December 31, 2006
On the Internet...
This isn't a vale - I just thought it was amusing. I found it at the always excellent Barista.
Dead Men Tell No Tales
Thanks For The Memories
Via K. Engels at Pharyngula. For other articulate statements of the blindingly obvious see Mr Floyd, Mr Schwarz, Mr Gathman and Mr Henley quoting Mr Marshall. Meanwhile, Mr Seymour does a lovely rendition of "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall".
December 19, 2006
Extracts from Dispatches
A few months ago, Bravus wrote a post quoting the Cold Chisel song Khe Sanh. For what it's worth, I've never particularly liked that song, partly because I find the melody dull, but mostly because I'm a history maven. While I suppose it's possible that Don Walker's hero was intended to be a rootless American, I doubt many in Cold Chisel's audience thought he was not Australian. There were, however, no Australian forces at the siege of Khe Sanh, unless you count the pilots of the Canberra bombers that flew a few missions against the besieging Vietnamese. So, yeah, I find it a little grating.
The battle at Khe Sanh features prominently in Michael Herr's war-correspondent memoir, Dispatches. One of the things that stayed with me after reading Herr's book was his description of how Marine casualties during the bombardment (the brass objected to journalists describing it as a siege) were unnecessarily high because of the disdain the Marines had for taking the appropriate precautions to protect themselves from enemy fire, from not bothering to do up their flak jackets to not building proper trenches ("Marines don't dig!"). Herr recounts a bizarre press conference with a visiting general in which one journalist angrily raises the matter:
On the afternoon of the day that we returned to Danang an important press conference was held at the Marine-operated, Marine-controlled press centre, a small compound on the river where most correspondents based themselves whenever they covered 1 Corps. A brigadier general from 3 MAF, Marine Headquarters, was coming over to brief us on developments in the DMZ and Khe Sanh. The colonel in charge of 'press operations' was visibly nervous, the dining room was being cleared for the meeting, microphones set up, chairs arranged, printed material put in order. These official briefings usually did the same thing to your perception of the war that flares did to your night vision, but this one was supposed to be special, and correspondents had come in from all over 1 Corps to be there. Among us was Peter Braestrup of the Washington Post, formerly of The New York Times. He had been covering the war for nearly three years. He had been a captain in the Marines in Korea; ex-Marines are like ex-Catholics or off-duty Feds, and Braestrup still made the Marines a special concern of his. He had grown increasingly bitter about the Marines' failure to dig in at Khe Sanh, about their shocking lack of defences against artillery. He sat quietly as the colonel introduced the general and the briefing began.Exactly who, if anyone, won the siege at Khe Sanh is a matter of debate. The siege was lifted in April 1968; but the Americans then abandoned the base only a few months later. Those who see the siege as a strategic victory for the Vietnamese argue the engagement was a feint to draw attention away from preparations for the Tet Offenisve; the US military argued that the Tet Offensive would have been more successful for the enemy if so many of their soldiers had not been busy at Khe Sanh. Victory or defeat, whatever US soldiers might have left to the "sappers round Khe Sanh", the cost to the Vietnamese troops in the hills under constant bombardment from US artillery and air force attacks is appalling to contemplate. Herr writes about the end of the siege:
The weather was excellent: 'The sun is up over Khe Sanh by ten every morning.' (A collective groan running through the seated journalists.) 'I'm glad to be able to tell you that Route Nine is now open and completely accessible.' (Would you drive Route 9 into Khe Sanh, General? You bet you wouldn't.)
'What about the Marines at Khe Sanh?' someone asked. 'I'm glad we've come to that,' the general said. 'I was at Khe Sanh for several hours this morning, and I want to tell you that those Marines there are clean!'
There was a weird silence. We all knew we'd heard him, the man had said that the Marines at Khe Sanh were clean ('Clean? He said "clean", didn't he?'), but not one of us could imagine what he'd meant. 'Yes, they're bathing or getting a good wash every other day. They're shaving every day, every single day. Their mood is good, their spirits are fine, morale is excellent and there's a twinkle in their eye!'
Braestrup stood up.
'General, what about the defences at Khe Sanh? Now, you built this wonderful, air-conditioned officers' club, and that's a complete shambles. You built a beer hall there, and that's been blown away.' He had begun calmly, but now he was having trouble keeping the anger out of his voice. 'You've got a medical detachment there that's a disgrace, set up right on the airstrip, exposed to hundreds of rounds every day, and no overhead cover. You've had men at the base since July, you've expected an attack at least since November, they've been shelling you heavily since January. General, why haven't those Marines dug in?'
The room was quiet. Braestrup had a fierce smile on his face as he sat down. When the question had begun, the colonel had jerked suddenly to one side of his chair, as though he'd been shot. Now, he was trying to get his face in front of the general's so that he could give out the look that would say, 'See, General? See the kind of peckerheads I have to work with every day?' Braestrup was looking directly at the general now, waiting for his answer - the question had not been rhetorical - and it was not long in coming.
'Peter,' the general said, 'I think you're hitting a small nail with an awfully big hammer.'
Perhaps, as we claimed, the B-52s had driven them all away, broken the back of their will to attack. (We claimed 13,000 NVA dead from those raids.) Maybe they'd left the Khe Sanh area as early as January, leaving the Marines pinned down, and moved across 1 Corps in readiness for the Tet Offensive. Many people believed that a few battalions, clever enough and active enough, could have kept the Marines at Khe Sanh inside the wire and underground for all of those weeks. Maybe they'd come to see reasons why an attack would be impossible, and gone back into Laos. Or A Shau. Or Quang Tri. Or Hue. We didn't know. They were somewhere, but they were not around Khe Sanh anymore.Michael Herr went on to write Captain Willard's narration in Apocalypse Now. Until I dug out my copy of his book after reading Bravus' post, I had not realised Herr's memoir had also served as inspiration for elements of John Milius' script.
