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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Wednesday, 26 July 2006
Isolation
Topic: For policy wonks...
Isolation - When you're the strongest, the richest, and basically just the biggest, does it matter if no one at all agrees with you?
The question is not really hypothetical, and it's certainly not rhetorical. It is a real question. When you're the strongest, the richest, and basically just the biggest, does it matter if no one at all agrees with you? As of Wednesday, July 26, the grand experiment, to show that the United States can bend the rest of the world to its will continued.

Midmorning of that day, out here on the west coast, came the news that the talks to work out a ceasefire in southern Lebanon, between Israel and Hezbollah, had fallen apart. All parties agreed to call for an immediate ceasefire, except for Israel and the United States. We maintain the fighting could lead to "a new Middle East" and just stopping it would leave everything still a mess. We have a different vision - a ceasefire only when and if Hezbollah - and Hamas and all the rest - are defanged. Anything less would be pointless. No one agreed with us, and the fighting raged on - Israel losing either nine or fourteen soldiers, and no one making much military progress. The AFP report is here with all the details, but the details point only to the obvious - this is going nowhere, slowly, and will last for weeks, or months, or years, or decades.

Then there's this Countries Slam Israel over UN Deaths - someone called in a precision airstrike on a UN observation post that had been repeatedly been radioing in just who they were. Four UN observers died. Kofi Annan said that this seemed deliberate. Israel was ticked that he said that, but reluctantly said the whole business was regrettable. All parties agreed this was pretty awful, except for Israel and the United States. Israel offered its grudging "oops" - and the United States was silent.

Of course this was the day Prime Minister Maliki of our new Iraq addressed a rare joint session of congress. He avoided saying what he had said before - that Israel not Hezbollah was the real aggressor here - and just said thanks for the new country, send more troops and money, and we'll get things together one day, and yes, the Iraq War was worth it all, and if you lose this one you'll have lost everything. The details are here, but what would you expect him to say. He steered clear of any mention of the Israel-Hezbollah business. A few minor notes - there was a lot of chatter about who wrote his speech for him - Karl Rove, the American Enterprise Institute, or maybe Dick Cheney, but the White House Press Secretary, Tony Snow, late of Fox News, said the White House only went over a few points with him. It's tricky. He has his own Shi'a constituency to satisfy, and lots of people noted that when he was in exile long ago in Syria he was one of the founders of Hezbollah. It's really tricky. And a minor giggle, on Fox News before the speech Senator John McCain said Maliki really had denounced Hezbollah and was on Israel's side in all this. There was a web-based campaign to flood McCain's office with demands to show anyone when and where Maliki had said anything like that. But Fox News is Fox News. They ran with it. You and watch McCain or read the transcript here, but who knows what to make of that? When things are complicated and nasty you make up stuff. Politicians do that.

Condoleezza Rice is no different. She's the Secretary of State. She represented us at the ceasefire talks in Rome, and said they went just fine (details here). Sure, there was no agreement on an immediate ceasefire, but we were not alone at all - everyone agreed that we all want things to be better than they had been before. That's agreement, isn't it? It was just that some details had to be worked out. No big deal.

Marc Lynch, who surveys the press in the Middle East, disagrees -
I don't know anyone who will be surprised that the Rome conference failed - it seems to have been designed to fail, to give the US the chance to appear to be "doing something" while giving Israel the time it wants to continue its offensive. But this policy is so transparent, such an obvious stalling mechanism, that it is probably making things even worse for the United States and for Israel: when you are faking it, you're supposed to at least try to maintain the pretence so that others can at least pretend to believe you. The call for an immediate ceasefire has become more or less universal now, other than from the United States and Israel: even the pro-American Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, which initially blamed Hezbollah for the crisis, are now loudly demanding an immediate ceasefire.

America is totally alone on this. And more than most Americans might realize, America is being blamed for Israel's actions. The shift in Arab public discourse over the last week has been palpable. For the first few days, the split [was] between the Saudi media and the "al-Jazeera public" which I wrote about at the time. Then for a few days, horror at the humanitarian situation, fury with the Arab states for their impotence, speculation about the endgame, and full-throated condemnation of Israeli aggression. But for the last few days, the main trend has been unmistakable: an increasing focus on the United States as the villain of the piece. (That the Israeli bombing of Beirut stopped just long enough for Condoleezza Rice's-photo op certainly didn't help.)

While there's disagreement as to whether Israel acted on behalf of an American project, there is near-consensus about American responsibility for not stopping what al-Jazeera is now calling "the sixth [Arab-Israeli] war". For instance, al-Jazeera's prime time Behind the News on July 25 was devoted to "the American project for a new Middle East" (with no American officials accepting their invitation to participate). If you review the daily Arab media selections I've been posting in the left sidebar (with short English comments and summaries) you'll see something of this trend over the last few days: Sami Soroush, in al-Hayat, a new Middle East through Israeli war? America keeps making the same mistakes every single time; Hossein Shabakshi, al-Sharq al-Awsat, yes the Middle East needs reform and change... but not through the massacre of innocents; Abd al-Wahab Badrakhan, in al-Hayat: American plans require Israeli victory at any cost; Yasir al-Za'atra, al-Hayat: real roots of the escalating crisis is American drive for hegemony in the region; Hazem Saghiye, al-Hayat, America's responsibility; and that's not even getting in to Abd al-Bari Atwan (today: the Middle East against America) and the writers in al-Quds al-Arabi.

Perhaps this negative focus on America was inevitable, given Iraq and the war on terror and al-Jazeera?

No. This wasn't inevitable. Real American leadership, such as quickly restraining the Israeli offensive and taking the lead in ceasefire negotiations, could have created a Suez moment and dramatically increased American influence and prestige (especially if the Saudis had delivered Iran in a ceasefire agreement, as I've heard that Saudi officials believed that they could). But by disappearing for the first days of the war and then resurfacing only to provide a megaphone for Israeli arguments and to prevent international efforts at achieving a ceasefire, the Bush administration put America at the center of the storm of blame. I think that the Lebanon war will go down in history as one of the greatest missed opportunities in recent American diplomatic history - not because we failed to go after Iran, or whatever the bobbleheads are ranting about these days, but because we failed to rise to the occasion and exercise real global leadership in the national interest.
But the neoconservatives don't much care. When you're the strongest, the richest, and basically just the biggest, does it matter if no one at all agrees with you?

"Digby" offers another way of looking at the neoconservative approach, even if angry -
This is just the latest in a decades-long series of delusional miscalculations in which it is fantasized that if only the US would just get tough everything would fall into place. This is the simple essence of everything they believe in. And when they found themselves an empty brand name in a suit named George W. Bush they found the man whose infantile personality and outsized vanity could be manipulated perfectly to advance that belief.

The situation in Lebanon requires American leadership and we have failed miserably to provide it. The various players are engaged in a struggle in which minimizing loss of life and face saving kabuki may be the best we can hope for at any given time. The megalomaniacal belief that if only the Israelis are allowed to "get tough" or the Americans "take it to the Iranians" or whatever other simplistic schoolyard impulses they have been operating under have led us to the point at which the US is taking on the character of a rogue superpower, not a global leader.

I maintain that the players in the mid-east expected the US to exercise its power wisely and the American failure to fulfill its obligation has led to confusion, overreach and miscalculation. This is not surprising. The bumbling, hallucinatory nature of this administration's foreign policy has been manifest for some time now, but it's still hard to wrap your mind around the fact that the most powerful country in the world is being led so incompetently that it simply cannot rise to the occasion when the stakes are so high. I confess that I'm still shocked by that myself, although less so each time we are confronted with a challenge and these neocon magical thinkers automatically default to bellicose trash talk they are unable to back up.

This is a very dangerous moment for the world. The US is showing over and over again that it is immoral and incompetent. That is the kind of thing that leads ambitious, crazy or stupid people to miscalculate and set disastrous events in motion. The neocons have destroyed America's carefully nurtured mystique by seeking to flex its muscles for the sake of flexing them. What a mistake. This country is much, much weaker today because of it and the world is paying the price. At some point I have to imagine that we are going to be paying it too. Big Time.
Well, they would argue back that they have a grand vision, and everyone else is just thinking small.

