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"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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Thursday, 11 December 2003

Topic: Iraq

Why we fight: the real (latest) reason we elected to wage this war, examined by an old-line conservative. Does he misuse history?

Things are getting really odd when you find a column by Pat Buchanan republished on a site called antiwar of all things. But there it sat yesterday.

These folks gave him a short bio: Patrick J. Buchanan was twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the Reform Party's candidate in 2000. He is also a founder and editor of the new magazine, The American Conservative. Now a commentator and columnist, he served three presidents in the White House, was a founding panelist of three national television shows, and is the author of seven books.

They did not note Pat is pretty ticked at the current "neoconservative" crowd running things now, nor note his history of xenophobic, isolationist views.

Anyway, Buchanan rips into Bush and his recent speeches on democracy - a November addresses at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington and at the Whitehall Palace in London on that recent trip to the UK.

Buchanan considers them and suggests Bush didn't even know what he was saying.

See Here We Go Again
Pat Buchanan, December 10, 2003,

Buchanan can be blunt:
George Bush did not write this democratist drivel. This is the kind of messianic rhetoric he probably never heard before he became president. Who is putting these words in his mouth? For if George Bush truly intends to lead a "global democratic revolution," and convert not only Iraq but the whole Middle East to democracy, he has ceased to be a conservative and we are headed for endless conflicts, disappointments, disillusionment and tragedy.
And then he starts with the rhetorical questions regarding Bush:
Where in the Constitution is he empowered to go around the world destabilizing governments? Can he truly believe that by hectoring such autocracies as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, America is more secure? Who comes to power if Mubarak goes in Cairo, the Saudi monarchy falls, or Musharaff is ousted in Pakistan? If memory serves, the last wave of popular revolutions in the region gave us Nasser, Khadafi, Saddam and the Ayatollah.
Ah yes, good questions all.

And then this:
Where did he get the idea we are insecure because the Islamic world is not democratic? The Islamic world has never been democratic. Yet, before we intervened massively there, our last threat came from Barbary pirates. Lest we forget, Muhammad Atta and his comrades did not plot their atrocities in the Sunni Triangle, but in Hamburg and Delray Beach.

Surveys shows that Islamic people bear a deep resentment of U.S. dominance of their region and our one-sided support for Israel. Interventionism is not America's solution, it is America's problem.
Now that is interesting. I seem to recall Buchanan is an ex-Marine, so the strains of the Marine Corp Hymn " the shores of Tripoli" do mean something here - the Marines really did take care of the Barbary pirates. Was that the last justifiable use of US forces over in that part of the world - the 1805 storming of Barbary pirates' harbor fortress stronghold of Derna (Tripoli)? Really? I'm not so sure.

But he does have a point. Hamburg and Delray Beach are dangerous places in the sense he means - bad folks plan bad things there. Iraq is just another place. Or was.

But his point is not that this particular recent intervention was bone-headed. What is really bone-headed is the idea that we know best. And the reasoning?
Freedom, the president said, "must be chosen and defended by those who choose it." Exactly. Why not then let these Islamic peoples choose it on their own timetable and defend it themselves?

It is "cultural condescension," says Bush, "to assume the Middle East cannot be converted to democracy. ... Perhaps the most helpful change we can make is to change in our own thinking."

But if 22 of 22 Arab states are non-democratic, this would seem to suggest that this soil is not particularly conducive to growing the kind of democracies we raise in upper New England.

... What support is there in history for the view that as we meddle in the affairs of foreign nations, we advance our security? How would we have responded in the 19th century if Britain had declared a policy of destabilizing the American Union until Andrew Jackson abolished slavery?
Well, there he goes, arguing from history again.

Well, "History never repeats itself. It only seems like it does to those who don't know the details." - see
History: What you don't know can't hurt you. Maybe. Maybe not... for some thoughts on that.

But I get the point. This whole enterprise, this new way of explaining why we went to war - since there seem to be no weapons of mass destruction after all - has no good precedent.

In fact, examining history suggests it might be more than a little bit dumb.

