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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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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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Friday, 28 July 2006
Getting Surreal
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Getting Surreal
Friday, July 28, was the birthday of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), who helped introduce cubism and dada to the United States and was prominent in the surrealist movement of the twenties and thirties. It was his kind of day, a tad surreal.

Out here the day opened with news of the arrest of Mel Gibson, the fellow who gave us The Passion of the Christ and along with those Lethal Weapon movies, and Braveheart. At two in the morning, down in Malibu on Pacific Coast Highway, he was driving way too fast and seemed to be drunk at the wheel. He was arrested and then released on five thousand dollars bail. The story is here, if that sort of thing interests you. He has his demons - he imagines violence, pain and redemption all the time. That can drive you to drink. They booked him at the Lost Hills station, appropriately. Later in the day, as day seventeen of the war in southern Lebanon raged, as more died in Baghdad as Iraq disintegrates, as the Pentagon announced we're sending five thousand more troops into the city and one-year tours of duty for soldiers about to leave had been extended for four months and all outgoing flights cancelled, and on the day Prime Minister Blair was in town to meet with President Bush and jointly announce there would be no immediate cease-fire in Lebanon as that would be wrong, the president took a breather and met with contestants from "American Idol" for a photo op. That detail is here, and the item notes someone on the White House staff must have realized this was just too surreal, and barred reporters from the event - no one was going to ask second rate singers from Hollywood what they thought of world events this day. Still photos only - and no questions. This could get out of hand.

And it was a day of things getting even more out of hand, as Hezbollah fired five Iranian-made missiles south of Haifa (details here). This is new, an escalation, as what they had been lobbing in previously didn't have that range. At the same time Israel called up 30,000 reservists (details here). Things are not calming down, and the UN is pulling all its observers from the war zone (details here). Four were taken out by a precision bomb courtesy of the Israeli Air Force, so that might be wise. And this was just after al Qaeda declared holy war against Israel (details here) - so it seems that the Sunni al Qaeda is willing to overlook the fact they don't consider Shiites really Muslims at all, just evil infidels, and will back the Shiite Hezbollah right now, as fighting to destroy Israel is more important than who believes what about Ali, the son of Mohammad. That's a pretty big deal. We're uniting them.

Then the former second man in the State Department, Richard Armitage, who reported to Colin Powell way back when, broke with the neoconservatives and said the systematic bombing of much of Lebanon by Israel was just going to end up "empowering Hezbollah" (details here). Of course the Israelis were saying that the nations who met the previous Sunday in Rome and couldn't agree on a call fro an immediate cease-fire had obviously given Israel the "green light" to bomb anything they liked for as long as they liked (details here)

Now that last one was amusing. The European Union nations were flabbergasted, and even the United States couldn't run with that and had to say something -
The US state department has dismissed as "outrageous" a suggestion by Israel that it has been authorized by the world to continue bombing Lebanon.

"The US is sparing no efforts to bring a durable and lasting end to this conflict," said spokesman Adam Ereli.
There are limits to the surreal. But the day ended with this -
At least five people were shot, one of them fatally, at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, and one person was arrested, authorities said. A witness told a local newspaper that the man said he was a Muslim who was angry at Israel.

That's from the AP wire, posted at Fox News. Fox put the second sentence in red bold. They're like that.

All in all, this particular day was not a particularly good day.

But that depends on your perspective.

In the joint statement and news conference where President Bush and Prime Minister Blair explained everything, and fit it all together in a hopeful pattern, the president explained -

President Bush proudly declared that American foreign policy no longer seeks to "manage calm," and derided policies that let anger and resentment lie "beneath the surface." Bush said that the violence in the Middle East was evidence of a more effective foreign policy that addresses "root causes."
You see calm is a bad thing. It's overrated. That's for wimps and girly-men. Real men address "root causes" and we no longer manage calm. It's just not effective, which is why war is good. It gets down to root causes.

Maybe so. But people don't like it much. Of course this is part and parcel with the much discussed "reverse-domino theory" that Secretary of State Rice seems to be enamored with - Israel takes care of Hezbollah and Hamas will see resistance is futile and fold, and that success will discourage Syria and Iran and they'll see there's no percentage in doing what they're doing. The insurgents in Iraq all give up. The dominos will fall, and this business in southern Lebanon is the first domino. All the "root causes" are addressed, by being removed. The dominos fall. It's a pretty cool theory.

