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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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Saturday, 29 July 2006
Drawing Inward: Some Notes in Isolationism
Topic: In these times...
Drawing Inward: Some Notes on Isolationism
With the new war in southern Lebanon - we're only three weeks or so into this one - and the rockets raining down on northern Israel and the bombs falling from Beirut to the Syrian border, some items in the news got short shrift. One would be the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Yeah, yeah - bad news for the Republicans as people are unhappy with how things are going in the world. The party in power in the most powerful and influential nation in the world seem to have a mess on their hands. They cannot blame the Democrats for screwing things up, and everyone knows that. The Democrats aren't running anything they may never run anything ever again - and there's only some much lipstick you can put on this particular pig, as they say.

So this was not news, until you look at the poll more closely. That's what Jim Rutenberg and Megan C. Thee did in the New York Times on Thursday, July 27, here, saying that once you get past thinking about what the results mean in terms of the upcoming midterm elections, there's something else going on. Americans are showing a new but quite definite isolationist streak. It seems we, collectively, don't want to be the most powerful and influential nation in the world, spreading freedom and democracy willy-nilly where we're not wanted. It just causes more problems. The administration and the neoconservative idealists who direct it, with their massive project to remake the world - the famous Project for the New American Century - have hit a wall. The question seems to have come down to asking why we are doing all this, and what good had come of it, or is likely to come of it. Pinky and the Brain was a funny cartoon series, but this is real life.

Quick aside - Pinky and the Brain centered on a genetically engineered mouse (who sounded a whole lot like Orson Welles) and his quite amusingly insane mouse cohort making nightly attempts to take over the world. This was a co-production of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and Warner Brothers that ran from 1995 to 1998. There were sixty-five episodes, and it wasn't really for kids - the dialog was far too witty and subtle, and there were all those references to classic films like "The Third Man" and "Bride of Frankenstein" and such. It was about power and insanity. Pinky: "Gee, Brain. What are we going to do tonight?" The Brain: "The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world." They couldn't run it these days. The Brain, as drawn, looks too much like Dick Cheney and Pinky shares traits with George Bush. Bill O'Reilly would be incensed.

In any event, the Times item on the poll opens with this -
Americans are overwhelmingly pessimistic about the state of affairs in the Middle East, with majorities doubtful there will ever be peace between Israel and its neighbors, or that American troops will be able to leave Iraq anytime soon, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

A majority said the war between Israel and Hezbollah will lead to a wider war. And while almost half of those polled approved of President Bush's handling of the crisis, a majority said they preferred the United States leave it to others to resolve.

Over all, the poll found a strong isolationist streak in a nation clearly rattled by more than four years of war, underscoring the challenge for Mr. Bush as he tries to maintain public support for his effort to stabilize Iraq and spread democracy through the Middle East.
Election implications aside, the data are startling. Fifty-six percent of us support a timetable for a reduction our forces in Iraq, and more than half of that group says they support a withdrawal even if it meant Iraq "would fall into the hands of insurgents." Screw it. It's going to happen anyway. This turns on its head the notion that Democrats should stay away from those ideas completely, lest the Republicans point out they're cowards and out of touch with the mainstream. The mainstream has moved on. This isn't a cartoon. Folks aren't amused.

In fact, by a pretty wide margin, the poll found that Americans did not believe the United States should take the lead in solving international conflicts in general - as in fifty-nine percent saying that was something we shouldn't be doing, and only thirty-one percent siding with the administration. That's less than a third. Back in September 2002 it was fifty-fifty. Enough is enough. And in more broad terms, only thirty-five percent of respondents said they approved of the president's handling of foreign policy "in general." On the other hand that was a bounce, up eight points since May. But a clear "expressed doubt about whether the president had the respect of foreign leaders." No kidding. The thrill is gone.

The poll was based on telephone interviews conducted July 21 through July 25, and world events have spiraled down each day since then. This won't get better. More than twice as many people in this poll believe the country is heading in the wrong direction than believe it is heading in the right direction. That may be hard to turn around.

And there's this -
Support for the president's staunch backing of Israel goes only so far: 39 percent indicated they approved of it, but 40 percent said the United States should avoid saying anything at all about the conflict (Only 7 percent said the United States should criticize Israel, though many respondents cast blame for the conflict on both sides).
We don't need to get involved? Maybe it's more like we shouldn't take side do dramatically. There's a bit of that - asking why we're opposing most everyone in the world, saying there should be no immediate cease-fire, and encouraging Israel to continue to disassemble Lebanon and traumatize its people -
In a common refrain among respondents regarding the Israel-Hezbollah war, Sharon Schierloh, 62, a retired factory worker from Ottawa, Ohio, said: "Let the Israelis take care of the problems in their area. We need to stay out of that because our troops are spread too thin." She spoke in a follow-up interview after participating in the poll.
Basically there was agreement, 63 to 30, the Iraq war "had not been worth the American lives and dollars lost." Only a quarter of respondents said they thought "the American presence in Iraq had been a stabilizing force in the region" - over forty percent said the whole thing "had made the Middle East less stable." It was fifty-fifty on whether the invasion was the right thing to do in the first place. People are discouraged.