Incredible arms caches were being found, rockets still crated, launchers still wrapped in factory paper, AK-47s still packed in Cosmoline, all indicating that battalion-strength units had left in a hurry. The Cav and the Marines above Route 9 were finding equipment suggesting that entire companies had fled. Packs were found on the ground in perfect company formations, and while they contained diaries and often poems written by the soldiers, there was almost no information about where they had gone or why. Considering the amount of weapons and supplies being found (a record for the entire war), there were surprisingly few prisoners, although one prisoner did tell his interrogators that 75 percent of his regiment had been killed by our B-52s, nearly 1,500 men, and that the survivors were starving. He had been pulled out of a spider hole near Hill 881 North, and had seemed grateful for his capture. An American officer who was present at the interrogation actually said that the boy was hardly more than seventeen or eighteen, and that it was hideous that the North was feeding such young men into a war of aggression. Still, I don't remember anyone, Marine or Cav, officer or enlisted, who was not moved by the sight of their prisoners, by the sudden awareness of what must have been suffered and endured that winter.
"Well," the lieutenant said, "you missed the good part. You should have been here five minutes ago. We caught three of them out there by the first wire."As chilling as the Do-Lung bridge scene is, I found it more disturbing still to discover how much of it was based on real and specific events from the horror of that war, and not merely some abstract imagining of the same.
"What were they trying to do?" I asked.
"Don't know. Maybe cut the wires. Maybe lay in a mine, steal some of our Claymores, throw grenades, harass us some, don't know. Won't know, now."
We heard then what sounded at first like a little girl crying, a subdued, delicate wailing, and as we listened it became louder and more intense, taking on pain as it grew until it was a full, piercing shriek. The three of us turned to each other, we could almost feel each other shivering. It was terrible, absorbing every other sound coming from the darkness. Whoever it was, he was past caring about anything except the thing he was screaming about. There was a dull pop in the air above us, and an illumination round fell drowsily over the wire.
"Slope," Mayhew said. "See him there, see there, on the wire there?"
I couldn't see anything out there, there was no movement, and the screaming had stopped. As the flare dimmed, the sobbing started up and built quickly until it was a scream again.
A Marine brushed past us. He had a moustache and a piece of camouflaged parachute silk fastened bandana-style around his throat, and on his hip he wore a holster which held an M-79 grenade-launcher. For a second I thought I'd hallucinated him. I hadn't heard him approaching, and I tried now to see where he might have come from, but I couldn't. The M-79 had been cut down and fitted with a special stock. It was obviously a well-loved object; you could see the kind of work that had gone into it by the amount of light caught from the flares that glistened on the stock. The Marine looked serious, dead-eyed serious, and his right hand hung above the holster, waiting. The screaming had stopped again.
"Wait," he said. "I'll fix that fucker."
His hand was resting now on the handle of the weapon. The sobbing began again, and the screaming; we had the pattern now, the North Vietnamese was screaming the same thing over and over, and we didn't need a translator to tell us what it was.
"Put that fucker away," the Marine said, as though to himself. He drew the weapon, opened the breach and dropped in a round that looked like a great swollen bullet, listening very carefully all the while to the shrieking. He placed the M-79 over his left forearm and aimed for a second before firing. There was an enormous flash on the wire 200 metres away, a spray of orange sparks, and then everything was still except for the roll of some bombs exploding kilometres away and the sound of the M-79 being opened, closed again and returned to the holster. Nothing changed on the Marine's face, nothing, and he moved back into the darkness.
"Get some," Mayhew said quietly. "Man, did you see that?"
And I said, Yes (lying), it was something, really something.
The lieutenant said he hoped that I was getting some real good stories here. He told me to take her easy and disappeared. Mayhew looked out at the wire again, but the silence of the ground in front of us was really talking to him now. His fingers were limp, touching his face, and he looked like a kid at a scary movie. I poked his arm and we went back to the bunker for some more of that sleep.
December 18, 2006
Stephen Gowans in Counterpunch, with an interesting take on the Holocaust conference:
The whole sordid business of the Holocaust conference, and earlier, the Holocaust International Cartoon Contest, would never have happened had the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, not run flagrantly racist cartoons mocking the prophet Mohamed, and had Western governments not dismissed the resultant flap as an over-reaction by a bunch of hot-headed Mohammedans. It's a free speech issue, the West's politicos said. You Muslims -- simmer down.In a way, this reminds me of the flap over Hugo Chavez calling Bush the Devil. It's possible Western journalists devote so much effort to taking the cretinous dissembling of world leaders at face value that they lose the ability to notice when someone might be sending a message on another level. Or, you know, just having a lend of us.
What a crock, retorted Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "In this freedom, casting doubt or negating the genocide of the Jews is banned, but insulting the beliefs of 1.5 billion Muslims is allowed." Bull's eye.
With the Jyllands-Posten scandal still resonating, Iran's largest newspaper, Hamshari, counterpunched. It would sponsor a cartoon contest to mock the Holocaust. If you can mock the prophet Mohamed, and say it's a free speech issue, then surely we can mock the Holocaust, and say the same.