I suspect Bush, who prides himself on not reading much, reads even less history.

Posted by Alan at 15:05 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 11 December 2003 15:05 PST home

Topic: Iraq

A simple analogy that raises the question "Now what?"
Reasons to go see the new Christmas movie Bad Santa.

David Corn, Washington editor of The Nation today in Tom Paine - Common Sense...

Feeling The Sting Thursday, December 11, 2003

Here's his analogy:
There's a hornet's nest out back. You and your buddy talk about what to do about it. He says, "I'm going to hit it with a stick." You say, "No, don't do that. Let's think about another way to deal with the problem."

He says, "I'm going to hit it with a stick." You plead, "Don't do this. Maybe we can smoke them out. Ask others what to do. Find some other solution."

He says, "I'm going to hit it with a stick." You reply, " No, really, let's--" He then hits the nest with a stick. Hornets go flying everywhere. They sting whomever they can find. As chaos ensues, your friend looks at you and says, "Hey, don't tell me that it was wrong to hit it with a stick. That would be a waste of time. Tell me what's your solution for dealing with the problem now."

Such a scenario is an imperfect analogy for the position war critics find themselves in these days. (Imperfect because a hornet's nest might pose a more immediate threat to the characters in this tale than Saddam Hussein, despite all his brutality, posed to the United States.)

In recent weeks, defenders of the war have dismissed criticism of the war as counterproductive at this point in time and have tried to turn the tables on the critics by demanding they provide a roadmap for victory and extrication. It's an old ruse: don't be so negative, give us solutions. But there is no reason why I-told-you-so critics should be expected to pull George W. Bush's bacon from the fire. In fact, there may be no way out.

It's not much fun to be gloomy about a war that Bush now says was fought to bring democracy to the repressed people of Iraq. (Well, he can't keep saying he went in to find weapons of mass destruction.) Yet Bush is stuck in a hole of his own digging. Pulling out of Iraq and leaving the Iraqis to their own devices - and to the mercy of the murderous Ba'athist thugs - would be an immoral act. But staying in Iraq as occupiers seems at this moment a problematic position as well.
I just spoke to my glum friend in his law offices on Wall Street. He says we're fucked. But everyone is gloomy around this time of year - Christmas/Hanukah - what with all the endless good cheer in the air everyone feels, everyone but you.

My friend keeps telling me I ought go see Bad Santa - the new film with Billie Bob Thornton as a dissolute, despairing, nasty anti-Santa. Perhaps I will.

As for David Corn and his observations? You can click on the link and get details. He ends with this:
How can one act reasonably or rationally in a situation borne of delusion? Some things broken cannot be repaired. Yes, moaning will not make things better (unless, of course, it leads to Bush's replacement). And non-delusional minds ought to try to find a path out of this mess. But it never should be forgotten that Bush waged an elective war based on a phony rationale, that he did not prepare for the easy-to-foresee aftermath, that he rushed in with his stick, and that the unleashed hornets are his fault.
So? Such things "never should be forgotten" and Bush should not be reelected? Perhaps that will come to be - but I doubt that.

But what about now and our guys in Iraq? What next?

So... Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukah.

Posted by Alan at 09:53 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Wednesday, 10 December 2003

Topic: Iraq

Quick Follow-Up: Showing the world that there is a real price to pay for getting uppity....

Yesterday, I posted this: Strange doings in Washington - an attempt to simultaneously severely punish the French for being such miserable fools, and to convince them to be good folks and help us out. No wonder they are puzzled by it all.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz had just signed a directive barring French, German and Russian companies from competing for the $18.6 billion of Iraqi reconstruction contracts for "the protection of the essential security interests of the United States." The list, by the way, excluded Canada from the bidding also.

The question - is this good diplomacy?

Kevin Drum at CalPundit has a few things to say about the effectiveness of this gesture.
... this directive will have virtually no real effect at all and was designed solely to deliver a big public "fuck you" to these countries.

Question: does this ever work? TR said "speak softly and carry a big stick," and there's a reason for the first part of that advice. If you want someone to back down, you need to give them a face saving way of doing it.