And it's not like we said we would be sending troops in to defang Hezbollah. The hypothetical multinational force would defiantly not have any US troops. We said so, publicly.

So why is there this in Harpers? -
According to the former [CIA] official, Israel and the United States are currently discussing a large American role in exactly such a "multinational" deployment [in Lebanon], and some top administration officials, along with senior civilians at the Pentagon, are receptive to the idea.

The uniformed military, however, is ardently opposed to sending American soldiers to the region, according to my source. "They are saying 'What the fuck?'" he told me. "Most of our combat-ready divisions are in Iraq or Afghanistan, or on their way, or coming back. The generals don't like it because we're already way overstretched."
But nobody stands up to Rumsfeld. That ends careers.

Then there's this -
My friend is an old Middle East hand who has some good sources on the Israeli side, mostly ex-military and ex-Mossad, plus some contacts among the Bush I realist crowd - although of course they're not in government any more either.

He didn't have any secret dope on what the next military or diplomatic moves will be - it seems to be purely day-to-day now - but he DID get a clear sense that the Americans and the Israelis both understand now that they are in serious danger of losing the war.

They're freaking out about this, of course, because they're deathly afraid that if Israel is seen to fail, and fail badly, against Hezbollah, everybody and their Palestinian uncle will get it into their heads that they can take a crack at the Zionist entity.

… Plan B, then, is to try to "make something happen" on the ground - although what, exactly, isn't clear. Today it was killing a low-level Hezbollah leader (in a border village they supposedly secured three days ago) and pumping him up as a big catch (shades of Zarqawi's 28,000 "lieutenants"). Tomorrow it will be something else - maybe the capture of the "terror capital" of south Lebanon, beautiful downtown Bint Jbeil.

But, of course, I'm getting the impression from reading between the lines of the official propaganda that the IDF is struggling just to produce these little symbolic victories - they seem to be "securing" the same objectives over and over again. So my guess is that the internal debate will now turn to how many more divisions to commit to the battle, how far north to push, etc. My friend can't tell, nor can I, if the primary objective is still to smash the hell out of Hezbollah, or whether the Israelis are just looking to save a little face.

But the Israelis are being squeezed between two relentless pressures. One is the desire to avoid taking too many casualties, and the other is the amount of time left to achieve even their minimal objectives. The less time, the more casualties - and the more firepower that will be unloaded on Lebanon to try to keep those casualties as low as possible. More firepower means more scenes of civilian death and destruction. (The Arab puppet regimes can see perfectly clearly what's coming, which is probably why they all bailed out today.)

But the end game remains stubbornly unclear. Or rather, what is being put forward as the official end game - insertion of a force of NATO peacekeepers into the "buffer zone" -- is so outlandish it's hard to believe the Israelis (the ultimate hard-eyed realists) believe it for a second. An ex-Mossad guy actually told my friend the Israelis are hopeful that the EU would provide the troops. The EU!

So I explained to my friend that the EU manages a currency and writes standardized regulations for toaster safety and stuff like that, but it doesn't do peacekeeping. If the Israelis want boots on the ground, they're going to have to go to NATO or directly to the Germans and the Danes and the Poles and the French (yes, the cheese eating surrender monkeys) -- who are about as enthusiastic for the idea as they are for Mad Cow disease. Maybe less so.

… One possible twist: The Condi might ask the Turks to jump in. This has certain uncomfortable historical overtones (call it the return of the Ottomans) but the Turkish Army is pretty good and might actually be able to handle the job, if anyone can. But one imagines that before the Turks agreed to do any such thing, they would name their price. And if I were the Kurds, I'd be a little nervous about that.

To me the whole thing sounds like cloud cuckoo land. It seems particularly so after today. My conversation with my friend pre-dated the strike on the UN observers, so I don't know if it has changed anybody's thinking. But to me it seems like such an enormous provocation that I almost have to wonder if some military crazies on the Israeli side didn't do it on purpose - just to foreclose the possibility of anyone or anything getting in the way of a fight to the death with Hezbollah.

I know that sounds paranoid, but then this is the Middle East.

… If all this sounds familiar - the half-baked war plan, the unexpected setbacks, the frantic search for foreign legions, the lack of an exit strategy, the rising tide of blood - it certainly should. We've already seen this movie, in fact we're still sitting through the last reel. It's a hell of a time to release the sequel.
But wait! There's more.

There's this -
According to retired Israeli army Col. Gal Luft, the goal of the campaign is to "create a rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters." The message to Lebanon's elite, he said, is this: "If you want your air conditioning to work and if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land."
Juan Cole, the University of Michigan Middle East expert comments -
The horrible thing is that the Lebanese could not do anything about Hezbollah if they wanted to. Their government is weak and divided (Hezbollah is in it, and the Bush administration and Ambassador Mark Feltman signed off on that!) Their new, green army only has 60,000 men, and a lot of them are Shiites who would not fight Hezbollah. Lebanon was a patient that needed to be nurtured carefully to health. Instead, it has been drafted and put into the middle of the worst fighting on the battlefield.
And add this -
Brigadier General Dan Halutz, the Israeli Chief of Staff, emphasized that the offensive … was open-ended. "Nothing is safe (in Lebanon), as simple as that," he said.
Cole -
In other words, Halutz, who is also said to have threatened ten for one reprisals, is openly declaring that he will commit war crimes if he wants to. Nothing is safe? A Christian school in the northern village of Bsharri? A Druze old people's home in the Shouf mountains? A Sunni family out for a stroll in the northern port of Tripoli? He can murder all of them at will, Halutz says. And Luft gives us the rationale. If these Lebanese civilians aren't curbing Hezbollah for Israel, they just aren't going to be enjoying their lives. They are a nation of hostages until such time as they have properly developed Stockholm syndrome and begin thanking the Israelis for their tender mercies.
It is a bit mad, and Cole's summary cuts no slack either way -
Israel's present policy toward Lebanon, of striking at so many civilian targets as to hold the entire civilian population hostage, is unspeakable.

I haven't complained about the Israeli border war with Hezbollah. I'm not sure it is wise, and I don't know how many Israelis Hezbollah even killed in, say, the year 2005. Is it really worth it? But I don't deny that Hezbollah went too far when it shelled dozens of civilian towns and cities and killed over a dozen innocent civilians, even in reprisal for the Israeli bombing campaign. (You can't target civilians. That is a prosecutable crime.) That is a clear casus belli, and I'd like to see Nasrallah tried at the Hague for all those civilian deaths he ordered. The fighting at Maroun al-Ra's and Bint Jbeil was horrible on all sides, but it was understandable, even justifiable. The fighting itself isn't going to lead anywhere useful, though, and it is time for a ceasefire and political negotiations - the only way to actually settle such disputes.

What was done to Lebanon as a whole is among the most horrible war crimes of the young 21st century. And that it was done tells me that there is something sick in the heart of the Israeli military and political elite, a sickness of the soul that had better be faced and remedied before our entire world catches the contagion.

I mean, who talks like that? "If you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land." … "Nothing is safe, as simple as that." If they are the good guys, why do they talk like James Bond villains?

Yes, yes, Nasrallah and his shock troops are also evil. They are also sick in the soul. We have established that. … I have been to Haifa, too, and the city means a lot to me. I mind deeply when I hear that the mad bombers around Nasrallah have killed people there and done substantial damage.

But you will note that 800,000 Israelis are not homeless, that the ports are still operating, that Tel Aviv airport is open, that over 400 Israeli civilians aren't dead in two weeks, that factories, roads, bridges, telecom towers are still there. In fact, you will note that no flotilla of international vessels had to come to evacuate tens of thousands of foreigners from Israel. It is suffering, and that is wrong.
A pox on both houses, and can we end this? No. That's not our position.

There are political considerations, as Peter Baker explains in the Washington Post here (emphases added) -
The discord at a conference in Rome yesterday over a proposed cease-fire in Israel and Lebanon underscored the widening gap between the United States and Europe over how to stop the fighting. And the images of mayhem from the two-week-old war, combined with the rising death toll in Iraq, have further rattled a domestic audience that polls show was already uncertain about Bush's leadership.