As it turned out, the cartoons didn't do much mocking. They didn't present the genocide of Europe's Jews as a myth, or mock its victims. Instead, they explored the themes of Israeli brutality against the Palestinians, use of the Holocaust to justify anti-Palestinian crimes, and parallels between Israel and Nazi Germany.
Judge for yourself. The drawings showed: A vampire wearing a Star of David drinking the blood of Palestinians; Ariel Sharon in a Nazi uniform; three army helmets together, two with swastikas and one with the Star of David; a rabid dog with a Star of David on its side and the word Holocaust around its collar; a dove prevented from flying because it is chained to a Star of David; US president George Bush seated at a desk swatting doves; an Israeli asleep with three Arab heads mounted to the wall above his bed; an Israeli soldier pouring fuel into a tank from a gasoline can that reads Holocaust on the side; a razor blade in the ground, representing the illegal Israeli-built separation wall, bearing the word Holocaust; two firefighters, each with Stars of David on their chests, using Palestinian blood to extinguish flames issuing from the word Holocaust.
While the director of the exhibit correctly pointed out to a New York Times reporter that the drawings were anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist, not anti-Jewish, the newspaper nevertheless ran the story under the headline "Iran exhibits anti-Jewish art." Conflation of Israel and Zionism with Jew, and therefore anti-Israel and anti-Zionist with anti-Jewish, is a handy howitzer to have around whenever you need to blow away opposition to Israel.
This month's conference was similarly described as anti-Jewish and while the conference certainly featured a cast of unsavory Jew-haters, not all the participants were of the same stripe.
Shiraz Dossa, an admirer of Noam Chomsky and Hannah Arendt, who teaches Third World politics at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, delivered a paper on the abuse of the Holocaust to justify the war on terror. Dossa calls the Holocaust a reality and says that "anyone who denies it is a lunatic." He accepted the invitation to speak at the conference to help Tehran make its point: That the West's commitment to freedom of speech extends only to insulting someone else's sacred cows.
Last point: If the real aim of the conference was to call the Holocaust into question, it would hardly make sense to assemble a gang of hacks, flakes and whack-jobs whose credibility is nil. On the other hand, if the aim was to show that free speech doesn't justify a repellent, silly, and disgusting display, inviting David Duke and his gaggle of misfits, was the right stroke.
Wow. That David Penberthy fellow really is scum.
Much has been made of The Daily Telegraph's calculated courting -- and subsequent criticism -- of beseiged NSW Young Australian of the Year Iktimal Hage-Ali. Of course, there's nothing crass or obvious about asking a person about facts you'll be using to bury them with later while you're still making nice. Ah, good ol' tabloid journos - sleazy and stupid.
But did the paper also know about her 22 November arrest and release without charge when they dubbed her the state's most promising young Muslim leader?
Crikey now understands that The Daily Tele did know, and they used this information to enact that most tabloid of tactics: build up a public persona for the sole purpose of then eating them alive.
According to Crikey sources, Tele attack dog Luke McIlveen rang Hage-Ali to ask her about the arrest on the same day that the paper ran his article portraying her as a victim of hardline Muslim bloggers who criticised her for drinking alcohol at the NSW Young Australian of the Year award ceremony...
The Tele, unable to resist the droolworthy combination of Islam and drugs, seems to have planned a sequence of events: praise Hage Ali and talk up her role as a young Muslim role model, break the story of her arrest, then run a poll that asks "Should Iktimal Hage-Ali be excluded from future government advisory roles?"...
Here, just for fun, are a few more of the Tele's greatest hits involving present editor Penberthy and/or reporter McIlveen, courtesy of Media Watch:
The 5-Star Detention Centres 'Scoop'
Bangalore Call Centre
The Brogden Fiasco
The Corby 'Scoop'
The "Sydney is full" 'Scoop'
The Stella Hoax
Judging by the e-mails Penberthy sends to Media Watch any response he makes to Crikey! should be a joy to read.
December 17, 2006
From C. Wright Mills, The Causes of World War Three, 1958:
Most cultural workmen are fighting a cold war in which they echo and elaborate the confusions of officialdoms. They neither raise demands on the elites for alternative policies, nor set forth such alternatives before publics and masses. Many intellectuals do nothing to fill the political vacuum; indeed, as they fight the cold war, they proclaim, justify, and practice the moral insensibility that is one of its accompaniments. Technologists and scientists readily develop new weapons; preachers and rabbis and priests bless the great endeavor; newsmen disseminate the official definitions of world reality, labeling for their publics the shifting line-up of friends and enemies; publicists elaborate the "reasons" for the coming war, and the "necessity" for the causes of it. They do not set forth alternative policies; they do not politically oppose and politically debate the thrust toward war. They have generally become the Swiss Guard of the power elite -- Russian or American, as the case happens to be. Unofficial spokesmen of the military metaphysic, they have not lifted the level of moral sensibility; they have further depressed it. They have not tried to put responsible content into the political vacuum; they have helped to empty it and to keep it empty. What must be called the Christian default of the clergy is part of this sorry moral condition and so is the capture of scientists by nationalist Science Machines. The journalistic lie, become a routine, is part of it too, and so is the pretentious triviality of much that passes for social science.From William Greider, Who Will Tell the People?: the Betrayal of American Democracy, 1993:
The thrust toward World War III is not a plot on the part of the elite, either that of the U.S.A. or that of the U.S.S.R. Among both, there are "war parties" and "peace parties," and among both there are what can be called crackpot realists. These are men who are so rigidly focused on the next step that they become creatures of whatever the main drift the opportunist actions of innumerable men brings. They are also men who cling rigidly to general principles. The frenzied next step plus the altogether general principle equal U.S. foreign policy of which Mr. Dulles has been so fine an exemplar. In crackpot realism, a high-flying moral rhetoric is joined with an opportunist crawling among a great scatter of unfocused fears and demands. In fact, the main content of "politics" is now a struggle among men equally expert in practical next steps -- which, in summary, make up the thrust toward war -- and in great, round, hortatory principles. But without any program.
