Here’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott:
Abbott refused to put a time frame on Australia’s involvement in Iraq.
“I want to stress that only Iraq can defeat ISIL, but Iraq shouldn’t be alone and as far as Australia and our allies are concerned, Iraq won’t be alone,” he said. “I have to warn that this deployment to Iraq could be quite lengthy, certainly months rather than weeks.”
“I want to reassure the Australian people that it will be as long as it needs to be, but as short as it possibly can be,” the prime minister said.
Know what’s really short, Tony, and perfectly possible? Zero.
Couldn’t have said it better myself, so I won’t. Here’s Frank Rich on Obama’s idiotic descent into the Big Muddy:
In truth, we already have boots on the ground in the form of “special forces” and “advisers.” The moment they start returning to America in body bags, or are seen being slaughtered in ISIS videos, is the moment when the recent polling uptick in support for this war will evaporate. That support is an inch deep, and Congress knows it, which is why members of both parties fled Washington for the campaign trail last week rather than debate Obama’s war plan. As Paul Kane of The Washington Post pointed out, the Senate could not even fill up the scant allotted time (five hours) for debating the war, and “so at one point a senator devoted time to praising the Baltimore Orioles for their successful baseball season.” Next to this abdication of duty, Congress’s disastrous rush to authorize war in Iraq in 2002 looks like a wise and deliberate execution of checks-and-balances.
Almost everything that is happening now suggests this will end badly. We’ve failed to curb ISIS in Iraq because, for all the happy talk about its inclusive new government, Sunni Iraqis have yet to rally behind their new Shiite prime minister Haider al-Abadi any more enthusiastically than they did behind the despised Nouri al-Maliki. As for our expansion into Syria, even if we can find and train 5,000 Syrian “moderates” to fight the Islamic State, it will take a year to do so, according to our own government’s no doubt optimistic estimate. And they’ll still be outnumbered by ISIS forces by at least four-to-one. Nor do we know all the unintended consequences that will multiply throughout the region — as they have in every other American intervention in the Muslim world — with each passing month.
From Andrew Sullivan at The Dish:
What I under-estimated was the media’s ability to generate mass panic and hysteria and the Beltway elite’s instant recourse to the language of war. I believed that Obama was stronger than this, that he could actually resist this kind of emotional spasm and speak to us like grown-ups about what we can and cannot do about a long, religious war in the Middle East, that doesn’t threaten us directly. But he spoke to us like children last night, assuming the mantle of the protective daddy we had sought in Bush and Cheney, evoking the rhetoric he was elected to dispel.
What the president doesn’t seem to understand is that this dramatic U-turn isn’t just foolish on its own national security terms; it is devastating to him politically. He is now playing on Cheney’s turf, not his own. His core supporters, like yours truly, regarded our evolution from that Cheney mindset one of Obama’s key achievements — and he tossed it away last night almost casually. He committed himself and us to a victory we cannot achieve in two countries we cannot control with the aid of allies we cannot trust. And, worse, he has done so by evading the key Constitutional requirement that a declaration of war be made by the Congress. He is actually relying on the post-9/11 authorization of military force against al Qaeda in Afghanistan to wage war in Syria (in violation of international law) and in Iraq.
Here’s a small part of Jim Wright’s advice to the warhogs currently polluting the airwaves. For the full cathartic, go here.
What’s the goal? What’s the objective? Is it to end terrorism? Is it to enforce peace at the muzzle of a gun? Is it it to make defense contractors rich? Is it for jobs? Or is it for magic flying bunnies who shoot rainbows and cheap gasoline out of their little assholes to the sound of Yankee Doodle Dandy?
Or, or, is it just because you hate Barack Obama?
That’s it, isn’t it?
You sons of bitches one and all, you simpering capering madmen, this time at least have the courage to face the cameras, to look into America’s eyes, and tell them that their sons and daughters will be dying because you John McCain, because you Mitt Romney, because you Dick Cheney, because you Donald Rumsfeld, because you George W. Bush you lying bastard, because you conservatives hate Barack Obama and for no other reason. Go on, tell us, go on. Wave your little flags and beat your fleshy chests, roll out the marching bands and tell us just how many more American soldiers should die. Go on, put a number on it. Ten? A hundred? Fifty four thousand? How many of us have to die? How many more bodies will it take to satiate your mindless hunger for blood and revenge? How many more American lives are worth your insane hatred of the president? How many? How much further into debt should we drive our nation, another trillion dollars? Two? Ten? A hundred? Put a price on it you insane sons of bitches, go on, give me a number, write me a check. Tell me how much you’re willing to pay, show me the goddamned money. How many more years? How many? One? Five? Another decade? Fifty? What is it? Don’t wave your hands and make some vague prognostication, give me a number, how many lives, how much money, how many years? You look us in the eye and you fucking tell us…
From a Time story on Chelsea Manning, serving a barbarous 35-year sentence for committing the truth in a public place:
For starters, the Department of Defense was known as the Department of War until 1947, when the newly-created (and named) Air Force, along with the Army, gathered under the same roof for the first time with the Navy (the new outfit was known as the National Military Establishment until 1949).It would have been immediately clear to George Orwell (who was to publish 1984 two years later) that the United States was about to embark on a series of wars that would continue, almost unbroken, for the rest of the century and well into the next one.
War has always had, not to put to fine a point on it, a specific and violent meaning. With the end of World War II — and the beginning of the Cold War — the U.S. government found itself needing a standing Army for the first time in its history. Replacing War with Defense made the change more palatable.
Speaking of counterfactuals, as I was in Monday’s posting, here’s another one I wrote elsewhere some years ago on President Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address — the speech in which he warned against “unwarranted influence … by the military-industrial complex.”
I also remember Eisenhower’s farewell address, but have trouble getting too misty-eyed about it. Who had been president for the previous eight years? Who had sent White Star special forces teams to Northern Thailand just months before? Who was to tell the incoming president that the greatest threat to world peace facing him was Laos? Who made the unspeakable Dulles secretary of state and kept him in the job? Who sent thousands of “advisers” and billions in military aid to Diem after he violated the terms reached at Geneva by refusing to hold the national elections that he (and we) knew Ho Chi Minh would win?
Who blew the very real possibility of ending the Cold War by continuing the U-2 flights and making it impossible for Khrushchev to pursue the detente he was plainly seeking? Who let the other unspeakable Dulles gin up an invasion of Cuba and then left the whole mess on Kennedy’s plate? Who was the only president of my lifetime who had the military knowledge, popularity and heroic stature to actually do something about that whole military industrial complex thingy that upset him so?
This is the conclusion of a long and closely reasoned essay by John Michael Greer arguing that the GOP has become, literally, the party of Satan. He may or may not be entirely serious, but I’m convinced. What else could explain Ted Cruz, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Antonin Scalia, and etc. and et cetera and so on ad infinitum?
Only one of the seven deadly sins has gotten by without extravagant praise from so-called Christian conservatives in recent years — it’s hard to glorify an economic system that depends on avarice, gluttony, envy and sloth, and a foreign policy defined by pride and wrath, in any other way — and no doubt they’ll find a way to fit lust in there somewhere one of these days, and finish collecting the whole set.
At this point, though, it’s hard to see any reason why the Satanists in the GOP need to keep the pretense going any longer. In an era when most discussions of the Christmas season in the mass media fixate on whether retailers are making a big enough profit to keep the economy stumbling blindly onward for one more year, I think a strong case can be made that America is ready to shake off the last of its qualms and openly embrace a Satanic political agenda. Among its other benefits, putting public devil worship at the heart of the GOP, where it so evidently belongs, can’t help but improve the flagging ratings of Republican national conventions; the otherwise tedious proceedings of the 2016 GOP convention, for example, would be enlivened no end by a Black Mass celebrated by the GOP nominee, perhaps with Ann Coulter’s nude form draped over the altar and a chorus of delegates chanting “Evil, be thou my good!” from the bleachers.
Ted Cruz tells a Heritage Foundation audience we need a hundred more senators like the gratefully dead racist Jesse Helms, whose own hero was the equally dead miscegenist Strom Thurmond. Wonderment at this public display of GOP racism is widely feigned, which is like being surprised every morning when the sun rises. “Oh, my God, Mabel, come look what’s outside. There’s sunlight everywhere!”
Although to be fair there has been a slight change for the better, in the sense that at least Cruz is being honest about it. In the good old days of the Grand Old Party a Republican could risk apologizing for committing racism in public. Here’s former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, after expressing regret that Thurmond hadn’t been elected president on the States’ Rights ticket in 1948:
“A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embrace the discarded policies of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.”
And here’s my post on December 11 of 2002, which doesn’t seem to me to require any updating:
This is what most of the press referred to as an “apology” from the racist Trent Lott for his most recent embrace of the policies of the past which others have discarded. It is a curious piece of linguistic work, immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with southern politics.
In 1966 Georgia State Senator Jimmy Carter was beaten for the governorship by an Old South racist named Lester Maddox. The moderate Carter had allowed himself to be, as they say in Dixie, out-niggered. He didn’t make that mistake in 1970, when he beat a moderate former governor by opposing bussing and inviting George Wallace to campaign for him.
Safely elected governor, Carter said in his inaugural address, “I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination was over.” Quite frankly, this bears a certain resemblance to Lott’s “apology.” Racial discrimination was fun while it lasted? Huh?
Carter, though, was sort of apologizing for having earlier lied that he was a racist when he wasn’t. Lott is lying that he’s not a racist when he is.
This isn’t just Lott’s lie. It’s the lie of the entire Republican Party, which has built its political success on a bedrock of racism since Richard Nixon adopted the Southern Strategy that Lyndon Johnson had handed him on a platter with the civil rights bills.
After the Vietnam War had driven Johnson from office, Richard Nixon ran for president as a “law and order” man. Both black and white voters understood exactly what he meant by that.
They still knew when Ronald Reagan ran for the presidency in 1980 promising even more law and order. They understood what color his “welfare queens” were, too, and they knew why he opposed affirmative action.
Reagan’s second presidential campaign, against the hapless Walter Mondale, was even more openly racist. And George Herbert Walker Bush’s campaign against Dukakis four years later was worse than that. Even the press noticed, as they hadn’t when racism wore Reagan’s smiling face.
All this time, back in the south, the Republicans were at work creating political ghettos — congressional districts with black majorities where African American voters could be safely quarantined while the Republicans corralled the more populous suburbs.
And now the Republican Party, much of the federal judiciary, the White House and both Houses of Congress are ruled by men of the hard right. They have many things in common — militarism, worship of wealth, contempt for the poor, a taste for repression, a distaste for dissent, on and on.
These men — the Lotts and Armeys, the DeLays and Ashcrofts, the Falwells and the Robertsons, the Rehnquists and the Thomases — share another thing, too. Although they lie about it, as Lott is so unconvincingly doing right now, they are every one of them in the service of racism.
And this is the large, putrescent dead rat on the floor of America’s kitchen that we pretend isn’t there.
…but it sure keeps on rhyming. This is from Garry Wills’ 1981 book, The Kennedy Imprisonment:
…Over and over in our recent history, presidents have claimed they had to act tough in order to disarm those demanding that they act tough. The only way to become a peacemaker is first to disarm the warmakers by making a little successful war. And if the little war becomes a big one, it must be pursued energetically or the “hawks” will capitalize on the failure. War wins, either way. If you are for it, you wage it. And if you are against it, you wage it.
Jim Wright at Stonekettle explores the true legacy of 9/11 in the excerpt below. As a nation, we have responded to the tragedy like a man stricken with lung cancer who chooses to self-medicate with two packs of Marlboros, taken daily.