Actually, diving beneath the political business - the implications for the upcoming midterm elections - the Times writers seem awfully worried about this new isolationist mood - we don't want to be engaged in the world, or want to be less engaged. But there is something more basic going on here, and a bit more worrying. It's that pessimism. The idea that the Democrats could fix any of this is shown here as a halfhearted wish that no one believes is more than a delusion. Congress generally polls much lower than the president stuck under forty percent approval. There is not one opposition leader with any plan and lots of uplifting hope to hand out all around. There are no heroes on the horizon, no sense that anyone can fix all this.

The isolationism is not the problem. It's only a symptom of a larger problem, a kind of existential despair. Think Camus and Sisyphus and that rock. What's the point?

That's not to say Omaha will turn into the Left Bank in Paris in the fifties, with beefy ex-salesmen sitting around drinking bad coffee, smoking endless cigarettes in shady sidewalk cafés, dissecting angst and the absence of meaning in life. It just means the defining conservative position that Ronald Reagan summed up in one key concept - "Government doesn't solve problems. Government is the problem" - has finally taken hold. Everything the government does in the world is crap, and just makes things worse, and next hurricane or major earthquake, you're own your own, as the government cannot be trusted to help anyone much. You're on your own. Why even vote? What's the point? Many see we now live in this new "you're on your own" world. They call it the new YOYO world. Acronyms are fun.

__

Other Voices:

Bill Montgomery here -
Most Americans like and support Israel, and dislike or hate Arabs and Muslims, but they don't want to actually go to war for the Jewish state. They also don't like it when their president openly abandons the traditional U.S. role of cease fire maker (I know, it's mostly for show, but in this case appearances matter) and actually urges the Israelis to go on bombing the shit out of Beirut.

This wouldn't be a problem if Israel were winning, but it's not. So now it needs even MORE support from Uncle Sam, at a time when the political and diplomatic costs of the war are getting astronomical.

… At the end of the day, there is a fundamental difference of interests between the Israelis and the Americans, as much as the neocons would like to deny it. The war with Iran and its allies and proxies is an existential issue for Israel - or at least, so the neocons seem to see it. It is NOT an existential issue for the USA - or at least, so American public opinion seems to see it. And more and more garden-variety conservatives are beginning to see it that way too.

September 11 and the war hysteria over Iraq's mythical WMD allowed the neocons to elide that difference for a time. But only for a time. Now it's reappearing, despite the increasingly frantic propaganda spinning.

… But the fundamental difference of interest (existential versus optional) remains, and the isolationist tide continues to build. This wouldn't be a problem if the allies were winning, but the losses are mounting up. As in any marriage, adversity doesn't decrease the chances of divorce, it increases them.

So if the gang really wants World War III/IV, and expects the USA to be there in the trenches next to Israel, they'd better get a move on.
It may be too late for that.

Will this help? - Presidential adviser Karl Rove said Saturday that journalists often criticize political professionals because they want to draw attention away from the "corrosive role" their own coverage plays in politics and government.

Oh. People don't think government can do anything right because journalists report on what's happening. Hey, maybe so.

Posted by Alan at 19:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 30 July 2006 10:19 PDT home

Wednesday, 7 June 2006
The Dog That Didn't Bark
Topic: In these times...

The Dog That Didn't Bark

Things that didn't happen on Wednesday, June 7, 2006 - the Senate didn't vote to start the ball rolling on changing the constitution to ban gay marriage (basic facts here). Yawn. So "banning gay marriage" didn't pass. The House has decided that even though now anything they do on the issue is utterly meaningless they will vote on the issue in a week or so anyway, just to get everyone on the record, for the folks back home, and future attack ads. Double yawn.

And the results of the special elections and primaries the day before were revealed - there was no big political upset presaging big changes in the political landscape of America, as in the special election to replace Republican "Duke" Cunningham, the congressman now in jail for accepting about two and half million in bribes for this and that, the people of the coastal area north of San Diego replaced him with another Republican, a former professional lobbyist, not the Democrat running. Well, she was dull, and dressed in JC Penney pantsuits, and in the district the Republican registration was more than double that of the Democrats. It was a long shot anyway. But the whole thing indicates not much will change in Encinitas, or in America. The whole idea the Republicans are corrupt? That was met with the response that should have surprised no one - "Yeah? So what?"

And too there was the meeting that wasn't. One sees here that the US ambassador to Iraq, that pleasant and smart and sensible Zalmay Khalilzad fellow, was to brief senators on the situation there. The White House abruptly cancelled the meeting, and said they'd send no replacement. No meeting. The Senate Democrats are asking the president why. The Senate Republicans aren't - not their business. They know congress is now not in that game, or any other, and pretty much useless. They're okay with that.

And the woman who is statistically the most likely next Democratic presidential candidate - no, don't expect a Gore-Obama ticket - is rarely mentioning the war at all. The opposition that wasn't, or that isn't. The New York Observer notes here that when Hillary Clinton is forced to talk about the war, she "continues to articulate a plan that is difficult to distinguish from that of the White House." She voted for the use of force. She can't say she was wrong, or she was fooled. Rush Limbaugh would say that's just like a woman, and she'd have no chance. She knows she's trapped. No news here. Move on.

As for what did happen on the day, there was this, the Council of Europe issued a report saying more than a dozen European countries have helped the CIA with the rendition of terrorism suspects - to secret prisons and countries that will do the torture stuff for us. And the report says it seems probable that Romania and Poland operated secret torture prisons for us, in their old Soviet facilities. Big news? All parties deny it all. So this also didn't happen.

