Saturday, July 30, 2011

Debt-Ceiling Death Spiral. . . While Tea Party Cheers

For days I've been trying to avoid looking too closely into the particulars of the ever weirder crisis of the impending deadline (2 August) for raising the US government's debt ceiling.  Just an especially overblown attack of Congressional diva-ism and histrionics, thought I.  They'll get it done, somehow.  Besides, there are much more important issues to keep on top of (or at least try to) - the continuing Arab "spring" (or is "uprisings" a better term for what's happening; less hopeful, less certain of a happy outcome), Europe's examination of conscience in the aftermath of the Oslo massacres, the US's ramping up of rhetoric against the nefarious Iranians who are hell-bent on ruining our glorious exit from Iraq . . . .

But enough is enough.  Paul Krugman's essay in today's NYT lays it squarely on the line: the nation's economic well-being and reputation are being held hostage by Republican extremists (those pesky Tea Partiers) who, quite frankly, would love nothing better than to see the edifice of "big government" come crashing down over the heads of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the man who happened to become the first African-American - and with an Arab middle name, no less! Talk about a two-fer.  How the pieces are to be put together again, they truly could care less.   For they will have restored government to "We the People" - that is, real Americans just like themselves - non-elite, salt of the earth, xenophobic, intellectually myopic, (almost entirely) white and Bible-lovin' Christians.  But the damage they would incur - have indeed already incurred - seems beyond their feeble imaginings.

But the world is watching, and worried - and speaking out.  As the NYT also reports, China has laid into the US with some harsh admonitions,

“The ugliest part of the saga is that the well-being of many other countries is also in the impact zone when the donkey and the elephant fight,” the state-run news agency, Xinhua — considered the propaganda arm of the Communist Party — said in an opinion piece Friday, referring to the standoff between Democrats and Republicans.


Xinhua said the “irresponsible” brinksmanship in Washington risked “strangling the still fragile economic recovery of not only the United States but also the world as a whole.”


Japan has expressed concern as well, albeit a bit more tactfully.  Wall Street watches anxiously, though with the (comforting?) assumption that if the Dow falls 500+ points a la the 2008-2009 financial markets meltdown, Congress will (as it did then) step up and do the right thing - or at least do something, which is more than it's done in the current crisis.

For a perspective from Europe, note the blunt take from The Independent in London:

The Treasury and the state governments will, of course, put together contingency plans this weekend for short-term financing, albeit in secrecy. But in the absence of a congressional
agreement, even if the Fed staggers on, the price will still be heavy. The possible consequences of no deal include loss of America's triple-A credit rating, a run on money markets, a rise in interest rates and nervousness among holders of dollars throughout the world, China especially. Beijing has been the world's largest purchaser of US Treasury bonds in recent years. In that case, we can also forget President Obama taking a lead on questions beyond America's borders, such as Israel-Palestine, the Arab Spring or climate change. This will necessarily be a much more inward-looking America.

Do Tea Party Republicans care? Not necessarily. Sarah Palin's famed ignorance of foreign parts is a plus to her supporters, a sign of her American First values. Beyond loving Israel and hating Iran, the Tea Party doesn't have time for "abroad", or what it insists is alarmist talk about a default. Ms Palin has dismissed it as an "Obama drama". The omens do not look good.

Truly.  But if I could choose one good thing that might come from all of this, once it's all played out . . .   I return to Paul Krugman, who reminds us that much of the responsibility for this nonsense can be laid at the feet of those mainstream journalists who have taken the mantra of "fair and balanced" (and please, never mind Fox News) to mean that there are always at least two sides in any such conflict, and both sides have some claim to merit.  (He notes the joke, now current, that says that if one side came out with a statement that the earth was flat, then the paper would report that "two sides differ on shape of the Earth.)  This drive to achieve centrism, as he calls it, only hastens us down the road to ruin - and in the current circumstances, shields us from the truth.  As he puts it.

making nebulous calls for centrism, like writing news reports that always place equal blame on both parties, is a big cop-out — a cop-out that only encourages more bad behavior. The problem with American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse.





Friday, July 29, 2011

Remarkable Photoblog of Iraqi Victims of War, in Recovery

Some of the images here are graphic, and very distressing.  But as the photojournalist himself noted, one must face head on the realities of this war - and the consequences of Mr. Bush's opening of Iraq's Pandora's Box.  Iraq isn't over.  "We" didn't "win" (pace John McCain).  But the Iraqi people surely did lose.

You think not? Then check out this NY Times piece, about Iraqis fleeing to Syria.  We read daily of Syria's turmoil - and turmoil, there is - but for many Iraqis, Syria is an oasis, a refuge from the continuing horrors that afflict much of Iraq, and that may get worse again before they ever get better - which is not to say, get good, which is nothing close to a certainty.

And there's no chance for Iraq to reshape itself as it still may need to, and on its own terms,  unless the US gets out of Iraq, by the deadline, and for once and for all.  Doug Bandow's essay nails that, and hard:

From start to (almost) finish, the Iraqi operation has been a tragic fiasco. The United States invaded to seize nonexistent WMDs. American forces destroyed the country’s system of ordered tyranny, turning the country into a bloody charnel house, killing hundreds of thousands and forcing millions to flee. Washington’s occupation transferred democracy to Iraq without the larger liberal culture necessary for democracy to thrive. U.S. intervention empowered Iran while destroying Baghdad’s ability to control its own borders.

Yet President Obama wants to stick around, meddling in Iraq’s domestic affairs and defending it in foreign matters.

The United States should not have invaded Iraq. Washington can’t undo the ill effects of the war, but it can avoid the costs of a permanent occupation.

America’s job in Iraq is done. The Iraqis should be left in charge of their national destiny. All U.S. troops should be withdrawn. Washington should stop collecting increasingly dangerous dependencies for its empire.

Amen.





Hope for a More Just Israel?

In Haaretz, an essay from Adam Chandler details  how growing dissatisfaction with the current Israeli regime has led many progressive Jews, especially in the US, to turn their backs on Israel.  

Chandler notes especially

"a report released in June by Repair the World, a trans-denominational Jewish nonprofit, focused on volunteerism and social activism. The report describes how "millennials" - the organization's label for Jewish Americans ages 18-35 - recently ranked "Israel/Middle East peace" 10th on a list of social action causes with which they identify.  "For millennials, Israel is less important than animal rights and the environment," [one prominent commentator] noted.

Chandler sees much room for hope, with the persistence of a thriving literary, artistic and intellectual culture in Israel that may spark a resurgence of a Zionist left that will be more conducive to fairer dealing with the Palestinian Arabs both inside Israel and in the West Bank.  I'd like to share that hope, but it seems to me that anti-Arab racism has become too deeply rooted in Israeli society - including the Knesset, and especially among the West Bank settlers - and among the American Christian Zionists who support the settlers' agenda.

Fox News: Should We Starve Syrians into Submission?

Posted at the Fox News site by George Russell (Fox News executive editor) is a report seemingly intended to skewer the United Nations for its decision to extend several of its programs in Syria.  Russell seems to be horrified that, at a time when the US and "other Western democracies" have imposed sanctions on the Asad regime to pressure it into stepping down, the UN is moving ahead to continue to provide assistance that will be administered through the government of Syria.  How dare they! 

Russell's stance jives quite well, of course, with that of frequent Fox News commentator - and former US ambassador to the UN - John Bolton, whose disdain for the UN - especially while he was an official in it - has never been in doubt.  Bolton never made a secret of his belief that the UN needed to be gutted as punishment for its failures to promote US hegemony across the planet.

Striking in Russell's piece is his admission that a large proportion of the UN's assistance to Syria is economic - much of it related to providing food and medical care.

Most of UNFPA’s [U.N. Population Fund] current programming, according to an agency spokesman, even while becoming more focused on emergency issues during the current crisis, focuses on maternity care and health, as well as contraceptive and “reproductive health care.”. . . .

The World Food Program, for example, which operates more as an emergency relief agency, has three different programs in Syria offering assistance to just under 669,000 people. . . .

