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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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Saturday, 15 April 2006
The Arts: Beckett and Hollywood
Topic: The Arts

The Arts: Beckett and Hollywood

Full moon over Hollywood, Thursday, April 13, 2006There was a full moon on Thursday, April 13th, the one hundredth birthday of the playwright Samuel Beckett. How odd. The photo at the right is the moon that night floating over the Hollywood Hills. Of course, no one noted this man's birthday much in Hollywood, as his works really could not be turned into movies. Generally plays do not make good movies, or more precisely, good plays make for dull movies, as in various versions of "The Glass Menagerie" not exactly lighting up the box offices across America and so on. Take a fairly crappy stage play, never produced, and you can make a fine movie. The obvious example is "Casablanca" - just voted the best screenplay of all time and based on "Everybody Comes to Rick's" by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, which seems to have never been produced on stage.

Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" was first performed in Paris in 1953 and ran for four hundred performances at the Théâtre de Babylone, and went on to become perhaps the most important play of the twentieth century - but it's not for Hollywood. The man may have who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, but his stuff can't be marketed to those who consume what is produced in these parts.

But Paris is not Hollywood, and on the 13th, as AFP reports here - "In a scene which might have appealed to Samuel Beckett's sense of the absurd, French and Irish fans marked the writer's 100th birthday Thursday at his grave topped with a bowler hat, flowers and a banana."

It was only about forty people in the Montparnasse cemetery, nor far from where Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, hangs his hat. There were reading in French and English which dealt with "Beckett's fundamental themes of birth and death."

The bowler hat, flowers and banana? The characters in "Waiting for Godot" wore bowler hats. In "Krapp's Last Tape" the nearly blind and deaf man lives in a one filthy room, living on bananas. The flowers were just conventional, of course.

AFP background -
Beckett, who was born near Dublin on April 13, 1906, was buried in a simple, granite grave here after his death in December 1989.

Ever struggling to capture the bleakness and futility which he saw in the human condition, Beckett, who moved to Paris in 1937, wrote many of his most memorable works in French first, delighting in the economy forced on him by writing in a foreign language.

Those who marked the 100th anniversary of his birth both in Paris and in a larger ceremony held in Dublin on Thursday, remembered a man, who despite being intensely private, was also generous and kind.

"Beckett was a writer who turned a relentless searchlight on the human condition, directly and courageously, making each of us confront our deepest selves with little help along the way except those flashes of black humour," said Ireland's ambassador to France, Anne Anderson.

... The widow of Beckett's French publisher Jerome Lindon has now donated the French manuscript of "Waiting for Godot" to France's National Library, the library announced on Thursday.

Beckett, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, was "Irish by inspiration and in his imagination, his syntax and his cadence. He was deeply, pervasively Irish," Anderson told the gathering.

But we know how French he was too. He loved France, he chose to live here, he wrote in French, he thought in French. So, French and Irish, we gather together to honor this great man."
It seem that Marianne Alphant, a curator at the Pompidou Centre, is organizing a major Beckett exhibition there for March 2007 (the Los Angeles stuff will be gone by then).

There was no one from Hollywood at the Montparnasse cemetery, or none mentioned, but there were his old neighbors from the village of Ussy-sur-Marne, not far from Paris. And in regard to this man who stunningly portrayed existential angst, and how one can or cannot get along in this sorry world devoid of inherent meaning, one villager, Paule Savane, noted this - "He was very solitary and looking for peace and calm. But every Sunday when the children returned home from their catechism lessons, he always had chocolates and sweets for those who knocked on his door."

The world may be devoid of inherent meaning, but there's no point being a grump when the kids drop by.

A good appreciation can be found here - Richard Ouzounian in the Toronto Star. That opens with this - "He opened the door to what looked like a darkened room and invited us to step inside. Once our eyes grew accustomed to the shadows, we could see things more clearly than ever before. That's the achievement of author Samuel Beckett, who was born 100 years ago this week."

And Ouzounian notes the irony of Beckett's birth in Ireland in 1906 - it was in both Good Friday and Friday the 13th. That about sums it up, as there is this in "Waiting for Godot" - " day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more."

But the serious part -
Beckett has variously been called a minimalist, an absurdist, an existentialist, a nihilist, a pessimist, an anarchist and an atheist, but he would shrug off all those labels, insisting instead "the words, the words, the words - they speak for themselves." One of the few times he was ever lured into categorizing himself was when someone asked him how he would compare himself to James Joyce, his mentor, friend and fellow Irish literary giant.

"James Joyce was a synthesizer, trying to bring in as much as he could," he said. "I am an analyzer, trying to leave out as much as I can."

What he chose to leave out was what the theatre tended to thrive on in the mid 20th-century: elegant settings, sumptuous costumes, twisting plots, and happy endings.

Instead, he gave us such things as a stage bare except for a single tree, occupied by two shabby tramps waiting for someone who never comes.

On that empty stage and in those tattered souls, he offered us a wealth of brutality, compassion, hope and despair.

Still, he would constantly denigrate the value of his work to anyone who would listen. "What do I know of man's destiny?" he would sneer. "I could tell you more about radishes."

"I have an Irish soul and a French brain," he once laconically quipped. "That explains it all."
But why do all these Irish writers end up in Paris? These two, friends there, and the earlier Irish-born Oscar Wilde (but not his choice exactly). Who knows?

Ouzounian's biographical and literary notes follow, and they're worth a read. And this nugget is cool -
He moved back to Paris in 1937 and kept writing, although his books sold very little and his strongest work from the period, Murphy, took years to find a publisher.

Still, Beckett was starting to form a distinctive voice of his own, though it was nearly stilled forever when a deranged pimp stabbed him through the lung on a Parisian street. Joyce rallied to his side, as did a young woman named Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil, who would soon become Beckett's constant companion, finally marrying him in 1961.

The arrival of World War II brought one of the strangest chapters in the previously apolitical Beckett's life. As the Nazis drew near to his beloved Paris, he never thought of returning to Ireland but instead became radically politicized and joined the Resistance, where he was known by the code name "L'Irlandais."

He would later dismiss his activities as "just Boy Scout stuff," but the French Government awarded him the Croix de Guerre in 1945 "for extreme bravery."
So he was not only nice to kids, he fought the good fight, for the good guys.

And in the fifties he turned to writing fro the stage -
It took four years for actor-director Roger Blin to raise enough money to get En Attendant Godot on stage in Paris, in a decrepit venue in Montparnasse called Théâtre de Babylone.

When it opened in January of 1953, the critics were dismissive and the initial audiences confused. But people kept filling the theatre. There was something that drew them to this simple work about two tramps, a bully, a mute and a little boy, all waiting for someone who never comes.

Director Peter Hall brought it to England, but Ralph Richardson turned down the lead on the advice of John Gielgud, who called the play "rubbish." Richardson was later to pronounce it "the biggest mistake of my career, turning down the greatest play of my generation."

It opened quietly in the summer of 1955, once again to confused reviews and baffled audiences, who still couldn't keep away.

But some of the critics began to grasp the message, and the venerable Harold Hobson in the Sunday Times called it "something that will securely lodge in a corner of your mind as long as you live."

When it opened on Broadway the next year, starring the great comedian Bert Lahr, The New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson, while admitting that the play mystified him, hailed "the strange power this drama has to convey the impression of some melancholy truths about the hopeless destiny of the human race."

Over the decades, Waiting for Godot has proven to be one of the most durable scripts of our time. It has been cast all white, all black and rainbow-hued. Mike Nichols took it on a mad comic ride with Steve Martin and Robin Williams...
Ah Hollywood folks. But still, it's a different sort of thing than is done out here.

