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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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Wednesday, 9 August 2006
Joe's Bad Day
Topic: Election Notes
Joe's Bad Day
Joe's bad day would be Wednesday, August 9, when the sun rose and three-term Senator Joseph Lieberman faced a new world - the night before he had lost the Connecticut party primary to a virtual unknown. The state's Democrats had said they'd rather not have him represent them. He lost by ten thousand votes, or four percentage points. The party that six years earlier had chosen him to be their vice presidential candidate showed him the door, or the Connecticut branch of the party did. Thanks, it's been a fun eighteen years - now go home.

He was not happy. He will run in the November election as an independent, or as he puts it, in a term he made up, a "petitioning Democrat," although no one quite knows what that means. The Democrats have moved on. He cannot run as one. The fellow who won, Ned Lamont, is now endorsed by the party, and all the big guns are standing behind him. The Connecticut folks made their choice, and the party recognizes that - Lamont gets the endorsements, the support, and the party money to run in the November election.

Lieberman was stunned - and defiant and pouting and whiny. It's a bit sad. One thinks of Willie Loman in the Arthur Miller play.

Well, he might win in November and return for another six years as Connecticut's senior senator. He just won't return as a Democrat, even if he calls himself one. He'll be something else - the Democrat the party didn't want. If so, that will be very curious.

The news was filled with what it all means - everyone had an opinion. And it overwhelmed stories like this -
The Bush administration has drafted amendments to a war crimes law that would eliminate the risk of prosecution for political appointees, CIA officers and former military personnel for humiliating or degrading war prisoners, according to US officials and a copy of the amendments.

… "People have gotten worried, thinking that it's quite likely they might be under a microscope," said a US official. Foreigners are using accusations of unlawful US behavior as a way to rein in American power, the official said, and the amendments are partly meant to fend this off.
Can you say Milosevic?

Of course the president takes an oath to defend and uphold the constitution, and to "faithfully execute" the laws. When the Republican shoved this war crimes law through in 1996 they must have been kidding, saying since we ratified all the Geneva Conventions there would be no problem with federal prosecution of anyone violating them, as any ratified treaty has the force of federal law and this would show we're the good guys. The idea seemed to be that our courts could handle this, not some judge in court in the Hague who doesn't even speak English and probably has it out for America. We'd take care of it here. And now we won't.

This all flows from the recent Hamdan ruling (here) - "Once Common Article 3 applies to the conflict with al Qaeda, the legal framework within which we analyze the various interrogation and torture allegations changes dramatically, as does the ... potential liability of various US officials under the War Crimes Act."

Oops. It's time to change the act, and do it before November, when the opposition party could hold one or both houses of congress. There is an urgent need to redefine the meaning of "war crimes."

It's not, admittedly, a big news story. It's not about sad Joe. This seems a bit over the top - "Is there a pit of slime so filthy these moral cretins won't drag us through it? A cup of national humiliation so bitter they won't make us drain it to the dregs? Apparently not."

Well, there are things we now do we never did before, or never made policy. The law needs to catch up with how we treat people now.

On Joe's bad day the war in Lebanon of course had to grab some headlines. The Israeli cabinet approved a massive invasion of southern Lebanon and the cease-fire resolution that we and the French were pushing at the UN fell apart, over the issue when and if the Israelis ever leave Lebanon. Is it the first thing that must be done, or as we insist, the very last thing? The French will float their own resolution. They've had it, and they're the ones who will lead the peacekeeping force if one is ever sent in. We stand with Israel - not one Israeli soldier leaves until Hezbollah is no more and things are peaceful. The president, flanked by the secretary of state, did call for "no escalation, please" - and told everyone that see, we can criticize Israel, but most read that as a sop to the rising anger in the Arab world, and the puzzlement worldwide that we seem to think more fighting - for weeks, for a month, for many months - is a fine idea.

And more and more you see things like this posted at Conservative Values for America -
Any and all who are enemies of the great nation of Israel should be destroyed by whatever means necessary.

I am sure that you have been following the turmoil in the Middle East, and I am sure that you have been rooting for Israel, as God would have you to do. Remember, the Jews were the prototype Christians, and as such they deserve our support. Israel is the nation of God, and He views it in his Holy Wisdom as "Little America". The situation with Israel and Lebanon is very similar to our situation with the brown-skinned peoples of the word.

Israel has the right to defend herself, even if that means incinerating children with phosphorus bombs.