Asked directly by Fox News to confirm the most recent U.N. program extension in Syria, a spokesman for UNDP [United Nations Development Program] sidestepped the question, noting instead that “U.N. regular operations have slowed down significantly due to the situation on the ground,” as have UNDP operations.

Otherwise, he said, “U.N. agencies are providing humanitarian support in response to the crisis including providing health and child protection services, food and nutrition, hygiene kits and psychosocial support.” Additionally, “other joint activities with direct impact on the vulnerable and poor are continuing though at a much slower pace.”

Among those continuing activities are a joint UNDP and UNFPA program to “monitor the social aid fund of cash assistance to Syrians living below the poverty line,” and a six-agency effort to provide health and education services, food and jobs in six of the poorest villages in Syria.

The social aid fund in particular is not a small item. According to documents examined by Fox News, the “Social Welfare Fund” that UNDP monitored under the now-extended UNDAF was intended to dispense $192 million a year between 2008 and 2012. . . . .


In other  words, the UN is doing for Syria what is has been doing across the planet, for decades: providing humanitarian assistance to peoples who need it most.  (And as someone who spent two weeks in Syria 20 years ago, and spent more than a week working with local villagers in eastern Syria, I can attest that the need is there, and it is substantial.)

But in the eyes of Fox News, the UN must be castigated, because:  "In all cases, . . .  U.N. agencies work closely with Syrian government agencies, which can range from the health and education ministries to such entities as the Ministry of the Interior, which among its tasks includes control of security forces."  Moreover, "according to U.N. Coordinator Ahmed’s February report to his boss, the Secretary General, the entire UNDAF program that has now been extended had “weak monitoring and evaluation systems, which made comprehensive assessment of U.N. achievement in Syria very difficult.”

What Russell is conjuring up here in order to outrage us is the old specter of "dual use," in a somewhat different application.  In this instance, it's the fear that UN resources might somehow be diverted to the benefit of the Asad government.  In an earlier incarnation, it was applied as a rationale for depriving millions of Iraqis needed chemicals and infrastructure for their water, sewage, and medical systems during the era of UN-imposed (and US-led) sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime between 1991 and 2003.  The alleged concern then was that Saddam might divert these materials to producing his "weapons of mass destruction" (the same kind of weapons, by the way, that the US essentially winked at when Saddam used them against Iran in the 1980s - but that's a tale for another time).   As Joy Gordon and others (such as Andrew Cockburn) have revealed, though, the US used this dual-use doctrine to wage an "invisible war" that cost millions of Iraqi lives - especially among children and the elderly - via disease and malnutrition during the sanctions era.   It also gravely damaged the US's moral standing (especially when Sec of State Madeleine Albright told "60 Minutes" that the cost had been "worth it").

One would hope that the US public diplomacy mainstream - and its propagandists, like Fox News - would have taken a lesson.  But here we have the executive editor of Fox News (for whom the moral standing of the US is never an issue, because the US's elevated moral standing is, by definition, unassailable),  essentially arguing that the UN should quit providing  humanitarian assistance that is vital to hundreds of thousands of Syria's people; that, in effect, the UN ought to be obligated to join in on the sanctions that "the US and other Western democracies" have imposed on Syria. 

The recent actions of the Asad regime are, by and large, despicable.  Yet, as of this moment, the Asad regime is still the officially recognized government of Syria in the eyes of the world - including the US, and Israel.

And, last time I checked, the UN Charter does not stipulate that the UN's mission is to enforce the dictates - or sanctions - imposed by the "US and other Western democracies."




Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Rare Voice for True Democracy from the Israeli Government

The speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, has spoken out against recently enacted Israeli laws that discriminate against Arab Israelis.

Hard-liners in parliament have passed a series of laws in the past year that were seen as anti-Arab. One law requires non-Jewish immigrants to take a loyalty oath. The law does not apply to Jewish immigrants, who automatically receive citizenship under Israel's "Law of Return."
Earlier this month, parliament passed a law that would punish Israelis who call for boycotts of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Critics said the law, which allows those targeted by boycotts to sue for damages, infringed on the right to free speech. Opponents have already challenged the law in the Supreme Court. . .

Rivlin did not get into details on the specifics of the various bills, but said Israel must find the proper balance between being the Jewish state and being a democracy that respects everyone's rights."You can't have Israel as a Jewish country without it being a democratic country," he said. "It has to be a democratic state."
Rivlin lamented the charged atmosphere that often pervades the parliament. Debate between Arab and Jewish lawmakers sometimes devolves into nationalistic rhetoric. Last week, parliament revoked some privileges of an Arab lawmaker who joined a pro-Palestinian flotilla last year that tried to breach Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Of course, he's a member of the Likud, so as far he's concerned, the West Bank belongs to Israel. Nonetheless, that he expresses concern for the rights of Israel's Arab citizens, and for the future of Israel as a democracy (if that is indeed what Israel can still claim to be), is refreshing - if not altogether reassuring - at a time when anti-Arab sentiment among the general Israeli population is at perhaps an all-time high.



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AIPAC and the Israel Lobby Getting Results

From the JTA, report of a proposed bill that would shut down the PLO office in D.C. if the Palestinian leadership moves ahead with recognition of a Palestinian state by the UN General Assembly in September.
the bill also requires the president to certify that "the Palestinian Authority is not attempting to establish or seek recognition at the United Nations of a Palestinian state outside of an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians" . . . .

Congressional appropriators had repeatedly warned the Palestinians that their push for statehood recognition at the United Nations in September would have repercussions.

Restrictions on Palestinian aid take up 10 pages of the 186-page bill, and the language has the backing of Democrats and Republicans, who otherwise are sharply divided over the Republican majority's introduction of cuts in assistance to other parts of the world and of bans on assistance to family planning clinics that provide information on abortions.

One new restriction bans aid to any Palestinian government "that results from an agreement with Hamas." That's much broader than existing language, which bans aid to any government that has Hamas ministers. It would seemingly count out assistance to the government of technocrats that Palestinian leaders have envisioned as the result of a unity agreement with the terrorist group, although this provision includes a broad presidential waiver.

The bill also keeps assistance to Israel at $3.075 billion -- a provision that also has the backing of both parties, as does Iran sanctions language.

When it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, our Congress shows itself, once again, unable to think outside the box with which AIPAC and the Lobby have enclosed it.  No room for discussion.  No room to even consider that the Palestinians have been forced to the UNGA because the "peace process" has become a joke.

The WaPo reported today that US officials are confident that al-Qaeda is on the verge of destruction.  But such actions by Congress are the kind of idiocy that keeps pumping life - and new recruits - into the ranks of jihadists worldwide.



America as a Third-World Nation?

Some interesting observations from Judy Bachrach at World Affairs:
there are, it seems, certain hardcore definitions of what it means to be a first-, second-, or third-world country. These are readily available on a helpful website, which quotes the Encyclopedia of World Geography. . . .

A third-world nation, it turns out, is “generally categorized as poor with unstable governments.” A key factor, we are told, is “the lack of a middle class—with impoverished millions in a vast lower economic class, and a very small elite upper class controlling the country’s wealth.”

Also: “Most third-world nations have a very large foreign debt.”

Now, let’s examine all this. Last year, the United States had over $14 trillion in debt—$4.4 trillion of it held by foreign governments, which certainly sounds “very large” to me. China, once considered a second-world country, currently owns about $892 billion of American debt; and Hong Kong, which is basically part of China these days, has about $138 billion in US securities. Iran, on the other hand, has only around $13.5 billion in external debt; and Ecuador almost as much. So who among these countries would we qualify as third-world?

What about poverty, another big indicator of third world–dom? Two years ago, 43.6 million Americans were categorized as poor, up from 39.8 percent a year earlier. Even worse: About 19 million Americans now live in extreme poverty. Meanwhile, according to the Los Angeles Times, the number of millionaire US households has climbed 15 percent in one year—to 4.7 million. (Quote from Larry Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC: “The recession is going to end up accentuating the inequalities of income and wealth…”). What he means is: the middle class is becoming ever-smaller. What he also means is that a tiny elite seems to be controlling much of US wealth.