Ouzounian quotes Harold Pinter on Beckett, and we see how far from popular entertainment Beckett really was -
He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going, and the more he grinds my nose in the shit, the more I am grateful to him.

He's not fucking me about, he's not leading me up any garden path, he's not slipping me a wink, he's not flogging me a remedy or a path or a revelation or a basinful of breadcrumbs, he's not selling me anything I don't want to buy - he doesn't give a bollock whether I buy or not - he hasn't got his hand over his heart. Well, I'll buy his goods, hook, line and sinker, because he leaves no stone unturned and no maggot lonely. He brings forth a body of beauty.
Yep, Pinter, explaining Beckett, just explained Hollywood.

So the anniversary passed without much notice out here. But the full moon was mighty fine.

Posted by Alan at 17:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 16 April 2006 17:19 PDT home

Friday, 14 April 2006
Something Is Up: The Grand Unified Theory
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Something Is Up: The Grand Unified Theory

As the week ended, Friday, April 14th, those who spend some of their time thinking about what's happening in the country were making efforts to make some sense of the events of the last six days. Setting aside the questions swirling around what we should do about the problem of all these illegal immigrants - a problem not exactly suddenly discovered, but one that now had to be solved before November's mid-term elections when every member of the House and a third of the Senate is up for reelection - and setting aside the new revelations about the CIA leak scandal (it seems that Cheney may have ordered the secret agent exposed and Fitzgerald was after the vice president all along, if you consider this) - the real issues that seemed to puzzle people centered on the New Yorker item Seymour Hersh stunned everyone with last weekend (the item is here and a summary here) - are we planning another preemptive war, this time with Iran, using tactical nuclear weapons to set back their efforts to become a nuclear power, or is this all either, possibly, just the usual contingency planning we always do, or posturing to let them know what we could do, in a heartbeat, if they don't shape up? And then there was the revolt of the generals, six or more now, calling for the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, to resign or be fired. What's up with that? And what does it mean that one of them ran CENTCOM, one the 1st Infantry, one the 82nd Airborne, and one was the head planner for the Joint Chiefs of Staff? It's not like they're minor figures. And then, are the two things connected - did the generals speak up because of this incipient third war, or what the White House will probably explain when the president announces we have just used nuclear weapons on Iran, this third front in the Global War or Terror, or the Long War as they sometimes call it? Yeah, the generals were saying Rumsfeld was micromanaging the war, and doing it badly - tactically, strategically and operationally as one of them said. And yes, one or two of them said the war in Iraq was in itself a bad decision, as Iraq wasn't ever the real problem. And yes, they resented being undermanned, saying so, and having Rumsfeld publicly say no one ever told him such a thing. And they didn't like their men and women dying because of all these things. But why now?

Gee, you might think something is up. Could it be this third war is already underway and these guys want to stop it before it comes to the massive bombing and the nukes, thinking things are just out of control and getting really absurd, and really dangerous? It's possible, but then maybe it's just a coincidence that both stories broke in the same few days.

Or maybe it isn't.

The week ended with usual from Baghdad, as in this - "Two U.S. Marines were killed and 22 wounded - two of them critically - in fighting in western Iraq, the U.S. military said Saturday. It was the biggest number of American casualties reported from a single engagement in weeks."

And that AP item also had this -
Sunni and Kurdish opposition to the Shiite choice of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari for another term has blocked progress toward a new government.

Leaders of the Shiite alliance, the dominant bloc in the legislature, said they would attend Monday's parliament session, called to break the political logjam. Shiite politicians had earlier suggested they would boycott the session unless the dispute over al-Jaafari as well as other political posts that require parliamentary approval were resolved first.
More of our guys die and almost four months after the parliamentary elections they may meet and talk about how to form a government, or meet and shout and bag it for another month.

The generals are miffed, to say the least. You can see why. Just what are we doing?

But that's just immediate context. Shouldn't we talk the long view of things?

Michael Kinsley does that here in an item published Friday morning -
So, after more than half a century of active meddling - protecting our interests, promoting our values, encouraging democracy, fighting terrorism, seeking stability, defending human rights, pushing peace - it's come to this. In Iraq we find ourselves unwilling regents of a society splitting into a gangland of warring militias and death squads, with our side (labeled "the government") outperforming the other side (labeled "the terrorists") in both the quantity and gruesome quality of its daily atrocities. In Iran, an irrational government that hates us with special passion is closer to getting the bomb than Iraq - the country we went to war with to keep from getting the bomb - ever was.

And in Afghanistan - site of the Iraq war prequel that actually followed the script (invade, topple brutal regime, wipe out terrorists, establish democracy, accept grateful thanks, get out) - the good guys we put in power came close, a couple weeks ago, to executing a man for the crime of converting to Christianity. Meanwhile, the bad guys (the Taliban and al-Qaeda) keep a low news profile by concentrating on killing children and other Afghan civilians rather than too many American soldiers.

When the United States should use its military strength to achieve worthy goals abroad is an important question. But based on this record, it seems a bit theoretical. It's like asking whether Donald Trump should use his superpowers to cure AIDS. Or what George W. Bush should say when he wins the Nobel Prize in physics. A more pressing question is: Can't anyone here play this game?
This is followed by discussion of the history of how we've operated in those parts - the story of how Iran once had a democracy of sorts, a parliament balanced by the shah. But when the elected legislature there voted in Mosaddeq as prime minister, who said things about nationalizing the oil industry, the Eisenhower administration had the CIA instigate some riots and stage a coup. So we got the shah in power in 1953, and a bunch of very angry people, all leading to Ayatollah Khomeini and a strict Islamic state in 1979, with the shah ending up retired in Panama, and sixty-six Americans held hostage in Terhan for more than a year in our own embassy.

What about Iraq? Kinsley frames things there this way -
Meanwhile, next door in Iraq, an ambitious young dictator, new to the job, named Saddam Hussein sensed both danger and opportunity in Iran's chaos. So he decided to invade. Thus began the Iran-Iraq war, lasting eight years. It turned hundreds of thousands of people into corpses and millions into refugees. When it was over, nothing had changed. But it wasn't a complete waste. It provided another opportunity for the United States to promote its interests and values.

On the "enemy of my enemy" principle, the United States all but officially backed Iraq. We overlooked Saddam's use of chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers (many of them children), and against his own people. Many of the human rights abuses President Bush and others have invoked two decades later to justify the decision to topple and try Saddam were well publicized in the '80s. But in the '80s, we didn't care. President Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld, then a drug-company executive, as his "special envoy" to tell Saddam that we didn't care.

Meanwhile, of course, Reagan was also secretly selling weapons to Iran.
And course there's Afghanistan. We arm the mujahideen and help them toss out the Russians, and they do, and they morph into the Taliban, and we had to go in and take care of them - "Then we marched into Iraq and got rid of Saddam Hussein. Now we're - well, we haven't figured out what, but we're hopping mad and gonna do something, dammit, about Iran."

So the generals want Rumsfeld out, but it won't make much difference. This brief history gives the facts of the matter. The problem is bigger than this secretary of defense, and perhaps bigger than this administration, although this administration is well on its way topping anything done previously, with some of the same players from the past, like Rumsfeld. It's not that hard to understand how these generals, and others who have been silent so far, might have had enough. What's been done tactically, strategically and operationally for the last fifty years or more has been a bit absurd. Rumsfeld just wants to extend and amplify it all - but when you send troops, for whom you are responsible, out to fight for all this and face death, sometimes enough is enough.

Not that anything will change - "Pulling rank, President Bush on Friday rebuffed recommendations from a growing number of retired generals that he replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. 'He has my full support," said the commander-in-chief." Rumsfeld himself dismissed all the chatter - just three or four people disagree with him, so there's really no problem. Such things happen.