On the other hand the Washington Post reports on something that did happen, but since it happened in the fifties it's hardly news, just a curious historical footnote - newly released documents show that the CIA helped hide the location of Adolf Eichmann from everyone looking for him. They knew where he was, but didn't want to embarrass certain West German officials with details of their own Nazi pasts, which would have come out. You protect your allies. Fascinating - but meaningless now. Eichmann was found, and tried, and executed. So?

But the fascinating "it didn't happen" story hit the wires in the last hours of the day, Pacific Time, as Sidney Blumenthal came up with this -
Former President George H.W. Bush waged a secret campaign over several months early this year to remove Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The elder Bush went so far as to recruit Rumsfeld's potential replacement, personally asking a retired four-star general if he would accept the position, a reliable source close to the general told me. But the former president's effort failed, apparently rebuffed by the current president. When seven retired generals who had been commanders in Iraq demanded Rumsfeld's resignation in April, the younger Bush leapt to his defense. "I'm the decider and I decide what's best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain," he said. His endorsement of Rumsfeld was a rebuke not only to the generals but also to his father.
Now that's Freudian. And it may not be true, as Blumenthal is carefully not naming the general, his one source, and may be being played here in some power game. It's hard to tell. And Blumenthal is a Clinton man - assistant and senior adviser to Bill Clinton from August 1997 until January 2001. So think what you will.

But we do get this -
The elder Bush's intervention was an extraordinary attempt to rescue simultaneously his son, the family legacy and the country. The current president had previously rejected entreaties from party establishment figures to revamp his administration with new appointments. There was no one left to approach him except his father. This effort to pluck George W. from his troubles is the latest episode in a recurrent drama - from the drunken young man challenging his father to go "mano a mano" on the front lawn of the family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, to the father pulling strings to get the son into the Texas Air National Guard and helping salvage his finances from George W.'s mismanagement of Harken Energy. For the father, parental responsibility never ends. But for the son, rebellion continues. When journalist Bob Woodward asked George W. Bush if he had consulted his father before invading Iraq, he replied, "He is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength. There is a higher father that I appeal to."
Yeah, well, that's famous now. And what Blumenthal is up to here really has little to do with "the scoop" - the father trying to bail out the son with some anyone but Rumsfeld - which may or may not be true. He moves on to a meditation on reality and stubbornness.

That would be this -
The former president, a practitioner of foreign policy realism, was intruding on the president's parallel reality. But the realist was trying to shake the fantasist in vain. "The president believes the talking points he's given and repeats on progress in Iraq," a Bush administration national security official told me. Bush redoubles his efforts, projects his firmness, in the conviction that the critics lack his deeper understanding of Iraq that allows him to see through the fog of war to the Green Zone as a city on a hill.

Just as his father cannot break Bush's enchantment with "victory," so the revelation of the Haditha massacre does not cause him to change his policy. For him, the alleged incident is solely about the individual Marines involved; military justice will deal with them. It's as though the horrific event had nothing to do with the war. Haditha, too, exists in a bubble.
This then is old ground, the Bush Bubble and all that. It's all been said, although some of the reminders are amusing, like the February 2003 paper from the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute (here in PDF format). The administration tossed that aside. It was called "Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario." Ha. Blumenthal mentions it really did mention the likelihood of civil war, sectarian militias, anarchy, suicide bombers and widespread insurgency - if there was a lengthy occupation. There was. There is.

But what Blumenthal points out now was the warning that insurgents could incite violence to provoke repression, forcing U.S. troops into an uncontrollable "action-reaction cycle." And that is what Blumenthal really wants to talk about. That's what the Marines in Haditha got into, or so he sees it. That's worth a read. He explains it, but it's rather obvious.

But this is good, on the broader issues -
The Bush way of war has been ahistorical and apolitical, and therefore warped strategically, putting absolute pressure on the military to provide an outcome it cannot provide - "victory." From the start, Bush has placed the military at a disadvantage, and not only because he put the Army in the field in insufficient numbers, setting it upon a task it could not accomplish. U.S. troops are trained for conventional military operations, not counterinsurgency, which requires the utmost restraint in using force. The doctrinal fetish of counterterrorism substitutes for and frustrates counterinsurgency efforts.

Conventional fighting takes two primary forms: chasing and killing foreign fighters as if they constituted the heart of the Sunni insurgency and seeking battles like Fallujah as if any would be decisive. Where battles don't exist, assaults on civilian populations, often provoked by insurgents, are misconceived as battles. While this is not a version of some video game, it is still an illusion.

Many of the troops are on their third or fourth tour of duty, and 40 percent of them are reservists whose training and discipline are not up to the standards of their full-time counterparts. Trained for combat and gaining and holding territory, equipped with superior firepower and technology, they are unprepared for the disorienting and endless rigors of irregular warfare. The Marines, in particular, are trained for "kinetic" warfare, constantly in motion, and imbued with a warrior culture that sets them apart from the Army. Marines, however well disciplined, are especially susceptible because of their perpetual state of high adrenaline to the inhuman pressures of irregular warfare.