Programs require that next steps be reasonably linked with principled images of a goal. To act toward goals requires that the next step be consciously worked out in terms of its consequences, and that these consequences be weighed and valued in terms of the goal. Lacking a program, the opportunist moves short distances among immediate and shifting goals. He reacts rather than inaugurates, and the directions of his reactions are set less by any goals of his own that by the circumstances to which he feels forced to react out of fear and uneasiness. Since he is largely a creature of these circumstances, rather than a master of independent action, the results of his expedient maneuvers and of his defaults are more products of the main drift than of his own vision and will. To be merely expedient is to be in the grip of historical fate or in the grip of those who are not merely expedient. Sunk in the details of immediate and seemingly inevitable decisions to which he feels compelled to react, the crackpot realist does not know what he will do next; he is waiting for another to make a move.
The expectation of war solves many problems of the crackpot realists; it also confronts them with many new problems. Yet these, the problems of war, often seem easier to handle. They are out in the open: to produce more, to plan how to kill more of the enemy, to move materials thousands of miles. The terms of the arms race, once the race is accepted as necessary, seem clear; the explicit problems it poses often seem "beyond politics," in the area of administration and technology. War and the planning of war tend to turn anxiety into worry; perhaps, as many seem to feel, genuine peace would turn worry into anxiety. War-making seems a hard technological and administrative matter; peace is a controversial and ambiguous political word. So instead of the unknown fear, the anxiety without end, some men of the higher circles prefer the simplification of known catastrophe.
The official expectation of war also enables men to solve the problems of the economic cycles without resort to political policies that are distasteful to many politicians and to large segments of the American public. The terms of their long-term solution, under conditions of peace, are hard for the capitalist elite to face.
Some of them, accordingly, have come to believe that the world encounter has reached a point where there is no other solution but war, even when they sense that war can be a solution to nothing. They have come to believe this because those in control in each of the countries concerned are trapped by the consequences of their past actions and their present hostile outlook. They live in a world filled with events that overwhelm them. They know of no solutions to the paradoxes of the Middle East and Europe, the Far East and Africa except the landing of Marines. Being baffled, and also being very tired of being baffled, they have come to believe that there is no way out -- except war -- which would remove all the bewildering paradoxes of their tedious and now misguided attempts to construct peace. In place of these paradoxes they prefer the bright, clear problems of war -- as they used to be. For they still believe that "winning" means something, although they never tell us what.
It is because of such bewilderment and frustration, based on the position and the interests of the power elite, that I assume that there have been and are in the U.S.A. and in the U.S.S.R. "war parties," risen who want war; and also "peace parties," men who do not want war. Some men want war for sordid, others for idealistic, reasons; some for personal gain, others for impersonal principle. But most of those who consciously want war and accept it, and so help to create its "inevitability," want it in order to shift the locus of their problems.
In the 1950s, when the Cold War temperament was enveloping the thought and language of American politics, the sociologist C. Wright Mills derided what he called "the crackpot realism of the higher authorities and opinion-makers."Absurdities were cloaked in technocratic jargon and passed off to the public as brilliant insight or the fruits of sophisticated intelligence.Jim Henley on a Wall Street Journal column by Daniel Henniger, 'bout a month ago:
The ability of national-security experts to describe reality in arcane ways that ordinary citizens could not easily test for themselves, much less challenge, was a central element of power in the Cold War era and one of its most debilitating influences on democracy. "Crackpot realism" consumed trillions of dollars and built enough nuclear bombs to destroy life on the planet.
Huge, secret bureaucracies were created in government to discover the hidden "facts" about the dangerous world around us, especially the machinations of the Soviet empire, and to shape national-security policy accordingly. Much of this knowledge was considered too sensitive to share with the public, but provocative details were regularly communicated in the form of warnings about new "threats" that had emerged - deadly new missiles pointed at America or revolutionary stirrings in Third World countries said to beinspired by Moscow. The history of the Cold War is a series of such alarums, based on espionage and classified documentation, and of the subsequent events that refuted them.
Given the insular nature of American society, most citizens had little real knowledge of distant nations and no independent way to evaluate the government's description of reality. In the absence of clear contradictory evidence, people generally were prisoners of what the government authorities told them about the world. They accepted what the spies and analysts had discovered about the enemy, at least until the war in Vietnam devastated the government's authority. The alternative - questioning the president while the nation was atwar - seemed unpatriotic.
"Crackpot realism" has flourished right up to the present time and the Central Intelligence Agency was a principal source for it. As late as 1989, as Moynihan observed, the CIA reported that the economy of communist East Germany was slightly larger than the economy of West Germany an intelligence estimate ludicrously debunked a few months later when the East German regime collapsed and its citizens streamed westward in search of jobs, consumer goods and food. The following year, the CIA corrected the record by abruptly shrinking the threatening dimensions of East Germany by more than one third.
