from southern Lebanon even before a peacekeeping force arrives to act as a buffer between Hezbollah and the Jewish state.

Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's stand, delivered in a tearful speech to Arab foreign ministers, came on a day in which 49 Lebanese were killed - one of the deadliest days for Lebanese in nearly four weeks of fighting.

His Cabinet, which includes two Hezbollah ministers, voted unanimously to send 15,000 troops to stand between Israel and Hezbollah should a cease-fire take hold and Israeli forces withdraw south of the border. The move was an attempt to show that Lebanon has the will and ability to assert control over its south, which is run by Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite Muslim militia backed by Syria and Iran.

In Texas, Bush said any cease-fire must prevent Hezbollah from strengthening its grip in southern Lebanon, asserting "it's time to address root causes of problems." He urged the United Nations to work quickly to approve a US-French draft resolution to stop the hostilities.
Except the Arab nations will have no part of it, lining up with Lebanon, suggesting this is not about 9/11 or al Qaeda or the Taliban, or remaking the Middle East or about North Korea or Cuba or whatever - just about stooping the fighting now and getting the occupying troops out of Lebanon.

It's funny. They would consider that freedom. We define it differently. The fellow in Paris had it right. Things are very far apart.

Posted by Alan at 23:00 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 8 August 2006 07:14 PDT home

Sunday, 6 August 2006
Crises: Short Term, Long Term
Topic: For policy wonks...
Crises: Short Term, Long Term
So as of Sunday, August 6, we have a crease-fire proposal out there. The United States and France settled their differences and come up with a resolution the United Nations will consider in the next several days. Its not a cease-fire, but rather a proposal fro a cease-fire - a draft UN cease-fire resolution. The clock radio snapped on at six in the morning here in Hollywood, turned to the all-news station, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was speaking to the early risers in Los Angeles, and everyone in the world of course, from the president's ranch in Texas, the one he bought in 1999 to cement his image as a cowboy. She's there with National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, messing up his already shorted vacation - ten days, not the usual month. Poor guy.

The Associated Press account is here, of Rice saying this cease-fire resolution as "a first step to stop violence in the Middle East," but it cannot solve the problems in Lebanon. For that the Lebanese government must "extend its authority into the south" so Hezbollah does not have control there, and really, the "international community" must help Lebanese forces toss the bums out over the next several months.

He depressing message - "We're trying to deal with a problem that has been festering and brewing in Lebanon now for years and years and years, and so it's not going to be solved by one resolution in the Security Council. These things take awhile to wind down. It is certainly not the case that probably all violence is going to stop. ... I can't say that you should rule out that there could be skirmishes of some kind for some time to come."

While she was saying that, the Israeli Air Force was bombing the crap out of southern Beirut, again, and Hezbollah was barraging northern Israel down as far south as Haifa with waves of those fall-where-they-will rockets, killing twelve or thirteen Israeli civilians. The rate was up to eighty rockets an hour. (And at the same US troops were pouring in Baghdad to try to stop the chaos there, and a suicide bomber killed at least ten people and wounded about twenty more at a funeral up north in Tikrit - taking out a tent filled with mourners at the funeral of the father of a provincial councilor.) Things aren't going that well.

In any event, draft UN cease-fire resolution calls for Hezbollah to stop all military operations and for Israel to stop its offensive drive against Lebanon. The proposal would, of course, allow Israel to strike back if Hezbollah were to break any cease-fire that's worked out. You have to give them that option.

Hadley said the United States hoped the resolution would pass Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning, perhaps, but the Lebanese parliamentary speaker, a Shiite who has been negotiating on behalf of Hezbollah, flat-out rejected the plan because it did not include an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of Israeli troops. The fighting does stop not until they Israeli troops are gone. Israel says it won't pull its troops out of the south until "a significant international military force" is deployed in the region. They're staying, and this does not look promising. Rice says there really will be "a significant international military force" one day - that's in a second proposal being drafted. But that one is harder. And we won't be part of that - it would look bad and we don't have the troops anyway. So really, nothing much will change.