And now let’s get to that last indicator of third world status: by which I mean unstable government. Let’s imagine a country where the House Speaker walks out on debt ceiling negotiations. Where the president openly complains that this same legislator refuses to return his calls. Where nothing is safe any longer, and no one knows when or if a job/corporation/bank/state government is going to dissolve. Or a once all-powerful nation is about to default.

Now that’s what I call third-world.





How the American People Lost Their Military

Via Thomas Ricks at Foreign Policy site, a spot-on observation from Andrew Bacevich, writing in the latest issue of Daedalus:
'We the People' need to understand: it's not longer our army; it hasn't been for years; it's theirs and they intend to keep it. The American military belongs to Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright, to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, to Hilary Clinton and Robert Gates. Civilian leaders will continue to employ the military as they see fit. If Americans do not like the way the army is used, they should reclaim it, resuscitating the tradition of the citizen-soldier and reasserting the connection between citizenship and military service. … [A]s long at the tradition of the citizen-soldier remains moribund, reversing the militarization of U.S. foreign policy will be a pipe dream.

Indeed.  And Bacevich has been trying to make this point for a long time now. 

But I might add: it's not simply that "they" (Clinton, Bush, Gates et al.) took the military away from "We the People"; "We the People" gave it to "them" - and we gave to them total control of how the military were to be used. 
  • We lined up like good little lemmings as W led us over the cliff in the wake of 9/11.  When he told us not to worry - go shopping, buy big shiny SUV toys and McMansions, go on vacation - we did. 
  • When he chose to launch poorly conceived and disastrously executed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, without asking us to sacrifice - indeed, by cutting taxes and borrowing trillions of dollars from China - we said (effectively): "hell yes, why not?" 
  • When the wars began to go badly, when abuse and torture by the military and the CIA at Gitmo, Bagram, and Abu Ghraib were revealed, and W dispatched Dick Cheney et al. to Rupert Murdoch's propaganda factories to tell us all that it really was OK, we swallowed it in big gulps, wrapped ourselves more tightly in our flags, ramped up those spectacular fly-overs at our sporting events, bought more Toby Keith CDs (to remind us about what "real Americans" do - "put a boot up your ass, it's the American way"), and chanted "U S A" even louder.
  • When the military began to have troubles recruiting enough bodies to fill uniforms as the wars dragged on, we silently acquiesced as the Pentagon lowered minimum qualifications and signed into the ranks thousands of people we wouldn't have wanted sitting next to our kids in schoolrooms, much less representing the nation overseas.

And when thousands of young troops did come home - often traumatized by their experiences, suffering from PTSD and worse, their marriages on the ropes, their family ties frayed, prone to suicide - what did they come home to?
  • To a country where, too often, their fellow citizens were oblivious to their experiences, even unable to locate Afghanistan or (as a current TV beer ad insists) Eye-rack on a map.  A country where (as a returning soldier commented a few years ago to the Washington Post; the printed clip is still on my office door) students spend more time on Facebook than learning about the wars.
  • To a country where - because WE the People let them - our leaders have run the economy into a ditch; where we no longer have the resources to get the economy out of that ditch - and to create jobs for those returning soldiers, thousands of whom are now homeless, destitute, living on the economic and emotional fringes.
And all because We the People stood back and let those leaders plow those resources into never-ending wars - with a military that WE the PEOPLE may never be able to take back.





Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Question of Jerusalem's Status

The NY Times reports on the Supreme Court's decision to hear a case concerning the ability of American children born in Jerusalem to have "Jerusalem, Israel" listed as their place of birth in their passport.  If you believe that this is an issue of little import, better think again.

Here's how it all lays out:
  • In the 1967 Arab-Israeli war (which, let's not forget, began with an Israeli pre-emptive (i.e., surprise) air attack on Egypt's air force bases), Israeli forces took the West Bank (previously administered by Jordan) and with it, East Jerusalem, which included the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif area of the city.  To this day, international law does not recognize or accept the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem - which is why the US continues (despite the objections of Congress and the Israel lobby) to maintain its embassy in Tel Aviv, not in Jerusalem. 
  • The Israeli government nonetheless has proclaimed - and Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted, repeatedly - that Jerusalem is the eternal and indivisible capital of the state of the Jewish people. 
  • Our Congress - which, when it comes to Israel, could give a rat's behind about international law - has been all for this, and said so in 2002 by enacting a law directing the State Dept to “record the place of birth as Israel” in passports of American children born in Jerusalem if their parents ask. [this quoted from the NYT piece.]
  • However, when then-president George W. Bush signed the law, he added a signing statement - essentially, a legal dodge, and one to which he resorted quite frequently - in which he effectively refused to obey this new law. (This is one of the very few actions by Bush that I ever applauded.)  In that statement, Bush asserted that the 2002 law  “impermissibly interferes with the president’s constitutional authority to conduct the nation’s foreign affairs and to supervise the unitary executive branch.”
  • The Obama administration has maintained that position.

When the parents of one child affected by all this filed a legal complaint, a federal appeals court refused to invalidate Bush's signing statement.  But the parents persisted, and the lawyer representing the parents succeeded in getting the case onto the Supremes' docket - much to the disappointment of the Obama team.  The NYT reports:

The justices instead not only agreed to hear the case, M.B.Z. v. Clinton, No. 10-699, but also directed the two sides to address the broad question of whether the law “impermissibly infringes the president’s power to recognize foreign sovereigns.”

That power is rooted in the constitutional text, but not in an especially obvious way. The courts have said the president’s authority to “receive ambassadors and other public ministers” implies the power to recognize foreign governments.

A recent article in the University of Richmond Law Review argued that the original understanding of the clause concerning ambassadors did not support that leap. “The Constitution, by its terms, does not give the president the power to recognize foreign states or governments,” wrote Robert J. Reinstein, a law professor at Temple University

Mr. Lewin [the plaintiff's lawyer], too, said the courts had placed too much weight on the business about receiving ambassadors, which he said was not a presidential power but only a duty.

In its brief to the court, the administration warned about the consequences of a ruling against executive authority over this area.

Ever since the Truman administration, the brief said, “the United States’ consistent policy has been to recognize no state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem, leaving the issue to be decided by negotiation between the parties to the Arab-Israeli dispute.”

Allowing Congress to interfere, the brief went on, “would critically compromise the United States’ ability to help further the Middle East peace process.”

Mr. Lewin said both the Bush and Obama administrations had blown matters out of proportion.

“The government has been exaggerating the significance of this particular issue,” he said. “This is really a tempest in a teapot created by the State Department.”

In any event, he went on, “whether or not a passport says Jerusalem or alternatively Israel, I think, makes no difference whatsoever.”

Mr. Lewin was particularly critical of Mr. Bush’s announcement that he would sign a law but not comply with part of it.

“You can’t do by signing statement what you can’t do by veto,” he said.


Complicated, no?  The part of me that doesn't want to see the US come down irreversibly on the side of treating Jerusalem as Israel's "eternal and indivisible capital" hopes that the Supremes will come down on the side of the Executive branch.  The part of me that remembers how offended and enraged I was by Bush's frequent resort to signing statements to subvert the impact of legislation (especially when it had to do with torture and detention) wants the Supremes to come down on the side of the plaintiff.

But at this particular moment in America's politics and history, this entire affair reminds me of stupidly our Congress has long been prone to act.  The 2002 law pandered to the politically powerful Israel lobby and Christian Zionist bunch - the same bunch whose influence garnered Netanyahu those bazillion standing ovations when he spoke before Congress several weeks ago.  And it did so much to the detriment of America's respect and reputation across the globe.  Fast-forward to July 2011, when Congress's shenanigans in regard to the debt-limit and budget crisis pose a threat to global economic stability, as well as America's global reputation.  Stephen Walt puts it directly, though with uncustomary vehemence:
Why should Pakistanis, Afghanis, Europeans, Chinese, Thais, Mexicans, Venezuelans, or anybody else take our advice on how to govern, when they watch the sorry set of ignorant clowns who are holding the rest of us hostage? If the worst case happens and the United States ends up defaulting, the economic costs will be significant enough. But it is also likely to do considerable damage to America's reputation for being a reasonably well-governed society, and it will accelerate the tendency for people around the world to look elsewhere for guidance.