For the president, the timing could not be much worse. In a second term marked by one setback after another, the White House was in the midst of a rebuilding effort aimed at a political comeback before November's critical midterm elections. Now the president faces the challenge of responding to events that seem to be spinning out of control again, all but sidelining his domestic agenda for the moment and complicating his effort to rally the world to stop nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

The crisis imperils one of Bush's signature ambitions. This is a president who eschewed Middle East peacemaking of the past as futile, embarking instead on a grand plan to remake the region into a more democratic, peaceful place. A year ago, a wave of reform seemed to take hold. Yet today radicalism is on the rise, Iran is believed to be closer to nuclear weapons and Bush is sending thousands more troops to Baghdad to quell spiraling violence.

"You've got Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories aflame, you've got Iraq still aflame, and you've got the Iran issue now unresolved," said Carlos Pascual, a senior State Department official until this year. "It has hurt the U.S. internationally because it has only reinforced in everyone's mind that the U.S. was not being strategic, it was not looking ahead to how to handle the whole panoply of issues in a way that's both realistic and effective."

Bush advisers who have been buffeted in the past year by a catastrophic hurricane, rising gasoline prices, a failed Social Security initiative, Republican revolts, criminal investigations and a relentless overseas war said they have grown accustomed to constant crisis. "This is a new normal for our administration in the last couple years," said one senior official. "You begin to expect the unexpected."
But you don't make it worse, do you?

We had almost won back our European allies, and things went in the weeds -
He was ready to reap the benefit of this diplomacy when he left for Europe and the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg earlier this month, confident that he had a broad consensus with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China to take stronger measures against Iran for defying them on its nuclear program.

By the time Bush arrived in St. Petersburg, however, the latest conflict had broken out and Iran was shoved onto the back burner. Although European leaders agreed that Hezbollah was to blame for the fighting, they condemned what they called Israel's disproportionate response and insisted on an immediate cease-fire, while Bush resisted any instant cessation of hostilities and effectively gave Israel leeway to destroy as much of Hezbollah as it could.

Moreover, the administration appeared uncertain at first how to respond, some analysts said. When the G-8 countries adopted a statement calling for consideration of an international force in southern Lebanon after hostilities end, some U.S. officials all but rejected the idea. But now it is a centerpiece of what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is trying to accomplish.
Oh well. Of course swaggering and talking with his mouth full, and that surprise back rub he gave the German Chancellor, didn't help either. In any event, we're leading no coalition, just explaining our unusual and counterintuitive positions to our allies, just as before. And they are just as impressed as before. That would be "not very."

So what about the original question? When you're the strongest, the richest, and basically just the biggest, does it matter if no one at all agrees with you?

The answer from some circles is a resounding no, it certainly does not matter.

As reported in Insight Magazine, the magazine of Reverend Moon's Washington Times (some say the official daily of the administration), "conservative national security allies" - those in the vice president's office and others- are urging the president to dump the "incompetent" Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State and move her into some kind of "advisory role." The item is here and says everyone thinks she knows next to nothing of the Middle East and has been a wimp - her foreign policy in insufficient aggressive, or something like that. One senior Republican congressional staffer puts it this way - "Condi was sent to rein in the State Department. Instead, she was reined in."

Ah, seduced by diplomacy. And they cite Richard Perle here saying it was her fault we "blinked" on Iran - "What matters is not that she is further removed from the Oval Office; Rice's influence on the president is undiminished. It is, rather, that she is now in the midst of - and increasingly represents - a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries."

Newt Gingrich says the same thing, the administration is "sending signals today that no matter how much you provoke us, no matter how viciously you describe things in public, no matter how many things you're doing with missiles and nuclear weapons, the most you'll get out of us is talk."

We all know talk is useless. Can her ass. And when Iran has its nuclear weapon, blame her. "At that point," one GOP source says, "Rice will be openly blamed and Bush will have a very hard time defending her." These people know diplomacy never works. When you're the strongest, the richest, and basically just the biggest, it just does not matter if no one at all agrees with you.

These next two and a half years will be interesting.

Posted by Alan at 23:33 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006 07:44 PDT home

Tuesday, 25 July 2006
Root Causes
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Root Causes
Tuesday, July 25, 2006, the root cause of all the recent troubles in the Middle East became clear -
Are Israel's troubles in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon and the Hezbollah rockets slamming daily into major Israeli population centers here a result of the Jewish state's tacit support for a homosexual parade slated for next month in Jerusalem?

Some rabbis seem to think so, and they are attempting to block the event from taking place in Judaism's holiest city.

"Why does this war break out this week, all of sudden with little warning? Because this is the exact week the Jewish people are trying to decide whether the gay pride parade should take place in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv," Pinchas Winston, a noted author, rabbi and lecturer based in Jerusalem…

… Winston is one of many rabbinic leaders here to blast the World Pride Parade, a mass international gathering of homosexual, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people scheduled Aug. 6-12.

… Lazer Brody, an author and dean of the Breslov Rabbinical College in Ashdod, Israel, concurred with Winston.

"When God's presence is in the camp, nothing can happen to the Jewish people," Brody stated. "But If the Jewish people bring impurity into the camp of Israel, this chases away God's presence."

Brody contends the "removal of God's presence" led to the recent violence here, but he said he still feels the Jewish state is being protected.

"Over 1,000 Katyusha rockets have been fired thus far, and the damage has been equivalent to scratches," Brody said.
But what will happen if the gay pride parade isn't blocked?

Didn't Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, one or the other, or maybe both, say the same sort of thing back in September 2001 - that what happened in Manhattan and down at the Pentagon was God showing us that he was angry with us all for tolerating gay people? What with those guys, and these rabbis, and the recent public hangings in Iran of young gay men, something is up. Things will be better when we become pure and pious, or something. When men of deep faith are in charge, or can manipulate public policy, things get a little strange. But then, maybe God really does hate the gay folks He created, and all three sides here - Christian evangelicals, ultra-orthodox Jews, and the Muslim fundamentalists - see things more clearly than those who think secular tolerance is fine and that whatever Lars and Spanky do in their place down the block is their business, and of no concern.

Of course these "people of faith" agree with each other. That's odd. But they do see God intervening down here all the time.

Yes, they're peas in a pod, but then, why belabor that particular point? Choose your favorite subset of the fundamentalist vision of the truth of things. That's what the world offers these days. We like ours - we are doing God's work in this world - and the others like their vision of what God wants. Someone's got it wrong, or God is laughing his ass off, or he left long ago, having other things to do.

The funny thing is that there are those who want what is happening in the world to all to make sense in empirical terms. That would mean that instead of assuming God's hand in all of human life, rewarding the those who worship him best (one assumes He really likes that) and punishing those who really tick Him off, you'd turn to reviewing actual events without assuming they were the result of interventions from above. You'd look at national policies, and the motivations of the key leaders, and their personalities, and who would gain what from doing this or that in the world - economics and trade, matters of security and influence - all that stuff. And that's tedious. A jealous and angry God isn't.

And some things just don't make sense. Whether or not caused by the gay folks about to descend on Tel-Aviv or not, the seemingly incomprehensible event of Tuesday, July 25, was this - an Israeli air raid in south Lebanon killed four UN military observers in an attack that United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan described as "apparently deliberate." Yep, he was ticked off, and added - "This coordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long established and clearly marked UN post at Khiam occurred despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that U.N. positions would be spared Israeli fire." And for the record - "The dead included observers from Canada, Austria, China and Finland, a senior Lebanese military official said."

So what game is up here? Was this just an accident? Was it a message to the UN? Was it God punishing the UN for not much liking John Bolton, the man our born-again president sent up there to kick ass and take names? As for it being an accident, the professionalism and skill of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is legendary, and they have all that high-tech command and control and targeting we sold them - we trained them and they must still have the user manuals. As for sending a message, the Israelis over the weekend had said they'd accept a NATO force to manage the neutralizing of the Hezbollah threat to Israel and stop fighting when that was in place, and this isn't exactly welcoming to any third party.

Or maybe they just aren't that professional, as Bill Montgomery notes here -
The last time the Israelis and Hizbullah went at it in a major way, in 1996, the IDF accidentally (I think) lobbed an artillery shell into a U.N. compound, killing 102 Lebanese civilian refugees. It brought the whole operation to a crashing halt - just as the 1982 massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut brought the curtain down on Ariel Sharon's big production.

