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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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Tuesday, 23 December 2003

Topic: Bush

Friends and Allies: Does One Ever Really Need Them?
"... we have changed from the flawed but generous nation that we are into a mean and paranoid country that lashes out at friends and enemies alike."

I let this sit for a few days. I saw it cited a few places and thought little of it, as the source, the Sunday Mirror (UK) is almost the sleazy tabloid its sister the Daily Mirror is. But it is getting a lot of play. I suspect people feel that it feels true, so they want to believe it. They want to believe Tony Blair is fed up with George Bush.

It all may be wishful thinking, even delusion - the Brits and the dissident Americans believing Bush is a crude manipulator who has no use for Blair and has discarded him now that he's no longer useful.

What is reported is that 1.) Bush has forbidden Blair visiting British troops in Iraq over Christmas, as he planned to visit our troops himself and didn't want Blair stealing his thunder, and 2.) in retaliation for Bush banning the Blair trip Blair announced the capture of Saddam Hussein before George could, which really ticked off Bush, and 3.) these two are now at odds and the alliance breaking down.

Relations in 'deep freeze' since Saddam caught
Chris Mclaughlin, Political Editor, The Sunday Mirror (UK), December 21, 2003

Here's a bit of it:
Tony Blair and George Bush's love-in has collapsed over the rebuilding of Iraq. The two leaders have fallen out over plans for the reconstruction of the country and the heavy-handed action of American troops against the civilian population.

And the rift has been deepened by a Washington ban on a proposed morale-boosting visit by the PM to British troops in Iraq during the Christmas holiday.

... According to diplomats, relations between the allies have gone into "deep freeze" since the capture of Saddam Hussein last weekend.

President Bush was incensed that Mr Blair stole Washington's thunder by being the first Western leader to confirm that the former dictator had been arrested by US troops.

Downing Street rushed out Mr Blair's announcement before he had spoken to the American leader early last Sunday, when Mr Bush - six hours behind London - was still in bed.

Whitehall insiders confirmed that Mr Blair's decision was partly out of anger over a US veto on his proposed visit to British troops in Iraq during the Christmas holiday.

... Mr Blair and Mr Bush have had at least three phone conversations during the past seven days which Whitehall officials described as "increasingly terse".

A Downing Street insider said: "Relations between the two are at the lowest ebb since they first met.

"The PM is not happy at having to deal with Britain's European partners who have been left out of the rebuilding contracts. Of course they are still talking - but the diplomatic temperature is in the deep freeze."
Ah, it may not be true at all, and if true, may be nothing much.

But why does it feel right?

Kevin Drum, has this to say about it, which seems right to me:
I think there's a genuinely interesting dynamic at work here: Tony Blair supported the war on Iraq because he genuinely believed in it, but at the same time he also has an internationalist vision that is increasingly at odds with George Bush's.

... But in the end, Blair really is an internationalist. He wanted to get UN support, he was genuinely sorry that he couldn't convince Germany and France to get on board, and now that the war is over he truly wants to rebuild the old alliances. Bush, on the other hand, never really cared about that stuff and still doesn't. His instinct is to act alone.

Back in March I suggested that the Bush-Blair alliance wouldn't hold up forever, mainly because I didn't think that Bush would demonstrate any serious loyalty to Blair for the genuinely brave and risky stand that he took on the war. Blair is too canny a politician to ever publicly break with Bush, I think, but it wouldn't surprise me if their private relationship is getting increasingly testy. In the end, Bush doesn't really care about Blair except insofar as he supports what Bush wants, and there's only just so much of that that Blair can take.

What Blair is learning is that loyalty is a one-way street with George Bush: it's there as long as you support him unreservedly, but step out of line even for an instant and it's gone in a flash. As Fareed Zakaria put it just before the war, "should the guiding philosophy of the world's leading democracy really be the tough talk of a Chicago mobster? .... I can report that with the exception of Britain and Israel, every country the administration has dealt with feels humiliated by it."
But we humiliate others for the best of reasons - to separate the good from the bad and to bring order to the world. Funny how other nations resent us just trying to do good. And they did have their chance to choose sides. (And I'm getting tired of being ironic about it.)