Monday, July 25, 2011

Norway Killer's Links to Zionism

From an Arab News blog, an interesting note about the Norwegian "Knights Templar" and his pro-Zionist - and anti-Edward Said - inclinations.

on page 1167 of the Norwegian terrorist’s manifesto, he writes:  “So let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists, against all culturalMarxists/multiculturalists.”   Here is the link: On page 62, he also critiques Edward Said’s Orientalism: “Few works have done more to corrupt critical debate of Islam in Western institutions for higher learning during the past generation than the 1979 book Orientalism by Edward Said.”"

When "Good Christians" Fail to Speak Out

I've been away from blogging a few days now; chalk it up to distractions brought by family matters (mostly of the happy kind), time spent dealing with one of life's (unfortunately) necessities (auto repair) - but also to a sense of feeling completely overwhelmed by how badly things are spinning out of control, both here and abroad.  One is hard pressed to find good news, or a sense of reassurance about the future, anywhere.  Syria swirls toward the drain, with the Asad regime's misdeeds now punctuated by the hubris of Hillary Clinton pointing her boney finger at what she terms a "barbaric" Syrian military (as if many of the actions of the US military and its cohorts - like night raids, drone attacks, the charming escapades of Erik Prince's Blackwater boys - don't rank right up there on the barbarity scale).  The Libya "intervention" that was supposed to be a matter of days continues to stretch over the visible horizon; no end in sight, death and destruction abounding, with reports now of Libyan rebels lynching black soldiers arrayed against them.

But what has especially riveted the attention of the media has been the senseless pathology of the Norwegian Christian extremist who infiltrated an island summer camp, armed with multiple guns and plentiful ammunition, and shot to death 68 people. (This on top of his orchestrating a bombing in central Oslo that killed several more.)  After claiming at first to have acted alone, this man stated that he was a member of the Knights Templar, and that there were other, as yet undiscovered cells still out there.  The reference to the European Christian crusades against Muslims in the Middle East (and Spain) is obvious; and as many observers have noted (see the NY Times piece here, as well as Barry Lando's incisive essay at Huffington Post here) , these attacks took place within the broader context of growing Islamophobia across Europe.

And back in the good old Christian USA, one looks at the statements of some prominent "good Christian" figures and organizations, and asks the now celebrated abbreviated question - WWJD?  What would Jesus do?  One would hope that he would have taken a more forthright and loving stance than the one fronted by the director of the American Family Association, who stated (as reported in the WaPo) that:
while Breivik’s [the assassin's] use of violence was wrong, much of his “analysis of cultural trends in Europe and the danger created by Islamic immigration and infiltration is accurate … Breivik’s angst was caused by the presence of so many Muslims in Norway and Europe, which he correctly observes is leading to ‘cultural annihilation.’”

And as the WaPo report also notes, when asked to comment on the AFA position, that good Christian, Texas governor Rick Perry - he who feels himself called by God to run for the presidency of the USA, and who is partnering with the AFA to sponsor a national prayer day so that Americans will  “come together and call upon Jesus”  in these oh-so-troubled times - well, Mr. Perry, God bless his heart, opted not to comment other than to deplore the use of violence.

And about that "cultural annihilation" thing the AFA talks about, along with calling upon Jesus . . . well, what can we say about the cultural annihilation of a self-proclaimed great nation when millions of its citizens are enamoured of the truly uplifting spectacle . . . of NASCAR.  They sit in grandstands, or glue themselves to their screens at home, to watch "daredevils" drive big, loud cars that have been souped up with technological know-how that (one might believe) Jesus himself would have thought could have been applied to a much more worthy, even Christian purpose.  And as they watch these vehicles (whose only purpose is to thrill onlookers with their speed or - if the audience is lucky - a spin-out or even a crash) go round and round and round and round the track, they see thousands of dollars of an increasingly precious global resource - gasoline - literally go up in smoke.  One can only imagine how many generators could have been fueled, to bring how much power  - and therefore heat, or cooling, and light, light to read by - gee, even read the Bible by - light to bring the promise and hope of education to thousands in desperate need of it.

But . . . .  Naaahh . . .

But, God love 'em, at least these good Christian NASCAR folks call upon Jesus to bless their death-defyin', loud, sexy, gas-guzzlin' festivities.  Witness the invocation delivered by one Tennessee pastor Joe Nelms at the start of NASCAR's Auto Parts 300 race (and go to the link for film):
Heavenly father, we thank you tonight for all your blessings.
You said ‘in all things give thanks.’ So we want to thank you tonight for these mighty machines that you’ve brought before us. Thank you for the Dodges and the Toyotas. Thank you for the Fords and most of all thank you for Roush and Yates partnering to give us the power we see before us tonight. Thank you for GM Performance Technology and the R07 engines. Thank you for Sonoco racing fuel and Goodyear tires that bring performance and power to the track. Lord I want to thank you for my smokin’ hot wife tonight, Lisa. My two children, Eli and Emma, or as we like to call them — the little E’s. Lord I pray you’ll bless the drivers as usual tonight. May they put on a performance worthy of this great track in Jesus’ name.
It matters not that pastor Nelms was probably riffing off a line from a Will Ferrell take-off on NASCAR. But that "good Christians" like him would invoke their savior's name to bless a hot-rod race, but "good Christians" like Rick Perry and the AFA would not invoke it to condemn - as Jesus most surely would have condemned - the horror perpetrated by a Christian extremist Islamophobe wannabe-Crusader on that Norwegian island . . . .   Well, that tells me about all I need to know about this good Christian nation.

Good night, America.  Slumber on.





Monday, July 18, 2011

Wondering Why So Much of the World Hates Us?

From the country that brought the world the marvels and wonders of joy-stick drone aces, Daisy-cutters, John Bolton, and Blackwater's bands of lusty neanderthal mercenaries comes a softer side: free vaccinations for local urchins, courtesy of the CIA.
Pity that the motives were anything but pure, and that the negative long-term consequences may ultimately outweigh any good obtained by the CIA's objective: to locate and kill Osama bin Laden.

Emily Rauhala at Time's Global Link tells us why, with reference to a fine WaPo report by  Orin Levine and Laurie Garrett as well:

Last week, the Guardian broke the news that in the run-up to the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound, the CIA used a vaccination campaign as a ruse to get DNA evidence from the al-Qaeda leader's kids.  With help from a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, they set up clinics in two neighborhoods, delivering doses of the Hepatitis B vaccine to local children. The revelation drew a quick and angry response from health experts. Medecins Sans Frontieres called the operation "a dangerous abuse of medical care."  In the Washington Post, Orin Levine and Laurie Garrett warned that the CIA's "reckless tactics could have catastrophic consequences."

Indeed, they may. Here are three reasons why this is bad news for public health:

1. Broken Trust

When people don't trust medical personnel, they're less likely to participate in legitimate public health campaigns. Eight years ago, rumors spread that an anti-polio campaign in Nigeria was an American plot to sterilize Muslim girls, causing many families to refuse the vaccine. The subsequent outbreak spread to eight countries. In Pakistan, the CIA's operation may hurt a efforts to eradicate polio, argue Levine and Garrett:

Many Pakistani communities suffer from preventable infections, including ones that have been brought under control or eradicated elsewhere. Pakistan is the last place on Earth where wild polio still spreads in local outbreaks. Only a handful of places elsewhere in the world have sporadic cases, and vaccine campaigns are vigorous in those areas. But if the Rotary Club, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, governments and others working to eradicate polio realize their aspirations, Pakistan is where victory will be pronounced.

Complicating matters is the fact that Pakistan recently dissolved its Ministry of Health, which has left international programs to negotiate directly with local leaders. Many such leaders may be inclined to distrust doctors or to believe that vaccination programs are CIA ploys designed to hurt their communities.

