July 30, 2006

To Destroy the World: En Route to Worldwide Slaughter

As the direct result of the ignorant, endlessly destructive, murderous policies of the United States (and of the West generally over the last century), we may rapidly be approaching the point where allegedly "serious" and "civilized" commentators argue for the wholesale slaughter of many millions of people. As Jacob Hornberger succinctly states the point (quoted in this recent post):
Innocently believing that federal overseas personnel, including the CIA and the military, had been helping foreigners for decades, Americans had no reason to doubt the official U.S. pronouncement immediately after 9/11: "We are innocent. The terrorists hate us for our freedom and values. That’s why they have attacked us."

What Americans didn’t realize is that federal officials were being disingenuous when they made that pronouncement. U.S. officials knew full-well that that their decades-old U.S. interventionist policies in the Middle East were at the bottom of the volcanic rage that people bore in that part of the world.


Today, there are Americans who cry, "It’s too late. They already hate us and will always hate us and so we’ve got to keep killing them before they kill us."

But unless the entire Middle East is nuked, it is impossible to kill "all of them" because there will always be brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, children, grandchildren, or just friends of the dead who will seek vengeance.
Today brings us this grim and inevitable news:
Israeli missiles hit several buildings in a southern Lebanon village as people slept Sunday, killing at least 56, most of them children, in the deadliest attack in 19 days of fighting.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed "great sorrow" for the airstrikes but blamed Hezbollah guerrillas for using the area to launch rockets at Israel, and said he would not halt the army's operation.

The Lebanese Red Cross said the airstrike in Qana, in which at least 34 children were killed, pushed the overall Lebanese death toll to more than 500. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice postponed a visit to Lebanon in a setback for diplomatic efforts to end hostilities. She was to return to the U.S. Monday morning, abruptly breaking off her diplomatic mission in the Mideast.

Before the airstrike, Olmert told Rice he needed 10-14 days to finish the offensive in Lebanon, according to a senior Israeli government official. The two said they would meet again Sunday evening.

"We will not stop this battle, despite the difficult incidents this morning," Olmert said said during Israel's weekly Cabinet meeting, according to a participant in the meeting. "We will continue the activity and if necessary it will be broadened without hesitation."
I say that this shocking news is inevitable because the Israeli Justice Minister had previously announced that, "All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah." In other words: all those children deserved to die.

There are so many lies being told about this latest conflict between Israel and Lebanon that it is difficult to know where to begin. But there is one central lie that is especially dangerous, and that serves as the pretext for the slaughter now taking place: the notion that Hezbollah hides among the civilian population, thereby allegedly making all of Lebanon a legitimate target. The line from the U.S. and British governments and from virtually the entire U.S. media is that everyone in Hezbollah is a terrorist, thus revealing once again the staggering ignorance and/or dishonesty of our governing and pundit class. The choice these propagandists present to us is an entirely repugnant one: either they truly are this ignorant, in which case they should retire from public life immediately -- or they know they are lying, in which case they are immoral beyond the point of forgiveness.

In an article published at Salon (and which is available without the preceding ad here), Mitch Prothero disposes of much of this mythology:
Throughout this now 16-day-old war, Israeli planes high above civilian areas make decisions on what to bomb. They send huge bombs capable of killing things for hundreds of meters around their targets, and then blame the inevitable civilian deaths -- the Lebanese government says 600 civilians have been killed so far -- on "terrorists" who callously use the civilian infrastructure for protection.

But this claim is almost always false. My own reporting and that of other journalists reveals that in fact Hezbollah fighters -- as opposed to the much more numerous Hezbollah political members, and the vastly more numerous Hezbollah sympathizers -- avoid civilians. Much smarter and better trained than the PLO and Hamas fighters, they know that if they mingle with civilians, they will sooner or later be betrayed by collaborators -- as so many Palestinian militants have been.

For their part, the Israelis seem to think that if they keep pounding civilians, they'll get some fighters, too. The almost nightly airstrikes on the southern suburbs of Beirut could be seen as making some sense, as the Israelis appear convinced there are command and control bunkers underneath the continually smoldering rubble. There were some civilian casualties the first few nights in places like Haret Hreik, but people quickly left the area to the Hezbollah fighters with their radios and motorbikes.