Bottom line: what the hell was the point of this?

It's not likely to make any substantive difference, it's not likely to change anyone's behavior, and it makes us look bitter and nasty for no good reason.

But that's really it, isn't it? The Bushies like being bitter and nasty even if there's no point. Nixon felt the same way, I think, but at least he was smart enough to try and hide it.
The whole thing is good.

And this from the Toronto Star:
Canada threatens to stop Iraq aid
Countries that opposed war ineligible to take part in reconstruction effort
Martin O'Hanlon, Canadian Press, December 10, 2003. 06:55 PM
OTTAWA (CP) - Paul Martin says he can't "fathom" an American decision to bar Canadian firms from bidding on lucrative reconstruction contracts in Iraq and will take up the matter with the U.S. ambassador.

Martin, who becomes prime minister Friday and is keen on fostering closer relations with the U.S., said the decision to exclude countries that opposed the American-led invasion of Iraq is flawed.

"I understand the importance of these kinds of contracts, but this shouldn't be just about who gets contracts, who gets business," he said Wednesday. "It ought to be what is the best thing for the people of Iraq."

The American directive, from deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz, limits bidders for 26 lucrative contracts worth $18.6 billion (U.S.) to firms from the U.S., Iraq, their coalition partners and other countries that have sent troops to Iraq. Countries that did not sent troops would be eligible for subcontracting work.

Martin noted that Canada has committed nearly $300 million for reconstruction in Iraq and that Canadian troops in Afghanistan "are carrying a very, very heavy load" in the war on terrorism.

"I will certainly be discussing this with the ambassador and then we will see."

Deputy Prime Minister John Manley went a step further, suggesting Canada may cut its aid to Iraq. He said he doesn't understand how the government could justify contributing to the reconstruction of Iraq when it's being told it is not a partner in helping to fight terrorism.

"Our troops are there (in Afghanistan), they're at serious risk. The notion that somehow or other a country like Canada would somehow be penalized I don't think is very constructive."
Who else can we offend to show the world we're not wimps, and no one should mess with us?

But hold the presses....

Reuters is now reporting that the Pentagon is delaying the rollout of the tenders for Iraqi reconstruction contracts - the ones which barred bids from countries like Canada, Germany, France and Russia.

What? Are now going all wimpy?

I just watched Bill O'Reilly on Fox News argue with Bill Richardson, the Democratic governor of Arizona and a fellow who has been among other things our ambassador to China (diplomatic chops). O'Reilly was practically turning purple ranting that we had to do this because, if we let them bid, the whole world would perceive us as weak. They'd just walk all over us from now on.

I guess being generous and inclusive is, in fact, a sign of weakness. That never occurred to me. One of my blind spots, no doubt.

For a survey of world reaction see this:

War Opponents Denounce U.S. Rules on Iraq Contracts
EU Studying If Ban Violates Trade Rules
William Branigin and Jackie Spinner, The Washington Post, Wednesday, December 10, 2003; 4:20 PM

Oh well, it's done now. Unless there's something to the Reuters report.

Posted by Alan at 18:10 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 10 December 2003 18:41 PST home

Topic: Bush

What? The apocalypse scares you? Really? What's your problem?

On Sunday, 7 December 2003 I posted an item I called George Bush: The Manicheism Candidiate? Manichian? Whatever. Trust me. This will make sense. Notes on the Mentality of the Conservative Evangelicals and received a private email response from an old friend in Albany, New York.

She had been listening to a fellow in a radio interview who was talking, it seemed, about this heresy being perennial, recognized as heresy, and yet hard to root out in all three religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) involved in the Middle East right now. And how Manichaeism is involved with the apocalyptic vision, which is averse to cooperation, accommodation and all the rest - because it posits that everything is headed for that one last showdown between good and evil. That's why conservative fundamentalists (in all camps) really have no interest in progressive ideas that could avert calamity. She found it all interesting. And scary.

Scary? Well, I guess that depends on your point of view, and your particular flavor of theology.