So the president sees no problem, things are going well, our strategy is working, and Rumsfeld is doing just fine. Pay no attention to the generals. What do they know?

And all those reports about the operational plans to nuke Iran are just "wild speculation" - so everyone calm down.

By why all this, now?

Digby over at Hullabaloo has some ideas -
It's obvious to me that this call for Rumsfeld's resignation by six generals is about stopping this operation in Iran first and foremost. It is not a coincidence that the first salvo came from Sy Hersh last Sunday.

The question I had to ask myself was whether it was really about the nuclear thing or something more that had the military up in arms. In reading back over Hersh's articles of the last year or so, it became quite clear to me that this has something to do with the fact that Bush instituted the plan to invade Iran more than a year ago when he believed he had been crowned Emperor in the 2004 elections - and that the plan has gone forward without any consideration of changing circumstances on the ground in Iraq. Furthermore, the plan itself comes from the same comic book from which Rummy and Newtie cooked up their RMA fantasy about invading Iraq with only 30,000 troops, a cell phone and a toothpick.

And the beauty of it is, the clandestine operation on which it depends has been folded into the Pentagon and has no congressional oversight.

Well, there is this from the same New Yorker reporter back in February 2005 (emphases added) -
George W. Bush's reelection was not his only victory last fall. The President and his national security advisers have consolidated control over the military and intelligence communities' strategic analyses and covert operations to a degree unmatched since the rise of the post-Second World War national security state. Bush has an aggressive and ambitious agenda for using that control against the mullahs in Iran and against targets in the ongoing war on terrorism during his second term. The C.I.A. will continue to be downgraded, and the agency will increasingly serve, as one government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon put it, as "facilitators" of policy emanating from President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. This process is well under way.

Despite the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, the Bush Administration has not reconsidered its basic long range policy goal in the Middle East: the establishment of democracy throughout the region. Bush's reelection is regarded within the Administration as evidence of America's support for his decision to go to war. It has reaffirmed the position of the neoconservatives in the Pentagon's civilian leadership who advocated the invasion, including Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Douglas Feith, the Under-secretary for Policy. According to a former high level intelligence official, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly after the election and told them, in essence, that the naysayers had been heard and the American people did not accept their message. Rumsfeld added that America was committed to staying in Iraq and that there would be no second guessing.

"This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone," the former high level intelligence official told me. "Next, we're going to have the Iranian campaign. We've declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah - we've got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism."

Bush and Cheney may have set the policy, but it is Rumsfeld who has directed its implementation and has absorbed much of the public criticism when things went wrong whether it was prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib or lack of sufficient armor plating for G.I.s' vehicles in Iraq. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have called for Rumsfeld's dismissal, and he is not widely admired inside the military. Nonetheless, his reappointment as Defense Secretary was never in doubt.

Rumsfeld will become even more important during the second term. In interviews with past and present intelligence and military officials, I was told that the agenda had been determined before the Presidential election, and much of it would be Rumsfeld's responsibility. The war on terrorism would be expanded, and effectively placed under the Pentagon's control. The President has signed a series of findings and executive orders authorizing secret commando groups and other Special Forces units to conduct covert operations against suspected terrorist targets in as many as ten nations in the Middle East and South Asia.

The President's decision enables Rumsfeld to run the operations off the books free from legal restrictions imposed on the C.I.A. Under current law, all C.I.A. covert activities overseas must be authorized by a Presidential finding and reported to the Senate and House intelligence committees. (The laws were enacted after a series of scandals in the nineteen seventies involving C.I.A. domestic spying and attempted assassinations of foreign leaders.) "The Pentagon doesn't feel obligated to report any of this to Congress," the former high-level intelligence official said. "They don't even call it 'covert ops' it's too close to the C.I.A. phrase. In their view, it's 'black reconnaissance.' They're not even going to tell the cincs" the regional American military commanders-in-chief. (The Defense Department and the White House did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)

In my interviews, I was repeatedly told that the next strategic target was Iran. "Everyone is saying, 'You can't be serious about targeting Iran. Look at Iraq,' " the former intelligence official told me. "But they say, 'We've got some lessons learned not militarily, but how we did it politically. We're not going to rely on agency pissants.' No loose ends, and that's why the C.I.A. is out of there."
The obvious conclusion? After the last election, which the president interpreted as a mandate on all he had done and said he would do, he authorized a covert war with Iran, with no congressional oversight and without the cooperation of the commanders-in-chief. As Digby says - "This makes Iran-Contra look like the Canuck letter." (Only politcial junkies and policy wonks will get that, of course.)

Digby's conclusion -
These retired generals are speaking for a military establishment that has been used like monopoly money by Rummy his fellow magical thinkers (like his "advisor" Newt Gingrich) who have spent the last five years attempting to destroy the military with their useless, incompetent war planning and their surreal Toffler-esque vision of a military that doesn't require an actual army.

I realize that the armed forces always resist change. But I think it's fair to assume, considering the Iraq cock-up, that Rummy doesn't know what in the hell he's doing. The military is finally saying "enough." We are witnessing a coup by media.

The congress has completely abdicated its oversight responsibility, the media is shallow and incompetent, our allies are considered irrelevant, the UN is being run by a nutcase even more far-out than Rummy and the wishes of the people are, as usual, not considered. It looks like the only institution in America that can bring us back from the brink of a tragic, tragic mistake is the military itself.

If these guys can't get through, and it doesn't appear that they will, then it's time for some of these active duty officers to resign in protest. It would take a lot of guts, but that's their business, right?
We'll see about that, but Rumsfeld stays, because "the problem may be that Bush can't replace the person who is running his secret war."

Now there's an interesting take on things - we are not considering war with Iran. We've been waging war for there for two years, but no one was supposed to know.

Maybe so.

Digby also notes Colonel Sam Gardiner, the retired colonel who taught at the National War College, the Air War College and the Naval Warfare College, on CNN, Friday, April 14th, in this exchange with Jim Clancy, CNN's International Anchor (emphases added here too) -
CLANCY: Well, Colonel Gardiner, from what you're saying, it would seem like military men, then, might be cautioning, don't go ahead with this. But what are the signs that are out there right now? Is there any evidence of any movement in that direction?

GARDINER: Sure. Actually, Jim, I would say -- and this may shock some -- I think the decision has been made and military operations are under way.


GARDINER: And let me say this - I'm saying this carefully. First of all, Sy Hersh said in that article which was...

CLANCY: Yes, but that's one unnamed source.

GARDINER: Let me check that. Not unnamed source as not being valid.

The way "The New Yorker" does it, if somebody tells Sy Hersh something, somebody else in the magazine calls them and says, "Did you tell Sy Hersh that?" That's one point.

The second point is, the Iranians have been saying American military troops are in there, have been saying it for almost a year. I was in Berlin two weeks ago, sat next to the ambassador, the Iranian ambassador to the IAEA. And I said, "Hey, I hear you're accusing Americans of being in there operating with some of the units that have shot up revolution guard units."

He said, quite frankly, "Yes, we know they are. We've captured some of the units, and they've confessed to working with the Americans."

The evidence is mounting that that decision has already been made, and I don't know that the other part of that has been completed, that there has been any congressional approval to do this.

My view of the plan is, there is this period in which some kinds of ground troops will operate inside Iran, and then what we're talking about is the second part, which is this air strike.

CLANCY: All right. You lay this whole scenario, but there are still a lot of caution flags that one would see out here.

GARDINER: Sure. True.

CLANCY: If they do decide on a military option...