But other attacks seem gratuitous, fishing expeditions, or simply intended to punish anything and anyone even vaguely connected to Hezbollah. Lighthouses, grain elevators, milk factories, bridges in the north used by refugees, apartment buildings partially occupied by members of Hezbollah's political wing -- all have been reduced to rubble.

In the south, where Shiites dominate, just about everyone supports Hezbollah. Does mere support for Hezbollah, or even participation in Hezbollah activities, mean your house and family are fair game? Do you need to fire rockets from your front yard? Or is it enough to be a political activist?

The Israelis are consistent: They bomb everyone and everything remotely associated with Hezbollah, including noncombatants. In effect, that means punishing Lebanon. The nation is 40 percent Shiite, and of that 40 percent, tens of thousands are employed by Hezbollah's social services, political operations, schools, and other nonmilitary functions. The "terrorist" organization Hezbollah is Lebanon's second-biggest employer.


Dr. Ahmed Tahir recognizes me from a funeral in the nearby village of Dweir. An Israeli bomb dropped on their house killed a Hezbollah cleric and 11 members of his immediate family, mostly children. People in Lebanon are calling it a war crime. Tahir looks exhausted, and our talk is even more tense than the last time.

"Maybe it would be best if the Israelis bombed your car on the road here," he said, with a sharp edge. "If you were killed, maybe the public outcry would be so bad in America that the Jews would be forced to stop these attacks."

When I volunteered that the Bush administration cared little for journalists, let alone ones who reported from Hezbollah territory, he shrugged. "Maybe if it was an American bomb used by the Israelis that killed an American journalist, they would stop this horror," he said.


Although Israel targets apartments and offices because they are considered "Hezbollah" installations, the group has a clear policy of keeping its fighters away from civilians as much as possible. This is not for humanitarian reasons -- they did, after all, take over an apartment building against the protests of the landlord, knowing full well it would be bombed -- but for military ones.

"You can be a member of Hezbollah your entire life and never see a military wing fighter with a weapon," a Lebanese military intelligence official, now retired, once told me. "They do not come out with their masks off and never operate around people if they can avoid it. They're completely afraid of collaborators. They know this is what breaks the Palestinians -- no discipline and too much showing off."


Hezbollah's political members say they have little or no access to the workings of the fighters. This seems to be largely true: While they obviously hear and know more than the outside world, the firewall is strong.

Israel, however, has chosen to treat the political members of Hezbollah as if they were fighters. And by targeting the civilian wing of the group, which supplies much of the humanitarian aid and social protection for the poorest people in the south, they are targeting civilians.


So the analysts talking on cable news about Hezbollah "hiding within the civilian population" clearly have spent little time if any in the south Lebanon war zone and don't know what they're talking about. Hezbollah doesn't trust the civilian population and has worked very hard to evacuate as much of it as possible from the battlefield. And this is why they fight so well -- with no one to spy on them, they have lots of chances to take the Israel Defense Forces by surprise, as they have by continuing to fire rockets and punish every Israeli ground incursion.

And the civilians? They see themselves as targeted regardless of their affiliation. They are enraged at Israel and at the United States, the only two countries on earth not calling for an immediate cease-fire. Lebanese of all persuasions think the United States and Israel believe that Lebanese lives are cheaper than Israeli ones. And many are now saying that they want to fight.
This last point of Prothero's brings us to some fundamental truths which anyone would know from even a brief study of history. When a foreign power is slaughtering your family, friends and neighbors, everyone will hate the foreign power, regardless of the other complexities that may be involved in the overall situation. In this case, a constantly increasing number of Lebanese -- many of whom probably had no previous sympathy whatsoever for genuine terrorists -- deeply loathe the United States and Israel.

Moreover, the white-hot rage that many Muslims and Arabs feel towards the United States is now continuing to spread and intensify across the entire world. Does anyone believe for one moment that these latest slaughters will not lead to retaliation against the United States at some point? If you do, you had better try to wake up from your self-induced coma. The slaughter in Iraq has been and continues to be more than bad enough: the events in Lebanon bring the hatred to the boiling point, and beyond.

It is time people realized the full truth about what is now unfolding. Out of a certain kind of innocence, combined with a lack of understanding of certain psychological dynamics, many people cannot bring themselves to believe that there are those who actually desire the deaths of millions of people, people who are entirely unknown to them, people who have never harmed them and never will, people who are entirely innocent, if that word has any meaning at all.