… If I were the Israelis, I'd stick to punching holes in the tops of ambulances. If you really are looking to encourage NATO peacekeepers to plunk their behinds down in southern Lebanon, this ain't the right way to do it.
No, it isn't. And the Israeli government is now officially outraged at Kofi Annan for saying this was deliberate. He was told that observation post would not come under fire - he had the top level promise - so this was incompetence. No, that cannot be right. It might have something to do with the gay pride parade? Who knows?

Of course this might just be what Montgomery calls War by Tantrum.

The text for that particular sermon is this in the Jerusalem Post -
A high-ranking IAF officer caused a storm on Monday in an off-record briefing during which he told reporters that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz had ordered the military to destroy 10 buildings in Beirut in retaliation to every Katyusha rocket strike on Haifa.
And the sermon goes like this -
For every one of ours; ten of yours. In Roman times, it was a hundred.

Morality aside (since terror now seems to be the order of the day on both sides) this is a very bad sign for the Israelis. It has the smell of panic about it. It's like the 1972 Christmas bombings of Hanoi - an exercise that served no rational purpose other than to vent Richard Nixon's rage at his own inability to bend the North Vietnamese government to his will.

The difference is that Nixon could get away with it - he'd just won a landslide re-election, and the destruction of Hanoi wasn't being covered in real time by every television network on the planet. But in Beirut, now, an order like this is almost the equivalent of asking for terms. It's as if the Israelis were deliberately trying to do something so horrible it would force our idiot president to demand an immediate cease fire in place: Please stop us, because we can't stop ourselves.
That seems a bit too farfetched… maybe. But more likely the IDF Chief of Staff just lost it. This whole "airpower solves everything" business is just not working out.

Montgomery suggests more -
Halutz should be relieved of duty, just as the head of the Israel's Northern Command should be relieved for the original ambush that led to this fiasco. But people who know a lot more about Israeli politics than I do are pretty sure they won't be - both because of the PR blowback and because neither the Prime Minister nor his Defense Minister have the military leadership credentials to fire two ranking commanders in the middle of a war.

If so, then it's another sign of the dry rot that seems to have crept into the Israeli political and military establishment since the Jewish state last fought a major war. This isn't just a matter of military hubris - the inability to adapt to the realities of fourth generation war. The IDF is showing signs of more fundamental problems, like an almost obsessive reluctance to take casualties, which translates into extreme cautiousness, at both the strategic and tactical levels - "The Israelis prefer to stay away from those bunkers, the soldiers said, instead calling in coordinates so forces massed behind the border can hit them with guided missiles."

… One would think that with dozens if not hundreds of rockets falling daily on Israeli towns and cities, the IDF and the Israeli public would have the motivation and the determination to close with enemy - if that's the only way to get the job done. At least, that's what I thought would happen. But it's beginning to look like Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, may have had at least a bit of point when he compared Israel's military will to a spider's web.

Certainly, having the IDF Chief of Staff call for terrorist reprisal bombings - which almost certainly would have absolutely no effect on Hezbollah's will to fight - doesn't do anything to change that impression. One can have some sympathy for the Israelis, who love life and don't want to die (although that hasn't stopped them from killing a lot of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians) but considering the stakes, a little more aggressiveness on the ground, against an enemy who can shoot back, would seem to be in order. Unless that is, the Israelis really do want a cease fire sooner rather than later, in which case the psychological map of the Middle East has just been completely redrawn.
Maybe it's none of this, and more like this -
Bush and the public assumed that the army knew what it was doing, and that Israel, with its superiority in manpower, weaponry and technology, would be able to put an end to Hezbollah as a menace to Israel. Little by little, however, a worrying picture has begun to emerge: Instead of an army that is small but smart, we are catching glimpses of an army that is big, rich and dumb.
Maybe so. Or maybe not. There are some inexpiable things going on. It may be a real error to think it all makes sense, empirically or theologically.

Some things are easier to figure out. Sunday the 23rd the president had the Saudis drop in for a chat, asking them to work on getting Syria to stop supporting Hezbollah, as his grand insight is that if Syria just "stops all this shit" everything will be over. It's quite simple. People have made it far too complicated. That Saudis wanted an immediate ceasefire, but he told them that wasn't going to happen, so quit whining and do something about Syria.

Two days later you got this -
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah warned on Tuesday of war in the Middle East if Israel continues attacking Lebanon and the Palestinians, in an apparent appeal to key ally the United States to end the fighting.

"Saudi Arabia warns everybody that if the peace option fails because of Israeli arrogance, there will be no other option but war," state-owned media quoted the king as saying.
Oh crap. This is not what they're supposed to say.

Here's some snark -
Heck. How's the US 'n Israel gonna help the Sunnis defeat the Shi'a and bring democracy tah everybody if they lose their nerve at the least little thing? Surely, they aren't feeling heat from their own people now are they? If so, they just need to tell 'em to stop this shit.

They need to understand that the US is there to spread God's gift of freedom (and, if we're lucky, bring on Armageddon.) Israel is bombing the shit out of Lebanon for its own good.

Man, these Arabs have a helluva lot to learn about how things work in the Middle East...
Yeah, it's hard to get good help these days. And here's some analysis -
There is, of course, only one kind of "war" that Saudi Arabia could possibly try to wage that wouldn't knock the Israelis over laughing - the oil war. But crude's down a buck a barrel today so obviously nobody is taking the threat of an embargo very seriously. Nor should they.

Still, it looks like Hezbollah has won the battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab world - on either side of the Shi'a/Sunni divide.
Yep, the world's top oil exporter, and Jordan and Egypt, fear "that popular anger could escalate and force them to take an aggressive stance over Israel that angers Washington and worsens the crisis." And it's happening. You don't want to appear on the American side, which is Israel's side. Public opinion could turn against you, and "as this goes on longer and more and more Lebanese are killed, it looks bad for them," or so said one diplomat in Riyadh. They're not dumb. This is logical. But then Bush will be angry. So King Abdullah just warned him - domestic pressures may make us go to war against you and the Jews. And you want us to do what, exactly?

This is power politics - and they want a ceasefire now, or they may have to make this a really wide war, just to keep themselves from being thrown out of power. It doesn't get much more basic than that. So they tell the president, who never changes his mind, this might be a good time to give that a try. The Sunnis aren't carrying any messages to Damascus. And maybe the president ought to tell Israel to "stop this shit."

Checkmate. And God is not intervening here. This is pure self-preservation, and logically you could see it coming a mile away. As the Stones put it nicely - "You can't always get what you want, but sometimes, if you try real hard, you get what you need." Or you don't.

Of course sometimes you just fool yourself, as the other side did here - "A senior Hezbollah official said Tuesday the guerrilla group did not expect Israel to react so strongly to its capture of two Israeli soldiers." Oops. An accidental war? It hardly matters now. It's a war. But it seems that everyone deludes themselves. Bush isn't unique.

But for a real show of delusions colliding in the light of day the event of note Tuesday, July 25, was Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visiting the White House for a chat with the president. The New York Times account is here, and it's all about the disconnects. The president wants to tout the success of what we've done in Iraq, and a hundred die each day in the streets of Baghdad in the religious-civil war now raging. He wants to say we have a new ally, and Maliki condemns the Israeli bombing and says he has no problem with Iran - and by the way, he spent years in exile in Damascus, which is Syria of course. And he has said he wants an end to legal immunity for our troops over there, and a broad amnesty for Iraqi insurgents. It was a clown show. But they did agree to take all the reserves the United States has in Kuwait and throw them into Baghdad, before there's total disintegration there, and it may be too late of course. The whole thing was a joke.

And then there was this - the House Democrats demanding that Maliki not be allowed to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday unless he apologizes for condemning "Israeli aggression" in Lebanon. There's this letter party leaders are circulating - "We are unaware of any prior instance where a world leader who actively worked against the interests of the United States was afforded such an honor."

Amusing. Like you'd not expect them to run with this? That one too was something you could see coming a mile away. Just as you could see what positions made Maliki a viable leader. It's like watching a train wreck.

In Thomas Ricks' new book, Fiasco, about how things went down in Iraq, he quotes a colonel assigned to the Coalition Provisional Authority describing his team's mission as "pasting feathers together, hoping for a duck." That'll do. That's what the visit was all about.