CLANCY: ... what's the realistic chance of success? What's your - your prognosis for that kind of reaction here?

GARDINER: Yes. Let me give you two answers to that. First of all, the chance of getting the facilities and setting back the program, I think the chances go from maybe two years to actually accelerating the program. You know, we could cause them to redouble their efforts. That's on one side.

The other side is this sort of horizontal escalation by the Iranians.

My assessment is - and it's because of regime problems at home - that if we strike, they're likely to want to blame Israel. Now that's - because that sells well at home.

Blaming Israel means that there's a chance that we could see Hezbollah, Hamas targeting Israel. We could very easily see this thing escalate into a broader Middle East war, particularly when you add Muslim rage.

You know, if you take the cartoon problem and multiply it times a hundred - you know, the Danish cartoons, you could see how we could end up very quickly with a very serious problem in the Middle East.

CLANCY: Former U.S. Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner. Not a very rosy outlook here. A man who thinks the decision may have already been made.
Digby - "My tin foil hat is beeping and honking like crazy right now. These generals coming forward is huge. I really think it's possible that Bush and Rummy have already got a secret war going on, one that has not been revealed to congress in any form. It's designed that way. Bush is not going to fire Rummy - he can't. He's already committed himself to this thing. This could be the ultimate action of the unitary executive."

That would explain things. It's an odd sort of grand unifying theory.

But there's an even grander unifying theory of what this is all about, as Arthur Silber in "The Power of Narrative" explains here -
... an attack on Iran, even if confined to the use of conventional weapons, would confirm beyond the point of any remaining dispute that we have abandoned all the constraints on military action that the world has accepted for some time. We would make indisputably clear that we believe we have the "right" to make war on any nation, at any time, and on the merest whim. The existence of a threat to the United States is irrelevant and unnecessary to our actions. In effect, we will have declared war on the entire world, at least by implication. No one will be able to view themselves as safe: those we consider allies today might be viewed as enemies tomorrow. All concepts of "right" and "morality" would be jettisoned forever. We will have entered a world where brute force and military superiority are all that matter. Since no other nation can view itself as safe from our wrath, we can expect the rest of the world to make plans accordingly.

When the unprovoked, aggressive and non-defensive use of nuclear weapons is added to this picture, we will have entered a world of potential global holocaust.

... we like to tell ourselves that the United States represents the highest point of human development. ... Since we have the best solution to human existence, it is our right - indeed, our obligation - to share it with the rest of the world. At this critical juncture in history, anyone who gives a damn at all must step beyond partisanship: this perspective is not limited to the right or the left. It is a Western perspective, found in its most extreme form in the United States.

... It is this same perspective that results in our political leaders, whether Republican or Democrat, and in most Americans minimizing the horror of an attack on Iran, or of our war on Iraq. The worst criticism to be offered about the catastrophe in Iraq by most members of the political establishment is that it was handled "incompetently." They are unable to say that our invasion of Iraq was immoral at the core, because they refuse to surrender the belief that we act for the "right reasons" and on behalf of history's "ultimate solution," which only we have. We may execute the plan remarkably poorly, but it can never be doubted that we had "good intentions."

The same kind of thinking will cause them to minimize the meaning of an aggressive, non-defensive use of nuclear weapons. Since many of the national Democrats have been out-hawking Bush on the question of Iran's potential nuclear capability, probably the strongest criticism they will offer will be that we should have tried diplomacy longer, and that it was not yet the time for military action. But they will not dispute that Iran cannot be "allowed" to have nuclear weapons - because they will not dispute that it is our "right" to dictate the course of events across the entire world, even if those events do not directly threaten us. And no politician will dare to say that we will have ushered in a new Dark Ages and a time of barbarism, because that would directly call into question America's innate "goodness" and "nobility." That can never be permitted, even as nuclear clouds spread across the globe - clouds that we first created.
But we are exceptional aren't we? We can nuke the bad guys and irradiate the region, because it's the right thing to do.

Well, yes and no -
We may tell ourselves that we have the "right" to engage in monstrous acts on this scale because of our "exceptionalism," and the majority of Americans and our political leaders may successfully delude themselves on that point. Let us grant the fantasists their rationalization: let us say that we are that "exceptional," and that we do possess history's "ultimate solution." Even if that were true, it does not change the brute reality on the ground: if we can make that argument, others can as well. And make no mistake: they will. If we can repeatedly engage in aggressive, non-defensive war - and if we can use nuclear weapons offensively - other countries will make the same arguments. Self-justification is not our exclusive domain. We may want to believe that we can control events across the world: the last few years have demonstrated conclusively that we cannot control events even within Iraq. But if we continue to seek to control events on a worldwide scale in the manner we do today, we will achieve one end at some point: destruction of a kind that will make the twentieth century pale in comparison.

It is understandable that most people prefer not to grasp the full nature of the situation in which we now find ourselves. The possible end of civilization as all of us have known it, either in slow motion or on a faster schedule, is almost impossible to comprehend. It is the material of science fiction, not of real life. But whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, this is the nature of where we are today, and this is the critical historic juncture at which we stand.
Too broad? Okay, a bunch of general are mad at Rumsfeld, but that will settle down, and that reporter from the New Yorker is just too excitable, as we're doing all sorts of diplomatic stuff, even if we refuse to speak with anyone in Iranian government. And the war is going well - we're winning. And things will be just fine.

Oh, and it rained all day here in Los Angeles.

rain on the roof in Hollywood

Posted by Alan at 22:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 14 April 2006 22:29 PDT home

Thursday, 13 April 2006
Do We Get a Fair Fight This Time?
Topic: NOW WHAT?

Do We Get a Fair Fight This Time?

Elsewhere, in The New Master Narrative, there is a discussion of all these retired generals, the big guns, publicly calling for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to resign, or for the president to fire him. Four of them. Obviously this is extraordinary, and it's hard to recall anything like this. Of course Harry Truman fired Douglas MacArthur in April of 1951 - but that was because MacArthur was insubordinate, not just making strategic decisions on his own, but showboating as he did. MacArthur wasn't terribly subtle - he seemed to enjoy implying the president was an unqualified fool in way over his head. What did MacArthur expect to happen? So late in the month, that same April, MacArthur gave his famous retirement speech to congress (audio here) about "just fading away." And that he did.

This April, fifty-five years later, none of these generals show any sides of fading away at all. But unlike MacArthur, they don't seem to have political ambitions (MacArthur ran for president in 1952). They seem to be angry at how badly things in Iraq are going.

Do they want things to go better, or do they hope when all this is analyzed and assessed - how we took over Iraq and didn't quite manage to force the stunned Iraqis to form a secular, western-style democracy with a free-market, deregulated economy, and that was friendly to us - they won't get blamed? Or are they just angry at the waste and the death of the men they led there in good faith? Maybe it's a mix of all that.

But the note, on the four generals calling for Rumsfeld to just go away so someone who actually knew what he was doing could take over, was a note on the state of play mid-week, late Wednesday night in Los Angeles. Thursday, April 13th the four became six - "Two more retired generals called for Rumsfeld's resignation on Thursday. Retired Army Major Gen. John Riggs told National Public Radio that Rumsfeld fostered an 'atmosphere of arrogance.' Retired Army Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack told CNN that Rumsfeld micromanaged the war. 'We need a new secretary of defense,' he said."

Something is up. Many of course are pointing back to one of Rumsfeld's Rules, those "How to Succeed in Washington" insights that got a lot of play in early 2000 when he took his post. The one people now point to is this - "Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the President and do wonders for your performance."

That's not going to happen, as we see here -
The White House came to the aid of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday, rebuffing calls from several retired generals for his resignation and crediting him with leading the Pentagon through two wars and a transformation of the military.