But they should believe it: there is a growing number of people who do actively desire all those deaths. When they consciously choose to engage in or support policies that only increase the hatred directed at us, which in turn provides the "excuse" to kill more and more alleged enemies, supposedly in the name of "self-defense," that conclusion can no longer be avoided. The supporters of our foreign policy -- and of Israel's -- make a worldwide conflagration more and more unavoidable. Here is one piece of confirming anecdotal evidence, and you can probably provide similar examples of your own. I was exchanging thoughts about our foreign policy, and about our Middle Eastern policy in particular, with an acquaintance over a year ago. He was attempting to distinguish his views from those of another individual, who had been advocating the nuking of most of the Middle East ever since the day after 9/11. To show that his views were much more rational and humane, my acquaintance wrote to me: "Oh, I think he's crazy to say that. I'm not at all in favor of nuking the whole Middle East...at least, not yet." And he then went on to advocate the policies that make such an outcome all but inevitable.

Such people are would-be killers on a horrifying scale. It's time we recognized this near-psychotic, genocidal syndrome for what it is. Israel's destruction of Lebanon, and the U.S. support for that destruction, bring worldwide slaughter still closer to us, as William Lind explains (and see this earlier Lind column for an historical overview of the origins and nature of fourth generation war):
Welcome to my parlor, says the Hezbollah spider to the Israeli fly. The Israeli high command continues to express its faith in the foxfire of air power to destroy Hezbollah, but, as always, it's not working. Lebanon is taking a pounding, to be sure, but Lebanon is not Hezbollah. Slowly, reluctantly, Israel is edging toward a ground invasion of Lebanon, for which Hezbollah devoutly prays. When air power fails, what other choice will Israel have?


Operationally, Hezbollah's rocket attacks on Israel are the matador's cape. That too is working. What of the strategic level? The Arab street is cheering for Hezbollah, often across the Sunni-Shi'ite divide, while the governments of states such as Egypt hide under the bed. The goal of Islamic fourth generation forces is the destruction of most, if not all, Arab state governments, so Hezbollah is winning strategically as well. One can almost watch the legitimacy drain away from the region's decrepit states, with incalculable consequences for American interests.

Not that Washington is doing anything to protect those interests. On the contrary, it has rushed more bombs and aviation fuel to Israel, lest there be any unwelcome letup in the destruction of Lebanon. In no previous Israeli-Arab war has the United States revealed itself so nakedly as a de facto political satellite of Israel. Perhaps the neocons have convinced President Bush that Israeli olive oil can substitute for Arab petroleum as fuel for America's SUVs.

An interesting theoretical speculation is whether, if Hezbollah's 4GW success continues, some Middle Eastern governments might try adopting fourth generation techniques themselves. Lebanon's fictional government has suggested the Lebanese army may join Hezbollah in defending southern Lebanon from an Israeli invasion. Militarily, such an action would be meaningless, and it probably reflects a desperate desire to keep the Lebanese Army (which is 40 percent Shi'ite) from fracturing, along with Lebanon itself. But what if instead the government called for a million marchers, mostly women and children, to head toward the Lebanese-Israeli frontier, waving palm branches and singing songs? That's how Morocco took the Spanish Sahara, and it would present Israel with a sticky wicket indeed.


A Hezbollah success against the hated Israelis will give governments throughout the Islamic world a stark choice. They can either snuggle up as close to Hezbollah and other Islamic 4GW entities as they can get, hoping to catch some reflected legitimacy, or they can become Vichy to their own peoples. Since the first rule of politics is to survive, I think we can look forward to a great deal of the former.

From that perspective, the Tea Lady, AKA U.S. Secretary of State Condi Rice, may just have uttered the most significant words of her remarkably empty career. Departing on her meaningless "shuttle diplomacy," meaningless because we will only talk to one side, she said current events mark "the birth pangs of a new Middle East, and whatever we do, we have to be certain that we are pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one." Don't worry; we are, we are.
What is the ultimate source of this drive to all-encompassing death and destruction, and to genocide on a global scale? Once more, I return to Alice Miller, who wrote the following after the Gulf War of 1991 in her book, Breaking Down the Wall of Silence:
This year, another war has come to an end. Once again, it is clear that even the most efficient weapons cannot eliminate hatred. Even the most sophisticated weapons are powerless against the will of one single individual who would not hesitate to destroy the world so long as he could achieve his goal--to revenge himself for his repressed injuries, to amass power, govern, and take possession of the world around him, all to avoid his feelings of pain.