Israel is the only nation on Earth, besides the United States, that has the God given authority to kill anyone that it sees fit. Do not stand in the way of Israel. The Chosen People of God will have no qualms about sending someone to your happy little home to kill you. Israel must defend itself, using any means necessary. There are no innocent people, and no people who are not expendable, when the safety of Israel's northern border outposts is at stake.
You hear a milder version of this sort of thing from Falwell and Pat Robertson - who have the president's ear. Pat Robertson was in Israel on Joe's bad day, cheering the Israelis on.

But it was Joe's day, and he was all over saying he was mad and running as an independent. In his concession speech (video here) and the morning-after Today show chat (video here), he was saying - "I am committed to this campaign, to a different kind of politics, to bringing the Democratic Party back from Ned Lamont, Maxine Waters to the mainstream, and for doing something for the people of Connecticut. That's what this is all about: which one of us, Lamont or me, can do more for the future of our people here in Connecticut. And on that basis, I'm going forward with confidence, purpose and some real optimism."

The idea, of course, is that only a few lefty cranks oppose the war or think we should get out somehow or other. It's going great and Bush was and is right about most everything. He doesn't read the polls, or doesn't believe they are accurate. He has some secret knowledge of "the mainstream" the pollsters missed. It's a bit delusional.

The most recent New York Times/CBS shows this -

- 62 percent disapprove of President Bush's handling of the war, while only 32 percent approve
- 63 percent think the war with Iraq was not "worth the loss of American life and other costs" while only 30 percent think it was
- 57 percent think things are going very or somewhat badly for U.S. "efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq" while only 41 percent think things are going very or somewhat well
- 53 percent think "Iraq will probably never become a stable democracy" while only 4 percent think it will occur in the "next year or two"
- 56 percent think the U.S. should "set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq," compared to 40 percent who oppose such a timetable
- 72 percent think the Iraq war has made the United States' image in the world worse, 69 percent think it has hampered U.S. diplomatic efforts, and 41 percent think continued U.S. presence in Iraq makes the region less stable; only 25 percent think it makes the region more stable

That's not the mainstream? Right.

So what are people specifically saying about Joe?

The attorney and best-selling author Glenn Greenwald says this -
Most of the ramifications of Joe Lieberman's extraordinary defeat will require some time to discern, but one thing is already painfully clear. With his behavior Tuesday night, Lieberman has turned himself into the most vivid symbol of the insular, arrogant, corrupt and power-desperate Washington establishment, the sheer cravenness and corruption of which are what catalyzed the campaign against him in the first place.

Those who compose that entrenched Beltway power establishment - the endlessly reelected political officials, the hordes of consultants and lobbyists who feed off and control them, and the pampered, self-loving "journalists" who enable it all - are characterized by a single-minded quest to perpetuate their own power, flavored by a thinly masked contempt for the masses on whose behalf this system ostensibly plods along. Lieberman's conduct last night was a perfect textbook for all of those afflictions.

Like the establishment mavens who rushed to defend him, Lieberman exposed himself as a man driven by a single, overarching motivation - a desperate desire to cling to his source of power, his Senate seat, not because of any political ideals he wants to pursue but solely because of the personal satisfaction, attention and benefits it provides him. Embodying one of the defining attributes of the permanent Beltway class, Lieberman plainly craves - has become addicted to - the petty trappings of his role in the grand Beltway court. The only cause that seems to stir Joe Lieberman to anger, aggression and confrontation is the glorious struggle for Joe Lieberman to cling to his Senate seat.

The man whose (largely Republican) media supporters glorified him as one of the few "men of principle" left in Washington has revealed himself to be bereft of all principles save one - the "principle" that Joe Lieberman's Senate seat belongs to him personally and that no mere voters, those silly, unenlightened masses, have the right to take that away from him. In the face of this rare testament to true democracy - the decisive rejection of Lieberman by Connecticut voters in defiance of virtually the entire national political establishment - Lieberman had nothing but scorn, contempt and defiance for their decision.

He thus intoned: "I am disappointed not just because I lost, but because the old politics of partisan polarization won today. For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand." This man of principle "will not let that result stand" - "that result" being the considered decision of the voters whom he has claimed to represent for the last 18 years.

A more selfish and craven act is difficult to imagine. Lieberman single-handedly will impose endless grief and conflict on his Democratic colleagues who loyally rallied to support him. He will drain attention and resources away from his party's already difficult struggle to restore balance and oversight to our federal government, and to end one-party rule in November. He will sow still more intense divisions and raging hostilities among those who oppose the Bush administration. And he will subject his state to three more months of electoral warfare while he forces it to have what is sure to be an increasingly bitter and nasty election - an election that it just had.