It's all a mess. And how did it get this way? Maybe because we were too nice to gay folks. Or maybe no one was thinking things through. Take your choice.

Posted by Alan at 23:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 26 July 2006 06:56 PDT home

Monday, 24 July 2006
We Want Change, Not Peace, and No One Is Helping
Topic: For policy wonks...
We Want Change, Not Peace, and No One Is Helping

The week opened with "a surprise" on Monday, July 24, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice started her brief visit to the Middle East to see what she could do with the situation in southern Lebanon, where Israel and the Hezbollah had been at it for eleven days, with a stop in somewhat disassembled Beirut. She couldn't fly in as the Israeli Air Force had taken out the runways, and fuel depots, at the international airport - so it was buzzing in, in a helicopter in from Cyprus to the American embassy in the hills above the city, in the Christian section - a northern approach pattern - then a convoy down to the city to chat with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, an ally of Hezbollah. The following day with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem would be easier. The following day's meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah would be just strange, as Abbas is not the head of the Palestinian government, the Prime Minister, only a minority figurehead as Hamas runs things now, thanks to the election we insisted upon where they elected to wrong people, according to us - the people we won't talk to.

But the Beirut thing was pretty strange in and of itself. This was probably because the message she carried to Beirut was a downer - she told them the United States government was opposed to an immediate ceasefire. We take the position that just stopping everyone from fighting was pointless. Yes, much of Beirut was rubble and nearly four hundred civilians were dead and all that, and the weak government there in trouble, but what was the point in stopping this fighting if nothing changed? This was a chance to "transform" things. Reuters quotes her as explaining things this way - "Any peace is going to have to be based on enduring principles and not on temporary solutions."

Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on July 12, and all hell broke loose, but if everyone just stopped fighting now, nothing would be resolved, really. Sure, many people would live and all that, but what would change, really?

The message was that Washington was "thinking big" - we want things to change, and lots of folks would just have to die for the big concept. We'd send aid - food and medicine and all that, but that was it. We're all for the idea of a humanitarian corridor to get help to "the needy," and Israel says it could support that idea. It's just that stopping the fighting right now solves nothing, four hundred dead civilians, and climbing, notwithstanding. David Welch, Rice's point man on the Middle East put nicely - "We did feel that Lebanon has been dealt a severe blow; there's a lot of concern about that." But not enough concern to stop any of this.

It's not like we don't want a ceasefire at all. We just think Israel has the best plan - Hezbollah pulls back from the border to allow an international force to deploy, Hezbollah is disarmed, and Israel gets the two guys back, without conditions. And then this hypothetical international force stops Hezbollah from doing bad things, fighting them in whatever sort of combat comes up - instead of the Israelis fighting them, or the half-assed Lebanese army. You see, then things would be different.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who had pleaded for an immediate ceasefire, knew he was going to get nowhere with that idea. And the Reuters item notes they talked about how Rice's plan would work, and the sequence of events for any deal - and Nabih Berri, the ally of Hezbollah and close to Syria, told her a ceasefire should come first, followed by an exchange of prisoners and then discussion of other issues. She was not impressed. The ceasefire had to follow all the terms being met. He gave it up. Hezbollah has long fought Israeli attempts to drive it from the south, and they'd just fight this hypothetical "international force" of course. This was all pretty pointless.

Throughout, watching the news, you could sense her frustration - small minds with their petty concerns just don't understand just what America is up to, transforming the world through neoconservative will to make everything the way it should be. It's that "Triumph of Will" thing. Surely people are willing to die for the prospect of a brave new world. But it seems they'd rather not. One suspects she was seething that the Lebanese and Palestinian people just didn't get it. Nor did the rest of the world, but what are you going to do? What can you do with these folks? It's enough to make Bill Kristol cry, and all the other founders of the Project for the New American Century mutter about all the little minds who just don't understand them.

As for assembling an "international force" to smack down Hezbollah, the American Jewish magazine Forward was reporting that we're working on how that would look, as we see here -

During a briefing with senior officials at several major Jewish organizations, Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams reportedly said that a multinational force in Lebanon would have to be "combat ready," authorized and appropriately equipped to engage Hezbollah militarily if needed. Such a force, he said, would also have to patrol not only Lebanon's border with Israel but also Lebanon's border with Syria, to prevent smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah. In addition, such a force would have to observe Lebanon's sea and air ports to make sure that Iran is not rearming Hezbollah, Abrams reportedly said.
That's a tall order for a proxy army in this war on terror. But we know just what we want, and what the task orders would be.

Kevin Drum here points out the obvious -
This is fascinating. At a guess, something this ambitious would take a minimum of seven or eight combat brigades plus associated support and logistics. Call it 40,000 troops in round numbers.

The United States has previously said that it won't be able to participate in this because our troops are tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan. The UN can't help since it deals only in peacekeeping missions, not combat missions. None of the troops can come from Middle Eastern countries, of course. NATO troops are largely committed to Afghanistan, and Europe has in any case been notably reluctant to commit combat troops to either the Middle East or Africa.

What's needed here are (a) large numbers of (b) quickly deployable (c) combat troops. Offhand, I can't think of anyplace this could come from. Am I missing something?
No, he's not, and running classified ads in Soldier of Fortune magazine wouldn't work either - all the mercenaries are now happily employed. We've found jobs for them in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Elliot Abrams may have a detailed deployment plan with specific tasks and rules of engagement and all the rest - he just doesn't have an army. That's no small detail. Surely people are willing to die for the prospect of a brave new world. But it seems they'd rather not.

Elaine Sciolino and Steven Erlanger in The New York Times review how there are just no volunteers -
Support is growing for the creation of an international military force to stabilize the Lebanese border with Israel and to bring an end to the fighting. But there is no agreement on the size, mandate or mission of such a force and little enthusiasm around the world for sending troops.

The United States has ruled out its participation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization says that it is already stretched thin, France is calling the mission premature and Germany said it was willing to participate only if both Israel and Hezbollah called for it.

"All the politicians are saying, 'Great, great' to the idea of a force, but no one is saying whose soldiers will be on the ground," said a senior European official. "Everyone will volunteer to be in charge of the logistics in Cyprus."
Of course France and the United States have been burnt before, with that multinational force in Lebanon in 1982 after an Israeli invasion. You get all messed up in a civil war. Then there was Hezbollah's suicide bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983 - 241 US Marines and 56 French soldiers dead. And then the Arab League sent in Syria to calm things down, which they did, and they were forced to leave only last year. People remember such things.

But maybe Israel can twist arms -
Olmert and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, played it tough with some of Europe's foreign ministers on Sunday, European and Israeli officials said. Olmert rejected an immediate cease-fire and said that the Israelis could keep up its fight with Hezbollah for a year if needed, European officials said.

"The Europeans want us to stop, and we wonder how badly they want us to stop," an Israeli official said. "It's unacceptable for them to say cease-fire and then wash their hands of the consequences. If you're not part of the solution, then don't complain."
So send your troops or stop bitching. Israel will keep smashing south Lebanon in the meanwhile. Hezbollah had to go. Either the Israeli Army or this "international force" would have to do it. It had to be done. So put up or shut up.

And there is some movement, but not much -
On Monday, the German defense minister, Franz Josef Jung, said that Berlin would be willing to participate if both sides requested German participation and if certain tough, and potentially insurmountable, conditions were met, including a cease-fire and the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

"We could not refuse a peace mission of this nature if these conditions were met and if requests were directed to us," Jung said on German television.

In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair said that he hoped a plan, including an international force, a mutual cease-fire and the release of the captured soldiers, could be negotiated and announced in the next few days.

"If someone's got a better plan I'd like to hear it," he said. "It's the only one I've got and I'm trying to make it happen."

As for France, Douste-Blazy left his meetings with Israeli leaders on Sunday convinced that the idea of an international force for Lebanon was "premature," French officials said.

The European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said on Monday in Brussels that an international force would not be "an easy force to deploy," but added that talks were under way to deploy such a force under a UN Security Council mandate.

"I think several member states of the European Union will be ready to provide all necessary assistance," he said, but did not name the countries or what they might be prepared to do.

At NATO headquarters in Brussels, meanwhile, officials said that they were taken by surprise by comments of Israeli officials that they would welcome a NATO-led force to secure their border.