…Since 911, an entire generation has been born and grown to self-awareness. Those young Americans have never known their nation at peace.
They have never known a nation that is not divided … They have never had a single day where they weren’t told to hate their neighbors and to report them if they don’t seem patriotic enough … They have never lived a single day in a nation that wasn’t bent to the terrible business of revenge.
They have never known a nation that didn’t roil in fear and cringe in terror every single day … They have never flown on an airplane without having been treated like a criminal … They have never checked out a book from the library without having been subject to secret scrutiny.
They never sent an unmonitored email or made an unmonitored phone call … They have never lived in a house that isn’t subject to unwarranted search … They have never had the right to redress or legal challenge when their name is placed on secret lists — and in point of fact, they don’t even have the right to know if their name is on that list at all.
They have never lived in a nation where they have the right to confront their accuser and demand proof of more than just suspicion … They have never lived without the threat, however unlikely, of being disappeared … They have never lived in a nation that didn’t regard the torture of human beings as an acceptable option.
This new generation has lived under the shadow of those falling towers every single minute of every single day since the moment they were born.
The terrorists didn’t do that to them.
From the New York Times:
Just a few years after the setting of an American withdrawal deadline for 2014 evoked alarm and worry among Afghans, the tone now has perceptibly hardened: even the officials who openly want the Americans to stay are now saying that staying must be strictly on Afghan terms.
The latest is Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal, once a favorite of the Western contingent in Afghanistan, whose anger at the American attitude about customs fees led him to institute steep fines and briefly led Afghan officials to close the border crossings to Western military shipments.
“At the heart of all this is not just a revenue collection issue,” Mr. Zakhilwal said in an e-mail on Thursday. It is about “respect of Afghan laws and procedures…”
Now that the coalition is trying to take out its equipment, the Afghan government is demanding each container either come with its paperwork — or a $1,000 fine. Najeebullah Manali, a Finance Ministry official, put the number of trucks at roughly 70,000. That would mean a fine of $70 million.
Or, as a great poet once wrote:
…this is what President Obama does to helpless men 88 times a day. No doubt he does it for what he considers to be the greater good: protecting the rest of his agenda from the “national security” cowards who predominate in Congress and the electorate. In some cosmic weighing of the scales, he may be right. Or not.
Still, this is what President Obama does to helpless men 88 times a day. Every day.
President Obama himself seems to be the one about to cross the red line — that same red line we’ve crossed so many, many times before:
The United States will “shortly” begin arming Syrian rebels, looking to boost moderate factions over al-Qaida-affiliated extremists whose rise would be a national security “nightmare,” the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told CBS News on Tuesday.
“I do think we’ll be arming the opposition shortly,” Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said in an interview. “We’re doing a lot more there on the ground than really is known, but we do have to change the equation.”
I just have 20 short words for the president: Indonesia, Haiti, Chile, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Angola, Zaire, Libya, Lebanon, Iran, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Just to name a few victims of our never-ending mission to force “democracy“ on the natives.
The invariant rule, Mr. President, goes as follows: When you take the wrong train, every station you reach is the wrong one.
Syrbal, at Herlander-Walking, is herself a veteran. So is her husband. They have a son who just left for Afghanistan on his second tour in the Bush-Obama wars. Not that Bush and Obama are the only ones responsible for those evil, idiot wars. Read her post to the end.
I know keeping very, very busy is the best idea right now. Distraction was my only friend the last year he was in the war zone; but this time it is far more difficult to keep my mind away from sharp cliff edges. At least, this time, it seems most Americans, even in this perversely red county of a blue state, have decided the wars are not a jolly good time.
Last time, seeing the service star on my car, or if it came up in conversation I still had idiots say the equivalent of “Right on!” which made me tilt my head and eye them like a hungry raptor before verbally pecking them to death. This time, if I apologize for temporary mental lapses with the explanation of my son being deployed, faces fall and people say “Oh, I’m so sorry,” or “Oh, no!”
Why, oh, why was that not the response in 2001 and 2003? It was the same lie then? And over 8000 men and women from a host of nations including our own have paid for that lie with their deaths. And that is not even beginning the count of Iraqis and Afghanis.
During the long, sad evening of the election night when Reagan won reelection in a landslide, a colleague in Gore campaign headquarters defined the word democracy for me. “Democracy,” he said, “is that system of government in which you give the people what they want. And you give it to ’em good.”
Hurrah. Hurrah. We’re getting out of Afghanistan in 2014. Maybe. If and when, we know how it will look, because we’ve been there before. Over and over. And will be again, if we let the disgusting, discredited warhogs who lied us into Iraq do to it to us again. Very likely we will let them. We are what we are.
This is from Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia by Arnold R. Isaacs:
One thing about living in a country with amnesia is that the old becomes new over and over again, as we repeat our forgotten idiocies. Here is a post I put up on Bad Attitudes on September 12, 2002, still fresh as a daisy:
Looking up something else in the files I just came across a four-year-old article from the New York Times, written as the Taliban were about to take over Afghanistan.
It’s easy to forget, and most of us conveniently have, that the Taliban was Made in the USA. What if, for just that once, we had managed to mind our own business?
From the Times of August 13, 1998, speaking of the likelihood that the mullahs would soon seize power:
“If so, the outcome is full of tragic irony for a nation that seemed set on a completely opposite course in 1973, when King Zahir Shah, the last representative of the Durrani Dynasty that had ruled the country for 250 years, was ousted in a coup mounted by his cousin, Mohammed Daoud.
“As President, Mohammed Daoud proclaimed himself a modernizer but lasted barely five years before he was killed in April 1978 in a coup staged by the Soviet-backed Communist Party, which proclaimed a still more radical modernization program.
“The Communists’ program aimed at uprooting the pervasive influence of Muslim clerics, whose support of the Durranis had consigned Afghanistan to a social and economic backwardness.
“Within hours of seizing the Arg Palace in Kabul, the Afghan capital, the Communists vowed to emancipate Afghan women, achieve universal literacy, and move the country beyond its bullock-cart economy.
“But the bid to force compliance with the Communist program, especially in the arch-conservative world of the Afghan village, triggered a civil war that drew in Soviet forces in December 1979.
“This in turn prompted President Jimmy Carter and later Ronald Reagan to commit the United States to backing the Afghan Mujahedeen, the self-styled Muslim holy warriors who drove out the Russians in February 1989.”
To put the matter clearly, the Russians were the nearest thing there was to good guys in the Afghanistan of the late seventies. The nearest thing to bad guys, then and now, were the ignorant village clerics…
As so often happened during the Cold War, we jumped eagerly into bed with the worst guys in sight. Even worse than the Russian alternative? Well, figure it out. Our exciting fling with the primitive, lawless Mujahedeen created the conditions for the Taliban takeover that the Russians had feared. And the takeover created the kind of country an Osama Bin Laden could get comfortable in.
Well, okay, but still.. We couldn’t very well have left this tiny land in the terrible claws of godless Russia, could we? Of course we could. We did it all the time, before and during the Cold War. And in this case, so what? Three and a half years later the Soviet Union collapsed anyway, giving everybody a get-out-of-jail card.
But wasn’t that collapse precisely because we had armed and financed those brave Afghan freedom fighters? Pretty doubtful. The Soviet Union had been a basket case for decades. It might have stayed on its feet for a year or two longer if Cold War cowboys like Zbigniew Brzezinski and William J. Casey hadn’t been gnawing at its crutches in Afghanistan, that’s true. But the aging invalid was about to topple in any case..
Suppose those few years had been spent under the Russians rather than the warlords and the Taliban? A number of things would have happened, all of them good. Afghanistan wouldn’t have been devastated in a pointless civil war, hundreds of thousands of Russians and Afghans would still be alive, and the country would be independent today just like the other ’Stans in the neighborhood. No better off, but no worse either.
And yesterday — September 11th of 2002 — could have been just another lovely day in early autumn.
…not that we ever knew, or knowing, cared.
“In Iraq, the US record speaks for itself: it backed Saddam’s party, the Ba’ath, to capture power in 1963, murdering thousands of socialists, communists and democrats; it backed the Ba’ath party in 1968 when Saddam was installed as vice-president; it helped him and the Shah of Iran in 1975 to crush the Kurdish nationalist movement; it increased its support for Saddam in 1979…helping him launch his war of aggression against Iran in 1980; it backed him throughout the horrific eight years of war (1980 to 1988), in which a million Iranians and Iraqis were slaughtered, in the full knowledge that he was using chemical weapons and gassing Kurds and Marsh Arabs; it encouraged him in 1990 to invade Kuwait…; it backed him in 1991 when Bush [senior] suddenly stopped the war, exactly 24 hours after the start of the great March uprising that engulfed the south and Iraqi Kurdistan…”
Andrew Bacevich is one of the clearest and deepest voices against the war machine the United States has become. A retired Army colonel with a Ph.D. from Princeton whose son was killed in the Iraq war which he opposed, he’s now a professor of international relations at Boston University.
This combination of experience and education positions him perfectly to observe and reflect on the tenth anniversary of the second Bush war against Iraq. Training and inclination give a historical tint to his perspective, and I highly recommend the WaPo article.
Next year marks the centennial of the conflict once known as the Great War. Germany lost that war. Whether France and Britain can be said to have won in any meaningful sense is another matter. Besides planting the seeds for an even more horrific bloodletting just two decades later, the fighting of 1914-1918 served chiefly to provide expansion-minded British politicians with a pretext for carving up the Ottoman Empire. It proved a fateful move.
What London wanted from this new Middle East that it nonchalantly cut and pasted was profit and submission; what it got was resentment and resistance, yielding a host of intractable problems that in due time it bequeathed to Washington. In effect, victory in 1918 expanded Britain’s imperial domain only to accelerate its demise, with the United States naively assuming the mantle of imperial responsibility (euphemistically termed “leadership”). Thank you, Perfidious Albion.
Many another storied triumph has contained its own poison pill. More recent examples include the Six Day War, which saddled Israel with a large, restive minority that it can neither pacify nor assimilate; the ouster of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, giving rise to the Taliban; and Operation Desert Storm, after which the garrisoning of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia helped light the long fuse that would eventually detonate on Sept. 11, 2001.
Think you’ve won? Wait until all the returns are in.
McCain recently tried to use his beloved Surge in Iraq to convict Hagel of incompetence as a potential SecDef, though of course the real issue was that Hagel didn’t endorse McCain in 2008. Bacevich compares the surge to Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans. It was indeed a great victory on the battlefield, but as the returns filtered in Gibbon’s words were recalled.
Such is the empire of Fortune (if we may still disguise our ignorance under that popular name), that it is almost equally difficult to foresee the events of war or to explain their various consequences. A bloody and complete victory has sometimes yielded no more than possession of the field; and the loss of ten thousand men has sometimes been sufficient to destroy, in a single day, the work of ages.
Jackson’s signature victory, of couse, took place two weeks after the Treaty of Ghent was signed, ending the War of 1812. And McCain’s surge made no difference in the outcome of the war, though of course it killed more Americans. It also caused Americans to kill more Iraqis, and to me it appears that the most underplayed aspect of the story in accounts I’ve been reading is the animosity provoked throughout the Middle East by the three Bush wars, two on Iraq and one on Afghanistan. Bacevich speculates that the entire second war on Iraq will be seen by historians as not very important, like the War of 1812, except that the War of 1812 left us with a national anthem. Even the importance of the American empire is fading in comparison to the rising literacy and production and general capabilities of the rest of the world.