"The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation's history," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said at a briefing. He went on to read long quotations from the nation's top military officer, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, praising Rumsfeld's dedication and patriotism.
But what will Peter Pace say when her retires? He knows better than to say anything about his civilian boss right now. You don't trash your boss, at least publicly.

Of course no one is questioning Rumsfeld's dedication and patriotism in the slightest. The problem seems to be his judgment, and his way of managing a giant organization. Perhaps Pace is being subtle, and one day will be the seventh general to say the man is useless when he's not dangerous. Or not.

There are a lot of odd dynamics here. Some might worry that having generals, even if they are retired, having some say in who the civilian boss should be, is dangerous, although this seems to be a call for just a set of minimum criteria for the job. But it's troubling. We don't want the military to run the country, do we? That's not how we do things. And, on the other hand, since the secretary of defense serves at the pleasure of the president, and does what the president wants (or what he's been told he wants), who are these generals, the workers really, to question even the details of the implementation of national policy that is set by those far above their pay grade? That's not their job. Thirdly, since the military implements the strategic decisions of the civilian leadership, for some who see the military as, obviously, the armed portion of the Republican Party, at least the neoconservative wing of the party, this is maddening. Next there will be people in the armed services, here and there, who actually vote for Democrats. As unlikely as that seemed before, there's something in the air.

What's in the air? People aren't doing what that should. In the run up to the Iraq war the administration could feed a few tidbits to their plant at the New York Times, Judy Miller, and there'd be that story about Saddam's chemical weapons, or his efforts to build a nuclear weapon or three (Miller was big mainly on the chemical thing). Cheney and Rice and Powell could then go on the Sunday talk shows and say we really, really, really had to go to war immediately - even the liberal Times was reporting on the obvious danger to us all, after all. Cool. Very clever. And the rest of the news media fell in line - the Times is the nation's most authoritative paper after all. And too, you had to report such things, or re-report them, as those who questioned some of what was said were "on the side of the terrorists" or "hated America" and all that. Investigative reporting, the examination of all the facts, was left to the foreign press, and the Knight-Ridder papers. The curious and inquisitive, who wanted to know all of what was going on, and the skeptical, and the left, ended up on the net reading The Guardian (UK) and the Philadelphia Inquirer, but you never mentioned that to your friends at work - too dangerous. And God help you if you logged onto Al Jazeera to see what they were saying about things.

But times have changed.

Now the press isn't playing along, and the planted stories are just not getting traction any longer.

Well, the evidence is meager, but there is evidence for that.

The administration seems to be beating the drum for the next war, the one where we take out Iran's nuclear sites with tactical nuclear weapons. Of course they may just be sending a "don't toy with us" massage and would never launch an unprovoked nuclear strike on a nation without nuclear weapons and still in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty they did sign, even if they do bluster a lot. But it sure feels like a repeat of the first time around, even down to the "we don't want war" and "we want a diplomatic solution" stuff. Been there, done that - got the t-shirt. Here we go again.

And the methods are the same.

Early Thursday, April 13th, if you went to Matt Drudge's site, Drudge Report, the giant headline was "Could Iran Produce A Nuclear Bomb In Just 16 Days?" Alarming, but this was the guy who broke the Monica Lewinsky story that got Clinton impeached, so he does get a scoop now and then.

Drudge's source was this, carried in Bloomberg News - Stephen Rademaker, the assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation (John Bolton's old job before Bolton became our UN ambassador), tells reporters in Moscow that Iran could "produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in sixteen days." All they need is 50,000 centrifuges.

Sixteen days? It must be time to use the nukes for the first time since Nagasaki. We don't want to see Tel Aviv a radioactive pile of rubble before the month is out.

So did that item get screamed across the pages of the American press?

Not exactly. Peter Baker at the Washington Post decided to look at the numbers here - Iran's big claim is that they now have a network of one hundred sixty-four centrifuges working together now, perfectly, enriching uranium to 3.5 percent. That needs to be ninety percent to be useful, and they're a tad short of equipment. Of course they do say within a year they hope to have three thousand centrifuges all humming along in harmony, and one day they may have 54,000, but in the Post Parker notes getting all 54,000 working together, perfectly synchronized, is "no small feat." So start your sixteen days when they get all that worked out.

And over at the New York Times, William J. Broad, Nazila Fathi and Joel Brinkley work on exorcizing the ghost of Judy Miller with this, saying Iran just does have the materials to build the centrifuges themselves - "It took Tehran 21 years of planning and seven years of sporadic experiments, mostly in secret, to reach its current ability to link 164 spinning centrifuges in what nuclear experts call a cascade. Now, Tehran has to achieve not only consistent results around the clock for many months and years but even higher degrees of precision and mass production. It is as if Iran, having mastered a difficult musical instrument, now faces the challenge of making thousands of them and creating a very large orchestra that always plays in tune and in unison."

You have to love the musical comparison, even if Judy Miller is probably seething.

So the press is not falling in line, at least on this one. It's details and facts this time around? Seems so.

But when you cannot use the "news" sections of the papers, you still can use the op-ed pages - there you need not deal with pesky facts. The Post editorial the same day has this - "Some in Washington cite a U.S. intelligence estimate that an Iranian bomb is 10 years away. In fact the low end of that same estimate is five years, and some independent experts say three."

No facts there. Just "be afraid, be very afraid."

The editors don't seem to read their own paper, or they know it's still not safe to seem "soft" on the bad guys by citing facts - they're worried about their circulation figures if they question this wildly popular president, or worried the White House will say bad things about them and stop giving them inside scoops? Or they still think it's 2002 or something.

They should drop by the newsroom more often and glance at the copy, and read the polling on this wildly popular president, and consider what those leaks, that great insider access, did for the reputation of their great rival, the New York Times.

But we seem to be on the path to war again, no matter what the news media do this time around. And this time we probably will use nukes, at least that was the import of the New Yorker item Seymour Hersh stunned everyone with last weekend (the item is here and a summary here).

Some people are upset we'd launch a nuclear war "on speculation" and others wonder what it is with the president - all that messianic stuff and his saying he wants "to bomb Iran to secure his legacy" a legacy as the only president with the guts to stop the fundamentalist madmen for developing nuclear weapons they could use to... start a war for no good reason when they we're attacked? It seems the man is a bit dangerous. And what people say, and what the press reports with all its facts, just doesn't matter.

Here's an odd view. Matthew Yglesias thinks it's not Bush -
Rather, there's a widespread view on the American right that it's always a mistake to reach diplomatic agreements with "evil" regimes. There's also a widespread view on the American right that, contra the examples of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, nuclear deterrence won't work against "crazy" leaders. At the intersection of those two opinions is the conclusion that we ought to be very, very, very, very willing to use unilateral preventative military force against countries that have nuclear weapons programs or that we merely vaguely suspect of having nuclear weapons programs. Both of those ideas are foolish and dangerously wrong, but they're also widespread - not private oddball notions of Bush's. If liberals want to push this country's foreign policy in a better direction over the next five-to-ten years, we need to attack the whole network of ideas (including a non-trivial number of ideas whose origins are inside the Democratic coalition) that gave us the Iraq War and that threaten to give us the Iran War.

Bush's poor leadership skills have made and continue to make things worse than they might otherwise be, but the basic problems here are much bigger than the man himself.
Yep, it's the whole ideology, and the Democrats too afraid to question it, for fear of losing the votes of the "we need no facts" patriots.

Digby at Hullabaloo has this -
There has been a substantial amount of brainwashing done on the American public that needs to be immediately countered. These ideas have been floated in the media as American policy for years now. It doesn't sound in the least bit jarring or inappropriate to many of the public.