And this "man of principle," this elevated gentleman who is too pure and righteous for Washington, will do all of that for one reason and one reason only - because he is too weak and selfish to give up his Senate seat and accept the decision of Connecticut voters that they want a different senator representing their interests in Washington. The fallout from the well-deserved and desperately needed blow dealt to the national political establishment will be unclear for some time to come, but one thing that is not unclear is Joe Lieberman's character. He has revealed it for all it to see.
So suck it up and be a man? Stop whining. You lost. That seems to be the idea.

Sidney Blumenthal is even less kind, and provides historical context -
Joe Lieberman's fall from grace appears straightforward. In Connecticut, where George W. Bush and his war are intensely disliked, Lieberman stationed himself as the president's defender. But Lieberman's precipitous descent from nomination as vice president to rejection by his home state partisans is also something of a mystery.

Lieberman was once the most attractive and promising Democrat in his state, his grasp of political realities subtle and sinuous. But he became scornful of disagreement, parading himself as a moral paragon to whom voters should be privileged to pay deference. The elevation of his sanctimony was accompanied by the loss of his political sense.
And you have to love the history (emphases added) -
When Lieberman ran his first primary campaign, for the state Senate, in 1970, against an entrenched Democratic machine politician, he was an insurgent reformer, relying on an army of young idealistic volunteers. (One of them was Yale law student Bill Clinton.) Lieberman was a star liberal on the Yale campus, editor of the Yale Daily News, a civil rights worker in the South, an activist against the Vietnam War, and yet adept at getting out the vote. His senior honors thesis was a study of the Democratic state boss, John Bailey, who forged competing ethnic groups into a winning coalition. The young Lieberman's victory seemed to herald a new day in Connecticut.

For decades, indeed for two centuries, Connecticut has been a caldron of peculiarly American culture wars. In the election of 1800, the president of Yale, speaking for the reigning puritan establishment, denounced the Democratic presidential candidate, Thomas Jefferson, as "immoral." Starting in the 1870s, Connecticut was straitjacketed by laws forbidding birth control. In 1926, Katharine Houghton Hepburn, the wife of a liberal Hartford doctor, formed the Connecticut Birth Control League to challenge the restriction. (Their daughter, actor Katharine Hepburn, continued their activism as the league grew into Planned Parenthood.)

In 1950, the state treasurer of Planned Parenthood, a liberal-minded Republican banker tainted by his association, was narrowly defeated in a race for the US Senate. His name was Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. and grandfather of George W., and he won election two years later.

It was not until 1965 that the US Supreme Court ruled that Connecticut's birth control law was unconstitutional, violating the right to privacy, a decision that laid the groundwork for the legalization of abortion in 1973 and ignited new culture wars.

In 1988, conservatives in the state, led by right-wing writer William F. Buckley Jr., in their loathing for liberal Republican Sen. Lowell Weicker Jr., rallied behind his Democratic opponent, Joe Lieberman, who won a bare margin on the basis of their votes. Lieberman was liberal on abortion, but that didn't matter to the right, which was determined to purge the Republican Party.
So he's a creation of William F. Buckley? He was always the willing tool of the conservatives? Fascinating.

And then there's the sanctimonious bullshit -
Over time, Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, became more observant and culturally conservative. His speech denouncing President Clinton as "immoral" during the impeachment spectacle was as unsurprising as it was unctuous. His links to neoconservatives and the religious right proliferated. He became close to Dick and Lynne Cheney and helped found a group with Lynne to criticize liberal professors. Last year, at the 50th anniversary dinner of Buckley's National Review, the leading conservative magazine, Lieberman sat at the head table.
Ah, he is an odd duck. Just where does he fit?

There's much more detail, but this conclusion -
Believing that he had turned into a sacrosanct institution beyond reproach, the acolyte of Democratic leader Bailey neglected political organization. Disdainful of New England Democrats for daring to criticize the Southern conservative president, Lieberman was stunned by the emergence of an intra-party opponent, Ned Lamont, a liberal patrician banker.

Lieberman finished his campaign on a desperate note, proclaiming his purity of heart as a Democrat and assailing Bush on Iraq blunders, even as he announced in losing that he would not abide by his party's verdict and instead run as an independent. The man of faith is now running on bad faith. Self-righteousness fostered self-delusion, leading to self-destruction. Lieberman's fall is a cautionary tale not limited to Connecticut.
So he came to think his shit don't stink. That seems to be an occupational hazard with politicians.