2. Compromised Security

The CIA's vaccine ruse bolsters the belief that humanitarian workers are government agents, which may heighten the risk of violence against them. Chris Albon, a Ph.D. candidate and the founder of conflicthealth.com, reports that there is a recent history of violence attacks on humanitarian workers in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 2007, a doctor who spoke out against anti-vaccine propaganda was killed in Bajaur agency. The same year, he notes, Taliban fighters kidnapped a public health worker and held him captive until he promised to stop vaccinating children.  Last August, Taliban gunmen captured and killed ten aid workers in Afghanistan, claiming they were spies. Such incidents keep health workers out of high-need conflict zones, often the very areas that are in need of care.

3. Conspiracy Theories, Galore

Humanitarian organizations have spent years trying to convince people that international aid workers are not, in fact, spies, or agents of doom. In Abbottabad and elsewhere, that's going to be an increasingly tough sell.

Way to go, America!  I'm sure that somewhere in Foggy Bottom, DoS spinners are hard at work to reassure the global public that, gee, we really did mean well.




US's Nadir with the Arab World - and W Off the Hook

In a recent essay at Foreign Policy (and reposted at Huffington Post), James Zogby reports on his poll indicating that US relations with the Arab world have reached a low point.  The hopes that Barack Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo inspired were dashed in the months that followed - something that Obama will indeed have to answer for as historians assess his legacy years from now.  But Zogby, to his credit, also reminds us that Obama inherited a huge mess, courtesy of his predecessor -

on Inauguration Day Barack Obama did not receive a magic wand. Instead, he was handed the shovel that George W. Bush had been using to dig deep holes all over the Middle East. Getting out of those holes has been harder than he imagined. In addition to confronting the worst domestic economic crisis in generations, the President had to face down two failed wars, an incorrigible and manipulative Israeli leader, a divided and dysfunctional Palestinian polity, and a wary but hopeful (maybe too hopeful) world that expected him to deliver on promised change. If that weren't enough, the President was confronted from day one by a deeply partisan Washington, in which a unified Republican opposition behaved as if they wanted nothing more than to see him fail.

Mr. Bush, of course, now dwells comfortably, in relative obscurity, among like-minded people in Texas, where he can take in Texas Rangers baseball games from his box seats, luxuriating inside the bubble that is the Lone Star State, where he can be buffered from the effects of the multiple debacles into which his leadership thrust this country.



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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Embattled Faculty Offer to Accept Zero Pay Increase for Zero Tuition Increase for Students

I'm pasting and forwarding the below as a heads-up to any of you who might be interested and/or might not have been aware.  The Central Michigan University Faculty Association (the union of CMU's regular faculty, as the president of which - I am proud and privileged to note - I served around 1995) is currently in negotiations with the CMU Administration for a new contract, to replace the one that expired at end of June this year.

The Administration (I will not call them CMU; by my lights, we - the faculty and students - are CMU) seem to feel that popular sentiment and the political winds are at their back.  The state's economy is struggling; a lot of people don't have jobs; students' families are suffering.  But financially speaking, CMU is in excellent shape, as even President George Ross and the Administration have been touting and as the editorial below reflects.  Nonetheless, the Administration is demanding that faculty accept 0 pay increase next year, as well as a major give-back on health care.  (They also want to award less money for promotion, as well as remove department chairs, librarians, and coaches from the FA bargaining unit [The idea is to bust the union].)  They have refused to compromise one whit on this, and brought in a mediator extremely early - a signal that they simply refused to negotiate any of their demands.

We have had conflict during the bargaining process before (every three years), which has often meant that negotiations continued into - and a settlement was reached in - the fall semester.  But for the first time in my almost 30 years at CMU, the Administration has refused to grant a contract extension during that extended bargaining.  While faculty are still receiving paychecks, this enables the Administration to squeeze much higher health-insurance payments from faculty.  We also know that, according to a new state law, salary increases coming to faculty who are to receive promotion in rank (earned by very hard work and significant achievement) at tomorrow's Board of Trustees meeting will not go into effect, nor will the pay increases they would have received between 1 August and whenever a new contract is signed be restored retroactively upon the reaching of a new contract agreement (which had always been the case before).   In effect, the Administration stands to take thousands of dollars directly from faculty pockets by resorting to this (by my lights, disgraceful) tactic.

If you read the Detroit Free Press, you may know that the FA has now challenged the Administration with an offer: We will agree to no pay increase for next year if the Administration agrees to no tuition increase for students.  We're committed to our students' welfare.  I'm not sure the Administration can make that claim anymore.

Again, in my almost 30 years here at CMU, this is undoubtedly the nadir of administration-faculty relations.  We have been trying to make our case to alumni and the broader community, both in Mount Pleasant and across the state.  If you'd like to keep abreast of developments and perhaps even offer some support, I invite you to check out the recently established Facebook page, Friends of CMU Faculty. 


http://www.facebook.com/groups/140403276035902

And letters to President George Ross, Provost Gary Shapiro, and the CMU Board of Trustees are always welcome.


http://www.cm-life.com/2011/07/12/editorial-education/

EDITORIAL: Focus on our education

Posted By Editorial Board On July 12, 2011 @ 6:00 pm In Editorial | No Comments

One would need to be extraordinarily out of touch to not recognize the lackluster-at-best state of the economy in Michigan and also in this country.

To borrow a phrase from the governor, it’s time for “shared sacrifice,” something many folks are doing across the state.

But the financial state of Michigan is not the same as the financial state of CMU — to the tune of $228 million in unrestricted net assets and solid, spectacular credit ratings by top ranking credit agencies.

There are many facts in this matter to consider, and they simply cannot all be addressed. But considering the financial stability of this university, such a robust and solid-footed fiscal state gives no excuse to not give faculty members a solid cost of living increase and to ensure their health benefits, are, at the very least, maintained.

Although other staff groups have taken freezes, the tone of negotiations with other employee groups should not set the tone for faculty negotiations.

The financial stability of this university is a major reason this group should not see anything less than a cost-of-living pay increase; another is respect.

Without faculty, there would be no university. It is as simple as that. Without faculty members, every single operation at this university is null — they are the ones who teach the students, who conduct research with these students, who interact with, mentor and guide the students every day.

No other group save the Union of Teaching Faculty can say it is so integral to this university’s core purpose.

The faculty is essential personnel. They are not just cogs in the machine — alumni rarely congratulate the university on a spectacular job done by a senior officer, mostly because administrators work behind the scenes to ensure that primary experience is maintained.

While this board supports modest raises for the Faculty Association, it should be noted these raises should not come at additional expense of the students.

The faculty should not expect substantial pay increases. The goal is to keep them healthy and competitive, but also to keep priorities straight.

The FA president announced Tuesday the group would accept a pay freeze if tuition was frozen as well; this represents the FA as an agreeable and practical group. FA President Laura Frey said part of the reasoning it is willing to negotiate such a deal is to lessen the burden on students, showing its priorities seem to be in the right place.

Administrators discussed in April how integral it is to this university to maintain competitive rates for recruitment purposes, but it seems they are not practicing what they preach while demanding pay freezes of their employees. In order to attract and maintain a competitive faculty, it is necessary to give it competitive wages.


Article printed from Central Michigan Life: http://www.cm-life.com

URL to article: http://www.cm-life.com/2011/07/12/editorial-education/

 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Shades of Soviets in Afghanistan: Addicted Soldiers in US

Very sad report that

Faced with rising abuse of prescription drugs, the Army has limited how many painkillers a soldier can get at one time and is threatening disciplinary action for troops caught violating the restriction.

Army data requested by The Associated Press shows the number of soldiers referred for opiate abuse treatment has been growing steadily for at least a decade, a time when increasing numbers of troops have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with combat or training injuries that can cause chronic pain. The Veterans Administration says more than 50 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans report pain issues as they leave active duty military service.

The Army put limits on painkillers in November by restricting most Schedule II controlled substances, which include narcotics, opiates and amphetamines, to just 30-day prescriptions. Previously, some prescriptions had been available for 60 or 90 days and the average was 40 days. The policy makes an exception for medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and it affects anyone who fills a prescription at an Army hospital or pharmacy, including military spouses, children and retirees.