In what has become one of the most momentous stories of the 21st century, the inhabitants of the Islamic world are asserting the prerogative of determining their own destinies. Intent on doing things their way, they are increasingly intolerant of foreign interference. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington sought to revalidate an altogether different prerogative, one pioneered by Britain: an entitlement to meddle.
Britain never learned its lesson; and hubris attracts Nemesis, in this case history, the great teacher. What about the US, will we learn from Britain’s example? Not yet. As Bacevich puts it, “Sure, American troops captured Baghdad and overthrew Saddam Hussein. So what?”
Back in 1947, the promulgation of the Truman Doctrine kicked off Washington’s effort to put its imprint on the Greater Middle East, while affirming that Britain’s exit from the region had begun. U.S. power was going to steer events in directions favorable to U.S. interests. That effort now seems likely to have run its course. The United States finds itself today pretty much where the British were back in the 1920s and 1930s. We’ve bitten off more than we can chew. The only problem is that there’s no readily available sucker to whom we can hand off the mess we’ve managed to create.
Still, we have made some progress: compare McCain’s fate with Jackson’s.
This month marks ten years since the U.S. launched its invasion of Iraq. In my view this was the biggest strategic error by the United States since at least the end of World War II and perhaps a much longer period. Vietnam was costlier and more damaging, but also more understandable. As many people have chronicled, the decision to fight in Vietnam was a years-long accretion of step-by-step choices, each of which could be rationalized at the time. Invading Iraq was an unforced, unnecessary decision to risk everything on a “war of choice” whose costs we are still paying…
Anyone now age 30 or above should probably reflect on what he or she got right and wrong ten years ago. I feel I was right in arguing, six months before the war in “The Fifty-First State,” that invading Iraq would bring on a slew of complications and ramifications that would take at least a decade to unwind…
Read the whole post, which is great stuff. But the intro above got me thinking about the most beautiful phrase in the English language, “I told you so.” One of the small rewards of committing words in a public place is the ability to prove that we did in fact tell you so. Like Jim, I really did blog about Saddam’s aluminum tubes and imaginary weapons of mass destruction a decade ago. Further back in the day, I really did attack President Kennedy in my Washington Post column when he sent 16,000 military “advisors” to Vietnam. You could look it up.
Not that it mattered a bit, then or now. We are a nation of cop lovers and soldier sniffers, as George Carlin called us. Our national pastime is war, and we don’t let facts get in the way when we scent other people’s blood in the water.
And right now we are watching the same crowd of vicious cowards — Abrams, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Kristol, Tucker Carlson, Bolton, Lindsey Graham — mongering war with Iran. If they fail, it will only be because we can’t afford a new war just at the moment.
…and alack, but Ed at Gin and Tacos is, regrettably and inarguably, right that there is no left left:
This is the real drawback of our political system and process. With only two parties and the end of the political-ideological conflict between socialism and capitalist democracy that defined most of the 20th Century we’re left debating most — albeit not all — issues within a very narrow ideological range. We’ve all agreed upon the End of History and that free market capitalism is the final form of human social organization, and that America shall be a hegemonic military power, and that our politicians shall be beholden to the financial interests that back them, and that we will argue only in the margins (except on “social” issues, where legitimate disagreement is permitted because the titans of industry don’t give a shit about them). So we have already settled on policing the world and are now arguing about how best to do it, just as we have decided that the financial industry will shape our society to its liking and we are now arguing about whether a handful of regulators should be tasked with watching them do it.
A hundred and fifty-one years and still counting, the Civil War goes on. The Confederacy morphed into the Dixiecrats and then into the GOP which was easily swallowed by the Tea Party and here we are. I cannot think of a single core principle of American conservatism which does not, upon close examination, serve the interests of the master over those of the slaves. Wage slaves to be sure, and no longer exclusively black, but a slave is a slave.
An excerpt from Michael Lind’s analysis of the Confederacy’s continuation of war by other means:
…Notwithstanding slavery, segregation and today’s covert racism, the Southern system has always been based on economics, not race. Its rulers have always seen the comparative advantage of the South as arising from the South’s character as a low-wage, low-tax, low-regulation site in the U.S. and world economy. The Southern strategy of attracting foreign investment from New York, London and other centers of capital depends on having a local Southern work force that is forced to work at low wages by the absence of bargaining power.
Anything that increases the bargaining power of Southern workers vs. Southern employers must be opposed, in the interest of the South’s regional economic development model. Unions, federal wage and workplace regulations, and a generous, national welfare state all increase the bargaining power of Southern workers, by reducing their economic desperation. Anti-union right-to-work laws, state control of wages and workplace regulations, and an inadequate welfare state all make Southern workers more helpless, pliant and dependent on the mercy of their employers.
A weak welfare state also maximizes the dependence of ordinary Southerners on the tax-favored clerical allies of the local Southern ruling class, the Protestant megachurches, whose own lucrative business model is to perform welfare functions that are performed by public agencies elsewhere, like child care…
From the New York Times:
KABUL, Afghanistan — Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Afghanistan on Monday for discussions on the progress of the war, including an intensified wave of insider attacks by Afghan forces on NATO service members, even as New Zealand became the latest coalition partner to announce an accelerated troop withdrawal.
The visit by General Dempsey was characterized by NATO as one of his regular visits to Kabul. But it comes after a trust-eroding two-week stretch in which 10 American service members have been killed by Afghan security forces, in violence designated as insider or green-on-blue attacks.
My late stepfather, Ralph Ingersoll, was a magazine editor, newspaper publisher and World War II vet who had been around the block a time or two and kept his eyes open along the way. One day in 1963 the papers ran those famous pictures of the Vietnamese monk, burning himself to death in the middle of Saigon.
“Take a look at this,” Ralph said. “We’re well and truly fucked now.”
“You’re fucked anytime you get into a fight with people who would rather die than.”
What would Ralph have said if American troops were being routinely gunned down in Saigon's streets by ARVN soldiers we ourselves had armed and trained? The question never arose. Things got bad in Vietnam, all right, but not quite that bad.
Thanks to Chris Floyd for passing this along. Our nation, horribly enough, is being rotted from the inside:
[In a new book, historian Timothy Parsons] wonders whether America’s empire is really an empire as the Americans don’t seem to get any extractive benefits from it. After eight years of war and attempted occupation of Iraq, all Washington has for its efforts is several trillion dollars of additional debt and no Iraqi oil. After ten years of trillion dollar struggle against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Washington has nothing to show for it except possibly some part of the drug trade that can be used to fund covert CIA operations.
America’s wars are very expensive. Bush and Obama have doubled the national debt, and the American people have no benefits from it. No riches, no bread and circuses flow to Americans from Washington’s wars. So what is it all about?
The answer is that Washington’s empire extracts resources from the American people for the benefit of the few powerful interest groups that rule America … The US Constitution has been extracted in the interests of the Security State, and Americans’ incomes have been redirected to the pockets of the 1 percent. ...
In the New Empire success at war no longer matters. The extraction takes place by being at war. Huge sums of American taxpayers’ money have flowed into the American armaments industries and huge amounts of power into Homeland Security. The American empire works by stripping Americans of wealth and liberty.
Robert C. Koehler takes apart the Bad Apple myth we find so comforting whenever a Sergeant Bates appears. The whole story from which this excerpt comes is here.
“A freshly captured detainee had been denied his insulin. He was a hadji and probably he won’t die, but it wouldn’t matter if he did. This is what the CO said in denying permission to hospitalize him. His diabetic stroke was mistaken for insubordination. They pepper-sprayed him and put him in a holding cell, where he died.” — Andrew Duffy
“It’s almost impossible to act on your morality. . . . You remove the humanity from them — beat them — and in doing so you remove humanity from yourself.” — Carlos Mejia
Does this begin to penetrate the mystery that so confounds the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media? Stories of American troops’ horrific treatment of Iraqis and Afghans are endless. Most of the time, such treatment was well within the context of orders. Contempt for the people we were “liberating” permeated the chain of command. In 2003, the Washington Post reported that a Defense Department computer program for calculating collateral damage was called “Bugsplat.”
Charles P. Pierce writes:
Empires make me nervous. Imperial policies — even the gentler ones, even the purely commercial ones, even by proxy, and even when they result in the death of one of the few indisputable madmen on the modern scene — make my skin itch. (It’s the Irish in me.)
As to the blessings of globalization in Africa, well, that continent has been globalized out of most of its wealth and more than a few of its people since long before people invented the hedge fund. Will they do better under Goldman Sachs than they did under the Belgians? (The Nigerian precedent is not encouraging.) Free trade is not democracy, and the latter is in no way an inevitable consequence of the former. I don’t see the arrival of consumer goods and/or the modern financial markets as doing much for the average Ugandan.…
Iraq and Afghanistan aside, we fight our wars by automation, hurling thunderbolts from beyond the horizon, like Jove. There’s something scarifying about that, especially when it’s aimed at an American citizen, and it kills his teenage son, and the people who threw the thunderbolts don’t even try to show us why these people had to die. For a long time, we had people who said that the reason we were sending the Army all over the world was because there wasn’t any draft. One of the most apt criticisms of the “war on terror” was that it was being conducted without engaging the entire country in the effort. Now, not only is the combat removed from the citizenry, it’s increasingly removed from soldiers. Some guy at a console in Kansas City is making war on Pakistan. That makes me nervous.
Here’s Rick Raznikov’s answer:
“Freedom” was not attacked on September 11, 2001. It was two towers in New York and, apparently, the Pentagon. It had nothing whatever to do with freedom.
On the other hand, America’s freedom has been under attack ever since, mostly by the U.S. government.
One does not defend freedom by wiping out amendments to the Bill of Rights, kidnapping citizens and holding them without trial, torturing thousands and holding them in prisons without habeas corpus, and conducting warrantless wiretapping and unrestricted electronic surveillance of an entire citizenry. That is how one attacks freedom.
From Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz:
Today, the US is focused on unemployment and the deficit. Both threats to America’s future can, in no small measure, be traced to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Increased defense spending, together with the Bush tax cuts, is a key reason why the US went from a fiscal surplus of 2 per cent of GDP when Bush was elected to its parlous deficit and debt position today. Direct government spending on those wars so far amounts to roughly $2 trilllion — $17,000 for every US household — with bills yet to be received increasing this amount by more than 50 per cent.
I have a suspicion there’s more truth to this analysis of our latest Good War than you’ll find in the whole MSM. Anyone who believes that we go a-bombing out of pity for the oppressed Muslim masses is beyond the reach of reason.
Let’s start with the basics. The Frogs did it. It’s always worth repeating; this is a French war. The Americans don’t even call it a war; it’s a “kinetic action” or something. The “rebel” Transitional National Council” (TNC) is a French invention.
And yes — this is above all neo-Napoleonic President Nicolas Sarkozy’s war. He’s the George Clooney character in the movie (poor Clooney). Everybody else, from David of Arabia Cameron to Nobel Peace Prize winner and multiple war developer Barack Obama, are supporting actors…
French banks had told him that Gaddafi was about to transfer his billions of euros to Chinese banks. Thus Gaddafi could not by any means become an example to other Arab nations or sovereign funds.
French corporations told Sarko that Gaddafi had decided not to buy Rafale fighters anymore, and not to hire the French to build a nuclear plant; he was more concerned in investing in social services…
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be very cozy with the House of Saud or the murderous al-Khalifas in Bahrain. But the State Department heavily blasted Gaddafi for his “increasingly nationalistic policies in the energy sector”; and also for “Libyanizing” the economy.