One might expect that the millions of people who, thanks to television, watched the events of the Gulf War unfold would be eager to understand the causes of this urge to destroy. Sadly, the opposite seems to be true, at least in the public domain. Neither politicians, experts of various sorts, nor even the majority of journalists asked the essential question: What makes a person wish to destroy the world? ...

We must acknowledge what can already be acknowledged, in order to prevent the destruction and self-destruction of humankind. The oils wells burning in Kuwait confront us inescapably with the sad truth that technology alone is not sufficient to protect us from the consequences of denied, and thus uncontrolled, emotions. Without facing up to their origins--the production of hatred in childhood--we will be unable to resolve such hatred and put an end to the work of devastation.

It is in no way an exaggeration to say that every tyrant, without exception, prefers to see thousands and even millions of people killed and tortured rather than undo the repression of his childhood mistreatment and humiliation, to feel his rage and helplessness in the face of his parents, to call them to account and condemn their actions. Not without reason, that is what he fears the most and what he is constantly seeking to avoid by all available means. Once we have understood the mechanisms by which repressed feelings are acted out, we will find a way to protect ourselves from their consequences--not by producing more weapons, but by fighting for more truthfulness and awareness.


To suppress the feelings, perceptions, and impulses of a child is to commit psychic murder. The experiences [Rudolf] Hoess went through in his youth gave him a thorough grounding in the grammar of death. He simply had to wait thirty years, whereupon Hitler's regime presented him with the opportunity to practice the skills he had learned.

Thousands of his contemporaries functioned in just the same way. Instead of exposing and condemning the criminal behavior of their parents, they uniformly praised and defended it. Had a consciousness of the absurdity and dangerousness of brutal childrearing already existed, monsters like Hoess could never have been possible. The susceptibility to blind obedience and the demand for a man like Hitler simply would not have existed in Germany. ...

The young people demonstrating [in Central and Eastern Europe] in 1989 were capable of exposing the emptiness, terror, mendacity, and destructiveness of Stalinism--all the things with which their parents and grandparents came to terms--because as children they were allowed more freedom than the older generation. To be conscious of unfreedom one must have a concept of what freedom and respect for life are.

A person who has never experienced this as a child, who has only known and been exposed to extreme violence, brutality, and hypocrisy, without ever having come across a single helping witness, does not demonstrate for freedom. Such a person demands order and uses violence to achieve it, just as he or she learned as a child: order and cleanliness at any price is the motto, even if it is at the price of life. The victims of such an upbringing ache to do to others what was once done to them. If they don't have children, or their children refuse to make themselves available for their revenge, they line up to support new forms of fascism. Ultimately, fascism always has the same goal: the annihilation of truth and freedom. People who have been mistreated as children, but totally deny their suffering, use the mottoes and labels of the day. They thereby meet the approval of others like them because they have are also helping to conceal their truth. They are consumed by the perverse pleasure in the destruction of life that they observed in their parents when young. They long to at last be on the other side of the fence, to hold power themselves, passing it off, as Stalin, Hitler, or Ceausescu have done, as "redemption" for others. This old childhood longing determines their political "opinions" and speeches, which are therefore impervious to counter arguments. As long as they continue to ignore or distort the roots of the problem, which lie in the very real threats experienced in their childhood, reason must remain impotent against this kind of persecution complex. The unconscious compulsion to revenge repressed injuries is more powerful than all reason. That is the lesson that all tyrants teach us. One should not expect judiciousness from a mad person motivated by compulsive panic. One should, however, protect oneself from such a person.
Today, we see this "unconscious compulsion to revenge repressed injuries" playing out on a wider and wider scale -- and now it threatens to engulf all of us, and the world itself. These ideas are explained further in another earlier post: To Destroy the World, II: The Case of Fallujah, and Ralph Peters. And I will have still more to say on this subject very soon. (These issues and many related ones are explained in much more detail in my series of essays based on Miller's work.)

To the extent we can, we must all warn against and protect ourselves from the consequences of the policies enacted and supported by all such people. Without exception, they are all murderers -- in spirit, if not yet in fact. But the day may soon be upon us when their revenge fantasies are finally realized on a scale that the world has never before witnessed, and that will leave all of us speechless with horror.