In June, the Army followed with a policy that soldiers found using the restricted drugs six months after they were prescribed could be disciplined, too. The force carries out random drug tests among active duty soldiers.

Col. Carol W. Labadie, the pharmacy consultant and pharmacy program manager for the Army Surgeon General, said the changes are intended to improve medication safety and encourage soldiers to see their doctors more often if they are having chronic pain.

"In today's society, more prescriptions are getting written and abuse is high across the world, whether it is the military or the civilian side," she said.

According to Army data provided to AP, referrals for opiate abuse increased from 87 in fiscal year 1998-99 to 703 referrals in fiscal year 2008-09. There were more than 670 referrals from October 2009 through June 2010, the latest figures available. Opiates include common pain drugs such as oxycodone, sold under the brand name Oxycontin, and hydrocodone, also known as Vicodin.

 

To comment on this is not to point a finger at soldiers returning home, scarred and injured as a result of their service and in need of finding comfort however they can.  But one can't help remembering how badly the Soviet Union was afflicted - and Russia continues to be - by the thousands of Soviet soldiers who returned home from combat and occupation duty in Afghanistan, addicted to heroin and other drugs.  More than one observer has cited the consequent damage to Russian society as a significant factor constributing to the Soviet defeat in the Cold War.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Would Max Boot the US into the Dustbin?

It's baseball season in the US, and I have loved baseball since I was a kid (even tried out for my college team; good field, no hit).  Ergo, this time of year, baseball's terminology and metaphors are resurrected in my fevered brain.  Having explored Max Boot's surname as homonym with which to criticize him in a recent post, I hope you'll bear with me as I explore it now, to the same purpose, as metaphor - and baseball metaphor, at that. 

As any baseball fan will tell you, when (e.g.) the shortstop mishandles a ground ball into an error, he "boots" it.  Error = boot.

And Max has again Booted it in his newest at The Weekly Standard, where he once again points the finger of shame at his fellow citizens.  Except, this time, he goes after some Americans truly near and dear to his heart: Republicans, whom he now sees fit to label the "Grand Old Doves," men and women who now risk making the party of Ronald Reagan (please, bow head and lower eyes) into
the party of William E. Borah, Hamilton Fish III, and Gerald Nye. Remember those GOP giants of the 1930s? They thought a strong defense was unaffordable and unnecessary. But their reputations collapsed on December 7, 1941, when we learned (not for the last time) the price of unreadiness. That is a lesson today’s Republicans should remember as they negotiate over the budget.

Their sin then, in Boot's eyes, is to even contemplate major reductions in the US defense budget.  To many of us, such reductions make eminent sense at a time when the nation faces a massive deficit and is woefully in debt, and when some (such as Christiane Amanpour, this morning, in an interview with new IMF chief Catharine Lagarde) openly raise the possibility of a US default on its debt (even if Lagarde referred to that it as "unimaginable," perhaps more as warning than as outcome).  Boot states, however:
Those who suggest, with a straight face, paring back a whopping $700 billion more—even over the course of a number of years—should be forced to explain which missions currently performed by the U.S. armed forces they are willing to sacrifice.

Should we completely pull out of Afghanistan? Even with the overly hasty withdrawal of surge forces ordered by Obama, we still will have 70,000 troops there at the end of next year, costing at least $70 billion. Pulling out troops even faster risks giving jihadists their biggest victory since 9/11.

Perhaps we should stop fighting pirates off the coast of Africa? Stop fighting in Libya so that arch-terrorist Muammar Qaddafi can claim a victory over the West? Stop targeting al Qaeda in Pakistan and Yemen and elsewhere? Stop deterring China, North Korea, or Iran? Stop patrolling the Persian Gulf through which much of the world’s oil flows? Stop fighting cyberattacks emanating from China and Russia? Stop developing missile defenses to protect the American homeland? Stop supporting Mexico and Colombia in their fights against narcotraffickers? Stop holding military exercises with friendly armed forces from Egypt to the Philippines—exercises that allow us to exert soft power at low cost?

Maybe advocates of budget cuts think we should continue performing all, or most, of those missions with less resources. But that’s a cop-out. It’s a recipe for stinting on training and personnel, thus creating a “hollow force” of the kind that we last saw in the late 1970s.

The reality is that there is no way the armed forces can perform all, or even most, of their current missions with less money.

Note how often the theme of "victory" crops up - the fear that jihadists might be able to claim one, that Qaddafi "can claim a victory over the West" [my emphasis].  And, note how ubiquitous the US military presence must be, in Boot's view.  Across the planet, the US must take the lead.  No matter the cost, no pulling back; for the US must dominate, seemingly always and everywhere.

And Boot would place no limits on that cost, at least in terms of new weapons.  Max waxes at length about what he sees as the impending shabbiness of the American arsenal,
the armed forces remain reliant on weapons systems designed in the 1960s and 1970s and procured in the 1980s: aircraft such as the A-10, F-15, and F-16, helicopters such as the Apache and Black Hawk, warships such as Los Angeles-class submarines and Ticonderoga-class cruisers, and armored vehicles such as Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. These are all superb weapons, but they are rapidly aging—and are either being overtaken, or soon will be, by competing models produced abroad that are certain to fall into the hands of our enemies.

Moreover, competing powers such as China and Russia are designing weapons such as computer bugs and antisatellite missiles that could render much of our current equipment useless. We will have to develop defenses. And that won’t be cheap.

For Boot, there's only one possible course of action: massive spending for the military.  At a time when Americans at home are reeling from rampant joblessness, crumbling infrastructure, and failing schools - not to mention an electorate more addled by NASCAR, Casey Anthony, and reality television than focused on grappling more effectively with the future - Boot wants us to believe that US global leadership is all, and only, about not falling behind in its ability to dominate the planet militarily.

Taking a longer historical view, can't one see some myopia - and surely, some irony - in Boot's embrace of Ronald Reagan as icon of American victory and role model for a wavering GOP leadership?  Many Americans have elevated Ronald Reagan to statesman sainthood as the president who brought the US its great victory in the Cold War with the USSR?  In fact, though, we know that the USSR's demise was brought about more directly by the Soviet leadership's decision to spend billions upon billions of rubles on military and space programs in the (ultimately vain) hope of keeping up with America's, even as Russian citizens were standing in bread-lines, often living in semi-squalor, and forced to deal with living in what barely qualified as First World quality of life.

Today, with the US having launched hugely expensive (and mostly unsuccessful) wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and having opted to (again, very expensively) "project power" by building and maintaining military bases across the planet, how can Boot fail to see that the US has brought itself to a condition eerily - and uncomfortably - parallel to that of the Soviets in 1988?  Has he not taken the time to ponder that NASA's final space-shuttle mission is about to end (and with a smaller than normal crew, at that), and that the US is about to (for all intents and purposes) mothball its manned space program,  once upon a time the epitome of both the brightness of America's "civilization" and the unlimited promise of its future?  It ought not be difficult to read the tea leaves here.  But Boot seems content to simply rinse and swirl them from the cup, and then refill it with his poisonous elixir: billions and billions more dollars, for victory!

Any competent baseball manager knows that when a player begins to boot plays consistently, it's time to bench him.  I hope - and even suspect - that some GOP worthies - the ones who understand that the US no longer has any business aspiring to be master of the universe - are already at the point of benching Max.  The Boots are becoming too many, and too obvious.







Saturday, July 9, 2011

More Drumming up of War vs. Iran

Yesterday, it was Elliott Abrams at the "mainstream" Council on Foreign Relations, conjuring the ghosts of Teddy Roosevelt and the War of 1812 in hopes of shaming America into war against Iran.  (Abrams here; my take, here.)  Today, it's Andrew McCarthy, at another forum that surely would like to proclaim itself as mainstream: the National Review.  And he too summons up the ghosts of American history to shame us all forward against the nefarious mullahs: specifically, the ghosts of the Marines killed in the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed hundreds of US Marines in their barracks, and the ghosts of the US Air Force personnel killed in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.  He would have us believe that all those ghosts are howling from their graves, for payback against Iran - who, in McCarthy/NRO world, is responsible for all of it.