More from the ever-interesting Professor Wolff. Fortunately this sort of thinking is now gone from the land:
At every step of the way, there were White historians and public figures who resisted this rewriting of the American story. Here is an excerpt from a speech delivered by our old friend Thomas Bailey in 1967 to the leading association of historians of America, The Organization of American Historians, on the occasion of his inauguration as its President. The topic of Bailey’s address was “the mythmakers of American history,” and after some remarks about that old chestnut, George Washington and the cherry tree [ you remember the one — “I cannot tell a lie.”], he turned to what he called the “newly formed hyphenate group,” African-Americans. Here is what he had to say:“This belated recognition [of the experiences and activities of Negroes], though praiseworthy in some respects, is fraught with danger. Most non-militant Negroes would probably like to think of themselves as dark-skinned Americans, and this self-imposed Jim Crowism can be self-defeating. Pressure-group history of any kind is deplorable, especially when significant white men are bumped out to make room for much less significant black men in the interests of social harmony. If this kind of distortion gets completely out of hand, we can visualize what will happen when the Negroes become the dominant group in all our largest cities, as they already are in Washington, D.C. Coexistence may end, and we may even have hard-backed Negro histories of the United States, with the white man’s achievements relegated to a subsidiary treatment.”
Curse you, Red Menace, why did you walk off the floor and leave us dancing all alone? Osama stepped up and filled the gap for a while, but now folks are starting to wonder if the GWOT was really worth bankrupting the country for.
It’s getting scary here in the Pentagon. Maybe we should try pumping up that old Yellow Peril doll in the attic. If we’re lucky Congress won’t notice we’re already getting our bloated ass whipped with roadside bombs at a couple hundred bucks a copy.
From the Associated Press:
…Land-based drones are in wide use in the war in Afghanistan, but sea-based versions will take several more years to develop. Northrop Grumman conducted a first-ever test flight — still on land — earlier this year.
Van Buskirk didn’t mention China specifically, but military analysts agree the drones could offset some of China’s recent advances, notably its work on a “carrier-killer” missile.
“Chinese military modernization is the major long-term threat that the U.S. must prepare for in the Asia-Pacific region, and robotic vehicles — aerial and subsurface — are increasingly critical to countering that potential threat,” said Patrick Cronin, a senior analyst with the Washington-based Center for New American Security.
China is decades away from building a military as strong as America’s, but it is developing air, naval and missile capabilities that could challenge U.S. supremacy in the Pacific — and with it, America’s ability to protect important shipping lanes and allies such as Japan and South Korea…
I don’t often finding myself writing these words, but here goes: read Thomas L. Friedman’s column in today’s New York Times. He doesn’t mention Israel because he’s Friedman and it’s the New York Times. Being neither I will point out, as I have once or twice before, that those three countries are the greatest actual threats to America’s actual national security.
“…Like the hijackers of 9/11, who were also Saudi-Wahhabi ideological exports ... Saudi Arabia’s reserve army of potential terrorists remains, because the Wahhabi factory of fanatical ideas remains intact. So the real battle has not been with Bin Laden, but with that Saudi state-supported ideology factory.”
Ditto Pakistan. The Pakistani ruling bargain is set by the Pakistani Army and says: “We let you civilians pretend to rule, but we will actually call all the key shots, we will consume nearly 25 percent of the state budget and we will justify all of this as necessary for Pakistan to confront its real security challenge: India and its occupation of Kashmir. Looking for Bin Laden became a side-business for Pakistan’s military to generate U.S. aid.
I’ve mentioned before that it’s never a good idea to take on people who would rather die than ______ (fill in blank). The latest evidence for this proposition just came in a few minutes ago from CNN News:
Five troops killed in a suicide bombing this weekend at a military base in eastern Afghanistan were members of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, a senior U.S. military official said Sunday…
On Saturday, a suicide bomber wearing an Afghan military uniform struck, killing the five, at a military base, Forward Operating Base Gamberi, in eastern Afghanistan's Laghman Province. The attack came during a meeting between Afghan soldiers and their ISAF mentors…
Fom the Associated Press:
BAGRAM, Afghanistan — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday that both the U.S. and Afghan governments agree the American military should remain involved in Afghanistan after the planned 2014 end of combat operations to help train and advise Afghan forces…
Anyone around who still imagines that ours is a peace-loving country should read The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War (pdf), from which this excerpt comes. The author, Franklin Spinney, is not a peacenik or a pacifist. He spent most of his long career as high-ranking Pentagon analyst.
One source of the pressure for more defense spending is that our two relatively small wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both much smaller than the Korean or Vietnam war, have stretched our military to the breaking point. These wars are small in terms of scale and tempo of operations. Bear in mind that the Korean and Vietnam wars took place against a backdrop of cold war commitments. Today, the United States is spending more than it did in 1969, when we had 550,000 troops in Vietnam.
But the cold war meant that we also maintained hundreds of thousands of troops in Western Europe and East Asia, a huge rotation base at home to support these forward deployments, a large Navy fleet of 679 ships (compared with 287 today) to control the seas, and thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert in airborne bombers, missile silos, and submarines. Nevertheless, according to a report issued by the Congressional Research Service, the cumulative costs of the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq have made the response to September 11 the second-most-expensive war, adjusted for inflation, in U.S. history, exceeded only by World War II…
In 1981, the Reagan administration was so intent on throwing money at the Defense Department that it rushed through an amendment to President Jimmy Carter’s budget. Without any systematic review — and not having the time to type up a new budget — Reagan’s political appointees directed the department merely to hand-write changes adding billions of dollars to hundreds of line items. Much of this largesse was immediately converted into cost growth in existing programs…
From the New York Times review of Donald Rumsfeld’s apologia pro sua vita. It is titled Known and Unknown, and its 800 pages can be yours for the low, low price of $36 — less than a nickel a page! (All sales final.)
“Too many troops could hurt our ability to win Iraqi confidence,” [Rumsfeld] writes, “and it could translate into more casualties, because more troops would mean more targets for our enemies.”
If we actually want to expand and consolidate our influence abroad, the way to do it is not to bankrupt ourselves by sending in the cavalry. For instance, take our 30-year Southeast Asian War Games. Please. For another instance, look at Obama’s fundamentally insane attempt to colonize Afghanistan with drones.
And for a somewhat different approach, consider this:
China has announced plans to build a high-speed railway linking the southern Chinese Guangxi Zhaung autonomous region with Singapore via Vietnam, according to China Daily…
“We will invest 15.6 billion yuan (US$3.05 billion) to build the railway linking Nanning and Singapore via Vietnam,” said Long Li, director of the region’s transportation department. “This is extremely important for the construction of the Nanning - Singapore Economic Corridor.”
The corridor refers to the economic link between China and ASEAN nations, starting at Nanning in Guangxi and passing through Hanoi in Vietnam, Vientiane in Laos, Cambodia’s Phnom Penh, Thailand’s Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia on its way to Singapore. China Daily referred to Guangxi as the country’s main foreign-trade center, with ASEAN being its largest bloc trading partner.
Of course everything has its downside, as we see in this email from an old colleague who stayed in Thailand after our own efforts to impose a Southeast Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere had so disastrously failed. So you pays your money and you takes your choice, but the Chinese approach seems to involve lower body counts. At least in the short run.
Lemme tell you, man, it’s really bad. The Chinese squatters are the worst of the worst, obnoxious ass holes who simply buy off local officials and do as they please. I can cite numerous examples from personal experience, e.g., the market vendors in Nam Tha and Phonsavan who know NO Lao and could care less.
In March, I got up to the Bolavens plateau where I spent a year in ’63–’64. A joint Chinese/Australian mining concern has a concession to strip away 1,400 km2 of the plateau for bauxite and send it to Yunnan for an aluminum plant. 1,400 square kilometers! Essentially the entire southern half of the plateau. And the fuckers’ office is in the old IVS house we built in Houei Kong. [Ed. note: The International Voluntary Service in Laos was the rough equivalent of the Peace Corps.]
This is happening on top of Korean and other foreign hydroprojects that have displaced villages and destroyed indigenous cultures. And unrestrained logging everywhere, which destroys the habitat that indigenous groups have preserved for hundreds of years and on which they depend to sustain their way of life.
Daniel Ellsberg, whose leaking of the Pentagon papers saved the lives of more American soldiers than any number of Medal of Honor heroes could have done, has returned to the front pages lately. It sent me back to his valuable book, Secrets, from which this comes:
No one else was going to tell me ever again that I (or anyone else) “had” to kill someone, that I had no choice, that I had a right or a duty to do it that someone else had decided for me.
This new principle, as I already thought of it, didn’t answer all questions about whether one should ever use violence or when, the questions I’d been wrestling with ever since I’d met Janaki and began reading Gandhian and Christian pacifists, but it did answer some. For example about whether unquestioningly to accept being drafted. That wouldn’t face me again, but it might face my son Robert. I would tell my kids, I thought, that no one could make it all right for them to carry a gun or shoot anyone just by telling them they had to. That would have to be their choice, their entire responsibility.
If I ever did it again — as I now told myself — it would be because I chose to do it or chose to follow such orders as the right thing to do, not just because someone gave me an order. I would also examine very critically my own reason for it. I would have to have better reasons, which stood up better under a skeptical look, than I had in Vietnam. [Ed. note: Ellsberg had commanded a Marine infantry company in Vietnam.] Responsibility for killing or being ready to kill was not something you could delegate to someone else, even a president.
From Stephen M. Walt’s answer to Bush’s new book, Decision Points. Professor Walt’s response is called Delusion Points.
In the midst of the “Mission Accomplished” euphoria that followed the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, a worried Iran sent a Swiss intermediary to Washington with a far-reaching offer for a “grand bargain,” including an end to Iranian support for groups such as Hezbollah and a deal on Iran’s nuclear energy program. The offer was reportedly approved by Iran’s top leaders, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Bush administration turned the Iranians down flat — why negotiate with the next candidate for regime change? — and Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reportedly reprimanded the Swiss ambassador for even delivering the message in the first place.
For the love of God, how stupid are we?
KABUL (Reuters) — The military handover from NATO-led forces to Afghans should start in the first half of 2011 but poor security in some areas could see it run past a 2014 target, a NATO official said on Wednesday before an important summit…
Sedwill said the transition could run “to 2015 and beyond” in some areas that could still face security problems. “We expect to have strategic overwatch in large parts of the country by that time (2014),” he told reporters in Kabul, with civil administration to follow the security transition.
NATO troops would then assume support and training duties as Afghans took on the burden of combat roles. “The end of 2014 does not mean that the mission is over, but the mission changes. It’s the inflection point, if you like,” Sedwill said.
…whoever they are. From the New York Times:
In a move away from President Obama’s deadline of July 2011 for the start of an American drawdown from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all cited 2014 this week as the key date for handing over the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves…
“There’s not really any change, but what we’re trying to do is to get past that July 2011 obsession so that people can see what the president’s strategy really entails,” a senior administration official said Wednesday…
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who was last in Afghanistan in September, said the 2014 date made sense, because the Afghan Army and the police were scheduled to increase their numbers to 350,000, their goal, by 2013.
“It is far enough away to allow lots to happen, yet it is still close enough to debunk the myth of an indefinite foreign occupation of the country,” Mr. O’Hanlon said.
But Mr. Gates has said that the United States will nonetheless be in Afghanistan for many more years to come.
