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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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Saturday, 29 July 2006
Drawing Inward: Some Notes in Isolationism
Topic: In these times...
Drawing Inward: Some Notes on Isolationism
With the new war in southern Lebanon - we're only three weeks or so into this one - and the rockets raining down on northern Israel and the bombs falling from Beirut to the Syrian border, some items in the news got short shrift. One would be the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Yeah, yeah - bad news for the Republicans as people are unhappy with how things are going in the world. The party in power in the most powerful and influential nation in the world seem to have a mess on their hands. They cannot blame the Democrats for screwing things up, and everyone knows that. The Democrats aren't running anything they may never run anything ever again - and there's only some much lipstick you can put on this particular pig, as they say.

So this was not news, until you look at the poll more closely. That's what Jim Rutenberg and Megan C. Thee did in the New York Times on Thursday, July 27, here, saying that once you get past thinking about what the results mean in terms of the upcoming midterm elections, there's something else going on. Americans are showing a new but quite definite isolationist streak. It seems we, collectively, don't want to be the most powerful and influential nation in the world, spreading freedom and democracy willy-nilly where we're not wanted. It just causes more problems. The administration and the neoconservative idealists who direct it, with their massive project to remake the world - the famous Project for the New American Century - have hit a wall. The question seems to have come down to asking why we are doing all this, and what good had come of it, or is likely to come of it. Pinky and the Brain was a funny cartoon series, but this is real life.

Quick aside - Pinky and the Brain centered on a genetically engineered mouse (who sounded a whole lot like Orson Welles) and his quite amusingly insane mouse cohort making nightly attempts to take over the world. This was a co-production of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and Warner Brothers that ran from 1995 to 1998. There were sixty-five episodes, and it wasn't really for kids - the dialog was far too witty and subtle, and there were all those references to classic films like "The Third Man" and "Bride of Frankenstein" and such. It was about power and insanity. Pinky: "Gee, Brain. What are we going to do tonight?" The Brain: "The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world." They couldn't run it these days. The Brain, as drawn, looks too much like Dick Cheney and Pinky shares traits with George Bush. Bill O'Reilly would be incensed.

In any event, the Times item on the poll opens with this -
Americans are overwhelmingly pessimistic about the state of affairs in the Middle East, with majorities doubtful there will ever be peace between Israel and its neighbors, or that American troops will be able to leave Iraq anytime soon, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

A majority said the war between Israel and Hezbollah will lead to a wider war. And while almost half of those polled approved of President Bush's handling of the crisis, a majority said they preferred the United States leave it to others to resolve.

Over all, the poll found a strong isolationist streak in a nation clearly rattled by more than four years of war, underscoring the challenge for Mr. Bush as he tries to maintain public support for his effort to stabilize Iraq and spread democracy through the Middle East.
Election implications aside, the data are startling. Fifty-six percent of us support a timetable for a reduction our forces in Iraq, and more than half of that group says they support a withdrawal even if it meant Iraq "would fall into the hands of insurgents." Screw it. It's going to happen anyway. This turns on its head the notion that Democrats should stay away from those ideas completely, lest the Republicans point out they're cowards and out of touch with the mainstream. The mainstream has moved on. This isn't a cartoon. Folks aren't amused.

In fact, by a pretty wide margin, the poll found that Americans did not believe the United States should take the lead in solving international conflicts in general - as in fifty-nine percent saying that was something we shouldn't be doing, and only thirty-one percent siding with the administration. That's less than a third. Back in September 2002 it was fifty-fifty. Enough is enough. And in more broad terms, only thirty-five percent of respondents said they approved of the president's handling of foreign policy "in general." On the other hand that was a bounce, up eight points since May. But a clear "expressed doubt about whether the president had the respect of foreign leaders." No kidding. The thrill is gone.

The poll was based on telephone interviews conducted July 21 through July 25, and world events have spiraled down each day since then. This won't get better. More than twice as many people in this poll believe the country is heading in the wrong direction than believe it is heading in the right direction. That may be hard to turn around.