As Bush's approach has stamped failure on the military, he insists ever more intensely on the inevitability of victory if only he stays the course. Ambiguity and flexibility, essential elements of any strategy for counterinsurgency, are his weak points. Bush may imagine a scene in which the insurgency is conclusively defeated, perhaps even a signing ceremony, as on the USS Missouri, or at least an acknowledgment, a scrap of paper, or perhaps the silence of the dead, all of them. But his infatuation with a purely military solution blinds him to how he thwarts his own intentions. Jeffrey Record, a prominent strategist at a U.S. military war college, told me: "Perhaps worse still, conventional wisdom is dangerously narcissistic. It completely ignores the enemy, assuming that what we do determines success or failure. It assumes that only the United States can defeat the United States, an outlook that set the United States up for failure in Vietnam and for surprise in Iraq."
So the conclusion, obviously, is that Haditha is "a symptom of the fallacy of Bush's military solution."

That's a new take. If you dismiss repeated warnings about the appalling pressures on an army of occupation against an insurgency then you get such things. And you send the guys in where they can easily confuse "a population that broadly supports an insurgency" with the real terrorists, and you give them a sense they're there to exact revenge for the World Trade Center and the Pentagon back in 2001, and what do you expect?

Add this of course -
Bush's abrogation of the Geneva Conventions has set an example that in this unique global war on terror, in order to combat those who do not follow the rules of war, we must also abandon those rules. This week a conflict has broken out in the Pentagon over Rumsfeld's proposed revision of the Army Field Manual for interrogation of prisoners, which would excise Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions that forbids "humiliating and degrading treatment." And, this week, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., proposed a bill that would make the administration provide "a full accounting on any clandestine prison or detention facility currently or formerly operated by the United States Government, regardless of location, where detainees in the global war on terrorism are or were being held," the number of detainees, and a "description of the interrogation procedures used or formerly used on detainees at such prison or facility and a determination, in coordination with other appropriate officials, on whether such procedures are or were in compliance with United States obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture." The administration vigorously opposes the bill.
And you want our guys to play nice out there, and want to punish them if they don't? We're talking major mixed messages here.

Reading all that it's hard to avoid the idea that we're losing this thing, and it is, in fact, impossible to win, because there's no way to define winning in any context that makes any sense. What would be the marker, or markers, that would mean we had won? The enemy doesn't fight set battles, and doesn't hold fixed territory. No help there - no D-Day or capture of a capital. We sort of did that kind of thing already, a few years ago. And now we have leveled cities like Fallujah and the bad guys come back, or pop up elsewhere. The new government there is forming slowly, if it's forming at all, and at what point do we say "look - done." Ambiguity and flexibility may be the president's weak points, and that's all the situation offers.

The scoop here is interesting, the president's father trying to force Rumsfeld out, but irrelevant. The political leadership in Washington is trapped. And Blumenthal argues saving Rumsfeld is Bush's way of staying the course when he can understand no other options - and also sends a signal of unaccountability from the top down. He says it's deranged. But he's partisan, and logical.

And that's why nothing is happening. No news here.

__

For a companion piece on what did happen in Haditha, Iraq, last November, see Mark Benjamin here - "You want to shoot them" - Convinced that kids were spying on them, sick of seeing buddies blown apart, the Marines accused of the Haditha massacre cracked.

That's an eye-catching title. Benjamin interview Marines, some in Kilo Company.

There are many anecdotes and this -
Interviews with Crossan and another Marine who earlier served in the same platoon (3rd platoon, Kilo Company), as well as with military experts and psychologists, help provide some of the context for the reputed events at Haditha. The portrait that emerges is of an exhausted and overextended unit that participated in some of the bloodiest fighting of the Iraq war. The unit had fought at Nasiriyah during the initial invasion of Iraq, and in late 2004 engaged in 10 days of house-to-house combat during the battle for control of Fallujah. And last year - in the months before the civilian deaths in Haditha - at least 20 Marines were killed in ambushes and bombings in the town.

None of this, of course, can possibly justify what apparently occurred at Haditha or exonerate any Marine who participated in the barbarities. "The description of the event is called murder," said John Pike, the director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington-area think tank. "If, due to the stress of the situation, the Marines lost fire discipline and killed people, it is murder or, at least, manslaughter. At the same time, we need to understand why it happened and how it happened."

Dr. Paul Ragan, a former Navy psychiatrist now a professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, suspects that the "ambiguity of mission and ambiguity of enemy" played a role at Haditha. He stressed that there is only so far you can push combat troops. "There is a concern that the psychological resources, no matter how well trained, are stretched too thin," Ragan said. "There is a reality here. These are not superheroes or X-men. These are real people on their third tour" of duty in Iraq.

Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who was in charge of training the Iraqi military in 2003 and 2004, made an analogous point when he told Salon, "What we have right now is a very stressed ground force."
And so on.

The closing -
As prominent Republicans such as John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, talk of holding congressional hearings into what happened at Haditha, the underlying question becomes - like the furor over Abu Ghraib - how far up the chain of command responsibility rests.

Clearly, the responsibility for burnt-out Marines serving two and even three tours of duty in Iraq does not stop with Kilo Company. "There is no question in my mind that lapses like Haditha can be traced to a lack of understanding of the nature of this war at the highest levels of the Pentagon and the White House," declared David R. Segal, the director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland, in an e-mail.
Of course. And even if this one day was filed with what didn't happen, what might have happened or should have happened is still in the air.

Posted by Alan at 22:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 8 June 2006 06:44 PDT home

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

Looking at Things Logically on a Slow News Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 29 May 2006
Perspective: A Memorial Day Best Forgotten
Topic: In these times...