Ross Douthat writes in the New York Times today:
There’s a sound political rationale for this, of course. Reducing spending is always difficult, and a Republican Party coasting toward a midterm victory has little incentive to stake out controversial positions. And as everybody knows, the only way to really bring the budget into balance is to reform (i.e., cut) Medicare and Social Security, a topic that nobody in Congress — save the indefatigable Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan — is particularly eager to touch…
Step right along, folks, nothing to see here. Or so goes the Conventional Wisdom, taken totally for granted by the political and the media establishments in our whole debate over taxes and the deficit.
And yet what’s that huge corpse lying beside the road, bloated and stinking in the sun for all to see? Why doesn’t “everybody know” that cutting War Department spending is also a way of balancing the budget, and one that has the added advantage of being sane?
Presidents Johnson and Carter both tried to impose a discipline called zero-based budgeting on the government, with barely visible success. It involved assuming that your department’s budget had just been reduced to zero, and then restoring functions one by one until you reached a prescribed limit.
Let’s try that with the War Department. Overnight it’s all gone, every bit of it. No more soldiers or sailors, tanks, bombs, planes, guns, submarines, aircraft carriers, drones, generals or admirals. Nothing left. The end of our known world. We stand here naked in a hostile world, shivering and defenseless like Costa Rica — which actually does lack an army.
What will become of poor us? Surely we will be crushed by our enemies, all three hundred million of us from sea to shining sea. Our cities burned, our fields sowed with salt, our women raped, our children sent to madrasas, our surviving men reduced to serfdom.
Just like Costa Rica, except that in the real world none of those things ever seems to happen to Costa Rica.
Nor would they happen to us. We, too, have no military enemies — and therefore no rational reason to maintain much more than a token army. After all America hasn’t been invaded since 1812, and then we pretty much asked for it.
We have wars because we have a War Department, simple as that. No department, no wars. Then we might be forced to think for a living instead of priming the pump of our economy with bombs, bullets and blood. Sure it would be tough, but we can handle tough. We’re Americans.
Don’t know why, but I find this article to be not only not uplifting, but deeply disturbing. Full story and video here.
A two-legged dog who has learned to walk upright has been made an honorary sergeant in the U.S. army for inspiring disabled war veterans.
Faith, an eight-year old labrador-chow cross is a favourite at army bases and hospitals, where she 'marches' around on her hind legs, dressed in a military jacket…
If this excerpt doesn’t get you to read the whole dispatch, nothing will. It’s by Ann Jones, a writer of a certain age (she submitted a scan of her Medicare card to the Army to prove she had the medical insurance required of embeds). Further reason to follow the link: “As Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple knows, people will say almost anything to an old lady they assume to be stupid…”
On the base, I heard incessant talk about COIN, the “new” doctrine resurrected from the disaster of Vietnam in the irrational hope that it will work this time. From my experience at the FOB, however, it’s clear enough that the hearts-and-minds part of COIN is already dead in the water, and one widespread practice in the military that’s gone unreported by other embedded journalists helps explain why.
So here’s a TomDispatch exclusive, courtesy of Afghan-American men serving as interpreters for the soldiers. They were embarrassed to the point of agony when mentioning this habit, but desperate to put a stop to it. COIN calls for the military to meet and make friends with village elders, drink tea, plan “development,” and captivate their hearts and minds. Several interpreters told me, however, that every meeting includes some young American soldiers whose locker-room-style male bonding features bouts of hilarious farting.
To Afghan men, nothing is more shameful. A fart is proof that a man cannot control any of his apparatus below the belt. The man who farts is thus not a man at all. He cannot be taken seriously, nor can any of his ideas or promises or plans.
Every person burdened with both honesty and intelligence already knows what follows, but seldom have I seen it expressed so clearly and unanswerably. Excerpted from an essay by Robert Higgs in The Beacon (h/t to Xymphora):
The announced goal is to identify terrorists and eliminate them or prevent them from carrying out their nefarious acts. This is simultaneously a small task and an impossible one. It is small because the number of persons seeking to carry out a terrorist act of substantial consequence against the United States and in a position to do so cannot be more than a handful. If the number were greater, we would have seen many more attacks or attempted attacks during the past decade — after all, the number of possible targets is virtually unlimited, and the attackers might cause some form of damage in countless ways.
The most plausible reason why so few attacks or attempted attacks have occurred is that very few persons have been trying to carry them out. (I refer to genuine attempts, not to the phony-baloney schemes planted in the minds of simpletons by government undercover agents and then trumpeted to the heavens when the FBI “captures” the unfortunate victims of the government’s entrapment.)
So, the true dimension of the terrorism problem that forms the excuse for these hundreds of programs of official predation against the taxpayers is small — not even in the same class with, say, reducing automobile-accident or household-accident deaths by 20 percent. Yet, at the same time, the antiterrorism task is impossible because terrorism is a simple act available in some form to practically any determined adult with access to Americans and their property at home or abroad.
It is simply not possible to stop all acts of terrorism if potential terrorists have been given a sufficient grievance to motivate their wreaking some form of havoc against Americans. However, it is silly to make the prevention of all terrorist acts the goal. What can’t be done won’t be done, regardless of how many people and how much money one devotes to doing it. We can, though, endure some losses from terrorism in the same way that we routinely endure some losses from accidents, diseases, and ordinary crime.
The sheer idiocy of paying legions of twenty-something grads of Harvard and Yale — youngsters who cannot speak Arabic, Farsi, Pashtun, or any of the other languages of the areas they purport to be analyzing and know practically nothing of the history, customs, folkways, and traditions of these places — indicates that no one seriously expects the promised payoff in intelligence to emerge from the effort.
The whole business is akin to sending a blind person to find a needle inside a maze buried somewhere in a hillside. That the massive effort is utterly uncoordinated and scarcely able to communicate one part’s “findings” to another only strengthens the conclusion that the goal is not stopping terrorism, but getting the taxpayers’ money and putting it into privileged pockets. Even if the expected damage from acts of terrorism against the United States were $10 billion per year, which seems much too high a guess, it makes no sense to spend more than $75 billion every year to prevent it — and it certainly makes no sense to spend any money only pretending to prevent it.
Imagine this: you’re a fifty-something four-star general in the US Army; you have achieved that lofty summit largely by laboring in the relatively peaceful halls of military academe. You spend 1970 – 1974 learning to be an officer and a gentleman at West Point during the death throes of what the Vietnamese people call “The American War” — which is really too bad, in a way, because the timing robbed you of the chance to see, up close and personal, just how horribly wrong things can go for a military that finds itself in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong strategy. Not for you the “fragging, the drugs, the widespread AWOLs and outright mutiny that occurs when young men are asked to risk death for absurd reasons against insurmountable odds.
Nevertheless you are young, smart and enthusiastic so your lack of first-hand experience doesn’t keep you from weighing in on the “lessons learned” from “The American War” when it comes time for you to tender your doctoral dissertation at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International affairs; your thesis, “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam: A Study of Military Influence and the Use of Force in the Post-Vietnam Era,” is a hit and you are duly awarded your Ph.D.
Now you are on the fast-track for brainy soldiers with political skills that will undoubtedly land you at “Ground Zero” (aka The Pentagon) or — who knows, maybe the Oval Office, someday. So it is that you eventually find yourself a general who has never seen combat — until Iraq. Unfortunately, you don’t get your hands on that command until things are so thoroughly screwed up that all the sensible people are looking for the exits and making their escape plans. But, as you are fond of saying: “just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s hopeless.” Iraq in 2007, however, is more than hard, it’s a disaster — and a disaster of our own making so the US can’t exactly declare it all a big mistake and walk away…
The All-American solution for such situations? — throw more money at it. In this case, more money equates to more troops, along with their fabulously expensive trappings, as a last ditch effort. And we will call it a “surge” which has a confident, manly sound to it and we will give this surge a fresh commander to give it that “whole new ball game” feel. Maybe then the naysayers will shut up about being lied to and Geneva conventions and bad strategies; maybe they won’t notice that having to do a surge means that you underestimated to begin with in order to sell your war; maybe they won’t be so angry that their kids died for Poor Planning more than Iraqi Freedom…
Enter “Super Dave” Petraeus to save the day; surely this military brainiac, with the impressive string of degrees, who’s running out of “shirt” to hang his merit badges on, will be able to make some sense out of the mess his less gifted colleagues have made of Iraq. Long story short, due to a very favorable confluence of external events (and Petraeus’ own extraordinary ability to recognize an “out” and capitalize on it while spinning a compelling yarn about what a great idea he had) — The Miracle of Iraqi Freedom ensued complete with stirring taglines like The Anbar Awakening and the Sons of Iraq to remind disgruntled Americans of our sacred duty to impose democracy on every hamlet, shtetl, village and outpost in the world — whether they like it or not.
No doubt about it, Super Dave is one smart cookie who understands, among other things, the value of dodging bullets. He certainly knows, as well as many of the rest of us, that timing, the existence of an Iraqi government and national infrastructure, society and internal politics played a huge role in the precipitate drop in violence that occurred in spite of, not because of, the “surge” of American troops in Iraq. Petraeus knows that he went through barrels of cash to underwrite field trips to Anbar for Awakening therapy, he knows that he quelled some urban sectarian violence by establishing and enforcing apartheid in Baghdad, he knows that he used Stan the Man’s JSOC death squads to eliminate rabble-rousers but, most of all, I’m sure that the general knows that the “center will not hold” for long. And sure enough, Iraq is steadily devolving into Civil War. Super Dave managed to get out of Iraq before that could happen, though, and collected his reward — CENTCOM command in sunny Tampa — only inches away from a happy and lucrative retirement as a military mentor for broadcast media, a lobbyist for Raytheon or some such MIC concern, maybe even POTUS?
Unfortunately, the general’s superhero status has landed him back in the soup (i.e., Afghanistan) where he is now expected to “do that voodoo that he does so well.” Obviously, “Stan the Man” McChrystal is no dummy himself, because he managed to take a flamboyant shortcut to retired-military fame and fortune, with pension intact, whilst his hapless CO gets a POTUS-designed demotion to salvage another US military fiasco.
In his desperation to pull another rabbit out of the helmet, Super Dave appears to have come up with a particularly hare-brained idea to save our hash in Afghanistan. At least it seems hare-brained, at first glance; but after some careful consideration, I’m coming around to believe that Gen. Petraeus’ new idea has more than a little genius about it. Not that I expect Super Dave’s plan to result in Victory in Afghanistan (whatever the hell that might look like) but I think that it has a damned good chance of getting Super Dave and the rest of us out of that godforsaken dust bowl in short order.
Let me explain myself …
Super Dave still had one foot on the tarmac in Kabul when he first met with, and reportedly pissed off, President Karzai. The issue that Karzai is most sensitive to is the Americans’ idea that Afghanistan needs to establish (yet another) police force to protect the population from Taliban intimidation. But the general still has visions of the Sons of Iraq dancing in his head and probably figures it’s worth a shot. These “new” police forces would be localized and therefore, theoretically, more aware of insurgents in their midst, more inclined to protect their own communities from Taliban incursions and less inclined to shakedown, loot, rape or pillage their own neighbors. Standing up an effective national police force, one of the few clearly stated key milestones for eventual withdrawal of Western forces, has, so far, been an abysmal failure in Afghanistan for a myriad of well-documented reasons; this would be a fresh start not to mention the fact that it would distract any Afghanistan-Watchers who are still waiting for the Kandahar Offensive or for things to turn around in Marjah.