The Zakaria item is here, by the way:
The Arrogant Empire
America's unprecedented power scares the world, and the Bush administration has only made it worse. How we got here - and what we can do about it now
Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, Updated: 4:30 p.m. ET Dec. 10, 2003

Back then Kevin Drum said this, which seems even better now:
Time and again, when I try to figure out what is happening in America, I keep coming back to the palpable sense of fear that seems to envelop us. We are seemingly afraid of everything: child molesters, terrorists, street crime, sharks - in a way that is wildly out of proportion to the actual danger they present.

... Our reaction to 9/11 has been the same. Instead of making use of the outpouring of support that we got in its aftermath, we have turned in on ourselves, and in the process we have changed from the flawed but generous nation that we are into a mean and paranoid country that lashes out at friends and enemies alike.

But we are not a cornered animal, and I hope that someday soon we will begin to peek out from our self-imposed isolation and realize it. The world is a dangerous place, yes, but it is far less dangerous when you face it with your friends at your side. We have many such friends in the world today, if we would only open our eyes long enough to see them.
Well, we have decided we don't need them.

Well, if others do just what we say and don't ask questions, and never raise issues, then they may be useful. I guess that's what it called the "coalition of the willing." That would be "willing" as the in behavior of sniggering sycophants, or of submissive, demoralized children. Zakaria has the wrong model. The "Chicago mobster" is slightly off. Think rather "stern father who accepts no excuses or explanations." And in such a family there can be only one father, and no excuses. That's the way it is.

Posted by Alan at 21:34 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 23 December 2003 22:42 PST home

Topic: Iraq

Why we fight: A Utilitarian View
A pro-war fellow, Norm Geras, explains why he supported the war on Iraq: We ended up doing good.
I would hold this view even if I thought (as in fact I do not) that George Bush and Tony Blair fought the war for wholly cynical reasons.

To give a crude analogy here: if someone burgles a house and her only motive in doing so is greed, I will approve of her action if, in order to bring off the burglary, she finds she has to release a terrified family from the grip of a bullying, violent and child-abusing patriarch. I will not think that what happened was overall bad because it was - 'in essence' - a burglary; or worry, in my approval, about the burglar going on to burgle others. If she does, we can disapprove of - and oppose - that.
Say what?

Posted by Alan at 11:40 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Culture

LINKS: The Best and The Worst. The Year in Review.
Why does this happen every year?

Click here for a list of the list of the best and the worst and the most and the least of the last year.

Posted by Alan at 10:20 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Monday, 22 December 2003

Topic: The Media

Follow-Up: Smelling a rat early... Lord Black and his pearl

Last month I posted an item on Conrad Black, the ex-Canadian press baron, now Lord Black, the publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post and the Daily Telegraph (UK). The business about his diverting thirty-four million dollars of corporate funds (Hollinger is the holding company) to himself and his friends for their own amusement had just hit the wires and Conrad had stepped down. The empire is up for sale.

See this: When good Canadians go bad....,
Thursday, 20 November 2003

The item elaborates on a Daniel Gross item I had found in Slate that tied in Henry Kissinger and Richard Perle and others to the corporation.

Well, Lord Black testified to the Securities and Exchange Commission this week and the story has jumped from the web to the "real" press. That would be The New York Times in this case.

See Citizen Conrad's Friends
Paul Krugman, The New York Times, December 23, 2003

Yeah, Krugman is going to do a movie thing and invoke Citizen Kane. Well, that may be appropriate.
... it's a mistake to think of Lord Black, whatever his personal fate, as a throwback to a bygone era. He probably represents the wave of the future.