Perspective: A Memorial Day Best Forgotten

Memorial Day 2006 was Monday, May 29, the official holiday, but all the big events had been the day before - the Indianapolis 500 was won by someone or other by a margin of 0.0068 seconds with a tricky slipstream pass in the last few feet, and the Spaniard in the French car (Alonso driving for Renault) won easily at the Monaco Grand Prix after the German driving the Italian car (Schumacher driving for Ferrari) just couldn't overcome having to start dead last after he cheated in the last qualifying run, stopping after a fine run and blocking his competitors from doing better (one thinks of George Bush playing rugby at Yale). Barry Bonds hit one more homerun, and so that day had finally hit one more than Babe Ruth ever did, but given the steroid business, no one celebrated. There was all sorts of completion to watch on television, even golf and poker, and competition to see live at the baseball parks coast to coast - and for those more active, the family stuff and picnics. Some visited the veterans cemeteries, some homes flew flags, but the holiday Sunday was full of the other stuff. What whatever you call "the other stuff," it wasn't exactly solemn. Much of it was about winning, somehow or other, and crowing about being the best. We are a competitive people.

Monday was different. As usual, the president laid a wreath at the tomb of The Unknown Soldier at Arlington, and said the right words - or words close enough. Honor the dead. They died for our freedom, or, to be stupidly precise, were killed by others for our freedom. They did the right thing, either way. There were words about the current war - the nation can best honor the dead by "defeating the terrorists ... and by laying the foundation for a generation of peace."

It may be becoming clear to many that "defeating the terrorists" is probably not a job best suited to the military, but, rather, something that's best done by a mixture of soft-power and example (be the "fix things" good guys not the avenging, stern, merciless punishers of all that is evil), and the tactics used by law enforcement organizations (which can be pretty sneaky and disruptive), and by messing up the flow of funds to the bad guys using the international financial system to starve them, and so on. But we have the military, our hammer, so all we see is nails everywhere that need to be hammered down. That's what the day was about.

And at the end of the day, Nedra Pickler, the Associated Press's White House reporter, famous for slanting things in the president's favor, has to admit the hammering is not going that well, opening with this - "Just when President Bush was trying to accentuate the positive in Iraq and declare a new beginning in the war on terror, a rash of bad news comes from multiple fronts in the global struggle."

Yep - new details about reports that Marines killed two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, last November in Haditha. The evidence mounts that it did happen, and now we have two investigations, one of the incident and one of a possible official cover-up, and congress wants their own investigation.

And the same day brought major riots in Kabul, Afghanistan. A convoy of at least three our Humvees drove into the city at high speed (a tactic to prevent attacks on them) and rammed into a rush-hour traffic jam, hitting all sorts of civilian cars. Oops. People died. Angry crowd gathered. Shots were fired. We say we only fired above the crowd, to make them go way. Afghani police did fire on the crowd, and city-wide you had your stone-throwing Afghans shouting "Down with America" and burning cars, and a UN building, and marching on our embassy, the presidential palace and ransacking buildings. The capital was shut down, and Karzai was on television trying to tamp things down. An account here says Kabul's worst riots since the fall of the Taliban. This is our ally - so we have fourteen dead one hundred forty two injured "in an outburst of rage against the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and at President Hamid Karzai, their ally." Great.

An Army spokesman later said that a large cargo truck in a coalition convoy had suffered a mechanical failure, bad brakes, hitting twelve civilian cars. No one cared much -
Mr Karzai, who postponed a three-day visit to Qatar, is a staunch friend of the West and has in the past been mocked as the "mayor of Kabul" for his tenuous grip on the country outside the capital.

Yesterday's violence exposed how tenuous this authority is even on his own doorstep.

... "Today's demonstration is because Americans killed innocent people," said Gulam Ghaus, a protester in his 20s, as he stood near a burnt-out police post.

"We will not stop until foreigners leave the city. We are looking for foreigners to kill."
This is not going well.

And there was Guantánamo again, as Memorial Day brought this -
About 75 detainees were engaged in a new wave of hunger strikes over Memorial Day weekend at the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the military announced Monday.

Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand theorized that the al Qaeda and Taliban suspects were staging a "short term, sympathy" protest to gain attention from the outside world in advance of the June 12 resumption of war-crimes trial proceedings there.

"The hunger strike technique is consistent with al Qaeda practice," said Durand.

He added that the protest "reflects detainee attempts to elicit media attention to bring international pressure on the United States to release them back to the battlefield."

... New York attorney Joshua Colangelo-Bryan said defense lawyers would only be able to learn who were the hunger strikers by meeting their clients at Guantanamo.

"Considering that many detainees gave up their hunger strikes earlier this year only because of abusive forced feeding techniques rather than through volitional choice, it's not surprising that a new, large-scale hunger strike has begun," said Colangelo-Bryan, who represents some Bahraini captives, including one who has repeatedly attempted suicide.

"After all, engaging in a hunger strike is one of the few means of protest available to detainees."

... Monday's announcement was extraordinary, issued early on a federal holiday. Guantanamo commanders have been more frank in recent weeks about disclosing detention challenges at the remote base, where no detainee has yet died in U.S. custody; the admiral in charge answered a question in detail recently about plans in the event a detainee does die.
Okay, is it a PR stunt, or could they be a tad upset about perpetual imprisonment without charges? Either way, it messed up the president's holiday, unless he's laughing his ass off, hoping someone does die.