A curious detail in the AP item is this - President Bush spoke on the phone to British Prime Minister Tony Blair for forty-seven minutes Sunday about their "strategy for the Middle East" but Hadley said Bush had not called the prime ministers of Lebanon or Israel. One assumes it's just not their show. What do they have to do with anything? That surprised people, but Hadley said Bush could call them, you never know - "If it will advance the diplomacy, the president will do it." As for now it seems they don't matter. They're just the children - the adults are working things out. So they've been put in their place, creepy little countries whining about their dead. But there's no surprise here. Or government likes to slap people down and exclude others - it shows we're the good guys, and certainly the important people.

A quick summary from Juan Cole, the Middle East expert at the University of Michigan here -
The resolution does not require Israeli forces to depart Lebanese soil, which Hezbollah says is a deal breaker with regard to any ceasefire.

That this language was agreed upon by John Bolton, among the most velociraptor-like warmongers to hold high office in American history, suggests one of two things: Either the Israeli political elite itself has concluded that it has accomplished all it can against Hezbollah, or the Europeans and US Arab allies, including Iraq, have prevailed on Bush to shorten the leash on Olmert. The war will go on for a while, even so, as the Israelis continue their ethnic cleansing of the Lebanese South.
The point is that Israel has agreed to something, after all, as unworkable as it is. Within the next few weeks or months something or other will happen and this will end, or not.

Bill Montgomery offers a comprehensive analysis of this first draft UN cease-fire resolution here and because it is long and complex he opens with an appropriate quote -
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."
Of course that's from Lewis Carroll, Alice Through the Looking Glass. And it fits, as in -
It's difficult to know exactly what to make of the proposed UN Security Council resolution the Anglos and the French have finally managed to hammer out - in part because it's really two resolutions jammed together one.

It's a portmanteau, in other words, like one of Humpty Dumpty's nonsense words in Through the Looking Glass - "slithy," "toves," "mimsy," etc. - "Well, 'slithy' means 'lithe and slimy.' 'Lithe' is the same as 'active.' You see it's like a portmanteau - there are two meanings packed up into one word."

The first resolution - the lithe part of "slithy" --appears to be basically a ceasefire in place dressed up with some artful language to make it sound like the Israelis and Hezbollah are not being placed on an equal footing, even though they are. This part of the resolution calls for: A full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations.

An immediate ceasefire in place, without preconditions, is what the French and the rest of the world have been begging for since the war started, while Bush and his British butler have been holding out for a "comprehensive" or "lasting" ceasefire with many preconditions, including the disarming of Hezbollah and extension of Lebanese government authority and Lebanese army control to southern Lebanon.

The first part of the resolution contains none of these supposedly indispensable conditions. It appears to call quite clearly for an immediate cessation of hostilities on both sides - although with slightly different phrasing applied to each. It's not clear to me whether this word play is simply a fig leaf to try to obscure the fact that the resolution essentially treats Hezbollah as a legitimate combatant, or whether it's some sort of loophole designed to allow the IDF to continue its "offensive operations" while the Israelis and the Cheney administration pretend that they've been halted.
Who knows? Does it matter? Hezbollah is saying - "Israel is the aggressor. When the Israeli aggression stops, Hezbollah simply will cease fire on the condition that no Israeli soldier remains inside Lebanese land." This may not work at all.

And so it goes. But there are more pressing problem, long-term ones. Like the air conditioning crisis.

What?

Yep - you could look into this from William Saletan about "the deluded world of air conditioning."

He's not kidding
Have you heard the news? Scientists have found a planet that can support life. Its atmosphere is too hot for year-round habitation, its gases impede breathing, and surface conditions are sometimes fatal. But by constructing a network of sealed facilities, tunnels, and vehicles, humans could survive on this planet for decades and perhaps even centuries.

The planet is called Earth.

If you've seen this planet lately, you know what's going on: temperature records shattering, scores of Americans dead. By summer's end, the toll will be in the hundreds. It's not as bad as 2003, when a heat wave killed 30,000 people in Europe. But according to global-warming forecasts, within 40 years, every other summer will be like that one.
That leads into a discussion of air conditioning and the current trend in from Washington to Los Angeles opening artificially cooled buildings to the public, and all the people lining up to buy window units (more places there are no more to be purchased).

We're told that according to the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (there is one), shipments of air conditioners and heat pumps have tripled over the last three decades and the percentage of single-family homes built with central air has gone from thirty-six to eighty-seven, and cars built with air conditioning from sixty-one to ninety-eight percent. Occupied mobile homes have jumped from forty-two percent to eighty-four.