It all makes some sense (on paper) and, in the absence of any other bright ideas, it’s at least something that looks different to try. From President Karzai’s perspective, it looks like an invitation to insurrection. Karzai has been solidly against this notion any time that the US has suggested it; he knows that his hold on power is so tenuous that the last thing he needs is a few dozen fractious militias running around in various provinces setting their own agenda. Since the oft-repeated mission of the US in Afghanistan has been to concentrate and solidify power in the Kabul central government, Karzai has a point. No one is going to change the centuries-old provincial and tribal allegiances of ordinary Afghan citizens by deputizing them, arming them and putting them on the government payroll; they may prefer to keep Taliban extremists out of their lives but that doesn’t mean that they are anxious to help Karzai solidify his own bloc and no one knows that better than the Brothers Karzai whose only aspirations are to milk the NATO presence for every last euro and dollar they can before they must depart or lose their heads.
Despite grave misgivings, Karzai finally caved to Super Dave on this point, most likely because he knows that it’s a fool’s errand. Spencer Ackerman wrote a great brief on how dumb this idea is, just in case it escapes the average taxpayer who continues to underwrite this nonsense; here’s what Spencer says which I totally agree with:
“General David Petraeus has persuaded Karzai to set up a new force to supplement Afghan soldiers and police. It’s not really Anbar Awakening 2.0, since it doesn’t involve insurgents switching sides. And don’t use the M-word, Pentagon officials say. “They would not be militias,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters Wednesday. ‘These would be government-formed, government-paid, government-uniformed local police units.’ Specifically, the new units will be paid by the Interior Ministry — or, rather, the foreign money that bankrolls the Afghanistan government will be disbursed to these new units through the ministry.”
“Except, Morell conceded, they wouldn’t be trained, as police units are. (“We don’t have enough trainers to do the fundamental job here,” Morrell further conceded.) In essence, up to 10,000 fighters — as an initial tranche, according to the New York Times — around the country will be rapidly deputized under the auspices of the Interior Ministry, at the behest of the NATO military command, and then relied upon to keep the peace in places with insufficient amounts of Afghan security forces. ‘A useful bridging mechanism,’ Morrell called the program, until the Afghan army and police can move in.”
So, suddenly, into the already toxic Afghan mix, will be added thousands of untrained, armed local defense forces “free to make it up as they go along.” Of course they will technically be government employees, beholden to Kabul for their paychecks and they will have to answer to the Interior Ministry in Kabul (whose Director resigned last month taking with him Interior’s reputation of being one of the only Kabul government departments that was anything like viable and well run).
The fatal flaw in this plan, as Ackerman cogently points out, is this:
“Only the potential for short-term contingencies to overtake long-term strategy is acute. It’s not like there’s some separate pool of potential recruits for this new “Local Police Force.” They’re the same Afghans that the government’s been trying to recruit for the army and the police. The fighters rallied to this new program are most likely to come from local power brokers, whose hold over remote parts of Afghanistan will be accordingly entrenched. Those power brokers won’t easily give up the source of that expanded power to army and police recruiters. And that means the “bridging mechanism” could easily turn the expansion of the Afghan security services — the U.S.’s ticket out of Afghanistan, according to the Obama administration’s overall strategy — a bridge to nowhere.”
Over time, I’ve grown sort of fond of our plucky general, Super Dave. I think that he’s very smart, especially when it comes to politics; moreover, I think he’s at least as smart as Spencer Ackerman and therefore the fairly glaring, obvious downside potential of the localized police force idea will not have escaped him. And that, I believe, is the beauty of Super Dave’s mind.
By now, most have us have had time to appreciate the awesome dimensions of our military and diplomatic failure in Afghanistan – our total ignorance of the region, our reluctance to leave long after al Qaeda was decimated, our adoption of the Taliban as a new enemy, our destabilization of Pakistan, our appalling choice of Hamid Karzai to head up a new government, etc, etc. More and more of us are clamoring to just “own” that failure and get the hell out before our economy totally craters. Super Dave wants that, too, I suspect; but he’d probably like to get out with his career intact and, especially with his COIN theory vindicated. So what could possibly happen in Afghanistan, next, that would create the space for a graceful exit?
I’m thinking that civil war, if not total anarchy, might be just the ticket. Think of it — emasculated warlords with freshly armed militias joining up with the provincial shadow governments to get rid of the Karzais and their Western patrons, once and for all. If that were to happen, COIN must necessarily be suspended because, by definition, COIN requires a strong central government for the population to gravitate toward. I imagine the “post-mortem” conversation would probably go something like this: “Perhaps COIN might have worked in Afghanistan if internal strife hadn’t toppled the Karzai government; but without a healthy central government, all bets were off.”
That’s when things get interesting for the US because we then have the choice of withdrawing while the Afghans have their civil war which, after all, is nothing to do with us and keeps them busy and distracted from other things like harboring al Qaeda (if they ever consciously did so). Or, we could decide to pick a side, stay on and engage in conventional warfare (probably regional) without any quibbling over who’s who. That would probably please the “bomb them back into the Stone Age” crowd.
That’s my idea, anyway. And if it’s Super Dave’s idea, too, well . . . more power to him. At this point, I’ll support just about any program that gets us out of Afghanistan in less than ten years.
From Ricardo Garcia Vilanova of The Wall Street Journal:
Staff Sgt. Edward Rosa reads the Bible and extends a cigarette to Pfc. Jorge Rostra Obando, who was stunned by an explosion in Afghanistan’s Arghanab Valley. One comrade was killed and two injured in the blast. Pfc. Rostran asked the sergeant to read Psalm 91, a favorite from his childhood.
This was taken by war photographer Jim Caccavo in 1968. The setting is the former Tan Son Nhut air base near Saigon. The 3rd U.S. Army Field hospial is in the background.
Suggested by my last post, the following excerpt is from William Greider’s 2009 book, Come Home, America:
The U. S. military, despite its massive firepower and technological brilliance, has itself become the gravest threat to our peace and security. Our risks and vulnerabilities around the world are magnified and multiplied because the American military has shifted from providing national defense to taking the offensive worldwide, from being a vigilant defender to being an adventurous aggressor in search of enemies.
The predicament this muscle-bound approach puts our country in is dangerous and new. Go looking for trouble around the world and you are likely to find it. The next war may be a fight that is provoked not by them but by us. The next war may already have started somewhere in the world, perhaps in a small, obscure country that we’ve considered threatening.
From a review of the book by George C. Wilson, the Washington Post’s longtime Pentagon correspondent:
I agree with Greider that there is a new attack elephant in the American living room. The old watchdog that would bark if some stranger knocked at the door but only bite if he broke into the house has been retired. Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates seem to have fallen in love with Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and Marine special operators who do their deadly work in the shadows. The top of our government was similarly infatuated with special operations during the Vietnam War until some of the operators got out of control and had to be reined in to discourage what was called “cowboyism” back then.
Our unending state of stress-out is al-Qaeda’s greatest victory against the United States. As the AP reports today, al-Qaeda got one big message from the Underwear Bomber’s failure: “the group that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks and has prided itself on its ideological purism seems to be eyeing a more pragmatic and arguably more dangerous shift in tactics. The emerging message appears to be: Big successes are great, but sometimes simply trying can be just as good.”
Yeah, it seems like the simple cave dwellers have figured out big, complex, allegedly bad-ass America: we’re just a bunch of sticky fat kids crying because our ice cream fell off the cone. That wedgie-bait, Adam Gadahn (née “Pearlman”), an American in al-Qaeda, taunted, “Even apparently unsuccessful attacks on Western mass transportation systems can bring major cities to a halt, cost the enemy billions and send his corporations into bankruptcy.” He may be a traitorous asshole who can’t grow a decent beard, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Ask anyone who was at Newark Airport in January, where security imprisoned thousands of innocent people for six hours because some idiot took a shortcut…
Indeed, the right has so successfully torqued the country into what our enemies believe it is, it’s almost as if the GOP is a subversive arm of al-Qaeda. They have nearly bankrupted us, thus making any great social advances impossible; they have turned mild dissent into sedition; and they have turned the Constitution into a loophole-ridden contract, filled with more fine print than a subprime mortgage. They did most of that shit when they were in power. Now, out of power, the right is seeking, as it did in the Clinton years, but even more insidiously, to undermine the very functioning of government…
Just this one more little cigarette and then I promise I’ll quit for good….
From the New York Times:
…But it seems there has been a genuine shift in Somali policy, too, and the Americans have absorbed a Somali truth that eluded them for nearly 20 years: If Somalia is going to be stabilized, it is going to take Somalis.
“This is not an American offensive,” said Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for Africa. “The U.S. military is not on the ground in Somalia. Full stop.”
He added, “There are limits to outside engagement, and there has to be an enormous amount of local buy-in for this work.”
Most of the American military assistance to the Somali government has been focused on training, or has been channeled through African Union peacekeepers. But that could change. An American official in Washington, who said he was not authorized to speak publicly, predicted that American covert forces would get involved if the offensive, which could begin in a few weeks, dislodged Qaeda terrorists.
“What you’re likely to see is airstrikes and Special Ops moving in, hitting and getting out,” the official said.
From today’s New York Times:
PHUKET, Thailand — Stiffening the American line against Iran, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Wednesday that the United States would consider extending a “defense umbrella” over the Middle East if the country continued to defy international demands that it halt work that could lead to nuclear weapons.
Defense umbrella, huh? Way to go, Hillary, about time for a little rebranding. Power for peace, manifest destiny, pénétration paisible, mission civilisatrice, lebensraum, Pax Romana, white man’s burden, etc. (here insert your own favorite euphemism), have all gotten a little old.
The title above is a quote from Ronald Reagan at the 1988 Republican National Convention. He was trying to access a John Adams quote, “Facts are stubborn things,” but something more appropriate to the man and the occasion popped out.
The essay below is from my neighbor Jim, more of whose stuff can be seen here.
Compare and contrast:
1980 may seem kind of arbitrary as the jump off for the end of empire, but the economics bear it out. Under Reagan, government disbursements and revenues, as a share of GDP, jumped a full six percentage points. More, if you include his unfunded moral hygiene mandates.
All the Republicans talked Rand, Friedman, inter alia, but they acted like straightforward right wing military Keynesians. Military Keynesianism is of course nothing new in the US. But prior to 1980 there was a dominant Bismarckian consensus (have I dropped enough names yet?) that it had to be matched by social spending, otherwise the exercise of hard power would eventually become financially unsustainable.
You cannot extract surplus value — i.e. have capitalism — in great heaping bushel baskets unless you have a government willing to exercise single payer monopsony power over basic human needs, basic scientific research and renewable sources of the energy needed to drive all this. Lo and behold, the exercise of hard power is now done on credit, with only the threat of mutually assured destruction holding our creditors at bay.
I suppose one could point to a cultural shift in the eighties, as there certainly was one, but I prefer a bit more systemic determinism.
The political economy of capitalism is easiest to manage through psychological terrorism. It’s a cheap and effective way of outsourcing the quotidian enforcement of corporate feudalism to vigilante moral panic artists. There’s no shortage of people willing to enforce for free. Hell, they’ll even pay for the dubious privilege.
People become inured to this, querulous and rebellious, and the terrorism has to be stepped up. Red scares have to be coupled with ethnic scares, drug scares, satanic child care scares and so forth. Going against that, as Carter did in an achingly minuscule way, is a positive step for capitalism and a negative step for capitalists. Their enforcement costs look to climb. People who aren’t constantly depressed and frightened get a little feisty.
Under Reagan, the “clever” work-around was burgeoning unfunded mandates to make the states take on domestic psychological terrorism, and yanking the social safety net away, while the central government threw surplus value to the cretinous capitalists, hand over fist. It’s been down hill ever since.