But then the Independent (UK) notes a British legal rights group has just figured out that sixty of those we are holding at Guantánamo seem to be children, or were. That's here -
They include at least 10 detainees still held at the US base in Cuba who were 14 or 15 when they were seized - including child soldiers who were held in solitary confinement, repeatedly interrogated and allegedly tortured.

The disclosures threaten to plunge the Bush administration into a fresh row with Britain, its closest ally in the war on terror, only days after the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, repeated his demands for the closure of the detention facility. It was, he said, a "symbol of injustice."
Well, it's been four years, and they're adults now. And no one can prove anyone was tortured. And Lord Goldsmith is not Tony Blair. Tony says it's just fine, or will. And the Brits don't matter. They're not a world power, and haven't been for much more than a hundred years. Lord Goldsmith can rant. Blair will continue to sniff George Bush's jockstrap in ecstasy.

Still it's not a nice item to report on Memorial Day. Too many folks spent the day with their own kids. And too, only ten of these "detainees" have been charged anything at all, and these trials, the first held since WWII, are set to begin within a month or two, unless the Supreme Court rules in June that Bush overstepped his authority by ordering war-crimes trials for the Guantánamo crowd. A mess.

Meanwhile, as AP's Nedra Pickler puts it - "Add the trouble to the continuing daily violence in Iraq - at least 40 were killed in a series of bombings Monday, including two from a CBS News crew - and Bush could be in danger of losing even more support for his mission."

Maybe so, and "some in the White House have been arguing that he needs to do more to push back." Sure, say we're winning, really, and we really do have a plan, to win. Rinse. Repeat. You used to get a quick bump in the polls, so why not try again?

Somehow that may not work. People want specifics.

And this is pretty specific -
Two CBS News crew members and an American soldier were killed Monday during a wave of car bombings and shootings in Iraq that also killed at least three dozen other people. Network correspondent Kimberly Dozier was seriously wounded and underwent emergency surgery.

... At least eight bombings rocked the capital in the worst wave of violence in days. A car bomb exploded as a U.S. convoy patrolled in central Baghdad, killing veteran CBS cameraman Paul Douglas, 48; soundman James Brolan, 42; and an American soldier, U.S. officials said.

Dozier, a 39-year-old American, was in critical condition at a U.S. military hospital in Baghdad and underwent two surgeries for injuries from the bombing, said Kelli Edwards, a CBS News spokeswoman. By early Tuesday, doctors had removed shrapnel from Dozier's head but said she had more serious injuries to her lower body, CBS News reported on its Web site.

Dozier's relatives were planning to head to Germany, a man who answered the phone at her mother's home in Maryland said Monday night. The Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in southern Germany is the U.S. military's largest overseas hospital.

The CBS crew was on patrol with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, when the bomb exploded. The U.S. military said an Iraqi interpreter also was killed and six American soldiers were injured.
That's pretty specific.

So is this -
At least 37 other people were killed nationwide, most of them in Baghdad.

The attacks began just after dawn, with one roadside bomb killing 10 people and injuring another 12 who worked for an Iranian organization opposed to the Tehran regime, police said.

That bombing targeted a public bus near Khalis, 50 miles north of Baghdad in Diyala province, an area notorious for such attacks, provincial police said.

All the dead were workers at the Ashraf base of the Mujahedeen Khalq, or MEK. The group, made up of Iranian dissidents living in Iraq, said the dead were Iraqi workers heading to their camp.

A car bomb parked near Baghdad's main Sunni Abu Hanifa mosque killed at least nine Iraqi civilians and wounded 25, said Saif al-Janabi, director of Noaman hospital. It exploded at noon in north Baghdad's Azamiyah neighborhood and disintegrated the vehicle.

Rescue crews and Iraqi army soldiers helped carry stretchers toward waiting ambulances, AP Television News footage showed.

A bomb planted in a parked minivan killed at least seven people and wounded at least 20 at the entrance to an open-air market selling secondhand clothes in the northern Baghdad suburb of Kazimiyah.

Another parked car bomb exploded near Ibn al-Haitham college in Azamiyah, also in northern Baghdad, killing two civilians and wounding at least five - including four Iraqi soldiers, police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said.

In other attacks, a roadside bomb killed two police officers and wounded three others in Baghdad's Karradah district, while one man was killed and six were wounded when a bomb hidden in a minivan exploded.

A mortar shell exploded at a Shiite mosque in southern Baghdad's Zafraniyah district. Shiite militiamen sealed off the area and prevented police from approaching, said police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi.

Also, gunmen in separate incidents killed two police officers in western Baghdad; two police officers, identified as former Baathists, in Amarah, 180 miles southeast of Baghdad; and police Brig. Gen. Sadiq Jaafar Salih, director of the national ID card office in Diyala, authorities said.
Sure, say we're winning, really, and we really do have a plan, to win. Rinse. Repeat. You used to get a quick bump in the polls, so why not try again? The same day the new Iraqi parliament was still working on the appointment of someone, anyone, for defense and interior ministers - so they can stand up and we can stand down. That's not going well.