... Iran is a member of the axis 'o evil. It is, therefore, already presumed to be batshit crazy and the new president has certainly helped with his holocaust denial and loony rhetoric. It will not be that difficult for Bush and his minions to transfer their earlier madman images to Iran.

The idealistic portion of the neocon fantasy has probably been discredited: creating democracy from the ground up through unilateral invasion and occupation is now seen as a non-starter by everyone but George W. Bush. But the dark side of the PNAC wet dream is alive and well. They are still convinced that there is only one way for America to maintain its hegemony (and by God it must be maintained) and that is for it to militarily dominate the world. Furthermore, they believe that they must constantly demonstrate American military might to sustain the world's belief in its overwhelming power. After out little boo-boo in Iraq, it may now be important to these people that we demonstrate our awesome, unmatched air power. Eventually a little nuke action might be necessary too. The only way to protect America from the boogeyman is to prove over and over again that we are willing and eager to use force.

We may very well have a president named John McCain after 2008, or some other Republican with a chip on his shoulder. They don't have to be card carrying neocons to buy into this notion. The Bush administration is still busily dismantling the post WWII system and Pax Americana, so far, is the only thing ready to take its place.

Democrats have a lot of good ideas, but until they develop a cogent narrative to counter the dominant neocon story, we are going to be in danger of this "madman" rhetoric rearing its ugly head every time the Republicans need a little boost in the polls or feel it's time to show some muscle and remind everyone who's in charge.
And there's Greg Saunders here -
If you're a Democrat, you might want to figure out how you're going to vote in the Iranian War Resolution of 2006. "What war resolution?" you might ask, but don't be so naive. We all know that from a marketing standpoint you don't introduce a new product in August... I mean, April. Right now we're in the viral part of the marketing campaign. Just like you can't sell floor cleaner to someone who doesn't think they have a dirty floor, you're not going to convince people to nuke Iran without making an argument that they've got it coming.

Seriously, how would Democrats respond to a use of force resolution against Iran? The obvious answer would be to oppose it on the grounds that the Bush Administration has already shown itself to be dishonest and incompetent with Iraq, but do the Democrats in D.C. have the guts to vote against a war resolution, especially when it concerns a country that, in contrast to Saddam Hussein's caginess, is openly flaunting its nuclear technology? Considering that it was a Democratic Senate that gave Bush the authorization to invade Iraq in 2002, I have my doubts about whether the current slate would be willing to risk looking weak on national security in order to do the right thing.

Things look peachy for the Democrats right now, seven months out from the midterm elections, but let's not confuse disgust with the GOP with an infatuation for Dems. Even now with all of the troubles the GOP has had, I'd be willing to bet they're a scare tactic away from regaining their strength in the polls. If the Democrats want to win in November, they need to start connecting the dots for the American people before they get put on the spot. It's not enough to wring your hands in public and hope for the best, you've got to make the case again and again that Republicans are wrong for the country and that they can't be trusted with another war. If you must, make jokes like "The Bush Administration wants to bring their Hurricane Katrina style of leadership to Iran," but do something. Please.
Why not? The press is waking up. And the polling shows this next war will be a hard sell. The public isn't buying the scare tactics this time - this will have to be really, really scary this time around.

It might be time to slow this all down.

You might check out "William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security" in the Post with his latest -
The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has been conducting theater campaign analysis for a full scale war with Iran since at least May 2003, responding to Pentagon directions to prepare for potential operations in the "near term."

The campaign analysis, called TIRANNT, for "theater Iran near term," posits an Iraq-like maneuver war between U.S. and Iranian ground forces and incorporates lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In addition to the TIRANNT effort and the Marine Corps Karona invasion scenario I discussed yesterday, the military has also completed an analysis of Iran's missile force (the "BMD-I" study), the Defense Intelligence Agency has updated "threat data" for Iranian forces, and Air Force planners have modeled attacks against "real world" Iranian air defenses and targets to establish new metrics. What is more, the United States and Britain have been conducting war games and contingency planning under a Caspian Sea scenario that could also pave the way for northern operations against Iran.

... The President of the United States insists that all options are on the table while the Secretary of Defense insists it "isn't useful" to discuss American options.

... I think this sends the wrong message to Tehran. ...The United States military is really, really getting ready, building war plans and options, studying maps, shifting its thinking. It is not in our interests to have Tehran not understand this.
And there's this - on the orders of Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and bypassing the State Department (pissing them off no end), the terrorist group Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is being used for special ops in Iran to pave the way for a military strike.
According to all three intelligence sources, military and intelligence officials alike were alarmed that instead of securing a known terrorist organization, which has been responsible for acts of terror against Iranian targets and individuals all over the world - including US civilian and military casualties - Rumsfeld under instructions from Cheney, began using the group on special ops missions into Iran to pave the way for a potential Iran strike.

"They are doing whatever they want, no oversight at all," one intelligence source said.
There's much more here, but the game is afoot. And the press may be changing sides, and the generals too, and maybe even one or two Democrats.

It's the realists versus the idealists. This time it may be a fair fight.

Posted by Alan at 22:40 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 13 April 2006 22:57 PDT home

Wednesday, 12 April 2006
The New Master Narrative: The Hits Keep Coming
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

The New Master Narrative: The Hits Keep Coming

As anyone who follows sports knows, there's something self-reinforcing in a losing streak, or in the baseball subset, a batting slump. First one thing goes wrong, then another, and you try changing things, or you try to get back to what was going right before, but you don't exactly know what it was. Things once just felt right, but now everything you do is over-compensation. Everything just feels wrong. Some say it's like being caught in quicksand (as it's popularly depicted) - the harder you struggle to get free the deeper you sink, and you die. And in sports it seems your luck runs out. You get bad calls from the referee, umpire or line judge. Before you shrugged them off. Now they really hurt, and make things even worse.

This happens in politics too. The Democrats have been on a losing streak since the Supreme Court stopped the recount of the Florida votes in January 2000 and decided the best thing for the country, really, was to rule that George Bush should be the new president, not Al Gore. Since then the Democrats can't win for losing, as they say. Push back on policies or specific decisions and people think you're somewhere between stupidly obstructionist and out of touch, or more malevolently, you hate America and want us to "lose" the big struggle of the moment. Decide to agree with anything and you're seen as lacking in principle, or at least original thought - thus the Republican Party endless saying they are the "party of ideas," even if the ideas are recycled simple-minded catch phrases from the Reagan years or economic supply-side theory from decades ago that just does work, like the famous Laffer Curve (cut taxes and government revenue will grow). And the other side reinforces it all, building a sort of "loser" narrative that is, in itself, self-reinforcing. All mistakes, even the small ones, are magnified. Internal disagreement is lack of principle. Enthusiasm is pathological behavior, as with Howard Dean's famous "scream" that proved he was so bat-shit crazy he should never hold any office, not even dogcatcher. What you get right is an accident. You said the war was a really, really bad idea? Lucky guess. And so on and so forth.

But narratives change, and batting slumps end. And suddenly Reggie Jackson can't hit the curve, or gets struck out on three screaming fastballs, right over the plate, from an impossibly young rookie pitcher in a key game (some of us saw that happen out here on Los Angeles many years ago). But what changes?

For the Bush administration, with its dismal polling and the word "incompetent" floating around, the narrative changed in September of 2005, with the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. That didn't go well. Michael Brown was shamed out of his post running FEMA, then all the talk about "no one thought the levees would fail" was exposed as not quite so, and Brown turned out to actually have done his best. There was a lot of talk about a wondrous rebuilding program for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, but there's nothing much happening. And then the "incompetent" narrative started to snowball. It was self-reinforcing. Just what was that business about privatizing Social Security? And if the economy is doing so fine, why are wages flat or falling? What was that business about that Harriet woman nominated to the Supreme Court, that odd little woman, massively unqualified but a personal friend? And you think the folks from the United Arab Emirates would be fine running operations at our major ports?