These days, everything old is new again. Income is once again concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite, and money rules politics to an extent not seen since the Gilded Age. The Iraq war bears an eerie resemblance to the Spanish-American war. (There was never any evidence linking Spain to the Maine's demise.) And Citizen Kane is back, in the form of an incestuous media-political complex.

But the Black affair isn't just about bad corporate governance. It goes without saying that Lord Black, like Rupert Murdoch, has used his media empire to promote a conservative political agenda. The Telegraph, in particular, has a habit of "finding" documents of unproven authenticity that just happen to support neoconservative rationales for war. We're now learning that Lord Black also used his control of Hollinger to reward friends, including journalists, who share his political views.
Ah, the evil neoconservatives again.

You'd think Bush and his team was working to control the press by giving favors to these sorts of folks. That would make you think that the Federal Communications Commission was run by, say, the son of the current Secretary of State. Well, Michael Powell, the Chairman of the FCC, is, in fact, the son of Bush's Secretary of State, Colin Powell. But that's a coincidence. And Fox News may be the most blatantly pro-Administration of all the news sources, but that the FCC approved their purchase of DirecTV a few days ago, allowing Fox and its parent company, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, to elbow out as much of the more skeptical competition as it can, is also coincidence. The FCC is just making the news to which we have access more "fair and balanced."

Bush won the election. He and his guys get to set the rules. That's the way it works.

Richard Perle, a key member of the administration's Defense Policy Board - in fact chairman of that board until he was forced to step down over a conflict of interest thing - is another case. Another one of Lord Black's guys. Long ago he ran the Jerusalem Post and now advises Bush and speaks for our county on matters of why we do what we do. You might recall his speech in London last month where he said the US knew quite well it acted illegally in invading Iraq, and didn't care that much. This upset the Brits no end. Charming fellow.

He was making three hundred grand a year from Black and Hollinger, and a Hollinger consulting firm called Trireme. Boeing paid Trireme twenty million to lobby for them. Perle wrote a Wall Street Journal opinion piece - as a key member of the Defense Policy Board going on record - arguing that lease deal on the air-to-air tanker planes was just a wonderful idea. Perle didn't mention he was being paid by Boeing. Oops. Coincidence. Well, it seems no one could cover up the fact that it would be many billions of dollars cheaper to buy the damned airplanes than to lease them. The deal fell through. The chairman of Boeing and a few senior Boeing officials resigned. Oh well.

Perle is still around. Still a key Bush guy.

Anyway, Krugman touches on all that, but adds something that made me smile.
... The real surprise, though, is that two prominent journalists, William Buckley and George Will, were also regular paid advisors to Hollinger. Now, I thought there were rules here. First, if you're a full-time journalist, you shouldn't be in that kind of relationship. Second, whoever you are, if you write a favorable article about someone with whom you have a personal or financial connection -- like Mr. Perle's piece on the tanker deal or Mr. Will's March column praising Lord Black's wisdom -- you disclose that connection. But I guess the old rules no longer apply.

That, surely, is the moral of this story. Lord Black may have destroyed himself by being a bit too brazen. But his more powerful rival Rupert Murdoch just goes from strength to strength, even though top positions in his media empire have a tendency to go to his sons, and the News Corporation has done far more than Hollinger to blur the line between news and propaganda.
Paul, Paul, Paul.... Wake up!

You are dealing with people who do NOT believe there is a difference between news and propaganda. It's either your news or their news - your propaganda or theirs.

And, Paul, stop using references to old movies no young folks know at all. Citizen Kane just doesn't cut it. The Maine? The Spanish-American War? No, no. When you think of Lord Black and board of advisors - Richard Perle, Henry Kissinger and the others - think of the Harry Potter books - think of Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters. And think of the Defense Policy Board - Perle and Wolfowitz and that crew - as the Ministry of Magic, the place run by Cornelius Fudge. That works better.

It does, really. The names fit better.