And that business last November in Haditha just keeps bubbling along in the background -

Here - "Military officials are close to bringing grave charges, including murder, against U.S. Marines in the deaths of two-dozen Iraqi civilians in November. Congress needs to pursue indications the military tried to cover up the apparently wrongful killings."

Here - "As military officials investigate the Haditha killings in Iraq, one of the Marines involved has spoken out about what he saw last year. Only hours after Iraqi civilians were killed, a second team of Marines was sent in to take the victims' bodies to a local morgue. Lance Corp. Ryan Briones was among the Marines sent in to recover the bodies, and he told the Los Angeles Times he is still haunted by what he saw, including a young girl who was shot in the head. '[The victims] ranged from little babies to adult males and females,' Briones told the newspaper. 'I can still smell the blood.'"

Here - "One of America's highest-ranking officers yesterday promised to "get to the bottom" of what is rapidly unfolding as one of the biggest scandals to hit the country's armed forces since the invasion of Iraq in 2003."

Here - "No good can come of speculation surrounding a Nov. 19 incident in Haditha, Iraq, in which 24 Iraqi civilians, including women and children, were killed in the aftermath of a roadside bomb attack, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today."

Here - The killing of Iraqi civilians by US Marines has done more damage to America's aims in Iraq than the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, a Democratic congressman and vocal war critic said on Sunday. Rep John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a decorated retired Marine, told ABC News there was "no question" that the US military tried to cover up the killing of as many as two dozen Iraqi civilians last year in the town of Haditha. 'I will not excuse murder,' Murtha said. 'And this is what happened. There's no question in my mind about it.'"

This needs to be settled.

Or it doesn't, as Reuters reports here -
Word that U.S. Marines may have killed two dozen Iraqi civilians in "cold-blooded" revenge after an insurgent attack has shocked Americans but many Iraqis shrug it off as an every day fact of life under occupation.

... As U.S. commentators talk of "Iraq's My Lai" and wonder if Haditha could have a similar effect as the 1968 massacre in Vietnam on public attitudes to the military and the war, few Iraqi leaders have mentioned the incident in a town 220 km (140 miles) northwest of Baghdad where Sunni rebels were very active.

... In Baghdad's bustling Karrada commercial district, Mohammed Jawdaat, 47, offered a typical view at his store, where business selling firefighting gear is booming amid the chaos of Baghdad: "It really doesn't surprise me," he said.

Like many in the city, he can recount an incident in which he says he saw U.S. forces open fire on civilians: "Six months ago a car pulled out of a street towards an American convoy and a soldier just opened fire," Jawdaat said.

"The driver was shot in the head and the person behind was killed too. They were innocents. There were no warning shots and the Americans didn't even stop. The police took the wounded."
And that's what they expect of us. We are not the "fix things" good guys, nor even the avenging, stern, merciless punishers of all that is evil. We are seen as a simple elemental danger, and like lightning from the sky that an stick you dead, what are you going to do?

And all that made for a strange Memorial Day.

__

Other thoughts?

There's this -
There is no "War on Terror."

There is, however, a "war" on the U. S. Constitution.

After September 11, 2001, we've learned that we can take a punch and move on. We've faced far worse threats to our national survival in our history - the Civil War, the War of 1812, World War II to name a few - but we never abandoned our Constitution. Until now.

Terror is an emotion. Emotions are part of human nature and cannot be eradicated. A "War on Terror" is therefore a war on humanity. The Bush administration has exploited the fear and shock of a nation in the wake of a surprising and dramatic act of violence to whip national fear and paranoia into a constant boil. Why?

The evidence suggests the whole point has been to seize power and steal money. We are witnessing a creeping coup in the United States, the overthrow of the idea, promulgated by our founders and by writers like Tom Paine, that the "Law is King"

... Today is Memorial Day. Today we remember countless patriots who died and fought for those freedoms our president tells us we must abandon... in the name of "freedom."

If there were really a "War on Terror," an emotion, Wes Craven would be hiring a lawyer: he scares people. The "War on Terror" is a sham. You know what changed after September 11th? We, the people of the United States, forgot how strong we are. We gave in to fear, when the only thing we should have feared was fear itself. Osama bin Laden wants you to be afraid. So does George Bush.

I know I'm not alone when I say, I'm an American and I'm not afraid. I know I'm going to die. I accept that I'm going to die, no problem. What I do not accept and will not accept is the notion that I must live as a slave to fear for the purposes of craven, cowardly men who, in their time, pissed the bed rather than fight an actual war, later to become powerful and use that power to line their pockets with my tax dollars. Give me liberty or give me death. Take your "terror" and shove it.

We went after the criminals who attacked us when we invaded Afghanistan, then quickly abandoned any pretense of being concerned with actual terrorists by fighting a ginned-up war of aggression against a tin-pot dictator for whom our chickenshit president and his buddies have always had a hard-on. If the U. S. were serious about thwarting terrorism or about minimizing our exposure to acts of violence designed to make us afraid, we would have rigorous port security and massive international goodwill and cooperation in the lawful identification of anarchic, violent networks. But we don't have that. We have our sons and daughters fighting to maintain bases in the sand near oil fields, sacrificing their lives, bodies and minds for a pack of lies.

Ann Coulter and other right wing totalitarian cheerleaders like to talk about traitors to America. George Bush and the Republicans have betrayed America, the actual laws of America and the very idea of America. On Memorial Day, as we remember our sons and daughters who have sacrificed their lives in the blistering sands of Iraq, it does their memory due honor to point this out. Noble men and women fallen, their blood cries out for lawful justice.