On the other hand, there's this assessment -
This is sheer, abject lunacy of the sort that imagined the invasion of Iraq would lead to city squares in Iraq named after George W. Bush and the invasion would pay for itself out of oil revenues. The only appropriate reaction is to very loudly proclaim this is the reasoning of madmen. No rational human being thinks like this.

… The people who came up with an American foreign policy based on addressing "root causes" and no longer managing calm need straitjackets.
So managing calm - keeping things peaceful, is now no longer our official foreign policy, and to some it seems nuts.

But the president explained it all in detail when he was asked why everything seemed to going so, as they say badly.

That went like this -
QUESTION: Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, with support apparently growing among the Arab population, both Shiite and Sunni, for Hezbollah, by bounds, is there a risk that every day that goes by without a cease-fire will tip this conflict into a wider war?

And, Mr. President, when Secretary Rice goes back to the region, would she have any new instructions, such as meeting with Syrians?

BUSH: Her instructions are to work with Israel and Lebanon to get a - to come up with an acceptable U.N. Security Council resolution that we can table next week.

And, secondly, it's really important for people to understand that the terrorists are trying to stop the advance of freedom. And, therefore, it's essential that we do what's right - not necessarily what appears to be immediately popular.

There's a lot of suffering in Lebanon because Hezbollah attacked Israel. There's a lot of suffering in the Palestinian territory because militant Hamas is trying to stop the advance of democracy. There is suffering in Iraq because terrorists are trying to spread sectarian violence and stop the spread of democracy.

And now is the time for the free world to work to create the conditions so that people everywhere can have hope. And those are the stakes. That's what we face right now. We've got a plan to deal with this immediate crisis.

It's one of the reasons the prime minister came, to talk about that plan. But the stakes are larger than just Lebanon.

Isn't it interesting that when Prime Minister Olmert starts to reach out to President Abbas to develop a Palestinian state, militant Hamas creates the conditions so that, you know, there's a crisis, and then Hezbollah follows up?

Isn't it interesting, as a democracy takes hold in Iraq, that Al Qaeda steps up its efforts to murder and bomb in order to stop the democracy?

And so one of the things that the people in the Middle East must understand is that we're working to create the conditions of hope and opportunity for all of them. And we'll continue to do that. This is the challenge of the 21st century
One quick reaction -
I remember as a child a strange little neighbor girl who was found in her backyard swinging her cat by the tail against the sidewalk screaming "you're gonna love me!"

I'm pretty sure it didn't work.
And this, similarly, isn't working. NBC's Davis Gregory asks about that -
QUESTION: Mr. President, both of you, I'd like to ask you about the big picture that you're discussing.

Mr. President, three years ago, you argued that an invasion of Iraq would create a new stage of Arab-Israeli peace. And yet today there is an Iraqi prime minister who has been sharply critical of Israel.

Arab governments, despite your arguments, who first criticized Hezbollah, have now changed their tune. Now they're sharply critical of Israel.

And despite from both of you warnings to Syria and Iran to back off support from Hezbollah, effectively, Mr. President, your words are being ignored.

So what has happened to America's clout in this region that you've committed yourself to transform?

BUSH: David, it's an interesting period because, instead of having foreign policies based upon trying to create a sense of stability, we have a foreign policy that addresses the root causes of violence and instability.

For a while, American foreign policy was just, Let's hope everything is calm - kind of, managed calm. But beneath the surface brewed a lot of resentment and anger that was manifested on September the 11th.

And so we have, we've taken a foreign policy that says: On the one hand, we will protect ourselves from further attack in the short run by being aggressive in chasing down the killers and bringing them to justice.

And make no mistake: They're still out there, and they would like to harm our respective peoples because of what we stand for.

In the long term, to defeat this ideology - and they're bound by an ideology - you defeat it with a more hopeful ideology called freedom.

And, look, I fully understand some people don't believe it's possible for freedom and democracy to overcome this ideology of hatred. I understand that. I just happen to believe it is possible.

And I believe it will happen.