Some extra reading would have suggested to McCarthy, though, that it's not so simple.  The Khobar Towers bombing was perpetrated by Arab terrorists, a group known as Hezbollah al-Hijaz (the Hijaz, of course, being the western region of the Arabian peninsula).  The Bush administration was sure that this bunch was inspired and controlled by Iran; a less biased source (meaning, less reflexively anti-Iran), however, suggested that the US allowed the Saudis to float that perception in order to cover up their own embarrassment that Saudi Sunni extremists were responsible.  And as for the Beirut bombing in 1983 - well, Hezbollah in Lebanon (whom McCarthy pins as the perpetrator) has never gone on the record to claim the credit (which, given their anti-American stance, one would think they'd have done by now.  And even if they were responsible, let's remember the historical context: a raging Lebanese civil war into which Syria, Israel, and the US had injected themselves at various points.  The Reagan administration preferred to cast the Marines' role as peacemakers; the various militias on the ground saw the Marines' role there differently, and as hardly impartial; and indeed, the US had taken sides in this hornets nest of a conflict. (Ask the Druze villagers shelled by US battleships at that time - yes, I said battleships; WW II warships brought back into service just for this purpose.)   The US might never have stepped onto that hornets nest had not Ariel Sharon been stirring  it up by invading Lebanon and bombing Beirut the year before.

For McCarthy, though, the nuances of Middle Eastern history and conflict are irrelevant.  In his world, it's all quite simple: Iran = evil.  Indeed, Islam = evil.  And because the Arab uprisings of recent months have entailed the political legitimizing of Islamist groups, he proclaims that "the Arab Spring is diplo-lipstick on a pig."  Democracy in the Muslim world is nonsense, says he. 

In the here and now of July 2011, says McCarthy, there's only one prescription: total victory, of the kind that would swell the chest of any red-blooded American:
Putting aside the merits of a Marshall Plan analogue for the Muslim Middle East, the original Marshall Plan was undertaken only after total victory was achieved over America’s enemies. There could be no free, independent, pro-American Europe without Normandy and D-Day and Hitler’s annihilation.. . .
I do know one thing for certain: Freedom has no chance of advancing in the Middle East, any more than it would have advanced in Europe, unless we conquer the enemy. . . .
Iran is at war with us, whether we choose to engage or not. If we are not going to win, we are going to lose. Happy talk about democracy and springtime won’t obscure the fact that there is no middle ground.

If we’re not in it to win it — for victory, not for tilting at windmills — we should come home. . . .   If we are not going to win, we are going to lose.
In 1951, in the midst of a war in Korea where the US was confronted by a then-emerging Red China, Gen. Douglas MacArthur pronounced before the Congress of an America still flush with its success in World War II that there is "no substitute for victory."  Sixty years on, his country - and its military - remain afloat only because of the willingness of MacArthur's erstwhile enemy to provide ballast for the US economy.  Ah, the irony.

In 2002, George W. Bush's ambition was to crush Iraq with shock-and-awe, decisive military might - no substitute for victory - and thereby inaugurate a new Middle East.  How'd that work out?  Not fully determined, but the mullahs sure did make out well.  Ah, the irony.

So now, Andrew McCarthy points his finger at Iran, and pronounces, we must do it right this time.  We must be vindicated.  No substitute for victory.  Andrew McCarthy, Max Boot, Elliott Abrams; John McCain, Lindsey Graham (whom McCarthy cites almost lovingly), Joe Lieberman -- they're all of a piece (definitely not of a peace): No substitute for victory - and it will be achieved by, if necessary, fighting to the last man - or the last Muslim.

Imagine Obama moving ahead against Iran, in quest of that victory.  Imagine what ironies might be in the offing then.



Friday, July 8, 2011

Elliot Abrams Bangs the Drum for War against Iran

Once again, from one of those worthies privileged to call themselves "fellows" of the Council on Foreign Relations, a call for America to suck it up, be strong, hammer those bad guys into submission (and not a word about how much it costs, or how little the US can afford it).

Days ago, it was Max Boot, pounding on the guilt button of America's supposed humiliation in Somalia, and imploring Obama to steer our military and economy more deeply into the black hole that is nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan. (For my take on that, I invite you to read this.)  Now we have Elliot Abrams, another  "expert" hailing from the so-called mainstream of the public diplomacy establishment, who is shocked - SHOCKED - by the deaths of US soldiers at the hands of Shii militias in Iraq, and intent on shaming Obama into doing something about it - by killing Iranians, those nefarious evil-doing people who surely are behind it all.

Here's his historical context:

There must be very few times in American history when a foreign government is accused of killing American troops, and absolutely nothing is done about it.

Every school kid used to learn lines like “Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead,” or “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.”  The War of 1812 was fought in large part due to the “impressment” of American sailors by the British, a similar example of denial of freedom that fell far short of actually killing American sailors.

Are you serious, Mr. Abrams?  For those who don't know, Mrs. Perdicaris and children were, in perspective, a minor incident; they were held captive by a local sheikh in northern Africa and were rescued, unharmed, when Teddy Roosevelt sent in a small force.  There was no danger of instigating a horrific war.  British impressment of American sailors did contribute to starting the War of 1812, which soon entailed a British invasion of US territory and a real threat to the American republic.

The deaths of a few US soldiers in Iraq at the hands of Shii militias with ties to - and supplied by - Iran is deplorable, but it bears absolutely no real comparison to either of these two incidents.  Abrams would have us believe that any Iranian involvement in the killing of US soldiers in Iraq is unprovoked.  You want to cite history, Mr. Abrams?  Try this out:

  • Even as US forces were rolling into Baghdad in 2003, the word among the neocon set was that "real men go to Tehran."  This, after the Khatami government had cooperated with the US post-9/11 and had been reaching out to the US during the Clinton administration - only to be rewarded with the idiocy of Bush's "axis of evil" SoU address in 2002.
  • Between 1980 and 1988, the US provided huge support to Saddam Hussein's Iraq after his unprovoked invasion of Iran.  The war cost as many as 1 million Iranian lives, and featured attacks by the US navy on Iranian oil installations and naval forces in the Persian Gulf.  It also featured Iraqi use of poison gas against Iranian troops - a horrific violation of international law, at which the Reagan administration essentially winked and looked the other way.  And, it also featured the incident of a US warship (the USS Versailles) launching anti-aircraft rockets that destroyed an Iranian passenger plane, killing 200 passengers - an incident the Iranian government commemorated only a few days ago.
  • Speaking of the Reagan administration, and history - under Reagan, the US secretly facilitated the illegal sale of weapons to Iran and then (again, illegally) funneled the profits to anti-communist CONTRA movement in Nicaragua.  When it was discovered, this bit of chicanery brought us the Iran-CONTRA scandal, which came close to trashing the Reagan administration and led to the censure and convicting of some Reagan officials, including . . .
  • Elliot Abrams! Gee, you don't remember that, Elliot?  You don't remember that there was once a time when you were up to your neck in unseemly dealings with Iran?

Outraged by Iran now, Abrams is calling for retaliation.  Want some more historical context for that?

  • An article at the time of Iran-CONTRA also noted that on his office wall, Abrams proudly featured a Likud Party poster.
  • Anyone who reads Abrams' stuff over the last several years knows that he is one of Israeli hard-right's most ardent defenders in the press as well as the foreign-policy mainstream.  He completely backs Netanyahu/Lieberman on the issue of West Bank settlements (i.e., Israel should keep them all, and anyone who raises the issue of settlements is simply trying to distract us from the issues of Palestinian/Islamist/Iranian perfidy).
  • He would love nothing better than to see the US either back Israel's play in a proposed military strike against Iran or launch its own such strike.

So now, Abrams conjures up the ghosts of 1812 and Teddy Roosevelt to bang the war-drum for retaliation against Iran.  He says, it's to salvage American honor.