So what's the problem? The problem is really simple - air conditioning takes indoor heat and pushes it outdoors, and to do this, it uses energy, "which increases production of greenhouse gases, which warm the atmosphere. From a cooling standpoint, the first transaction is a wash, and the second is a loss. We're cooking our planet to refrigerate the diminishing part that's still habitable."

This is serious, perhaps. Power consumption is breaking records, and air conditioning is the issue - we use about one-sixth of our electricity for it. Saletan notes that's more than the total electricity consumption of India, and they have more than a billion people there. And of course to get all this electricity, we burn oil and coal. And the air conditioners in cars drops urban fuel efficiency by up to four miles per gallon - so that's seven billion gallons of gasoline right there.

Then there's this -
More burning of oil and coal means more greenhouse gases. Based on government data, Stan Cox, a scientist at the Land Institute, calculates that air-conditioning the average U.S. home requires 3,400 pounds of carbon-dioxide production per year. The effects of this are particularly bad at night. Over the last five summers, very high minimum daily temperatures - those that score in the top 10 percent historically - have been far more widespread in this country than during any other five-year period. This is what's killing people. Outdoor air used to cool at night, allowing us to recover from the day's heat. Now it doesn't. To fuel our own air conditioning, we're destroying nature's.

The hotter it gets, the more energy we burn. In 1981, only one in three American households with central air used it all summer long. By 1997, more than half did. Countries once cooled by outdoor air now cool themselves. In Britain, 75 percent of new cars have air conditioning. In Canada, energy consumption for residential cooling has doubled in 10 years, and half the homes now have central or window units. Kuujjuaq, an Eskimo village 1,000 miles north of Montreal, just bought 10 air conditioners. According to the mayor, it's been getting hot lately.
You see where this is leading. Forget Israel and the Hezbollah - we're ruining the whole world real fast.

And the politicians cannot fix this, for the most ironic of reasons -
Policymakers aren't facing global warming, because they aren't feeling it. They gave themselves air conditioning in the 1920s and '30s, long before the public got it. White House meetings and congressional hearings on climate change are doomed hours beforehand, when the thermostats are set. One minute, you're watching video of people sweltering in New Orleans. The next minute, you're watching senators dispute the significance of greenhouse gases. Don't ask whether these people are living on the same planet. In effect, they aren't.

When outdoor heat leaks into the Washington bubble, like crime into a white neighborhood, officials treat it as a faux pas. Three weeks ago, House Majority Leader John Boehner told reporters in a Capitol press gallery, "It'd be nice if they could get you a little more air conditioning up here." This week, President Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, assured White House correspondents that their briefing room would soon be renovated. "Gathering from the temperature in this room at this moment, I think everybody agrees that it's probably about time to have a new and updated air conditioning and heating system," he joked.
And course, as reported everywhere, Majority Leader Boehner has vowed, should the Republicans, but some miracle, retain control of the House, he will fight tooth and claw to expose the hoax of global warming and stop all these efforts by the sadly misinformed scientists and the chicken-little-sky-is-falling environmentalists, who hate capitalism and free enterprise and whatever else, from ruining America.

Ah well, choose your crisis. Things may settle down in the Middle East, and it may not matter.

Posted by Alan at 13:37 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 6 August 2006 13:39 PDT home

Saturday, 5 August 2006
Gone Fishing
Topic: Photos
Gone Fishing
No commentary today. Other matters have come up.