And there's this -
Support for the president's staunch backing of Israel goes only so far: 39 percent indicated they approved of it, but 40 percent said the United States should avoid saying anything at all about the conflict (Only 7 percent said the United States should criticize Israel, though many respondents cast blame for the conflict on both sides).
We don't need to get involved? Maybe it's more like we shouldn't take side do dramatically. There's a bit of that - asking why we're opposing most everyone in the world, saying there should be no immediate cease-fire, and encouraging Israel to continue to disassemble Lebanon and traumatize its people -
In a common refrain among respondents regarding the Israel-Hezbollah war, Sharon Schierloh, 62, a retired factory worker from Ottawa, Ohio, said: "Let the Israelis take care of the problems in their area. We need to stay out of that because our troops are spread too thin." She spoke in a follow-up interview after participating in the poll.
Basically there was agreement, 63 to 30, the Iraq war "had not been worth the American lives and dollars lost." Only a quarter of respondents said they thought "the American presence in Iraq had been a stabilizing force in the region" - over forty percent said the whole thing "had made the Middle East less stable." It was fifty-fifty on whether the invasion was the right thing to do in the first place. People are discouraged.

Actually, diving beneath the political business - the implications for the upcoming midterm elections - the Times writers seem awfully worried about this new isolationist mood - we don't want to be engaged in the world, or want to be less engaged. But there is something more basic going on here, and a bit more worrying. It's that pessimism. The idea that the Democrats could fix any of this is shown here as a halfhearted wish that no one believes is more than a delusion. Congress generally polls much lower than the president stuck under forty percent approval. There is not one opposition leader with any plan and lots of uplifting hope to hand out all around. There are no heroes on the horizon, no sense that anyone can fix all this.

The isolationism is not the problem. It's only a symptom of a larger problem, a kind of existential despair. Think Camus and Sisyphus and that rock. What's the point?

That's not to say Omaha will turn into the Left Bank in Paris in the fifties, with beefy ex-salesmen sitting around drinking bad coffee, smoking endless cigarettes in shady sidewalk cafés, dissecting angst and the absence of meaning in life. It just means the defining conservative position that Ronald Reagan summed up in one key concept - "Government doesn't solve problems. Government is the problem" - has finally taken hold. Everything the government does in the world is crap, and just makes things worse, and next hurricane or major earthquake, you're own your own, as the government cannot be trusted to help anyone much. You're on your own. Why even vote? What's the point? Many see we now live in this new "you're on your own" world. They call it the new YOYO world. Acronyms are fun.

__

Other Voices:

Bill Montgomery here -
Most Americans like and support Israel, and dislike or hate Arabs and Muslims, but they don't want to actually go to war for the Jewish state. They also don't like it when their president openly abandons the traditional U.S. role of cease fire maker (I know, it's mostly for show, but in this case appearances matter) and actually urges the Israelis to go on bombing the shit out of Beirut.

This wouldn't be a problem if Israel were winning, but it's not. So now it needs even MORE support from Uncle Sam, at a time when the political and diplomatic costs of the war are getting astronomical.

… At the end of the day, there is a fundamental difference of interests between the Israelis and the Americans, as much as the neocons would like to deny it. The war with Iran and its allies and proxies is an existential issue for Israel - or at least, so the neocons seem to see it. It is NOT an existential issue for the USA - or at least, so American public opinion seems to see it. And more and more garden-variety conservatives are beginning to see it that way too.

September 11 and the war hysteria over Iraq's mythical WMD allowed the neocons to elide that difference for a time. But only for a time. Now it's reappearing, despite the increasingly frantic propaganda spinning.

… But the fundamental difference of interest (existential versus optional) remains, and the isolationist tide continues to build. This wouldn't be a problem if the allies were winning, but the losses are mounting up. As in any marriage, adversity doesn't decrease the chances of divorce, it increases them.

So if the gang really wants World War III/IV, and expects the USA to be there in the trenches next to Israel, they'd better get a move on.
It may be too late for that.

Will this help? - Presidential adviser Karl Rove said Saturday that journalists often criticize political professionals because they want to draw attention away from the "corrosive role" their own coverage plays in politics and government.

Oh. People don't think government can do anything right because journalists report on what's happening. Hey, maybe so.

Posted by Alan at 19:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 30 July 2006 10:19 PDT home

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

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