I betcha that Bibi - that great promoter of American honor - is smiling.




Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Uses of a (Max) Boot

Please excuse the earthiness of this visceral reaction . . . but I've long thought that Max Boot was an exact homonym for what someone ought long ago to have implanted (intellectually speaking, of course) up the hind quarters of the so-called foreign-policy expert of that name.

Max Boot's essay in this morning's LA Times can only be described as a kind of last-gasp apologia for the neocon doctrine of US-imposed nation-building.  He now, though, goes so far as to resort to the image of a humiliated America, which departed Somalia after the Black Hawk Down debacle of almost two decades ago "tail between our legs," after which  "it has become a haven for terrorists and pirates. Now an Islamist movement modeled on the Taliban, known as the Shabab, threatens to take over the country. If this were to happen, it would replicate the disaster that struck Afghanistan in the 1990s — another example of what happens when the U.S. refuses to help build a viable state in a country desperately in need of one."

Oh, please.  Does Boot truly, truly believe that the US had either the military power or the unlimited economic resources it would have taken to create a reasonably modern, West-friendly, shiny Somali - or Afghan - nation had we simply chosen to stay there?  How can such a well-published "expert" - a fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, no less! - have failed to learn the lesson of the debacle that is Iraq.  That, even in a country that had once possessed a relatively highly educated population and (until we did all we could to demolish it starting in 1991) infrastructure, as well as an organized (albeit brutal) political system -- that even with such a country to work with, the hubris of the Bush administration and its neocon cheerleaders (Max Boot among them)blinded the US to its utter inability to control and then nation-build Iraq into a shiny bright Western-democratic nation.  To build a nation, the builders have to understand the parts with which they need to do that building.  The US was clueless going in, as General Raymond Odierno had the guts to admit only last August:

In his four years here, General Odierno was often at the center of shifting American military strategy in Iraq. He said the military learned lessons “the hard way.”“We all came in very naïve about Iraq,” he said. “We came in naïve about what the problems were in Iraq; I don’t think we understood what I call the societal devastation that occurred,” he said, citing the Iran-Iraq war, the Persian Gulf war and the international sanctions from 1990 to 2003 that wiped out the middle class. “And then we attacked to overthrow the government,” he said. The same went for the country’s ethnic and sectarian divisions, he said: “We just didn’t understand it.” To advocates of the counterinsurgency strategy that General Odierno has, in part, come to symbolize, the learning curve might highlight the military’s adaptiveness. Critics of a conflict that killed an estimated 100,000 Iraqis, perhaps far more, and more than 4,400 American soldiers might see the acknowledgment as evidence of the war’s folly. Asked if the United States had made the country’s divisions worse, General Odierno said, “I don’t know.” “There’s all these issues that we didn’t understand and that we had to work our way through,” he said. “And did maybe that cause it to get worse? Maybe.

What does Max Boot say about Iraq?
If you want yet another example of how costly our aversion to nation-building has been, look no further than Iraq. The Bush administration associated nation-building with the hated policies of the Clinton administration and refused to prepare for it. The result was that Iraq fell apart after U.S. troops had toppled its existing regime.

Iraq is more stable now, but only because the Bush administration overcame its early reluctance to nation-build. After dithering far too long, Bush finally acted to improve the security situation and expand the capacity of Iraqis to govern themselves. Iraq continues to struggle because the state remains weak; nation-building is a time-consuming, costly endeavor. But it sure beats the alternative — i.e., the kind of nihilistic violence that was threatening to consume Iraq in 2006-07. . . .

If only we had gone in with more troops!  If only we had poured more billions of dollars into building Iraq!  If only we had committed to many more years there, to see the job through!  We surely would have succeeded in making Iraq strong, a cohesive nation, a vibrant democracy!  I would have been proved right! Vindication!  VICTORY!

Even on the brink of finishing its withdrawal from this country it tried so hard to help (or so we say), but did so much to destroy, the US leadership - and people like Max Boot - still have never been able to get their heads around how Iraq works, or around the fact that the US never - never - had the wherewithal to build a nation there, especially when the Iraqis themselves, since 1921, had never really succeeded.

Face it, Max.  It was because of the cheerleading and chest-thumping of you - and people who thought, and think, like you - that the US yee-hahhed itself into Iraq.  If you had any intellectual honesty or moral compass, you would freely and contritely admit that your hands are covered - saturated - in the blood of hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed Iraqis, as well as the ruined, tortured lives of 4 million Iraqi refugees and exiles.  You helped set in motion what will likely be catastrophe-laden decades during which the remnants of whatever had been an Iraqi nation before the troops went in will struggle - and likely fail, via a slow, lingering death - to create a sense of common purpose and identity --  to build a nation.

Tell you what, Max.  It's time for the US policy establishment to give you the Boot.




Red-State Dementia?

From the NY Times, a sad - but provocative - report about heightened incidence of memory loss, stroke, and dementia in the American South when compared to other regions of the US. As someone who was born and raised in Kentucky - and is quite familiar with Southern fried-food culture - I can't say that I'm terribly surprised by this.  And it's important to take to heart the observation made by the study's authors, both southerners, that the new data can be misinterpreted.

“One of the things we are concerned about is, it does sort of reinforce every negative stereotype about the South, that there are these slow hicks down here,” Dr. Howard said. “The first question is, is there a problem? Unfortunately, as a Southerner, the answer is yes. If we can get to why it exists, then we can get to what to do to change it.”

Nonetheless, dementia and memory loss are not sudden-onset conditions.  Rather, those afflicted experience prolonged decline in mental faculty and intellectual acuity, in the ability to process information and use it in sustained, rational discussion and debate.

And their votes count as much as anyone else's.  And the states from which they hail have been voting consistently, almost universally - indeed, some might aver, mindlessly - conservative, evangelical Republican for decades.  Without them, George W. Bush could never have been elected.

It would be too glib to claim that the Iraq war was caused, even in part, by excessive consumption of Crisco and Southern fried chicken.

But, still . . . .  Just sayin' . . . .




Iraq Bombings as Background Noise

From the NY Times -   The last bulletin I received upped the count of dead to 35.  As of this moment (9:45 Monday AM), the WaPo had yet to report it on their site.

BAGHDAD — Two explosions struck the town of Taji, north of the Iraqi capital, around midday on Tuesday, killing dozens of people, according to an official at the Interior Ministry.

The target was a municipal building. First a car bomb was detonated in a parking garage, followed by an improvised explosive device. The Interior Ministry official said the initial casualty estimate was 35 killed and 28 wounded.

No group claimed immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it was in the same style as similar strikes by Al Qaeda in Iraq, which frequently singles out the state infrastructure, including government buildings, police stations, army barracks or security forces on patrol.

As the final months for the American military presence here approach — all troops are scheduled to be out by the end of the year barring a request from the Iraqi government to extend the deadline — the attack Tuesday highlighted the fragile state of security, even eight years after the American invasion.

As Sunni insurgent groups such as Al Qaeda in Iraq continue attacks, Shiite militant groups, including the Promised Day Brigade, which is linked to the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr, have stepped up attacks against American troops. In June, 14 American soldiers were killed in combat-related incidents, the highest monthly toll since 2008.

On Monday night, a rocket fired at the Green Zone in Baghdad struck near Al Rasheed Hotel, killing three people, according to the Interior Ministry official.

Meanwhile, perhaps the biggest security threat in the heavily fortified capital has been assassinations of government officials and military officers, many dozens of whom have been killed this year by pistols with silencers.

As the violence persists, the problem has been compounded by a political stalemate.

In December, the two politicians, Ayad Allawi, the leader of the Iraqiya bloc, and the country’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, entered into an American-backed power-sharing agreement. But since then, the men have been unable to agree on who should run the Interior and Defense Ministries, the government’s two most important departments.

The United States has been unable to end the stalemate, demonstrating to some analysts and Iraqis its waning influence here.

“The insurgents are taking advantage of this,” said Iskandar Jawad, a member of Parliament’s security committee, said in an interview.





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