I can’t see why anyone would want to be president after Bush. It’s not a sane thing to do. I thought, and still think, that the Democrats would have been better off throwing the election. McCain would probably not have lasted four years and right wing military Keynesianism would have been discredited for a good long time. Getting stuck with cradling the appalling, ghoulish offspring that are roving mindlessly over a dying empire would have ruined him, and the most cretinous of the cretinous capitalists.
The Democrats could have trotted out old social democratic wine in new bottles and enjoyed thirty or forty years of crowing from the top of the DC shit hill. So it goes, I guess. And my goodness, doesn’t Carter look like a saint in comparison to every asshole that’s come since.
I watched TV pretty much nonstop all day yesterday, but didn’t hear a word about this heartwarming display of bad manners on Monday. In case you missed it too, go here for the full article and pictures.
President Bush was given an Iraqi-journalist-style sendoff on his last full day in office Monday, as tourists and demonstrators lobbed shoes, pumps, boots, sandals and Crocs from Pennsylvania Avenue onto the White House lawn.
Before launching the operation live, the shoe-chuckers took target practice in Dupont Circle on a 20-foot-tall blow up doll of the outgoing president, decked out in the flight suit he wore aboard the “Mission Accomplished” aircraft carrier.
Even now as George Bush is almost walking out the door, his administration appears poised to allow a regulation that would make it easy for subdivisions full of housing to be built around your National Forests and turn them into highways. Yes, land that was set aside for public use 100 years ago and for which hundreds of millions Americans have enjoyed since they first landed on these shores are now being dropped into the bucket of housing commerce. Ansel Adams and Teddy Roosevelt would not be pleased one bit, nor will millions of American outdoorsmen and women, often those who were part of the old Republican base, the hunters, as well as those who enjoy the pristine and unspoiled beauty of the National Forests. Some choice paragraphs from the Washington Post article detailing the plan appear below, but go read the whole thing for more details:
The Bush administration appears poised to push through a change in U.S. Forest Service agreements that would make it far easier for mountain forests to be converted to housing subdivisions.
The shift is technical but with large implications. It would allow Plum Creek Timber to pave roads passing through Forest Service land. For decades, such roads were little more than trails used by logging trucks to reach timber stands.
But as Plum Creek has moved into the real estate business, paving those roads became a necessary prelude to opening vast tracts of the company’s 8 million acres to the vacation homes that are transforming landscapes across the West.
Scenic western Montana, where Plum Creek owns 1.2 million acres, would be most affected, placing fresh burdens on county governments to provide services, and undoing efforts to cluster housing near towns.
Probably because the proposal would die after Jan. 20. Obama sharply criticized Rey’s efforts during the presidential campaign, seizing on concerns that a landscape dotted with luxury homes will be less hospitable to Montanans accustomed to easy access to timberlands.
“At a time when Montana’s sportsmen are finding it increasingly hard to access lands, it is outrageous that the Bush administration would exacerbate the problem by encouraging prime hunting and fishing lands to be carved up and closed off,” Obama said.
And the President ends up carrying a lot of people's grief in his soul during a presidency. One of the things about the presidency is you deal with a lot of tragedy — whether it be hurricanes, or tornadoes, or fires, or death and you spend time being the Comforter-in-Chief. But the idea of being able to serve a nation you love is — has been joyful. In other words, my spirits have never been down. I have been sad, but the spirits are up.
Harshing on the twerp is sort of like kicking a dead dog, but hey, what harm can it do? Bush has no more feelings to hurt than the mutt does. So here’s an excerpt from Tom Degan, master of The Rant:
…All of that aside, we might as well face the fact that President Obama is now in charge of our beloved nation — in fact if not in law. All that’s left for Bush is the occasional photo op and mindless waves to a few carefully selected crowds of Right Wing robots — not unlike what Queen Elizabeth does. He doesn’t look like a president. He doesn’t talk like a president. He doesn’t act like a president. He’s an embarrassment.
For the rest of our history, even if we last into the next millennium, the image of George W. Bush’s twisted, grotesque smirk will be an eternal reminder of this generation’s jaw-dropping naivete involving politics and affairs of state. The fact that this half-witted little guttersnipe was elected twice to the most powerful office in the world defies credulity. And considering the gravitas of the two men he was able to defeat, his tenure as president is all-the-more embarrassing. It is akin to Jascha Heifetz losing to Jack Benny on American Idol.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, looks like a president! Think about that for a minute or two. On April 13, 1945, the morning after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a long time White House employee was shocked when President Truman walked into the Oval Office. She had never seen a president walk before.
Can you imagine the mass, cosmic shock this country will experience when President Obama holds his first news conference? From coast to coast, men will be nudging their wives, “Did you hear that, Martha?? The President of the United States just put two grammatically correct sentences together! Pass me my smellin’ salts, darlin’!” No doubt about it, this is a new age…
Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzalez and a covey of Judges indicted in Texas. There are many stories coming out of Texas on these indictments. Here are a couple. Google News has dozens if not hundreds more.
I previously blogged this song and sent the link to someone who I’ve made acquaintance with online and then briefly met in person. He had never heard it before and said it brought tears to his eyes and actually made him cry. He then said he had sent it to his wife immediately. I won’t reveal his name, but he’s become something of a writing sensation in recent years. But I’m going to play it again now, because what was true then is even more true today and this song captures that sentiment so well. The sense of loss of a place and and life that once was and is gone or will be no more seems to be picking up steam and becoming more evident every day.
Forgive me for repeating a previous post, but this is what I’m having in lieu of my morning cup or coffee and orange juice. Forgive me for turning to folk songs. I regard many of them as a special version of poetry that helps me get through difficult times. The singer and writer of this song is Iris Dement, one of our national treasures who got blackballed in the 1990’s because she wrote a few truthful songs about our nation that crossed a line that one is not supposed to cross: speaking truth to power.
Despite the previous post from my mentor and colleague on this blog — it is my duty to report that Joe Bageant, who knows heartland America better than I do — has something to say today on the subject of Sarah Palin, although he’s not dared to speak that name until now. I was, as they say in essentially all of rural America, “raised up in it”. Joe and I both decided to leave our people behind at least part of the time, but both of us have an essential love for what we call “our people’, no matter how deluded we know they are.
Here’s a snippet from Joe’s first post on the subject of Sarah Palin:
Sarah Palin’s real coup is that she brings out the snobbery of the left in their dismissal of her as an ignorant hick typical of small town red state America. They vastly underestimate her. Just like they have underestimated George Bush for the past eight years. While they laughed, George Bush managed to get everything he wanted and assist the looting of America in his spare time. No matter that he is vastly unpopular now even among Republicans. He has fulfilled his purpose to the powerful corporations and financial institutions that animate American politics. You do not have to be smart to be president, just malleable to the greater forces at work.
Yet Palin is not stupid. She may be religious and a right winger, but that doesn’t mean she is stupid and incompetent (neither of which ever prevented an astute American politician from success, by the way.) She may be the last person any thinking leftist would want to see as vice president, but so far Sarah Palin has been a very successful politician. She has a high domestic approval rating and has soared to the top in record time. And each time Democrats and liberals take a shot at her religious beliefs and moral choices, which just happen to be those of tens of millions of heartland voting Americans, she gains political ground, or at a minimum, holds some for herself and McCain.
The left likes nothing better than to masturbate one another with never ending proof of their intellectual, moral and political superiority. And I for one believe most intellectual and moral positions taken by the left ARE superior. Which doesn’t mean shit if you are holding those positions while being prosecuted for simply getting a blowjob or getting investigated by the Department of Reich Security because you like eating hummus.
I tend to agree with Joe, but I’m not sure we on the left have learned how to attack the right and at the same time get them or the independents to vote with us, even when we know they’re hurting themselves when they vote otherwise. So for now I’m an agnostic on this subject, the same as I am on the subject of religion (nothing gripes me more than those who claim to be sure that there isn’t some kind of creator of the universe). Personally I don’t know but I don’t let myself get worked up about it until people start defining that entity or being, whatever it is, as being like all of humanity. If “God’ is anything like we humans or Sarah Palin or even dare I say it, Barack Obama, we’re in a heap of trouble.
But think about what Joe has to say. If he’s right, we’re in for some hard times ahead that I don’t want to think about. Can anyone offer us a third way to deal with the scourge of our time, and that is, ignorance greeting us in the face of impending doom.
Barack Obama is indeed ahead in the polls, but this is that time of the year when all of the mutual funds, IRA’s, pension funds, retirement funds, etc. start buying shares from Wall Street, and all of Wall Street loves to see prices high during that period. So this short period of stock market exuberance that we might see shortly but won’t be with us for much longer can turn the poll numbers around in a skinny minute. We are all treading on thin ice, in more ways that we can possibly know.
Brought to you from the American News Project via The Real News Network this video contains some interesting comments and an unusual ending. Partisans might want to stay away from watching this one. Those seeking to help make our government accountable to the people instead of the corporations will find it fascinating.
I've had to remove the video that I had included on this post because I don't know how to stop it from automatically playing when someone goes to the home page of this blog. But to watch it, click on the Real Network News link, the second one, above.
Filmed earlier this spring, this is what New Orleans looked like before the current storm bearing down on the city. Thanks to the Real News Network for providing this video in today’s news segment.
From the Washington Post:
Since his conviction on fraud and conspiracy charges, former lobbyist Jack Abramoff has spent more than 3,000 hours helping more than 100 law enforcement agents in an ongoing federal corruption probe that has implicated “scores of other persons not yet charged,” lawyers said in court filings yesterday.
By the end of 2005, those defending the regime of torture were no longer seeking primarily to protect the search for valuable intelligence. They were fighting for its survival, in the face of considerable evidence of the failure of SERE and other programs, because they feared being prosecuted should the program be halted and exposed.
Even releasing detainees whom they knew to be entirely innocent was dangerous, since once released they could talk. “People will ask where they’ve been and ‘What have you been doing with them?‘” Cheney said in a White House meeting. “They’ll all get lawyers.”
[And let me ask by way of addendum to this post, has anyone else lost access to Wikileaks.org? I’ve tried all their mirrors and cannot access the site. Is this location related or are they shut down?]
[Addendum 2: I tried to find the answer to the Wikileaks question last night, but was able to retrieve the information just now from a blog which critiques Wikileaks. I have also found that Wikileaks is indeed offline. I have noticed that they are posting a great deal of classified material and I’ve been reluctant to bite those apples under the theory that too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing. I urge everyone who may be thinking of offering documents to Wikileaks to consider the information contained at the website at this link before doing so. At any rate, they are offline, which isn't unusual, but no one seems to know why. If you do, please post it.]
[Addendum 3: The website referred to above just reported that Wikileaks is back online. I tried all day yesterday and today, but it's apparent, as I’m sure Peter would agree, that the audience for Bad Attitudes extends far beyond our borders. Ask and ye shall receive (sometimes anyway).]
In the immediate aftermath of the 2001 anthrax attacks, White House officials repeatedly pressed FBI Director Robert Mueller to prove it was a second-wave assault by Al Qaeda, but investigators ruled that out, the Daily News has learned.
After the Oct. 5, 2001, death from anthrax exposure of Sun photo editor Robert Stevens, Mueller was “beaten up” during President Bush's morning intelligence briefings for not producing proof the killer spores were the handiwork of terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden, according to a former aide.
“They really wanted to blame somebody in the Middle East,” the retired senior FBI official told The News.
On October 15, 2001, President Bush said, “There may be some possible link” to Bin Laden, adding, “I wouldn't put it past him.” Vice President Cheney also said Bin Laden's henchmen were trained “how to deploy and use these kinds of substances, so you start to piece it all together.”