There really has been a lot of talk recently about these apocalyptic views of this current war - this war that may last forever. Or at least until the end of time (read your Bible).

The piece that I see quoted most often, and referred to most often in the last few days, is something Robert Jay Lifton has in The Nation. It hit the web last Thursday and I guess the print version is on the newsstands now.

See American Apocalypse
Robert Jay Lifton, The Nation, Posted December 4, 2003, from the December 22 issue...

The link will take you to it, but here are some key excerpts:
The apocalyptic imagination has spawned a new kind of violence at the beginning of the twenty-first century. We can, in fact, speak of a worldwide epidemic of violence aimed at massive destruction in the service of various visions of purification and renewal. In particular, we are experiencing what could be called an apocalyptic face-off between Islamist forces, overtly visionary in their willingness to kill and die for their religion, and American forces claiming to be restrained and reasonable but no less visionary in their projection of a cleansing war making and military power. Both sides are energized by versions of intense idealism; both see themselves as embarked on a mission of combating evil in order to redeem and renew the world; and both are ready to release untold levels of violence to achieve that purpose.
Yes, Lifton is arguing we as apocalyptic in our views as the folks on the other side. That's what I was getting at in my own post a few days ago. And here's his reasoning:
The American apocalyptic entity is less familiar to us. Even if its urges to power and domination seem historically recognizable, it nonetheless represents a new constellation of forces bound up with what I've come to think of as "superpower syndrome." By that term I mean a national mindset - put forward strongly by a tight-knit leadership group - that takes on a sense of omnipotence, of unique standing in the world that grants it the right to hold sway over all other nations. The American superpower status derives from our emergence from World War II as uniquely powerful in every respect, still more so as the only superpower from the end of the cold war in the early 1990s.

More than mere domination, the American superpower now seeks to control history. Such cosmic ambition is accompanied by an equally vast sense of entitlement - of special dispensation to pursue its aims. That entitlement stems partly from historic claims to special democratic virtue, but has much to do with an embrace of technological power translated into military terms. That is, a superpower - the world's only superpower - is entitled to dominate and control precisely because it is a superpower.
Well, that may be coming on a bit strong, but one does listen to the Bush team and sense Lifton is close to being spot on here.

But how could this happen? Here's what he sees:
In important ways, the "war on terrorism" has represented an impulse to undo violently precisely the humiliation of 9/11. To be sure, the acts of that day had a warlike aspect. They were certainly committed by men convinced that they were at war with us. In post-Nuremberg terms they could undoubtedly be considered a "crime against humanity." Some kind of force used against their perpetrators was inevitable and appropriate. The humiliation caused, together with American world ambitions, however, precluded dealing with the attacks as what they were--terrorism by a small group of determined zealots, not war. A more focused, restrained, internationalized response to Al Qaeda could have been far more effective without being a stimulus to expanded terrorism.

Unfortunately, our response was inseparable from our superpower status and the syndrome that goes with it. Any nation attacked in that way would have felt itself humiliated. But for the United States, with our national sense of being overwhelmingly powerful and unchallengeable, to have its major institutions violently penetrated created an intolerable breakdown of superpower invulnerability that was never supposed to happen, a contradiction that fed our humiliation.

We know from history that collective humiliation can be a goad to various kinds of aggressive behavior - as has been true of bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It was also true of the Nazis.
Nazis? He doesn't go so far as to say we are like them, or very much like them. But he sees parallels.

Then too Lifton relies on Bob Woodward's book Bush at War to show how the president and his team see this all as an apocalyptic enterprise:
The war on terrorism is apocalyptic, then, exactly because it is militarized and yet amorphous, without limits of time or place, and has no clear end. It therefore enters the realm of the infinite. Implied in its approach is that every last terrorist everywhere on the earth is to be hunted down until there are no more terrorists anywhere to threaten us, and in that way the world will be rid of evil. Bush keeps what Woodward calls "his own personal scorecard for the war" in the form of photographs with brief biographies and personality sketches of those judged to be the world's most dangerous terrorists, each ready to be crossed out if killed or captured. The scorecard is always available in a desk drawer in the Oval Office.
Well, that cheers me up.