And so what you're seeing is, you know, a clash of governing styles.

For example, you know, the notion of democracy beginning to emerge scares the ideologues, the totalitarians, those who want to impose their vision. It just frightens them.

And so they respond. They've always been violent.

You know, I hear this amazing kind of editorial thought that says, all of a sudden, Hezbollah's become violent because we're promoting democracy. They have been violent for a long period of time. Or Hamas?

One reason why the Palestinians still suffer is because there are militants who refuse to accept a Palestinian state based upon democratic principles.

And so what the world is seeing is a desire by this country and our allies to defeat the ideology of hate with an ideology that has worked and that brings hope.

And one of the challenges, of course, is to convince people that Muslims would like to be free, you know, that there's other people other than people in Britain and America that would like to be free in the world.

There's this kind of almost - you know, kind of a weird kind of elitism that says well maybe - maybe certain people in certain parts of the world shouldn't be free; maybe it's best just to let them sit in these tyrannical societies.

And our foreign policy rejects that concept. We don't accept it. And so we're working.
This is so loony one doesn't know where to begin.

Andrew Sullivan makes a stab here -
The president's press conference with Blair today struck me as revealing - and not in a good way. Bush is right on the basic issue. He grasps the nature of the enemy. But he is so out of his depth - rhetorically, strategically, politically, intellectually - that it is hard to have much confidence in his leadership. This is one reason why I couldn't endorse him for a second term. He is an incompetent. He is too incompetent to lead the West at this time. He is simply without the skills to navigate the very treacherous waters we are all now in. He is being outmaneuvered at every turn by wily enemies who are becoming more dangerous and emboldened by the day.

Bush, in a word, is overwhelmed. He has no idea what to do except return to the catechism of freedom versus terror, like an ideological security blanket. Of course that it what this is about. The trouble is: freedom is being defended by the incompetent and the clueless. In Bush's blank, bewildered eyes, you see the image of someone who is finally beginning to see reality. And it's something with which he simply cannot cope. Our enemies, moreover, see the weakness in the president and they are ruthlessly exploiting it. And we have more than two years left to survive.
Okay, look at the video and see if you agree. Josh Marshall has and says this -
We know the president isn't very articulate in news conference settings. But national leaders don't have to be articulate to be good leaders. In fact there have been a number very good ones who could scarcely speak coherently for thirty seconds.

But if you watch this passage I think you see something different. Namely, that pretty much everything that's happened over the last three years, and certainly over the last three months has just gone in one presidential ear and out the other. He is, in both the deepest and most superficial sense, out of it.
Elsewhere he says - "This is the Bush administration's apocalypse. We are, to borrow the phrase, just living in it." How nice.

And other people are living in it too, and not much liking it. One of our big projects in the Middle East was Lebanon. We maneuvered to get the Syrians out. We praised their election and new government - the "Cedar Revolution" and all that. Yes, Hezbollah has more than few seats in their parliament, but they were elected to them, and they hold a few ministries, but not key ministries. In a democracy everyone gets a say. This was a success, and the economy was booming, before Israel got ticked and bombed all the new infrastructure. But they understand, don’t they? They will rise up toss out the Hezbollah bums, who have ruined everything for them. That's a key event in the "reverse-domino" theory. Hezbollah has cooked its own goose.

Not according to this, a poll released by the Beirut Center for Research and Information. Eighty-seven percent of the Lebanese support Hezbollah's fight with Israel, up twenty-nine percent from the last pool in February. As for those who are not Shiite folk, eighty percent of Christians polled supported Hezbollah as do eighty percent of the Druze and eighty-nine percent of Sunnis. Oops. It seems the Lebanese no longer blame Hezbollah for setting off the war by kidnapping those Israeli soldiers, but blame Israel and the US instead.

Now eight percent of Lebanese feel the US supports Lebanon, down from thirty-eight percent in January, and you get stuff like this -
"This support for Hizbullah is by default. It's due to US and Israeli actions," says Saad-Ghorayeb, whose father, Abdo, conducted the poll.

… If Israel establishes an occupation zone along the border to police the area, Hezbollah will likely continue fighting, unhindered by a weakened Lebanese government and backed by a radicalized Shiite community. That growing radicalization is palpable in this laid-back coastal town where support for Hezbollah traditionally has been arbitrary.