Posted by Alan at 23:57 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Iraq

Was Thomas Jefferson that cynical? Chomsky takes a few swings at Wolfowitz

On the lefty site AlterNet Noam Chomsky takes a dim view of US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

See Dictators R Us
Noam Chomsky, AlterNet. December 22, 2003 (first published in The Toronto Star)

Yes, Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). And he's a political writer, activist and critic - a key voice from the left. His new book is Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance - obviously not one of the volumes on cognition, language acquisition and the epistemology of grammar. Paul Wolfowitz is the administration's chief political theorist. Most of what we do in the world he has thought up, or at least explained as quite reasonable.

So what's Chomsky's beef?
... the Bush administration's original reason for going to war in Iraq was to save the world from a tyrant developing weapons of mass destruction and cultivating links to terror. Nobody believes that now, not even Bush's speechwriters.

The new reason is that we invaded Iraq to establish a democracy there and, in fact, to democratize the whole Middle East.

Sometimes, the repetition of this democracy-building posture reaches the level of rapturous acclaim.

Last month, for example, David Ignatius, the Washington Post commentator, described the invasion of Iraq as "the most idealistic war in modern times" -fought solely to bring democracy to Iraq and the region. Ignatius was particularly impressed with Paul Wolfowitz, "the Bush administration's idealist in chief," whom he described as a genuine intellectual who "bleeds for (the Arab world's) oppression and dreams of liberating it."

Maybe that helps explain Wolfowitz's career - like his strong support for Suharto in Indonesia, one of the last century's worst mass murderers and aggressors, when Wolfowitz was ambassador to that country under Ronald Reagan.

As the State Department official responsible for Asian affairs under Reagan, Wolfowitz oversaw support for the murderous dictators Chun of South Korea and Marcos of the Philippines.

All this is irrelevant because of the convenient doctrine of change of course.

So, yes, Wolfowitz's heart bleeds for the victims of oppression - and if the record shows the opposite, it's just that boring old stuff that we want to forget about.
Well, that was then. This is now. But it is odd.

Give Paul the benefit of the doubt?

Noam says no.
One might recall another recent illustration of Wolfowitz's love of democracy. The Turkish parliament, heeding its population's near-unanimous opposition to war in Iraq, refused to let U.S. forces deploy fully from Turkey. This caused absolute fury in Washington.

Wolfowitz denounced the Turkish military for failing to intervene to overturn the decision. Turkey was listening to its people, not taking orders from Crawford, Texas, or Washington, D.C.

The most recent chapter is Wolfowitz's "Determination and Findings" on bidding for lavish reconstruction contracts in Iraq. Excluded are countries where the government dared to take the same position as the vast majority of the population.

Wolfowitz's alleged grounds are "security interests," which are non-existent, though the visceral hatred of democracy is hard to miss - along with the fact that Halliburton and Bechtel corporations will be free to "compete" with the vibrant democracy of Uzbekistan and the Solomon Islands, but not with leading industrial societies.
Harsh words.

The whole thing is worth a read.

What it comes down to is fancy idealistic words being used to mask a competitive struggle for domination and exploitation. Noam calls Paul a liar, or deluded. And sees him as the man who behind the duping of the country to make Bush and his friends rich - the usual left rant.

Except Noam gives events and dates - and asks us to think about them. Not many people will. No time. Other concerns.

His conclusion?
Throughout history, even the harshest and most shameful measures are regularly accompanied by professions of noble intent - and rhetoric about bestowing freedom and independence.

An honest look would only generalize Thomas Jefferson's observation on the world situation of his day: "We believe no more in Bonaparte's fighting merely for the liberties of the seas than in Great Britain's fighting for the liberties of mankind. The object is the same, to draw to themselves the power, the wealth and the resources of other nations."
I suppose Jefferson said that - I'll try to find where. Was Jefferson that cynical?

And why won't Chomsky buy the administration's line on all this? Patriotic idealists do. Really. Cynics don't, and call themselves realists, like Jefferson.

Posted by Alan at 19:25 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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