But does such an apocalyptic view of things make things better? Not exactly...
Despite the constant invocation by the Bush Administration of the theme of "security," the war on terrorism has created the very opposite - a sense of fear and insecurity among Americans, which is then mobilized in support of further aggressive plans in the extension of the larger "war." What results is a vicious circle that engenders what we seek to destroy: Our excessive response to Islamist attacks creates more terrorists and more terrorist attacks, which in turn leads to an escalation of the war on terrorism, and so on. The projected "victory" becomes a form of aggressive longing, of sustained illusion, of an unending "Fourth World War" and a mythic cleansing - of terrorists, of evil, of our own fear. The American military apocalyptic can then be said to partner and act in concert with the Islamist apocalyptic.
Lifton has some idealistic thoughts on how to break this cycle. You could click on the link and see what he has to say about that, if you scroll down to the last few paragraphs. I just don't agree him. His solution - "renouncing omnipotence" - is not something our current leaders are likely to embrace, nor would most Americans. That would be too scary - far more frightening. Americans like to chant, "We're number one!" as often and as loudly as possible. Chanting that may be cold comfort, but it is comfort nonetheless.

Posted by Alan at 15:21 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 10 December 2003 15:47 PST home

Topic: Local Issues

Arnold Shwarzenegger: the man California trusts to fix things...

My friend Joy wonders why I don't ever write about Arnold Shwarzenegger and matters related to his election and now his management of this state.

Sigh. What's to say? The voters out here bought the hype. Everyone believed that he had some magic plan that defied the laws of economics and lined up to vote for him.

Hell, he was a no-nonsense action hero who said the problems were simple - eliminate waste (no pun intended) and we keep all our services and get no new taxes; in fact, the new car registration tax increase was to be rolled back.

And it was. I paid a six hundred dollar fee to reregister my car a few months ago and I expect a refund check for four hundred in the mail any day now.

The upshot? Most cities, cities that depend on that tax income for basic services, now face sixty-percent cuts in their annual state funding. Close libraries. Lay off police and firemen. Arnold specifically said he would not, under any circumstances, reduce that allocation and now says... well, he's not saying anything. He just cut the funds.

Ah, but we love him anyway.

Kevin Drum at CalPundit pretty much sums it up. Arnold the most brazen liar in the history of politics, or what? I say this without a lot of malice, since I genuinely sympathize with the almost impossible job he's taken on. But still, enough's enough.

As the LA Times reports today, Arnold was on CNN yesterday and suggested that he might suspend Proposition 98, an initiative that guarantees a certain minimum level of school funding. To anyone who wasn't in California during the campaign it's hard to get across the depth of the deceit this demonstrates. Here was his TV ad on the subject of education:

Question: Will you have to cut education?

Schwarzenegger: No. We can fix this mess without hurting the schools. For me, children come first. Always have, always will.

I'm telling you, this ad ran a dozen times a night on every station in the state. He said over and over that education wouldn't be touched and that he supported Proposition 98. It was a cornerstone of his campaign. But less than a month after being sworn in he casually proposes gutting Prop 98 and then sends out his chief flack to make weasel noises about what the meaning of "cut" is. It's really unbelievable.

In the same interview, Arnold also backed off his promise to make sure local communities get back the money they lost when he reduced the vehicle license fee. And he's backed off his promise to investigate the groping charges.

This is a joke. He knew perfectly well exactly how bad the state's finances were when he made these promises, and he made them anyway. He knew he couldn't keep these promises without tax increases, and he made them anyway. And everyone believed that he had some magic plan that defied the laws of economics and lined up to vote for him.

And now he's just tossing those promises overboard without so much as an apology. It's revolting.
California voters got what they deserved. A lying fraud. But a dynamic, self-made lying fraud. An action hero who would clean house and fix everything? Dream on.

This is the land of illusion - or delusion - or whatever.

Posted by Alan at 13:04 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 10 December 2003 13:47 PST home

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