The same gross exaggeration was repeated; year after year, when the CIA made its estimates of the Soviet Union's awesome capabilities. The 1989 analysis claimed that the growth rate of the Soviet bloc exceeded western Europe's. But then the CIA had solemnly reported for four decades that the Soviet economy was growing faster than the U.S. economy - almost half again faster. The result, it said, was a formidable industrial power second-largest in the world and much larger than Japan, according to the CIA.
If that were true, this nation was an adversary rightly to be feared, since it had the economic capacity, not only to match the U.S. arsenal, weapon for weapon, but to achieve something the experts called "superiority." Hundreds of billions of America's dollars, even trillions, were devoted to forestalling that dread possibility.
Of course, it was not true. It was not true in the 1950s and it was especially not true in the late 1970s and early 1980s when America launched another massive arms buildup. Some journalists and scholars had been making this point about the Soviet economy for many years, pointing out the decay and malfunctioning that was visible despite the Soviet censors. But U.S. official authority and propaganda always succeeded in maintaining the enemy's strength.
When Gorbachev opened the Soviet society to full inspection, what western experts saw more nearly resembled a Third World country than a major industrial power. Its economy was a crude joke compared to the high-tech industrial systems of Japan, West Germany and the United States. The Soviet Union, aside from its size, was not second strongest in the world or third, probably not even fourth or fifth.
Americans, in other words, were propagandized by their own government for forty years. Were citizens deliberately deceived or were the CIA spies so befogged by their own ideological biases that they missed the reality themselves? This is one of the questions that a post Cold War debate might take up for closer examination.
Arthur Silber, also from November:
[Henniger wrote:] One might have expected most of the disagreement to center on the doctrine’s assertion of a right to pre-emptive attack. Instead, Iraq’s troubles have been conflated with a general repudiation of the U.S.’s ability to abet democratic aspiration elsewhere in the world.“Abet” by killing people. That’s what is being repudiated.
As stated, the doctrine’s strategy is “to help make the world not just safer but better.” Some conservatives have denounced the “better world” part as utopian overstretch. Beyond that, the document lists as its goals the aspirations of human dignity, strengthening alliances to “defeat” terrorism, working with others to defuse regional conflicts, promoting global growth through free markets and trade and “opening societies and building the infrastructure of democracy.”“Building the infrastructure of democracy” by killing people. That is what attracts opposition.
It is mainly the latter – the notion of the U.S. building the “infrastructure of democracy” that now, because of the “failure” in Iraq, attracts opposition across the political spectrum...
We are backing the country’s political mind into the long-term parking lot of isolationism, something fervently wished for at opposite ends of the U.S. political spectrum.“Isolationism” in this kind of talk means a reluctance to travel long distances in order to kill foreigners. Lack of enthusiasm for travelling long distances to kill foreigners will get you labelled a xenophobe.
Like the Europeans, we may talk ourselves into a weariness with the world and its various, unremitting violences. No genocide will occur on American soil, but the same information tide that bathes us in Baghdad’s horrors ensure that Darfur’s genocide will come too near not to notice. Too bad for them, or any aspiring democrats under the thumb of Russia, China, Nigeria, Venezuela or Islam’s highly mobile anti-democrats. We’ve got ours. Let them get theirs.The utter fatuity of this barely merits notice, let alone contempt. Henninger wants to trick you into believing that if you’re not killing foreigners, you’re not relating...
Nobody who cares about effective, sustainable US policy or about effective promotion of liberty abroad can afford to let the Henningers of the world conflate “supporting freedom” and traveling a long way to kill foreigners. It is the most important lie they tell.
The first issue, one whose importance cannot be overestimated, is the American public's willingness -- indeed, I would argue its eagerness -- to defer to alleged "experts" in the foreign policy field. As I have done several times before, I must turn to Barbara Tuchman's masterful work, The March of Folly, for the explanation of what is wrong with this view:See also Mr Silber on Peter Beinart. And just for the hell of it, here's some finely honed abuse of a columnist it would be a compliment to call a crackpot realist. Roy Edroso on Ralph Peters:
Acquiescence in Executive war, [Fulbright] wrote, comes from the belief that the government possesses secret information that gives it special insight in determining policy. Not only was this questionable, but major policy decisions turn "not upon available facts but upon judgment," with which policy-makers are no better endowed than the intelligent citizen. Congress and citizens can judge "whether the massive deployment and destruction of their men and wealth seem to serve the overall interests as a nation."I have argued this point many times over the last couple of years, and I remain utterly astonished at how resistant to this incontestable truth most people remain. The resistance can be seen even in the writings of many people who are deeply critical of our invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The belief that government knows best was voiced just at this time by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who said on resumption of the bombing, "We ought to all support the President. He is the man who has all the information and knowledge of what we are up against." This is a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand. It is usually invalid, especially in foreign affairs. "Foreign policy decisions," concluded Gunnar Myrdal after two decades of study, "are in general much more influenced by irrational motives" than are domestic ones.
The source of that resistance is easy enough to understand, even though the failure to acknowledge this truth is gravely and dangerously wrong. We prefer to believe that our leaders act rationally, and that they know what they are doing. Tragically, as the overwhelming debacle of Iraq has again demonstrated, neither of these propositions corresponds to the facts.