Over at "Same Facts" UCLA professor (Public Policy) Mark Kleiman is just blunt -
I despise Lieberman, and have despised him ever since he sold out Al Gore in the 2000 VP debate. He sat there making himself look like a good guy and thereby missed the opportunity to portray Dick Cheney for the extreme right-winger he has always been. Add to that that Lieberman is the sort of pompous, self-righteous moralizer who give all the other pompous, self-righteous moralizers a bad name, and that he has pretty much played on Team Bush for the last four years. (Remember Lieberman's stalwart defense of John Kerry against the Swiftboaters? That's funny. Neither do I.)

On the other hand, he would vote as a Democrat to organize the Senate, and that's the key vote. Spending money and energy on an intra-party squabble when the major problem is how to count to 51 seemed to me like a tactical mistake.

But now that he's lost the primary, he has a choice between making his critics look stupid and his friends look smart by backing out gracefully and doing the reverse by staying in. Right now, it looks as if he's going to embarrass his friends and delight his critics. I'm still hoping that all the national Democrats - including, in an astonishing act of generosity, Bill Clinton - who campaigned for Lieberman during the primary will now call in their chits and tell Lieberman that if he runs as an independent he's someone they used to know.
This man is not exactly well liked, is he?

See also Josh Marshall in Time Magazine here -
The Lieberman camp says Joe stuck to his guns on Iraq notwithstanding the political perils or the unpopularity of the position in his party. But that doesn't quite cut it. True, he had to know he wasn't winning any points with the broad mass of Democrats around the country. And his embitterment against his party for his ignominious defeat in the 2004 presidential primaries probably made him more willing to court that displeasure. But I don't think Lieberman really understood the peril he was courting back home. Because if he had, he would have been more prepared for it. And he wasn't.

Most politicians keep close tabs on what's happening back home and work assiduously to keep lines of communications open with the political players in their states or districts. They may get into trouble for any number of reasons. But if they're good at what they do, they don't get caught off guard. And no one was more caught unawares by what happened in the last two months than Joe Lieberman.

Many pundits claim that Lieberman's defeat is a replay of the way Democrats tore themselves apart over Vietnam. It's an appealing thought for Republicans. And it has got nice drama. But those pundits are either being disingenuous or are caught in a time warp. Democrats are actually fairly united on the Iraq War in their opposition to it - which is actually where most Americans are right now. And though many senators are not as full-throated in their opposition as the base of the party, you don't see any successful challenges being made against other senators who aren't ready to bring the troops home.

With Lieberman, there's something different. It's not just that he wouldn't wash his hands of the Iraq War. Lots of Democrats won't. It's more than that. He's seemed almost militantly indifferent to the disaster Iraq has become. And his passion about the war seemed reserved exclusively for those who questioned it rather than those who had so clearly botched the enterprise. His continual embrace of President Bush - both literal and figurative - was an insult to Democrats, the great majority of whom believe Bush has governed as one of the most destructive Presidents in modern American history. It's almost as though Lieberman has gone out of his way to provoke and offend Democrats on every point possible, often, seemingly, purely for the reason of provoking. Is it any wonder the guy got whacked in a party primary?
Yep, when someone goes around saying to his friends "I'm right and you're all wrong, and stupid too" it does get on their nerves. When he says "let me continue to represent you" it's quite natural to say no thanks. Of course he doesn't "get it" - how could these people continue to be so stupid? And he was "connected" after all.

Being connected may have been the problem -
Lieberman got in trouble because he let himself live in the bubble of D.C. conventional wisdom and A-list punditry. He flattered them; and they loved him back. And as part of that club he was part of the delusion and denial that has sustained our enterprise in Iraq for the last three years. In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's primary, A-List D.C. pundits were writing columns portraying Lieberman's possible defeat as some sort of cataclysmic event that might foreshadow a dark new phase in American politics - as though voters choosing new representation were on a par with abolishing the constitution or condoning political violence. But those breathless plaints only showed how disconnected they are from what's happening in the country at large. They mirrored his disconnection from the politics of the moment.

The polls tell us the President's approval rating seldom gets out of the 30s. Congress is unpopular. Incumbents are unpopular. Voters prefer Democrats over Republicans by a margin of about 15%. When a once-popular, three-term senator gets bounced in a primary battle with a political unknown, it's a very big deal. Those numbers all add up to a political upheaval this November. The folks in D.C. see the numbers. But they haven't gotten their heads around what they mean. Joe was out of touch. And Washington D.C. is too.

They didn't see the Joe train wreck coming and they're not ready for what's coming next either.
Who is ready?

This wasn't the biggest or most important story of the day, but it had its moments. There's something in the air. All politicians are on notice.

Posted by Alan at 21:56 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 10 August 2006 06:50 PDT home

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
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