"No request has been made to NATO," James Appathurai, the NATO spokesman, said by telephone. "The possibility, the shape, the structure of any international force - none of them have been seriously addressed. We have had no political discussions and don't intend to have any political discussions of NATO's role."
Surely people are willing to die for the prospect of a brave new world. But it seems they'd rather not. Or maybe they just don't want to get involved if it means being the enforcement arm of the United States and Israel. Being seen as America's "muscle" may not be in any nation's national interest these days. Jackie Ashley put it succinctly in The Guardian (UK) here - "So why would a progressive European government want to have anything to do with the one-sided diplomacy of a fading president, driven by extreme theology?"

Good question, and besides, these guys are not what we've been told, a bunch of religious flakes who just bumble around.

See Hezbollah A Tough Foe for Israeli Military (Steven Gutkin, Associated Press) -
Fearing a prolonged quagmire and heavy casualties among its troops, Israel says it has no intention of launching a massive land invasion to defeat Hezbollah. But the past several days' small-scale pinpoint operations to root out guerrilla positions along the border are proving far more daunting than expected, according to soldiers returning from battle.

The troops complain of difficult terrain and being surprised by Hezbollah guerrillas who pop out from behind bushes firing automatic weapons or rocket-propelled grenades. Two Israeli soldiers were killed and 20 were wounded Monday as they tried to take the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbail amid a heavy exchange of gunfire, missiles and mortars.

The pinpoint incursions are supposed to accomplish what the 4,000 Israeli air sorties have been unable to achieve. But the twin strategy of airstrikes and limited ground offensives will not be enough to force Hezbollah to refrain from launching attacks, said Israeli counter terrorism expert Boaz Ganor.
Asymmetrical warfare is a bitch. Overwhelm force and superior technology aren't working that well. It's not fair. They were supposed to be amateurish clowns - murderous clowns, but clowns nonetheless.

But we've always got that wrong, as James Wolcott notes here -

Wolcott had been watching Shepard Smith of Fox News, stationed on the Lebanese-Israeli border, saying the Israeli soldiers looked "stunned" at the ferocity of the Hezbollah fighters, and how deadly and sophisticated their tactics were. And that leads to -
... one of the arch paradoxes of the War on Terror - that nearly five years after 9/11 we persist in both overestimating and underestimating our enemies. The hawks warn about a clash of civilizations, nuclear clouds as smoking guns, the global network of sleeper cells, an octopus with a thousand tentacles: a foe that kills without pity or remorse or discrimination, and ranks with Nazi Germany as a juggernaut of evil. Yet at the same time the politicians and pundits (particularly on the right) persist in deprecating the strength, agility, and ingenuity of the very foes they claim could bring down Western society, mocking Bin Laden in his cave (the greatest mass murder in American history, and the Bush administration treats his non-capture as a neglible detail), sluffing off the Iraqi insurgents as embittered Baathists and "dead-enders," and deluding ourselves that massive air power will bug-squash guerrilla fighters and shock and awe the remnants into submission. We still regard them as savage primitives of low cunning who sporadically lash out. Our commentators and military strategists suffer from a catastrophic failure of imagination, unable or unwilling to see the world through our enemies' eye and to think like them, assuming that our thought processes are superior, sufficient, and will prevail.

... It doesn't help that nearly every Retired Military Expert on cable news spouts the same Rumsfeldian faith in technopower and the supremacy of Western intel (through spy satellites, unmanned drones, etc) and fighting capability, pointing at terrain maps as if grabbing landscape had much relevance in the era of Fourth Generation warfare. They still talk confidently about air strikes "softening up" pockets of resistance, with "mopping up" operations later to clear out the remaining riffraff.

The early coverage of the Israeli-Hezbollah fight reflected this standard Pentagonthink. On MSNBC one of their resident talking warheads - retired Lt Col Rick Francona - was also smug as he related how excellent Israeli intel was in Lebanon. This was before Israel dropped 23 tons of explosions on a bunker to take out the Hezbollah high command. They took out the bunker, but the Hezbollah inner circle was otherwise disposed. Similarly, Israel has struck civilian convoys and ambulances, which means either their vaunted intel is scantier than advertised.
So who are the clowns here?

There's this - "Famed for its penetration, Israeli intelligence failed this time. It didn't detect the new weapons Iran and Syria had provided to Hezbollah, from anti-ship missiles to longer-range rockets. And, after years of spying, it couldn't find Hezbollah"

There's this - "Nine days ago, the Israeli army ordered the inhabitants of a neighboring village, Marwaheen, to leave their homes and then fired rockets into one of their evacuation trucks, blasting the women and children inside to their deaths. And this is the same Israeli air force which was praised last week by one of Israel's greatest defenders - Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz - because it 'takes extraordinary steps to minimize civilian casualties.'"

Israel has PR problem, at best. Hezbollah doesn't -
The Hezbollah soldiers on camera look normal, no masks, no keffiyahs, just jeans. They speak English. They are courteous, even helpful to the reporters.

Despite its capacity for violence, Hezbollah is being treated with a level of respect no Arab state fighting Israel has ever gotten. You are hearing normal people testify to the good works of the Hezbollah quasi-state.

I mean, this isn't two seconds of news, but detailed interviews with women and children, English speaking kids, testifying to their good works.

The Western public is getting a new view of Israel and the Arabs, and if the Israelis had a clue beyond bombing TV towers, they wouldn't drop another bomb in Beirut and stop shooting up convoys and gas stations. Because you have American reporters running from Israel bombs and American citizens trapped there and Hezbollah is getting a hearing.
Wolcott -
Conversely, you have images of Condi Rice flying into the region today with a big Pepsodent smile and a jaunty manner. What's she got to smile about? I've never seen a fireman grin as he entered a burning building. It's a bit late for a charm offensive.
The international force that Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams envisions would not be on the side of charm. You're asking these nations to align themselves with the neoconservative transformational theorists and the dismantling of Lebanon and all the death, for the concept.

But a simple ceasefire the talks and terms and prisoner releases and all the rest following isn't in the cards. We want change, not peace. No one is helping.

Of course it would help if we got the concept of what changes we want straightened out. More and more our explicit policy in the Middle East is that we are now the ally of the Sunnis on a mission to crush the Shi'a crescent - we will line up Sunni Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan and the rest to fight the Shi'a madman in Iraq and Syria and the stateless Hezbollah and al Qaeda. Except before we were out to get that madman Saddam Hussein who suppressed and killed all the Shi'a he could find in his Iraq, as he was sure those Shi'a fanatics would bring him down, which would make him on our side now. Huh? Keeping the good guys and bad guys straight gets harder all the time.

Bill Montgomery finds this in the Daily Telegraph (UK) -
White House aides have said they consider the Lebanon crisis to be a "leadership moment" for Mr Bush and an opportunity to proceed with his post-September 11 plan to reshape the Middle East by building Sunni Arab opposition to Shi'a terrorism. Yesterday Mr Bush cited the role of Iran and Syria in providing help to Hezbollah.
Now wait just one second. The plan all along was to help the Sunnis fight Shi'a terrorism? No one mentioned it before. That would have been nice to know. It's was WMD stuff, or that Saddam was behind the September 11 stuff, or even bringing democracy to Iraq. The grand plan was helping the Sunnis? Oh. Missed that.

Montgomery says this -
The question is whether this astonishing statement is the product of bad writing, the slack-jawed stupidity of the Telegraph's Washington correspondent, or a deliberate Eastasia/Eurasia switch by our fun-loving Orwellians in the Cheney administration.

If it's just bad writing or stupidity - if the phrase "building Sunni Arab opposition to Shi'a terrorism" doesn't actually modify "post-September 11 plan," but instead is just another way of pretending that Shrub is capable of the kind of leadership that has its "moments" - then the sentence is only unintentionally hysterical. However, given the current situation on the ground (all 18 zillion square miles of it) it may well be precisely the lie it appears to be, to wit: that fighting "Shi'a terrorism" was the point of Shrub's post-9/11 master plan all along.
But that's what Saddam Hussein was doing, on a local level. Damn, it's confusing.