"One begins to suspect," Peters says, "that all too many on the left enjoy pitying Darfur as they wait in line for their lattes" -- not like the General, whose violent, blinding headaches of true empathy cannot be relieved by latte, but only by human gore, Jack Daniels, and the destabilization of the entire world:
The killing will never stop until we stop pretending that every dictator or junta seizing power is entitled to claim sovereignty over the millions who never had a voice in choosing their government. After the oppression of women, the sovereignty con is the world's greatest human-rights abuse. And for all of its damnable incompetence, the Bush administration understood that one great truth.If this sounds familiar, it is not only because you once heard a bum screaming it in Tompkins Square Park, but because it was the lunacy du jour in the run-up to the Iraq War, when people like Lee Harris were talking about "the end of classical sovereignty," whereby nobody gets to call themselves a State unless we say they're a State.
This is why the General ... blames libs and latte-sippers everywhere for the dead/raped/tortured Africans, rather than the Bush Administration, which has some actual military means but has chosen to blow it all on destabilizing nations such as Iraq. In fact, Peters wonders why lefties haven't "formed a new Lincoln Brigade to take on Sudan's Muslims fanatics." I would seriously consider joining such a Brigade if the General will consent to lead it. The training sessions alone -- sequestered in our offshore quonset huts, watching the general snap the neck of a Thai prostitute, endless showings of Zulu -- would be worth the price of the ticket, I imagine. And once we landed in-country, we could always sell our allegiance to the highest-paying warlords, and thus give Sudan a real taste of American democracy.
December 12, 2006
First Do No Harm
Gene Healey extols the benefits of do-nothing presidents:
Consider Warren G. Harding, dead last in the Schlesinger polls, next to last in the WSJ/Federalist poll. Historians have downgraded him for his scandal-ridden administration. But that can't be the only reason for his abysmal ranking: Harding wasn't personally corrupt, after all, and he never profited from his cronies' misdeeds.Via Jim Henley.
Place that fault against his great merits: Harding presided over the dismantling of Wilson's draconian wartime controls, ushering in an era of prosperous "normalcy." (Is it the normalcy that presidential scholars hold against him?) Harding's good nature and liberal instincts led him to pardon the dissenters that Wilson had locked up, among them Socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs, imprisoned for making a speech against the draft. "I want [Debs] to eat his Christmas dinner with his wife," Harding said.
Harding's successor, Calvin Coolidge, hasn't fared much better in the polls: below average in the WSJ/Federalist survey, bottom 10 in the Schlesinger Jr. survey. Cal kept things entirely too cool for historians who like presidential drama: he slept too much, didn't do enough, and didn't talk enough. There was method to his muteness, though. As he put it, "Nine-tenths of [visitors to the White House] want something they ought not have. If you keep dead still they will run down in three or four minutes."
After six years of George W. Bush, a president bent on expanding executive power and redeeming the world through military force, the modest, unheroic virtues of a Harding and a Coolidge are easier to appreciate. There ought to be room at the top of the rankings for presidents who know when to keep quiet and who understand the limits of power.
December 11, 2006
Apparently the Anti-Defamation League have achieved their personal best. They've found a way to argue that a Holocaust Museum is anti-Semitic.
But the museum, called the Arab Institute for Holocaust Research and Education, is proving controversial on all sides. Mr Mahameed said his efforts had left him ostracised by friends and snubbed by his own brother. School officials in Nazareth have turned down his offers to host pupils. At the same time, Jewish leaders who at first praised his plans say the exhibit may do more harm than good by including a Palestinian flag and images of Arab refugees who fled or were expelled from their homes as war broke out when Israel was founded in 1948.The ADL's original press release is here. As magpie says, it's difficult to see what they're on about if you read the Institute's apparently machine-translated statement of principles.
The Anti-Defamation League said Mr Mahameed had partly based his museum "on the false premise that the Palestinian people are paying the price for European guilt".
By including emblems of the Palestinian cause, Mr Mahameed was making an "inappropriate connection between the plight of the Palestinians and Jewish Holocaust victims", the league alleged.
I'm guessing it's Mr Mahameed's trip to Iran that prompted the LA Times to follow up this six month old story. Note the casual recitation of the questionable claim of Ahmadinejad's denialism.
Update: Of course, when you start hosting denialist conferences, people could probably be forgiven for focussing more on what you seem to mean rather than what you actually say.
Update 13/12/06: Recent quotes from senior Holocaust researchers about Ahmadinejad's loopy publicity stunt make an interesting contrast to ADL's remarks about the Arab Institute for Holocaust Research and Education. From an article by Neta Sela:
According to [Yad-Vashem director Avner] Shalev this is "a systematic method that he is employing with the intention of destroying the moral basis for the existence of the state of Israel as a home for the Jewish people. Tsk tsk, associating the Holocaust and the founding of Israel like that. Didn't they get the memo?
"Ahmadinejad wants to link together these questions of 'historical truths' and moral rights with the Israeli-Arab conflict so that this link will gnaw at global recognition of the moral right of a sovereign Jewish state in Israel."
Dr. Ephraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center ... explains what he believes is the reason that Ahmadinejad chooses to focus his efforts on the subject of the Holocaust: "The Holocaust has become the most classic example of genocide in the 20th century. As a result there is a natural empathy towards Jews as victims of the Holocaust.
"Those anti-Semites understand that as long as the subject resonates so deeply in the world – it will be much more difficult for them to harm Jews and the state of Israel, which was established as a direct or indirect result of the Holocaust."
The Ynet piece was cited in today's carefully balanced Crikey editorial about the conference and the unpleasant rogue's gallery in attendance. They also refer in passing to the issue of misleading translations of Amadinejad's oft-cited "wipe Israel off the map" quote, linking to a lengthy article by Jonathan Steele.
December 08, 2006
That Reminds Me...