Fishing at Redondo Beach Pier, Sunday, July 30, 2006


Posted by Alan at 07:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Friday, 4 August 2006
The Center Moves - It Doesn't Matter
Topic: Perspective
The Center Moves - It Doesn't Matter
Friday, August 4, 2006, and the twenty-fourth day of the Israeli war with Hezbollah comes to an end - ten thousand troops now in southern Lebanon, small battles beyond, up to the Syrian border, Beirut being bombed, along with the Christian enclaves on the north side of the city now, Hezbollah rockets now hitting fifty miles into Israel with the expected civilian deaths, and Israel taking out bridges so all main roads in and out of Lebanon are impassible - thus no aid will be coming in. The United States still blocking the worldwide call for an immediate ceasefire, and Janes Defense Weekly reporting Iran will send surface-to-air missiles to Hezbollah so they can take out the Israeli jets. In the new Iraq we created one hundred thousand take to the streets of Baghdad in support of Hezbollah shouting Death to Israel and Death to the United States, and we lose two more of our troops in the western provinces, and the bombings go - twenty or more Iraqi police dead when a suicide bomber does his thing at a soccer game where these guys were playing the locals for the fun of it, and the usual death squad assassinations and kidnappings from Mosul to Basra, and the running gun battles with the militias. And the roadside and suicide bombings ramp up in Afghanistan of course. British Prime Minister Blair postpones his August vacation to work with the UN on some sort of cease-fire in Lebanon, followed by a peacekeeping force of yet-to-be-named troops to go in and either calm things, or just "take out" Hezbollah (there's some disagreement), while President Bush starts his Texas vacation, but only ten days this year, not the usual full month of clearing brush and riding his mountain bike. Those who advise him, or control him depending on your point of view, the neoconservatives working out of the vice president's office, are working up plans for war with Syria and Iran now too - so there will be four active fronts in the war on terror, or the war to bring peace and democracy to the Middle East through regime change.

To some it seems like the end of the world, to others like a wonderful opportunity, and then to others it looks like the Rapture is finally at hand, and the return of Jesus - the end of the world, but a good thing.


Setting aside the Rapture crowd, there are two ways to look at this - things are spinning out of control, or if you're a neoconservative theorist, going just they way they should. But the latter is, for now, a minority view. The administration is working overtime to make it the majority view.

The administration's effort to reframe the crises in the world as great opportunity is not going so well. The incredibly stupid chin-up cliché is that when the world hands you lemons, you make lemonade. Most everyone is wondering how we got into this mess and how we're going to lemonade out of these particular lemons (or make Leban-ade as some have cynically said).

Emma Brockes here says what happening is like that scene in Jurassic Park when Jeff Goldblum, finding himself being chased by a T-Rex, struggles momentarily to organize a response. "I'm fairly alarmed here," he says. And she says she herself is fairly alarmed here. It's only funny in the movie.

That item in the Guardian (UK), about how everyone was saying that the election of George Bush in 2004 that gave him another four years to do his insane things will be the end of everything, itself ends with this -
There is an argument to be made that the world is no more in crisis now than it has been at any other point in history, give or take a world war, and that the only reason we are freaking out is that the countries involved are western. No one reported much existential angst during Rwanda. When Israel bombed Beirut airport I was aware that part of the reason I got end-of-the-world shivers was that, unlike the airports in Baghdad or Mogadishu, I have been to Beirut's and it is just like Luton. When two countries with well-decorated departure halls and branches of Starbucks start fighting, you pay more attention than when Ethiopia marches into Somalia, as it did in July without anyone paying much attention. (The Ethiopian troops entered at the invitation of Somalia's secular interim government, to help fight the Islamic militia, who promptly threatened them with another jihad).

These are strange times and the fact that everyone claimed to see them coming in 2004 hasn't made them any easier to deal with. It occasionally feels as if magnetic flip is taking place, the process of polar reversal that happens every 300 millennia or so when north becomes south and south north, and birds fly into buildings and people with pacemakers keel over in the street. What can you do? For the past 10 years I have taken William L Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich on holiday and for the first time, last week, I actually thought about reading it. (I didn't, obviously.) As multiple wars on multiple fronts drag on, you try to initiate a cycle of response that reminds you there are things to be grateful for; the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo going off without violence, for example, and Mel Gibson self-detonating. You reassure yourself that, as in all cycles of history, this one will come to an end, too. Then you remember that the man in charge of writing the ending is George Bush, and you have to start again.

She is not hopeful.

But then, here, stateside, there seems to be something in the air. Conventional wisdom, whatever that is, seems to be shifting.

As mentioned in the pages in April, David Broder of the Washington Post is sometimes called the dean of Washington journalists (probably because he has a gift for the obvious and has no firm opinion until everyone else has agreed on one), and looking at what the retired generals were saying about the secretary of defense, he said Rumsfeld needed to resign - "Even in Vietnam we saw no such open defiance." That's here if you want the details - four months before Hillary Clinton decided the same thing. He goes with the flow, and she doesn't, until she just has to, and there's an advantage to it.