Ghassan Farran, a doctor and head of a local cultural organization, gazes in disbelief at the pile of smoking ruins which was once his home. Minutes earlier, an Israeli jet dropped two guided missiles into the six-story apartment block in the centre of Tyre.

"Look what America gives us, bombs and missiles," says this educated, middle-class professional. "I was never a political person and never with Hezbollah but now after this I am with Hezbollah."
The Washington Post reports the concept - "In the long term, the United States and Israel hope that Hezbollah is discredited or marginalized politically, too."

How "long term" are we talking here? And just who is winning?

See Christopher Dickey in Newsweek here -
The bottom line: Hezbollah is winning. That's the hideous truth about the direction this war is taking, not in spite of the way the Israelis have waged their counterattack, but precisely because of it. As my source Mr. Frankly put it, "Hezbollah is eating their lunch."

We're talking about a militia - a small guerrilla army of a few thousand fighters, in fact - that plays all the dirty games that guerrillas always play. It blends in with the local population. It draws fire against innocents. But it's also fighting like hell against an Israeli military machine that is supposed to be world class. And despite the onslaught of the much-vaunted Tsahal, Hizbullah continues to pepper Israel itself with hundreds of rockets a day.

The United States, following Israel's lead, does not want an immediate ceasefire precisely because that would hand Hezbollah a classic guerrilla-style victory: it started this fight against a much greater military force - and it's still standing. In the context of a region where vast Arab armies have been defeated in days, for a militia to hold out one week, two weeks and more, is seen as heroic. Hezbollah is the aggressor, the underdog and the noble survivor, all at once. "It's that deadly combination of the expectation game, which Hezbollah have won, and the victim game, which they've also won," as my straight-talking friend put it.

… When I heard Condi talking in pitiless academic pieties today about "strong and robust" mandates and "dedicated and urgent action," I actually felt sorry for her, for our government, and for Israel. As in Iraq three years ago, the administration has been blinded to the political realities by shock-and-awe military firepower. Clinging to its faith in precision-guided munitions and cluster bombs, it has decided to let Lebanon bleed, as if that's the way to build the future for peace and democracy.
Or as Digby puts it -
I've long speculated that one of the biggest miscalculations of the war in Iraq was exploding the American mystique of military and intelligence superiority.

… But at least America had decades of post war success to draw upon and diplomatic and economic clout to employ even as it degraded its reputation in all those areas. Israel, on the other hand, is entirely dependent upon its military superiority and this ill-fated overreaction in Lebanon is exploding that image.

… I'm not sure I really get why the US and Israel haven't yet come to terms with the fact that this fourth generation war cannot be won with classic military action. I suspect it is the neocon influence which, throughout many decades, never gave a passing thought to terrorism or asymmetrical warfare. They have been stuck in a cold war mindset (a mindset that was wrong about the cold war too) and have consistently seen the world through the prism of rogue totalitarian states. This is why, in spite of the fact that everything is going to hell in a handbasket in a hundred different ways, they persist in focusing on Iran (formerly Iraq) and ignoring all the moving parts that make their aggressive plans to "confront" these regimes simpleminded and doomed to failure.

For Israel and the US it couldn't be worse. They have systematically chipped away at any moral authority they had while demonstrating that their military, diplomatic and economic power are paper tigers. What an excellent strategy for all concerned. Oh, and too bad about all the dead bodies that have been produced to create that sad outcome.
It really is a bit surreal.

Michael Hirsch captures just how surreal in Newsweek here -
The Bush administration has fought the 'war on terror' [with] one lunatic leap of logic after another based on unreliable sources, linking up enemies that had little to do with each other.

… The president has used Al Qaeda to gin up the threat from Iraq, just as he is now conflating Hezbollah and Hamas with Al Qaeda as "terrorists" of the same ilk.

… What's sad is that the "war on terror" began as a fairly straightforward affair. Al Qaeda hit us. Then we went after Al Qaeda. We had a lot of support around the world in pursuit of our mission to hunt these men down, kill them or capture them and do with them as we pleased.