Incidentally, I guess I should have mentioned this two weeks ago - what have I been doing with my time? - but if you have any favourite history books Ed Darrell would like to know what they are.
December 07, 2006
Some Recent Reading
Greg Grandin on Milton Friedman and Chile:
Where Friedman made allusions to the superiority of economic freedom over political freedom in his defense of Pinochet, the Chicago group institutionalized such a hierarchy in a 1980 constitution named after Hayek's 1960 treatise The Constitution of Liberty. The new charter enshrined economic liberty and political authoritarianism as complementary qualities. They justified the need of a strong executive such as Pinochet not only to bring about a profound transformation of society but to maintain it until there was a "change in Chilean mentality." Chileans had long been "educated in weakness," said the president of the Central Bank, and a strong hand was needed in order to "educate them in strength." The market itself would provide tutoring: When asked about the social consequences of the high bankruptcy rate that resulted from the shock therapy, Admiral José Toribio Merino replied that "such is the jungle of ... economic life. A jungle of savage beasts, where he who can kill the one next to him, kills him. That is reality."Richard "len" Seymour writes about Sudan and Rwanda (in a post I apparently missed at the time):
But before such a savage nirvana of pure competition and risk could be attained, a dictatorship was needed to force Chileans to accept the values of consumerism, individualism, and passive rather than participatory democracy. "Democracy is not an end in itself," said Pinochet in a 1979 speech written by two of Friedman's disciples, but a conduit to a truly "free society" that protected absolute economic freedom. Friedman hedged on the relationship between capitalism and dictatorship, but his former students were consistent: "A person's actual freedom," said Finance Minister de Castro, "can only be ensured through an authoritarian regime that exercises power by implementing equal rules for everyone." "Public opinion," he admitted, "was very much against [us], so we needed a strong personality to maintain the policy."
Take Rwanda. If you politicised sometime after that massacre as I did, you would have come to the topic bewildered by a blizzard of ethnic designations - Hutus, Tutsis and Twa - as if that explained what happened. As if it was a mere recrudescence of some ancient caste hatred or, well, often nothing even as specific as that. I even heard it referred to as "black-on-black violence". Indeed, according to Mahmood Mamdani (in Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, The Cold War, and the Roots of Terror) the use of that phrase goes back as far as the 1970s when it was used alongside "tribalism" to summarise the violence of the far right Renamo in Mozambique or the insurgency of the Inkatha Freedom Party in South Africa. There were and are Hutus, Tutsis and Twa in both Rwanda and Burundi... [b]ut how distinct the Hutus and Tutsis really are or were is a matter of considerable debate. For all the talk of physical differences that one has heard, the years of intermarriage between the groups would have effaced that - it is a telling point that no one was killed in that genocide because of their 'willowy' physique or height or nose length: rather the genocidaires relied on the possession of ID cards or on information supplied by others in any particular village. Some argue that the Tutsis were an extraneous group that moved into Rwanda several hundred years ago, while others think these are fairly recent developments. But of what significance are these distinctions at any rate? It was certainly true that one Tutsi clan appears to have attained hegemony within a semi-feudal state before the arrival of colonial powers. But there were poor Tutsis and Hutus were involved in the ruling elite: what is more, one could be born a Hutu and die a Tutsi. The anthropologist Richard Robbins in Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism put it like this:This is also interesting.
If we examine cases of purported ethnic conflict we generally find that it involves more than ancient hatred; even the ‘hatreds’ we find are relatively recent, and constructed by those ethnic entrepreneurs taking advantage of situations rooted deep in colonial domination and fed by neocolonial exploitation.
In the London Review of Books, John Barrell cheerfully carves up Christopher Hitchen's latest attempt to cut a caper or two while draped in the flayed hide of a great man:
Hitchens’s casual attitude to facts is not compensated for by a corresponding precision with ideas, or any concern for the range, the richness, the complexity of Paine’s thinking. For example, we will not learn from Hitchens anything much about what Paine thought the rights of man actually were. ‘The great achievement of Paine,’ he tells us, ‘was to have introduced the discussion of human rights ... Prior to this, discussion about “rights” had been limited to “natural” or “civil” rights.’ I have no idea what this means. For Paine, the rights we have by virtue of being human – the rights of man – take the form of ‘natural’ rights, ‘civil’ rights, ‘political’ rights, and he discriminates between them with increasing care; but he would surely have been puzzled by the notion of human rights as something beyond, something different from, not ‘limited’ to, natural, civil or political rights. Hitchens seems similarly at sea in his brief discussion of Paine’s theory of revolution which he understands entirely in terms of ‘the sudden return or restoration’ of a lost golden age, holding Paine responsible (among others) ‘for the “heaven on earth” propaganda ... that disordered the radical tradition thereafter’. This is entirely to ignore the trajectory in Paine’s thought from a ‘full-circle’ theory of revolution as a return to the founding contract of society, to one in which ... revolution is represented as a new stage of social organisation made necessary by social, economic and intellectual progress.Matt Taibbi looks at some of the theories about the motives behind the murder of Alexander Litvinenko:
There is little sign over the course of the book that Hitchens has paid enough attention to Paine’s ideas to notice how they develop. This above all is why it seems so inert. He asks us to admire Paine simply for the sake of the positions he takes on one issue or another, as these can be summarised in a sentence or two, but no political philosopher can excite us simply by his conclusions, skimmed from the top of the arguments they develop from, any more than we can admire poems on the basis of a one-sentence summary of what they ‘say’, in isolation from the process of saying it. Sometimes Hitchens is obviously impatient with Paine’s arguments: too dependent, in the early days, on the Bible, too preoccupied with supposedly out-of-date questions like the origin of government, to help us in the present. More often there is no sign that he has even noticed them. His brief pages on Common Sense, Paine’s justification of the American Revolution, do not notice how that book is tugged in two directions by the need to argue for the revolution in terms both of the rights of the colonists and of their greater political virtue as compared with the British. Thus he does not recognise in Paine’s later development how his attempt to build a theory of government on natural rights involves (almost) freeing himself from the classical republican tradition in which he had educated himself. Hitchens treats the distinction Paine makes so much of, between ‘society’ and ‘government’, as insignificant, and thus has nothing to say about Paine’s faith in civil society: in sociable economic exchange, and in the simple pleasures of sociability, as much more efficacious than government in preserving social order.