And the Israelis are on board -
An adviser to Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz told The Observer: "We are finally going to fight Hizbollah on the ground. The Israeli people are ready for this, and the Sunni Muslim world also expects us to fight Shi'a fundamentalism. We are going to deliver."
Israel will fight for the Sunnis? Of course. Things shift a lot, don't they?

Digby has a good take on this here -
The truth is, I don't think it matters a damn anymore which "terrorists" we are fighting today or what the goals allegedly are. This is the GWOT and the enemies of "non-terror" are whoever is deemed "terrible" today. It's irrelevant that the terrorists we were supposed to be fighting yesterday are now our allies against the terrorist we are fighting today. It's all good.

... The US managed somehow, against the best efforts of Karl Rove, to separate the Iraq war from the broader "War on Terror." It looks as though they are taking another crack at it and are now trying to conflate every problem in the Middle East with its alleged fight against terrorism. This, I believe, is purely for domestic political consideration. It must be, because it is completely incoherent on the substance: we simply cannot be "fightin' terrorism" as allies of the Israelis and Sunni Muslims against the Shiites while we occupy Iraq and say we are promoting democracy. The mind reels at the cognitive dissonance embodied in that statement.

Unfortunately, while the nutty rhetoric must have the rest of the world wondering who put the acid in the sweet mint tea, here in the US it makes perfect sense. We're fightin' 'em over there - whoever those Ayrab/Jews/terrorists are - so we don't have to fight 'em over here. Don't worry your pretty little heads about the details -- here's a tax cut, go out and buy one of those big screen Teevees and watch you some American idol. Republicans will keep you safe from all of 'em.
The mind reels at the cognitive dissonance of it all. No wonder most of the adult population throws up its hands and says, whatever, and decides its best just to let those in power do what they will, and explain it any way they want. It's not supposed to make sense. The neoconservative transformational theory is too tricky for mere mortals. And no wonder the rest of the world is not helping. It's a wonder they're not laughing.


Posted by Alan at 22:49 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 25 July 2006 07:41 PDT home

Sunday, 23 July 2006
Hot Off the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements
Hot Off the Virtual Press
The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 30, for the week of July 23, 2006.Click here to go there...

This week's commentary is mostly on the new war of course - you've got your Afghanistan War, not finished as the defeated and extinct Taliban are busy retaking towns in the south, and you've got your Iraq War, which may not be our war anymore but just one where the locals have at it and we try to keep a lid on things, hoping not for the best but the least-worst, and you've got the new two-front war Israel is waging with our approval. And with all the talk from the neoconservatives saying that this is just the right time to take care of Syria and bomb Iran back to the days before anyone discover nuclear energy or weapons - we've got them all on the run so let's kick as now - you may get two more wars. And the detail and perspective is here. But then there's an item on what seems to be missing in action - any sort of domestic policy.

At the International Desk, Our Man in Tel-Aviv, Sylvain Ubersfeld, perhaps picked the wrong time for a quick vacation, a few relaxing days in the Golan area. He offers an account of trying to spend a few pleasant days in the Golan Heights, on the Syrian border, as a war breaks out, with exclusive photos to give you a feel for the place. Amazing. Our Man in Paris (where there is no war), Ric Erickson, reports on the extraordinary heat wave there, with photographic documentation.

The Southern California photography this week covers the ultimate Hollywood statue (it's huge and newly restored), and last weekend's very odd Los Angeles Bastille Day, and the rest is the birds and the bees, quite literally, along with more extraordinary blooms.

Our friend from Texas of course provides your weekly dose of the weird, and the quotes this week are for the Jung at heart.
Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________________

War Talk: On the Sixth Day of the More-Than-Six-Day War
Research: Is the Sky Falling?
War Thoughts (Day Ten)
Learning from Experience
MIA: Say, What Ever Happened to Compassionate Conservatism?

The International Desk ______________________________

Our Man in Tel-Aviv: Never a Dull Moment
Our Man in Paris: Paris-Plages, Unusual View, Real Palms
Paris Extra: The Heat Wave

Hollywood Matters ______________________________

Glamour Restored: The George Stanley Fountain at the Hollywood Bowl

Southern California Photography ______________________________

Bastille Day, Los Angeles
An Office: Just what it should look like...
Shore Birds
Botanicals: Morning Light
One Bee

The Weird: WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL
Quotes for the week of July 9, 2006 - Forever Jung (Carl Gustav Jung)

Posted by Alan at 18:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 23 July 2006 18:23 PDT home

Saturday, 22 July 2006
MIA: Say, What Ever Happened to Compassionate Conservatism?
Topic: For policy wonks...
MIA: Say, What Ever Happened to Compassionate Conservatism?
Yes the third war is being waged - you've got your Afghanistan War, not finished as the defeated and extinct Taliban are busy retaking towns in the south, and you've got your Iraq War, which may not be our war anymore but just one where the locals have at it and we try to keep a lid on things, hoping not for the best but the least-worst, and you've got the new two-front war Israel is waging with our approval. And with all the talk from the neoconservatives saying that this is just the right time to take care of Syria and bomb Iran back to the days before anyone discover nuclear energy or weapons - we've got them all on the run so let's kick as now - you may get two more wars.

Back in the days when wars were metaphoric - the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs, for example - they weren't any easier to win. Like the War on Terror, these were wars on abstractions. Still there were those who thought one of them, Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, was a rather fine idea, even if a bit more conceptual than real. Johnson may have launched the thing to divert attention from the Vietnam mess, but doing something to get people who were in trouble working and fed and housed and educated seemed like that might do the country some good.

The push back from the right was the usual. These people had to take personal responsibility, not handouts, and what they needed was to be forced to work for what might sustain them and eventually get them into the mainstream. The day of handouts was over - as it wasn't fair that those who worked hard then were being forced by the evil government to chip in to keep those who had bad luck or dark skin and made the mistake of being born in the wrong place from dying in the streets. These losers needed to be forced to do for themselves, like everyone else. This was called compassionate conservatism, or tough love, or the American Way, or something, and thus we got welfare reform, where you got the food stamps and other aid, if you put in forty hours a week doing something, anything at all. There would be no more lazy "takers" - whining people playing victim and taking the money of those who worked hard and did useful things. To just give them help was wrong - it was "soft bigotry of low expectations" and the conservatives were not bigots. They knew these people were capable of becoming rich, or something.

Oddly the real welfare reform came in the Clinton administration, as he was doing that triangulation or "third way" thing, mixing liberal stuff with conservative stuff in an attempt to pull the country together. Unfortunately, there was the Monica lass.

With the conservatives taking control of the government - first with the Newt Gingrich revolution of 1994, where congress was convincingly won be the conservatives, to the present situation where both hoses, the executive branch, and most of the judiciary are in the hands of the conservatives - things might have been even harsher. But as there is a baseline of people in the country disturbed by the thought of millions of homeless dying in the streets and children starving and all that, the line became "sure we're conservative and think people should take care of themselves and the government has no business in helping people with anything, but we're not heartless." Thus Republicans ran on the platform of "compassionate conservatism" - no one deserves anything from the government, but we'll make a few exceptions here and there. George Bush ran on that idea, and got the votes of those who were resentful any of their tax dollars went to someone not working when they were, but felt a little guilty when each winter another homeless woman or two froze to death under the bridge down the street. Those who felt no guilt at all - serves 'em right for being so lazy - knew the whole thing was a ploy. There are things you have to say to get elected, and they understood.

And the have been right. In the Washington Post, in the pages not devoted to the wars, there was this, a discussion of how the administration has said nothing at all about poverty in America since the president gave that amazing speech in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina - we would do something about the poverty that led to all these deaths, of the people who didn't have the means to get out of the path of the storm, and yes it was a racial thing too, and we'd fix that too. Enough was enough. The post notes that was it. It was a one-shot. Not only were the issues never mentioned again, anywhere or at any time, the speech was never referred to again, and no actions of any sort were taken of any sort to even vaguely related to the issues of poverty or race. It seems other things came up. And even if they had not come up, one wonders if anything would be different.

Poverty? Never heard of it. The New Orleans speech stands out as an anomaly - something from an alternative universe, the Universe of Compassionate Conservatism. It's the stuff of Marvel Comics - a place where everything is reversed, and Superman is a bad, and dumb.