And then, to support the new narrative, in the same manner the media and commentators had "investigated" the "loser" Democrats, they turned to "proving" the new narrative is a pretty nifty way to explain things - "It's true, it's true, it's really true!" Of course the news and opinion media, commercial enterprises, sustain themselves, and prosper if they can, by providing documentation of what people believe is so. The idea is to sense what the narrative is and give people what they want. That's the business model.

So what no one wanted to know about before became what people wanted to see, and they got it, with looks back on the war that seems to have actually been a major bone-headed idea. So now it's safe to look back - no one will be miffed at things like the Downing Street memos being discussed, or examining the CIA leak story, including the delicious detail of the president and vice president secretly declassifying carefully selected data and having one of their guys provide it on the sly to their plant at the New York Times. Now over sixty percent of Americans think that was either illegal or unethical. The narrative changed. And that certainly makes all this talk of nuking Iran so they don't spend the next eight or ten years building "the bomb" harder to make sound reasonable. Before the narrative changed people would have said, well, that would be bad thing, but the "grownups" in the White House knows what's best.

Those days are gone. And gone are the days when the American public stoically accepted this war in Iraq would cost a lot of lives and that ten thousand would return badly maimed, because it was worth it. The WMD thing was a bummer, and the administration (all but Cheney) admitted Iraq had nothing much to do with 9/11, and it would have been nice to have killed or at least captured that Osama fellow, and we do seem to be creating a hundred new terrorists for every one we kill over there, but, because the previous narrative was strong, the core of supporters hung on. We were doing some good. The "if we make them create a democracy in that particular place at this particular time the world will be better and safer" was sort of working. But those elected in Iraq cannot seem to form a government and they seem to have a civil war going on now. Not good, and when the narrative changes, words like "we're making progress" and "they will build a secular unity government, just wait" just don't work. The push-back from the administration and those who don't sense the new narrative - that the media is purposefully only reporting the bad news and all that - is met with anger from the press and scorn from most of the public.

Now you can think of that as people "finally waking up" and the truth prevailing, but it's more like a shift in the prevailing and accepted narrative. Not so long ago "the truth" was something quite different. On the other hand, the previous narrative required a lot of self-deception - one had to ignore a lot of unpleasant information and cling to "larger truths" and some pretty odd ideas, like democracies are inherently peaceful, and "they hate us for our freedoms" not our policies, not to mention minor odd ideas, like we'll be greeted as liberators, the war and reconstruction will pay for itself, we'll be out of there in six months and our buddy, Ahmed Chalabi, will run the joint just fine. Narratives aligned with reality work better. Idealism is fine, of course, but has only vague connections to the real world. That's how it got its name.

So we're in the new narrative, the one that centers on "incompetence" and deception - sometime lies and sometimes just blindness.

The addition to the new narrative, on Wednesday, April 12th, the talk of the day, was this item on the front page of the Washington Post - Joby Warrick reporting that a team of private-sector scientists hired by the Pentagon in 2003 to inspect Iraqi trailers suspected of being mobile weapons labs came up empty. They weren't any such things. The Pentagon guys said they were pretty much "sand toilets." They sent their report in. Two days later the president said we'd found the weapons of mass destruction. It was these trailers. The administration kept saying that for months.

They didn't read the report? They read the report and decided it was something inconvenient they shouldn't mention, as that would make them look incompetent? They decided to lie to the American people? Or in good faith they decided the report could be wrong and later evidence would surely show these really were what they said they were (optimism and idealism mixed)? They ignored the report they commissioned because they believed this just couldn't be so (self-delusion)?

Who knows? But the story fits the new narrative, so it was page one.

Those stuck in the old narrative said things like this - "The Pentagon didn't send one team of experts to review the trailers; they sent three, presumably to get a diverse analysis of the evidence, especially since the pre-war intel on WMD had come up remarkably short. That sounds like a prudent strategy to me, having competing teams research the same equipment and evidence to develop independent analyses to present to the Pentagon. They did so, and two of the three teams provided conclusions that fit the pre-war intel, while one did not."

The reply was this - "Nice try, but cutesy advertising jingles to the contrary, this episode fits the usual MO of the Bush administration perfectly: a flat statement of fact about intelligence matters that's made with great fanfare even though they know there's significant dissent within the intelligence community. ... So: Intent to deceive? Check. Unreasonable decision? Check. Deliberate lie? Check."

That's the new narrative. It's hard to see how it will change back.

There's more here.

The Slow-Motion Trap
His presidency was built on secrecy and, we now know, on lies. The more Bush struggles to free himself, the more his past deceptions bind him.
Sidney Blumenthal, SALON.COM, Thursday, April 16, 2006

This is long and detailed, and about the whole CIA leak scandal, but it comes down to this -
Bush is entangled in his own past. His explanations compound his troubles and point to the original falsehoods. Through his first term, Bush was able to escape by blaming the Democrats, casting aspersions on the motives of his critics and changing the subject. But his methods have become self-defeating. When he utters the word "truth" now most of the public is mistrustful. His accumulated history overshadows what he might say.

The collapse of trust was cemented into his presidency from the start. A compulsion for secrecy undergirds the Bush White House. Power, as Bush and Cheney see it, thrives by excluding diverse points of view. Bush's presidency operates on the notion that the fewer the questions, the better the decision. The State Department has been treated like a foreign country; the closest associates of the elder President Bush, Brent Scowcroft and James Baker, have been excluded; the career professional staff have been bullied and quashed; the Republican-dominated Congress has abdicated oversight; and influential elements of the press have been complicit.

Inside the administration, the breakdown of the national security process has produced a vacuum filled by dogmatic fixations that become more rigid as reality increasingly fails to cooperate. But the conceit that executive fiat can substitute for fact has not sustained the illusion of omnipotence.

The precipitating event of the investigation of the Bush White House - Wilson's disclosure about his Niger mission - was an effort by a lifelong Foreign Service officer to set the record straight and force a debate on the reasons for going to war. Wilson stood for the public discussion that had been suppressed. The Bush White House's "concerted action" against him therefore involved an attempt to poison the wellsprings of democracy.
That's putting the new narrative pretty bluntly, and it adds the element of "reality increasingly failing to cooperate" with the story line.

So who is having the losing streak now?

But wait! There's more!

Fred Kaplan offers this -
It's an odd thought, but a military coup in this country right now would probably have a moderating influence. Not that an actual coup is pending; still less is one desirable. But we are witnessing the rumblings of an officers' revolt, and things could get ugly if it were to take hold and roar.

The revolt is a reluctant one, aimed specifically at the personage of Donald Rumsfeld and the way he is conducting the war in Iraq.

It is startling to hear, in private conversations, how widely and deeply the U.S. officer corps despises this secretary of defense. The joke in some Pentagon circles is that if Rumsfeld were meeting with the service chiefs and commanders and a group of terrorists barged into the room and kidnapped him, not a single general would lift a finger to help him.

Some of the most respected retired generals are publicly criticizing Rumsfeld and his policies in a manner that's nearly unprecedented in the United States, where civilian control of the military is accepted as a hallowed principle.
Well, there are three big guns so far.