Which brings us to the "Sechin theory" -- that Sechin and his hardliner cronies, a group of generally anti-democratic, generally anti-Western, and generally low-foreheaded brutes known collectively as the "Siloviki," are trying to force Putin to remain by their side, in government, by binding him to them in blood. The idea here is that whatever thoughts Putin might have had about retiring to a leisurely life of giving speeches in Munich and sipping cappuccinos in Venice with Silvio Berlusconi will very shortly be off the table once he is tied, internationally, to a series of Stalin-like assassinations.Incidentally, when I recently linked to the collection of attacks on 9/11 conspiracy theories in Counterpunch (they've since added an engineer's reports on the structural collapses to their website, previously published in the subscribers' newsletter), I neglected to mention Taibbi's own savage take-down of this nonsense:
You remove Putin's options for a Western-focused dismount to his political career and you make it very attractive for him to consider a way around his term limit problem -- particularly when the alternative is remaining in Russia while one of his political enemies, perhaps a more "liberal" type like Dmitri Medvedev, comes to power. If a disgraced Putin stays in Russia that case, he risks becoming the target of future prosecutions and intrigues. Each killing along the lines of the Litvinenko business backs Putin further and further into that corner.
So the theory is that Sechin, who until now has always been known as a creature of Putin, acted independently in this case and ordered the Litvinenko hit as a pre-emptive strike against such possible 2008 presidential candidates as Medvedev and defense minister Sergei Ivanov, blocking their rise with Putin's presumed refusal to step down. He made it as messy as possible, causing maximum embarrassment to Putin, in order to apply pressure on his own political benefactor.
I don't have the space here to address every single reason why 9/11 conspiracy theory is so shamefully stupid, so I'll have to be content with just one point: 9/11 Truth is the lowest form of conspiracy theory, because it doesn't offer an affirmative theory of the crime.And you really should read the recent article by Robert Dreyfuss on Bush's meeting with Abdel Aziz al-Hakim:
Forget for a minute all those internet tales about inexplicable skyscraper fires, strange holes in the ground at Shanksville, and mysterious flight manifestoes. What is the theory of the crime, according to the 9/11 Truth movement?
Strikingly, there is no obvious answer to that question, since for all the many articles about "Able Danger" and the witnesses who heard explosions at Ground Zero, there is not -- at least not that I could find -- a single document anywhere that lays out a single, concrete theory of what happened, who ordered what and when they ordered it, and why. There obviously is such a theory, but it has to be pieced together by implication, by paying attention to the various assertions of 9/11 lore (the towers were mined, the Pentagon was really hit by a cruise missile, etc.) and then assembling them later on into one single story. But the funny thing is, when you put together all of those disparate theories, you get the dumbest story since Roman Polanski's Pirates.
RUMSFELD: But if we're just making up the whole thing, why not just put Saddam's fingerprints on the attack?
CHENEY: (sighing) It just has to be this way, Don. Ups the ante, as it were. This way, we're not insulated if things go wrong in Iraq. Gives us incentive to get the invasion right the first time around.
BUSH: I'm a total idiot who can barely read, so I'll buy that.
What’s stunning about Bush’s encounter with al-Hakim is that it occurs precisely at the moment when critically important bridges are being built across Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite divide — bridges that al-Hakim is trying to blow up.So there you go. I should probably mention that the only real purpose of this post was to bump that damned electoral map off the front page, because it was stuffing up the formatting. Enjoy!
Hakim’s wrecking-ball effort is taking place in the context of unprecedented efforts by leaders of Iraq’s factions to create what many Iraqi leaders are calling a “government of national salvation.”
Such a government would topple and replace the ineffectual, clownish Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Supporters of the idea, who are getting ready to announce a National Salvation Front in Iraq, include rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, many of Iraq’s Sunni leaders in and out of government, representatives of the Iraqi resistance and perhaps even some important Kurdish leaders.
Even as the National Salvation Front takes shape, there is strong evidence that Sunni and Shiite clerics are reaching out to each other.
Two weeks ago, Muqtada al-Sadr demanded that Sunni clerics issue a fatwa, or religious order, condemning killings of Iraqi civilians by al-Qaida types and offering Sunni help to rebuild the domed mosque in Samarra that was destroyed in a bombing in February. It was that bombing that touched over the most severe phase of Iraq’s civil war, setting of a wave of reprisal killings among Shiites and Sunnis.
Since Sadr’s call, several leading Sunni clerics have done as Sadr asked, according to the Los Angeles Times, including top Sunni religious leaders in Basra, Nasariyah, Amarah and Samaweh. All four were associated with the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), the leading Sunni religious group in Iraq, which has close ties to the Sunni insurgency.