In each of our minds lies the beginning of our return to freedom, so please, say it after me: "There is no 'War on Terror.'"

It's high time for America and Americans to remember our strength. We need not be afraid. When we surrender to fear, we lose our country, we lose our faith in each other, we lose our future and we lose our freedom. The best way to honor the sacrifices of our nation's men and women killed in battle is to embrace, once again, that precious liberty.

It's time to be America again.
Over the top?

Try the mild-mannered Bob Herbert at the New York Times with this (very expensive subscription required) -
The point of Memorial Day is to honor the service and the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in the nation's wars. But I suggest that we take a little time today to consider the living.

Look around and ask yourself if you believe that stability or democracy in Iraq - or whatever goal you choose to assert as the reason for this war - is worth the life of your son or your daughter, or your husband or your wife, or the co-worker who rides to the office with you in the morning, or your friendly neighbor next door.

Before you gather up the hot dogs and head out to the barbecue this afternoon, look in a mirror and ask yourself honestly if Iraq is something you would be willing to die for.

There is no shortage of weaselly politicians and misguided commentators ready to tell us that we can't leave Iraq - we just can't. Chaos will ensue. Maybe even a civil war. But what they really mean is that we can't leave as long as the war can continue to be fought by other people's children, and as long as we can continue to put this George W. Bush-inspired madness on a credit card.

Start sending the children of the well-to-do to Baghdad, and start raising taxes to pay off the many hundreds of billions that the war is costing, and watch how quickly this tragic fiasco is brought to an end.

At an embarrassing press conference last week, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain looked for all the world like a couple of hapless schoolboys who, while playing with fire, had set off a conflagration that is still raging out of control. Their recklessness has so far cost the lives of nearly 2,500 Americans and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, many of them children.

Among the regrets voiced by the president at the press conference was his absurd challenge to the insurgents in 2003 to "bring 'em on." But Mr. Bush gave no hint as to when the madness might end.

How many more healthy young people will we shovel into the fires of Iraq before finally deciding it's time to stop? How many dead are enough?
And this -
Even those who share Bush's post 9/11 vision are puzzled by the bloody muddle of it that's been made. In the London Spectator of May 20 (online for subscribers only, alas), Philip Bobbitt, the author of The Shield of Achilles, articulated his exasperation at how the war on terror has been mangled.

"What [the Bush] administration has done - and I support the war in Iraq - what they have done is heartbreaking, because they have steadily removed the greatest source of their power, which was the rule of the law. You may think of Abu Ghraib as a battle, and we lost. Guantanamo is a battle that we have lost. It will cost us lives, it will cost us political influence, and above all it may cost us our strategic objectives. Not simply by ignoring it, but having a studied contempt for the law, and not just international law, and which needs desperately to be reformed, but for even our domestic laws. The administration has kicked away what should have been its strongest prop. It baffles me. And it angers me."
It seems a lot of folks were angry on Memorial Day.

Posted by Alan at 21:54 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006 22:12 PDT home

Friday, 26 May 2006
Visual Commentary
Topic: In these times...

Visual Commentary

No detailed commentary today. It was a day for driving around Los Angeles and taking photographs for this weekend's Just Above Sunset, the magazine-format parent site to this daily web log. And it was Miles Davis' eightieth birthday, so at Just Above Sunset Photography there's this, some words on his life and his music, and a photo of his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and two shots of what's right there with the star. It seemed like the right thing to do on his birthday.

But then, while driving around, you snap something that's just political commentary in and of itself. Below? In Marina del Rey, the underclass illustrated at the yard where they sell and service extraordinarily expensive yachts. It's so California, the rich above, and the Hispanic workers below, having lunch. All as it should be, or something.

In Marina del Rey, in Los Angeles, the underclass illustrated at the yard where they sell and service extraordinarily expensive yachts.



And it's Memorial Day weekend. It used to be Decoration Day, a day to commemorate the men and women who died in military service for this country. It began as a holiday to honor Union soldiers who died during the Civil War, but after the First World War it was expanded to include anyone who died in any war or military action. The Veterans Memorial Park in Westwood, just west of UCLA, is crowded now. Below you see just a fraction of the grounds Friday morning. The photo is from nine in the morning. Deep marine layer with ground fog. The holiday begins.

Can we return to peaceful times, the good old days when we weren't at war? No. We always were at war somewhere or other. The pauses were anomalies, and they were brief. The contention that peace is that natural state of man is simply false. It's the exception. The evidence, all of history, proves it. Below is just some visual evidence.

But to be clear, this is not to say it is Americans, unfortunately, that can be best be defined by war - that's what we Americans do. Every nation is the same, every people. We're not exceptional, nor exceptionally bellicose. Man can be defined as the species that wars. It's what we do. You can glorify it. You can be sad. It hardly matters. Every nation and every people make war to define who they are, and who they are not. It gives us meaning. What else does?

Veterans Memorial Park in Westwood, California, just west of UCLA



A final shot, tourists on Hollywood Boulevard as Memorial Day weekend begins. Flashy patriotism meets tacky commerce. America.

Tourists on Hollywood Boulevard as Memorial Day weekend begins...

Posted by Alan at 19:56 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 26 May 2006 19:59 PDT home

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