The first is General Anthony Zinni who last month called for Rumsfeld to resign, and he's been on all the talks shows chatting up his new book, The Battle for Peace. You can catch him on video here, on Meet the Press saying this -
I saw the - what this town is known for, spin, cherry-picking facts, using metaphors to evoke certain emotional responses or shading the context. We know the mushroom clouds and the other things that were all described that the media has covered well. I saw on the ground a sort of walking away from 10 years' worth of planning. You know, ever since the end of the first Gulf War, there's been planning by serious officers and planners and others, and policies put in place - 10 years' worth of planning were thrown away. Troop levels dismissed out of hand. Gen. Shinseki basically insulted for speaking the truth and giving an honest opinion.

The lack of cohesive approach to how we deal with the aftermath, the political, economic, social reconstruction of a nation, which is no small task. A belief in these exiles that anyone in the region, anyone that had any knowledge, would tell you were not credible on the ground. And on and on and on, decisions to disband the army that were not in the initial plans. There's a series of disastrous mistakes. We just heard the Secretary of State say these were tactical mistakes. These were not tactical mistakes. These were strategic mistakes, mistakes of policies made back here. Don't blame the troops. They've been magnificent. If anything saves us, it will be them.
So who's he? He's the Marine general whose last job was heading up Central Command, running military operations in the Persian Gulf and South Asia.

A second was Army Major General Paul Eaton, letting fly in the New York Times with this, calling Rumsfeld "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically," and a man who "has put the Pentagon at the mercy of his ego, his Cold Warrior's view of the world, and his unrealistic confidence in technology to replace manpower." Eaton ran the program to train the Iraqi military.

Then there is Lieutenant General Greg Newbold, the former operations director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Time Magazine here.

Kaplan summarizes Newbold saying he -
... not only slams the secretary and what he calls "the unnecessary war" but also urges active-duty officers who share his views to speak up. Newbold resigned his position in late 2002 - quite a gesture, since he was widely regarded as a candidate for the next Marine Corps commandant. His fellow officers knew he resigned over the coming war in Iraq. The public and the president did not. He writes in Time: I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat - al Qaeda. ... [T]he Pentagon's military leaders ... with few exceptions, acted timidly when their voices urgently needed to be heard. When they knew the plan was flawed, saw intelligence distorted to justify a rationale for war, or witnessed arrogant micromanagement that at times crippled the military's effectiveness, many leaders who wore the uniform chose inaction. ... It is time for senior military leaders to discard caution in expressing their views and ensure that the President hears them clearly. And that we won't be fooled again.

Newbold isn't urging active-duty senior officers to go public, just to speak out directly to the president (whose handlers famously filter the bad news from official reports before they hit the Oval Office). Still, in a climate where the secretary of defense hammers three-star generals for daring to suggest that our troops in Iraq are fighting "insurgents" and not just "terrorists," Newbold's invocation reads like a revolutionary manifesto. Generals of the Pentagon, unite! You have nothing to lose but your stars!

If Rumsfeld is in less danger than these calls for his head might suggest, it's in part because not many generals want to lose those stars - and quite a lot of colonels would like to earn some. (Remember: Zinni, Eaton, and Newbold are retired generals; they have no more promotions to risk.)
Maybe so, but they're moving the new narrative along.

And Kaplan was writing before the fourth retired general weighed in, and the Post carried that on page one, Thursday, April 13, with this -
The retired commander of key forces in Iraq called yesterday for Donald H. Rumsfeld to step down, joining several other former top military commanders who have harshly criticized the defense secretary's authoritarian style for making the military's job more difficult.

"I think we need a fresh start" at the top of the Pentagon, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004-2005, said in an interview. "We need leadership up there that respects the military as they expect the military to respect them. And that leadership needs to understand teamwork."

Batiste noted that many of his peers feel the same way. "It speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense," he said earlier yesterday on CNN.

Batiste's comments resonate especially within the Army: It is widely known there that he was offered a promotion to three-star rank to return to Iraq and be the No. 2 U.S. military officer there but he declined because he no longer wished to serve under Rumsfeld. Also, before going to Iraq, he worked at the highest level of the Pentagon, serving as the senior military assistant to Paul D. Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense.

Batiste said he believes that the administration's handling of the Iraq war has violated fundamental military principles, such as unity of command and unity of effort. In other interviews, Batiste has said he thinks the violation of another military principle - ensuring there are enough forces - helped create the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal by putting too much responsibility on incompetent officers and undertrained troops.

... Other retired generals said they think it is unlikely that the denunciations of Rumsfeld and his aides will cease.

"A lot of them are hugely frustrated," in part because Rumsfeld gave the impression that "military advice was neither required nor desired" in the planning for the Iraq war, said retired Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson, who until last year commanded Marine forces in the Pacific Theater. He said he is sensing much anger among Americans over the administration's handling of the war and thinks the continuing criticism from military professionals will fuel that anger as the November elections approach. He declined to discuss his own views.

Another retired officer, Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs, said he believes that his peer group is "a pretty closemouthed bunch" but that, even so, his sense is "everyone pretty much thinks Rumsfeld and the bunch around him should be cleared out."

He emphatically agrees, Riggs said, explaining that he believes Rumsfeld and his advisers have "made fools of themselves, and totally underestimated what would be needed for a sustained conflict."
The narrative sure has changed, and freed up a lot of people. They're saying off things, and with Batiste there goes Big Red - "No Mission Too Difficult, No Sacrifice Too Great - Duty First."

This is a losing streak with no possible recovery. If Bush fired Rumsfeld? That would just make things worse, confirming a key person you lauded was, well, incompetent. So you keep him and let him prove it further?

It's the trap of the self-reinforcing losing streak. What to do? Cut taxes again? Nuke Iran? Say everyone is wrong about everything?

What was that about quicksand?

Posted by Alan at 23:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 13 April 2006 06:22 PDT home

On the Scene: Somebody Believes in America!
Topic: Dissent

On the Scene: Somebody Believes in America!
Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, isn't in Paris. If you visit his site you'll discover he's visiting New York at the moment, getting a feel for the five boroughs, not the usual twenty or so arrondissement et communes de banlieue. And what should he run into Monday, 10 April? The day's massive rally in lower Manhattan of all the immigrants, legal and not, and their supporters, saying it sure would be nice to be real Americans. There are two photos below.
Three weeks spent in New York not doing any of the expected tours.

Instead of seeking the top lookout on the Empire State Building the toothpick sculptures in the lobby were closely examined and found to be lacking in fundamental craziness. On this trip Radio Ric managed to visit all five boroughs, with a blitz trip to Staten Island on the free ferry, and a mini tour of the Bronx, to see its Little Italy, closed alas, on account of Palm Sunday. Junior's in Brooklyn discovered - it wasn't lost - and Junior's in Grand Central tested and found to be a midtown best - if eating in a vaulted, stone train station is your thing.

But the high point of the excursion was the mass protest manif in lower Manhattan on Monday, when the washers and dish dryers, landscape artists and cleaning ladies variados turned out en masse to acclaim their belief in the American Way of Life, by waving flags of the United States, Mexico, Columbia, Peru and other well-known countries that supply America with the essential manpower, to keep the Upper East and West sides in gravy. For Americans who took part, it was a true tear-jerker. Somebody believes in America!

News reports fell far short of telling the story and fell shorter on the turnout count. Folks were pouring out of the subway exits all over lower Manhattan, filling all the spaces allowed by the police - later said to fill fifteen downtown blocks. But there were more than that. All in all, somewhat thrilling. Where there's so much hope it wouldn't hurt if the Anglos joined.

Immigrant Rights Rally, lower Manhattan, Monday 10 April, 2006

Immigrant Rights Rally, lower Manhattan, Monday 10 April, 2006

Text and Photos Copyright © 2006 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

Posted by Alan at 19:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 12 April 2006 19:04 PDT home

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