But by then the FBI already knew anthrax spilling out of letters addressed to media outlets and to a U.S. senator was a military strain of the bioweapon. ”Very quickly [Fort Detrick, Md., experts] told us this was not something some guy in a cave could come up with,” the ex-FBI official said. “They couldn't go from box cutters one week to weapons-grade anthrax the next.”
I’m not usually a tinfoil hat guy either, but the criticism I have against the FBI is that they are too quickly closing down this investigation. They have made wrong accusations twice in this one case alone, and as one commenter at TPMmuckraker noted:
I’m not really a tinfoil hat guy (most of the time), but is there anyone else out there who thinks that the scientist who did this might have been pressured into doing it? I mean, what was his motivation, otherwise? And isn’t it possible that Cheney and his henchmen put him up to it? And is it only coincidence that the senator targeted was Tom Daschle?
Welcome back to the limelight Mr. Bugliosi:
Thanks to Carl Manaster for making me aware of the following song in the comments section, which probably conveys many of the feelings of quite of few of our men in uniform and also expresses the frustration felt by many of us who now oppose or originally opposed the war in Iraq. It’s time for a musical break anyway.
Living here in very conservative Central Pennsylvania, one of the things that struck me prior to the 2004 election was the number of “Support Our Troops” ribbons that appeared on the rear end of automobiles. They were practically everywhere and on at least two thirds of the cars in this area. Invariably, if you asked, you’d find that these same folks were Bush supporters.
Four years later, in driving around in this area, I’ve noticed that the number of these “Support the Troops” ribbons are on perhaps ten percent of the vehicles, probably closer to five percent but I’ll leave a margin of error since either way, the difference is dramatic. Do people not support the troops now but supported them then? Are the conservative folks here in Central Pennsylvania proverbial flip-floppers? Thank goodness for liberals and Democrats, the only groups now that still have the troops in mind, but we don’t need to advertise it with a bumper sticker.
I’m quite certain that all those folks wearing those ribbons on their vehicles years ago weren’t supporting the troops. In fact, they didn’t give a rat’s ass about the troops. They supported a war that any thinking person would know was a venture in which many of the troops would become IED fodder. Now that these conservatives no longer support the war, they don’t give a shit about the troops and their ribbons have largely disappeared.
Same goes for flag lapel pins to a lesser extent. And that’s just the way it is.
Years ago Esquire had a feature called “Dubious Achievements of 19XX.” It was accompanied by a photo of the disgraced President Nixon, grinning as if he were eating chocolate ice cream or something of similar appearance. The caption was always, “Why Is This Man Smiling?”
Today’s Maureen Dowd column asks the same question. It starts off with:
Everyone here is flummoxed about why the president is in such a fine mood…
Dowd goes on to catalogue Bush’s string of weird public performances these last few weeks— jigging, dancing, giggling, grinning, joking and singing as the new Rome burns all around him.
And she concludes:
Or perhaps it’s a Freudian trip. Now that he’s mucked up the world and the country, he can finally stop rebelling against his dad and relax in the certainty that the Bush name will forever be associated with crash-and-burn presidencies.
Her analysis gives me the opportunity to utter once again the sweetest words known to man: I told you so.
Here’s Dubya’s Creepy Death Wish, from September of 2002.
Then in May of 2006: Mission Almost Accomplished.
And last July, an update in The Smirking Chimp called Dragging Daddy Down.
I’m glad to welcome Ms. Dowd aboard, and only wish she had seen through Bush a little sooner — for instance when her public fawning over the adorable drugstore cowboy from Greenwich during the 2000 campaign caused keener judges of manflesh to mutter in disgust, For Christ’s sake, guys, get a room.
Things aren’t as bad as you thought. Once again, they’re worse. This excerpt is from James Fallows’s look back at the Hart-Rudman Commission which, as few now alive remember, predicted in early 2001 that terrorism would be our greatest national security problem.
The commission was wrong, of course. Our greatest national security problem lurked in the West Wing of the White House — and also, it turns out, back in the vice-presidential mansion at Number One Observatory Circle.
At the first meeting, one Republican woman on the commission said that the overwhelming threat was from China. Sooner or later the U.S. would end up in a military showdown with the Chinese Communists. There was no avoiding it, and we would only make ourselves weaker by waiting. No one else spoke up in support.
The same thing happened at the second meeting — discussion from other commissioners about terrorism, nuclear proliferation, anarchy of failed states, etc, and then this one woman warning about the looming Chinese menace. And the third meeting too. Perhaps more.
Finally, in frustration, this woman left the commission.
“Her name was Lynne Cheney,” Hart said. “I am convinced that if it had not been for 9/11, we would be in a military showdown with China today.” Not because of what China was doing, threatening, or intending, he made clear, but because of the assumptions the Administration brought with it when taking office. (My impression is that Chinese leaders know this too, which is why there are relatively few complaints from China about the Iraq war. They know that it got the U.S. off China’s back!)
I’m not one who spends a lot of time at the Lyndon Larouche site — they do have their wacky theories — but here’s a selection from an article from one of his sites that I agree with wholeheartedly. Enjoy that tap water while you can. The powers that be are already conditioning us to think of water as something we have to pay for. Look for the price to spike — just like the price of oil has done. The selling off of our infrastructure — and it is we the people who are the real owners of public infrastructure — has begun in earnest. Watch for the sovereign wealth funds — meaning the princes of other nations — to start buying their shares in earnest. We’re being sold down the river and the pace is picking up faster than ever.
There are also many projects underway to create special fee-based lanes (“Lexus lanes”) on public highways under the guise of dealing with congestion, and even discussions of tracking all cars, and charging drivers by the mile driven on all “public” roads. Add to this, the growing number of schemes to privatize water and sewer systems, bridges, tunnels, airports, and other infrastructure projects, turning them into profit centers.
The pressure for governments to agree to such deals is rising, as the effects of the economic collapse are felt. Falling real estate values, for example, are beginning to devastate county tax receipts, and the breakdown of the securities markets is making it increasingly difficult for state and local governments to raise money for infrastructure projects through the sales of bonds. Under such circumstances, the lure of money from private equity funds to buy or lease government assets is increasingly powerful. But governments which accept such bids are basically selling their populations down the river.
The treating of infrastructure as a profit center to be judged in its effectiveness by the amount of revenue it produces, is a sign of a society gone insane. The purpose of infrastructure is to raise the productive power of the people in the area it serves, as a way of making the economy more productive. Selling it off to the highest bidder, who will charge as much as possible to maximize income, is actually counterproductive to economic growth.
Rather than attempt to bail out our banks by shifting their losses to the population, and allow corporatist privatization of what should be free public services, we should return to the policies associated with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR put those he termed "the economic royalists" in their place, and defended the general welfare of the population, and in doing so, defended the nation. That is a policy which worked, and a policy to which we must return if we are to survive as a nation.
I haven’t bothered to track down this Bush quote on the White House site, but I trust the Doonesbury site, from which it came:
“It’s what I do during my presidency. I go around spreading good will and talking about the importance of spreading freedom and peace.”
If Nixon had said something like this, we could be vaguely comforted by the knowledge that at least he knew what a load of crap he was handing out, and was sniggering in the darkness of his soul at the suckers who were dumb enough to believe it.
But this White House is an irony free zone, and Bush, God help us, is one of those suckers.
Taken at the mass peace demonstration in Washington on March 20, 2003, four days before the idiot attacked Baghdad.
A Sharon friend, who is also a folk singer, recently forwarded me a perfectly astounding quotation from Edward R. Murrow that was broadcast over the BBC in February, 1946, as Murrow left Britain after years of covering World War II from there. Said Murrow: “I believe that I have learned the most important thing that has happened in Britain during the last six years.”
No, Murrow wasn’t speaking of routine courage, or the Blitz, or the Battle of Britain, or El Alamein, or Normandy — important as those facts and events were. He was speaking of the continued British respect for democracy and human rights, in spite of the war. Murrow cited two particular examples, excerpted here:
“Do you remember that while London was being bombed in the daylight the House devoted two days to discussing conditions under which enemy aliens were detained on the Isle of Man? Though Britain fell, there were to be no concentration camps here.”
“Do you remember that two days after Italy declared war an Italian citizen, convicted of murder in the lower courts, appealed successfully to the highest court in the land, and the original verdict was set aside? There was still law in the land, regardless of race, nationality or hatred. Representative government, equality before the law survived.”
Future generations who bother to read the historical record will see that in Britain, during the greatest war of all time, there was no retreat from basic human rights and principles. Isn’t it telling that today our U.S. Supreme Court should have to be even considering whether “detainees” in the so-call “war” on terrorism have the right to fair trial, to habeas corpus, to counsel, or even the right not to be tortured in violation of national and international law?
Surely, this is not our “finest hour.” Compared with our British friends in wartime, how far have we fallen? How far have we yet to fall?
The good news is Gonzales is gone. The bad news is Gonzales is gone. I’m going to miss Alberto. Call me a sentimental old fool, but I had hoped he would hang from Bush’s neck for the next 511 days, putrefying slowly in the nostrils of all mankind.
And in fact there is strong literary precedent for such just such a punishment. Let us turn, then, to Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
Sympathetic pundits cry in chorus:
“God save thee, Court-crowned president!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus! —
Why look’st thou so?” —’With my crossbow
I shot the Albertross…”
Relieved, the pundits opine thusly:
Then all averred, I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist.
‘Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.
But the hot and copper sky returns apace, causing the Ship of State to stick, nor breath nor motion, as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean. The pundit chorus turns like so many lapdogs on its now-disgraced emperor, who laments:
Ah! well-a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albertross
About my neck was hung.
Anon, remembering the fallen Rumsfeld, Rove and good old Brownie with sorrow, yet relieved that Cheney and so many other brave hearts still survive, the Impostor Prince sings this bittersweet tribute:
The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.
Until, after an interminable wait made bearable only by Jenna’s story-book wedding to a Karl Rove aide, Inaugural Day at long last dawns. The father of the bride sings:
…And from my neck so free
The Albertross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea.
I consider this to be the best video I’ve seen on YouTube.
The plan, which Prodi had approved, was to double the size of the base so that the entire 173rd Airborne Brigade could be garrisoned there — 4,500 troopers instead of 2,750.
For what sane (or even faintly plausible) reason do we have any paratroopers in Italy at all?
And secondly, why do we tuck an entire regular army airborne brigade out of harm’s way in northern Italy at the same time we are breaking the back of our reserve forces by deploying and redeploying them to Iraq as occupation troops during a civil war?
Interestingly enough, the thirty-eight large and medium-sized American facilities spread around the globe in 2005 — mostly air and naval bases for our bombers and fleets — almost exactly equals Britain’s thirty-six naval bases and army garrisons at its imperial zenith in 1898. The Roman Empire at its height in 117 AD required thirty-seven major bases to police its realm from Britannia to Egypt, from Hispania to Armenia. Perhaps the optimum number of major citadels and fortresses for an imperialist aspiring to dominate the world is somewhere between thirty-five and forty.
And don’t miss the comments following the article from which the paragraph above is taken. They add a whole new dimension of insanity to a global policy that is already batshit crazy.
Eisenhower, of course, predicted all this with great accuracy in the military/industrial complex speech he delivered on leaving office. Also of course, it has to be said that he did little or nothing to solve the problem during the eight years when he could have done more than talk about it.
But when you’re in office, as the bagmen on K Street say, money talks and bullshit walks.