This week Broder decided it was time for another stroll through the obvious - here he says that "the logic of prolonging the agony" just doesn't add up and its time to withdraw our troops from Iraq. When you've lost Broder you've lost the mainstream, or more accurately, he's the canary in the coal mine. When the canary is dead in the bottom of the cage, it's time to get the hell out of the mine. You could die. The grand experiment to remake the Middle East was, it seems now, just dumb.

The other canary, so to speak, is Thomas Freidman of the New York Times - the moustache of patience, famous for arguing from the pages of "the newspaper of record" that the grand experiment to remake the Middle East was quite smart, and the right thing to do. Sure there were problems, and he explained them in detail drawing on his vast experience in that part of the world, but then said the next six months would be critical. It all might work out. Perhaps he got tired of six-month increment after six-month increment, because Friday, August 4, he gave up, with this, saying that it's "now obvious that we are not mid-wifing democracy in Iraq" but just "babysitting a civil war." He ran out of patience.

Is this important? Do these two guys really matter?

Steve Benen thinks so -

In the world of professional punditry, heavy-hitters like David Broder and Tom Friedman not only help reflect the conventional wisdom, they help shape it. The mainstream political world considers their opinions as the most serious and credible perspectives in the country, and in turn, their points of view become synonymous with sensibility.

And right now, both want out of Iraq. … Welcome to the new sensible, centrist position on Iraq. The political mainstream has finally caught up with the Democratic mainstream. It's about time.
Well, that's from the left, noting the mainstream has shifted, ah… to the middle? Which is slightly to the left? Something like that. The right had been saying that the position of the Bush administration was really what most people knew was the middle position - if you agreed with the president you were smack dab in the middle where you should be, with everyone else, with every sensible and patriotic American. The Democrats are "out of the mainstream" and just loony lefties, and cut-and-run cowards to boot. That doesn't seem to be working anymore. The middle moved on them when they we're looking.

For Freidman it was the August 3 senate hearings that did it -
When our top commander in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid, tells a Senate Committee, as he did yesterday, that ''the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it,'' it means that three years of efforts to democratize Iraq are not working. That means ''staying the course'' is pointless, and it's time to start thinking about Plan B - how we might disengage with the least damage possible.

... The administration now has to admit what anyone - including myself - who believed in the importance of getting Iraq right has to admit: Whether for Bush reasons or Arab reasons, it is not happening, and we can't throw more good lives after good lives.

... Yes, the best way to contain Iran would have been to produce a real Shiite-led democracy in Iraq, exposing the phony one in Tehran. But second best is leaving Iraq. Because the worst option - the one Iran loves - is for us to stay in Iraq, bleeding, and in easy range to be hit by Iran if we strike its nukes.
Of course he cannot resist one more the-next-six-months-are-critical hail-Mary speculation - we could have a gigantic "last-ditch" peace conference - and that would be the United State, Russia, Europe, Japan, India, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Syria and Jordan, all sitting down together to work things out. But he knows that's just not going to happen -
For such a conference to come about, though, US would probably need to declare its intention to leave. Iraqis, other Arabs, Europeans and Chinese will get serious about helping to salvage Iraq only if they believe we are leaving and it will damage their interests.

But the likelihood the Bush-Cheney administration would "declare its intention to leave" is nil, or actually less than zero. He doesn't like it, but he wants out. This is a major change.

Is it a big deal?

Over at the Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum is actually hopeful -

Maybe I'm just a wild optimist about these things, but I think Broder and Friedman are bellwethers. They're both cautious, centrist, establishment liberals who have long hoped for success in Iraq, and they've both given up. Put them together with guys like George Will and Chuck Hagel on the right, and there's just not much support left for staying in Iraq outside of the neocon crazies and the rabid partisans. The wind is definitely shifting.

And as long as I'm being a wild optimist: if we finally develop a consensus that invading random Arab countries doesn't work so well at putting an end to support for radical jihadism, maybe we can start seriously thinking about what would work. Considering how phenomenally difficult the problem is, the sooner we put Iraq behind us and get our brightest minds thinking seriously about nonmilitary solutions, the better off we'll be.
There are nonmilitary solutions? Invading random Arab countries doesn't work so well at putting an end to support for radical jihadism? Now that would require some really new thinking in Washington. We may be too far down the road for that. We have our way of dealing with things, and it's hard to admit that it doesn't work. Maybe it's not possible to admit. And after all, isn't Israel proving you can use massive force to eliminate terrorists, or at least make them seem powerless and humiliate them, so everyone rallies to your side and shuns them, or even laughs at them? No, wait. Bad example.