Ezra Klein explains -
... the roots of the Bush administration's betrayal on poverty reach far beyond Katrina. Compassionate conservatism, after all, was once more than an empty catch phrase; it described a policy philosophy that sought economic uplift through government incentives. Myron Magnet, author of the foundational compassionate conservative work The Dream and the Nightmare, met with Bush repeatedly during the campaign, and visitors to Karl Rove's office used to leave with a copy of the book in hand - according to Rove, it laid out the campaign's roadmap. So when Magnet assured us that "At [Bush's compassionate conservatism's] core is concern for the poor - not a traditional Republican preoccupation - and an explicit belief that government has a responsibility for poor Americans," it was safe to assume he knew what he was talking about.

Only he didn't. Compassionate conservatism retained only its disinterest in small government conservatism. As the years ground excruciatingly onward and the Bush administration's domestic policy priorities crystallized, it became abundantly clear that this administration was corporatist, not conservative in nature - theirs was a philosophy of industrialist, not indigent, uplift. It didn't have to be that way: Bush's early moves were promising, with No Child Left Behind a flawed but supportable attempt at codifying equality in our schools. After 9-11, though, the war president killed the poor's president, and Bush turned his already meager interest in the mechanics of governing entirely away from domestic issues.

I've never been entirely convinced by the explanations for why that happened. Bush's record in Texas and his rhetoric on the campaign trail never suggested the sort of leader that would emerge. September 11 changed him, but it's not precisely clear why it enabled such an abandonment of the domestic realm.
Maybe because it was a joke to begin with? Just as the evangelical Christians tell us you have to understand when Jesus was just kidding - like that turn the other cheek business and that love everyone stuff - so you need to understand the New Orleans anomaly the same way.

Or as Digby at Hullabaloo puts it -
I would argue that there never was a "compassionate conservative" Bush, but a political slogan that was adopted when the face of the party was the slavering beasts of the Gingrich years who shut down the government and impeached a popular president against the will of the people. The game plan was to run Bush as a Republican Clinton without the woody.

And to the extent that they actually believed any of their campaign blather about "soft bigotry of low expectations" and prescription drug coverage, it was only to massage certain constituencies they needed to cobble together a majority - which they didn't actually manage to do in 2000. Karl was just buying votes like any smart pol does.

... They failed on social security, the big ticket domestic item of the second term, but the reason was that they always overestimated the amount of political capital a "war president" who only won a second term by 51% of the vote actually has. He had plenty of juice after 9/11 but he used it all up on Iraq - and when the WMD didn't show, most of that evaporated over time.

But the tax cuts, the indiscriminate deregulation, the expansion of executive power (not only through the programs like the illegal wiretapping but through the passage of the Patriot Act as well) can only be considered great successes by the standard he set forth. The reason his "compassionate conservative" agenda wasn't part of that package is because it was just a campaign ploy to begin with. After 9/11 they made the calculation that he could win by running solely on national security with a smattering of homo-hating. And he did.
Poverty just didn't matter.

But now it may, as those in the middle start the slow descent to the levels below. The economy is booming, a wages for most are falling, and have been for several years. This would be no problem if only CEO's were allowed to vote, and those who have large portfolios (those who own the capital). The problem is we allow those who live off their labor alone, their work, to vote. The problem is so obvious that even John Derbyshire at the old-line conservative National Review sees it -
If the rich get richer while the middle class thrives, and some decent provision is made for the poor, I'm a happy man, living in a society I consider healthy and am proud of. If, however, the rich get richer while the middle class is struggling, or actually declining, I am not a happy man. There are some reasons to think that is happening, and you don't have to be a socialist to worry about this.
Amd even the folks over at the Wall Street Journal, of all places, see the problem, as Steven Rattner notes here -
After months without a domestic agenda to capitalize on Bush administration unpopularity, Democrats are moving - haltingly, disjointedly, belatedly - toward embracing the mother of all electoral issues: the failure of robust top-line growth in the U.S. economy to filter into the wallets of Americans below the top of the pyramid.

... No amount of chaff can hide the failure of our remarkable productivity surge (and the accompanying robust growth of the overall economy) to meaningfully boost average wages, which have barely grown with inflation. Separated by income level, the picture is more dismal. From 2000 to 2005, for example, average weekly wages for the bottom 10% dropped by 2.7% (after adjustment for inflation), while those of the top 10% rose by 5.3%.
No amount of "but the economy is booming talk" can override the fact of the empty wallet at the gas pump. Interestingly he uses the word chaff, the foil that used to be dropped from bombers to befuddle the guys on the ground at their radar screens. The working man's radar may be able to see through it, even if the Democrats screw up this issue too. Rattner seems more worried about those who work for a living than any Democrat.

Is the day of reckoning at hand? If you're told you're really doing well, and you've dropped your health insurance and are skipping meals, and you can't pay even the monthly minimum on your credit cards, are you going to believe that? Who needs the Democrats? You may just feel these guys have screwed you.

Well, they always said government doesn't solve problems, government is the problem. That was one of Ronald Reagan's favorite lines, and he's said to be the father of all the concepts at play.

That leads to this rant, on the underlying issues, presented here in full, as the writer no doubt wants this widely disseminated -
What Did You Expect, America?
by SusanG
Sat Jul 22, 2006 at 03:16:59 PM PDT

Would you hire a babysitter who hates children and thinks they should be eliminated? Or who declares for years in your hearing that children are irritants who should be starved to be small, unseen and mute?

Would you hire cops who think laws are stupid and useless and should be abolished?

Would you hire a conductor for your orchestra who believes music itself an abomination?

Then why would you hire - and you did hire them, America; they are your employees, after all, not your rulers, despite their grandiose pretensions - members of a political party who think government is useless, ineffective, bloated and untrustworthy?

You've hired for your kitchen the chef who spits in your food because he despises preparing meals.

You've hired for your yardwork the gardener who sets out to kill your roses to demonstrate his assertion that they will die in your climate.

You've hired for your office the accountant who's staked his career on proving no accurate books can be kept.

In electing Republicans, America, you put people in charge of institutions they overtly, caustically loathe and proudly proclaim should not exist. Good thinking, USA, and stellar results: Katrina, Iraq, Medicare D, trade and budget deficits, mine disasters and on and on and on and ...

Conservatives have declared officially for decades that they hate public programs and love private business. Why then, do Americans profess shock when these same people run the public credit card up to bunker-busting levels to line the pockets of friendly corporations, leaving taxpayers - current and the as-yet unborn - the bill? It's the dine and ditch mentality writ large, and American citizens are the unfortunate waiters having their lowly pay docked to cover the deadbeat loss - and their future grandchildren's pay docked as well.

We are witnessing an orchestrated, unprecedented transfer of public wealth to private pockets, a national one-party feeding frenzy that's making beggars and beseechers of us all, and yet many Americans stand around muttering in a daze of semi-apathetic befuddlement about gosh darn how did all this come to be and how sure as shit, uh-huh, those Republicans shore were right, government doesn't do a the little guy a damn bit of good, no sirree bob. Better drown it some more. Cut them taxes, privatize something, anything, pronto!

Kee-rist on a pogo stick.

If you put people in charge of running a project they are ideologically committed to proving a failure, it will fail.

Seems pretty straightforward to me. But hey, I'm a Democrat. You know, one of those people who think universal quality public education is a massive good to society, that maintaining our highways and levees and bridges and dams is part of what makes this country great, that paying first-responders and nurses what they're worth helps guarantee our public health and safety, that providing for fellow citizens who fall on hard times is not only the ethical thing to do, but the pragmatic one, ensuring that this country does not incubate a permanently inflamed and disgruntled underclass ready to drop a match on a pool of social gasoline.

Here's a thought - just a thought, mind you, beloved America: Perhaps it's time to return to government the party that has an ideological stake in making it ... you know ... succeed. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to raise our sights a wee bit and elect people who think public service is more than an opportunity for the "Biggest! Fire Sale! Ever!" for their friends and loved ones. Perhaps it's time to insist on greater - if not great - expectations from the employees we decide to hire or fire every two years to carry out our will under the constitution.

As one-party Republican rule has clearly shown, when you expect incompetence, corruption and deceit from your government, you get exactly what you vote for. In spades.
Enough said. But logic seldom works.

Posted by Alan at 18:54 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 22 July 2006 18:58 PDT home

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