But inexorably, month by month, the Bush administration broadened the war on terror to include ever more peoples and countries, especially Saddam's Iraq, relying on thinner and thinner evidence to do so. And what began as a hunt for a relatively contained group of self-declared murderers like bin Laden became a feckless dragnet of tens of thousands of hapless Arab victims.

… Today, more from the muddled strategic thinking of the Bush administration than the actual threat from Al Qaeda, the 'war on terror' has become an Orwellian nightmare: an ill-defined war without prospect of end. We are now nearly five years into a war against a group that was said to contain no more then 500 to 1,000 terrorists at the start. … The war just grows and grows. And now Lebanon, too, is part of it.

Everyone will soon be part of it. The man doesn't use logic. He trusts his gut instincts. And those who advise him know military power is the only tool to use in this world.

How did it come to this, the world in flames and we're being told it's a good thing? And don't look at the details. Happy birthday to the surrealist.

__

Marcel Duchamp - Sad Young Man in a Train


Marcel Duchamp - Sad Young Man in a Train


Posted by Alan at 22:41 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 28 July 2006 22:47 PDT home

Thursday, 27 July 2006
Odd Data
Topic: World View
Odd Data: If You're Looking for Happiness, Move To Denmark
Yes, from Reuters via CNN, If you're looking for happiness, move to Denmark.

It goes like this
It's the happiest country in the world while Burundi in Africa is the most unhappy, according to a new report by a British scientist released on Friday.

Adrian White, an analytical social psychologist at the University of Leicester in central England, based his study on data from 178 countries and 100 global studies from the likes of the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

"We're looking much more at whether you are satisfied with your life in general," White told Reuters. "Whether you are satisfied with your situation and environment."

The main factors that affected happiness were health provision, wealth and education, according to White who said his research had produced the "first world map of happiness."

Following behind Denmark came Switzerland, Austria, Iceland and the Bahamas.

At the bottom came the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Burundi. The United States came in at 23rd, Britain was in 41st place, Germany 35th and France 62nd.

Countries involved in conflicts, such as Iraq, were not included.

"Smaller countries tend to be a little happier because there is a stronger sense of collectivism and then you also have the aesthetic qualities of a country," White said.
But what about big countries with a sense of collective identity? Does collective identity trump quaintness? No. China comes in on the happiness ranking in 82nd place, Japan at 90th, and India at 125th. Smallness matters.

Of course Adrian White admitted collecting data based on well-being was not an exact science, but he said the measures used were "very reliable in predicting health and welfare outcomes." It seems lots of food and an SUV in every garage doesn't matter much. Oh well.

The University of Leicester press release is here -
Further analysis showed that a nation's level of happiness was most closely associated with health levels (correlation of .62), followed by wealth (.52), and then provision of education (.51).

The three predictor variables of health, wealth and education were also very closely associated with each other, illustrating the interdependence of these factors.
But what about just having more stuff than anyone else, even if you're badly educated and don't know much, and you and everyone around you is seriously obese?

Try this -
There is a belief that capitalism leads to unhappy people. However, when people are asked if they are happy with their lives, people in countries with good healthcare, a higher GDP per captia, and access to education were much more likely to report being happy.
Well then, here we do have the stuff, and if you have the money the healthcare is fine (exclude forty-four million Americans who can't afford to pay for healthcare insurance), and although much of public education is disintegrating if you have the funds you can get a pretty good education. Giving that, ranking 23rd seems about right.

American valuesThe happiness rankings:

1. Denmark
2. Switzerland
3. Austria
4. Iceland
5. The Bahamas
6. Finland
7. Sweden
8. Bhutan
9. Brunei
10. Canada
11. Ireland
12. Luxembourg
13. Costa Rica
14. Malta
15. The Netherlands
16. Antigua and Barbuda
17. Malaysia
18. New Zealand
19. Norway
20. The Seychelles

The outliers:

23. USA
35. Germany
41. UK
62. France
82. China
90. Japan 125. India
167. Russia

The bottom three:

176. Democratic Republic of the Congo
177. Zimbabwe
178. Burundi

The map.

Note: The photograph was taken at the 900 block of North Highland Avenue, Hollywood, Wednesday, July 26, 2006.

Posted by Alan at 18:59 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 28 July 2006 06:53 PDT home

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

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