And anyway, nothing will change, as the war with Iran is on the way, and the Democrats will buy into that big time, as Bill Montgomery explains here -
I think we've run out of time. Events - from 9/11 on - have moved too fast and pushed us too far towards the clash of civilizations that most sane people dread but the neocons desperately want. The Dems are now just the cadet branch of the War Party. While the party nomenklatura is finally, after three bloody years, making dovish noises about the Iraq fiasco, I think their loyalty to Israel will almost certainly snap them back into line during the coming "debate" over war with Iran.
Or in detail -
It seems increasingly probable that that war will come soon - perhaps as early as November or December, although more likely next year. Israel's failure to knock out Hezbollah with a rapid first strike has left the neocons even deeper in the hole, enormously ratcheting up the pressure to try to recoup all losses by taking the war to Damascus and Tehran.

… What's become clear to me is that the Democratic Party (even it's allegedly anti-war wing) will not try to stop this insanity, and in fact will probably be led as meekly to the slaughter as it was during the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Watching the Dems line up to salute the Israeli war machine, hearing the uncomfortable and awkward silence descend on most of Left Blogistan once the bombs started falling in Lebanon, seeing how easily the same Orwellian propaganda tricks worked their magic on the pseudoliberals - all this doesn't leave too much room for doubt. As long as World War III can be sold as protecting the security and survival of the Jewish state, I suspect the overwhelming majority of Democrats, or at least the overwhelming majority of Democratic politicians, will support it.

And it is being sold, ferociously.

… I think the moment when I realized the Dems once again were going to be - would always be - dutiful spear carriers for the neocons was after Howard Dean and company treated the Iraqi prime minister's recent visit to Washington as an opportunity to do a little pro-Israel pandering of their own. To my eternal shame, I initially defended this ploy as a necessary bit of Machiavellian cynicism - a way for the Dems to protect their right flank from a president who not only thinks Israel is the 51st state but a red state to boot.

Cynical it certainly was. And in another situation I might have been justified in making allowances. It's a stinking, corrupt system, and to expect purity is to expect defeat. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that a party leadership that really cared about bringing the troops home probably wouldn't be so cavalier about trashing a guy who is actually a pretty crucial part of making that possible.

… The lesson learned from the Democratic reaction to Israel's war of choice is that the Dems are only likely to oppose war as long as the war in question can be framed as a fight against Iraqi insurgents and/or Shi'a death squads, rather than a fight for Israel. But the Iraq occupation isn't going to fit neatly into that frame much longer. In fact it's already slipped out of it. The Dems - always a little slow on the uptake - just haven't realized it yet.

… People tell me I shouldn't get hung up on this because, you know, if the Dems get in they'll make sure the seniors get their Social Security checks a little faster - or they'll keep the Supreme Court out of the hands of legal madmen or do something about global climate change or save the whales or whatever else it is that's supposed to make the Democratic Party infinitely preferable to the Republicans.

It's not that I discount these differences entirely - although they're easily oversold. But compared to the fate that awaits the republic, and the world, if the United States deliberately starts a war with Iran, those other considerations start to look pretty insignificant. I mean, we're talking about World War III here, fought by people who want to use tactical nuclear weapons. I'm supposed to put that out of my mind because the Dems might be a little bit more generous about funding the VA budget? I'm sorry, but that's fucking nuts.

The truth is that on the most important issue of our time - the cliff that drops into total darkness - the only real opposition left in this country is in the Pentagon, where, according to Sy Hersh, at least some of the generals are trying to stall the march to war. Plus whatever scattered resistance is left in the intelligence agencies following the purges of the past couple of years.

… I hope like hell I'm wrong about this, but I don't think I am. So I guess I'll just have to accept being labeled a traitor to the cause - or whatever the hardcore partisans are calling it. Sure, why not. They're certainly free to follow their party over the cliff (we're all going over it anyway) but I'd at least prefer to do it with my eyes open.
"I'm fairly alarmed here," he says. The conventional wisdom shifted. It doesn't matter.

Posted by Alan at 22:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 4 August 2006 22:44 PDT home

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