July 28, 2006

Seeking Shaw's Return: "A victory for anybody is a victory for war"

Michael Holroyd offers a provocative and wonderfully informative meditation about Bernard Shaw, and concerning what Shaw might have to say to us today, were we graced with his frequently unsettling presence again. Holroyd is the writer of the authorized biography of Shaw, which he began in the 1970s; you can now purchase a slimmed-down one-volume version of the original four-volume work.

I think you will find the entire article worth the few minutes it takes to read it. Here are a few excerpts:
Shaw believed that the only revolutions which would not lead to counter-revolutions, landing us back to approximately where we had begun, were bloodless revolutions, revolutions that arose through changing the mind of a country by its writers, philosophers, thinkers, men and women of imagination. If you are bombed, for heaven’s sake, do not go blindly bombing back – unless you actually want more bombing, more deaths, indiscriminately all over the place. The way to judge people’s motives is to look at the results of their actions: that is the pragmatist’s philosophy. One of the ironies of history is that in most wars both sides eventually come to resemble each other and impose defeat on themselves. Or as Shaw succinctly put it: "A victory for anybody is a victory for war".

What would Shaw be telling us today? Would he, for example, have supported suicide bombing? I hear him answer this with a resounding No! But then he would never have been so stupid, so uncomprehending, as to label suicide bombers "cowardly" – that really is the voice of terror. Early in the twentieth century, Shaw proposed giving all Irishmen guns so that they could enjoy the privilege of a civil war without the intervention of the English. Such a man would not have hesitated to advocate the elimination of suicide bombing by giving Palestine an army equal in strength to that of Israel. He would, however, have castigated a Palestinian culture that encouraged young people to throw away their lives and be applauded for doing so by their parents and grandparents. It would have been far more honourable, I hear him saying, for old people to volunteer – indeed he had recommended calling up seventy- and eighty-year-olds for military service before turning to the young in time of war. In short: send Shaw out to the Middle East and he would unite all enemies in opposition to himself. Send Shaw today round the world and he would be called mad for recommending publishers in every country to put all sacred texts, from the Bible to the Koran, on their backlists and find new sacred works from contemporary writing.


So where are we now? In December 2004, the dramatist Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti had her play called Behzti (meaning dishonour), which was produced by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre as an alternative to the season of pantomimes, removed from the stage because of fears for her safety and that of the cast and theatre staff after violent protests by members of the Sikh community. The Arts Minister at that time, Estelle Morris, was reported as having issued a surprising statement. "Although today is a sad day for freedom of speech," she said, "I think the Rep has done the right thing." It is certainly a sad day when a government minister, appointed to represent the art of drama, can so easily turn back the clock more than one hundred years by supporting the removal of a play that, like Hall Caine’s The Prophet, might "give offence to many of Her Majesty’s subjects".

In such a climate of terrified legislation, we have need of Bernard Shaw – need of his stimulating incorrectitudes, need of his ability to show where dishonour truly lies and of his power to ridicule such absurdities out of court. It is time for Dionysos to go back and find him for us.
I had forgotten Shaw's very wise recommendation for "calling up seventy- and eighty-year-olds for military service before turning to the young in time of war" -- a thought that I view as especially just, particularly in light of the theme of the Wilfred Owen poem I just mentioned yet again, and Alice Miller's observations about the Abraham and Isaac story.

If, to employ Miller's words, the "prosperous and prominent old men [who] have been preparing for war for a long time" actually had to fight their own wars, I think we would all agree that history would have developed altogether differently. And the world might finally be free to enjoy a lengthy period of peace, after centuries of endless war.

I think it's an idea perhaps most desperately needed at this particular moment, just as we would all benefit in countless other ways from further advice from the always fascinating and often discomfiting Mr. Shaw.

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What A Great Game! Which Country Should We Bomb Next?

Syria. No, Iran. No, Syria. Oh, what the hell. Bomb them both:
Intelligence reports indicate the leader of Hezbollah is hiding in a foreign mission in Beirut, possibly the Iranian Embassy, according to U.S. and Israeli officials.

Israeli military and intelligence forces are continuing to hunt for Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's secretary-general, who fled his headquarters in Beirut shortly before Israeli jets bombed the building last week.

"We think he is in an embassy," said one U.S. official with access to the intelligence reports, while Israeli intelligence speculates Sheik Nasrallah is hiding in the Iranian Embassy.

If confirmed, the reports could lead to an Israeli air strike on the embassy, possibly leading to a widening of the conflict, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Foreign embassies are sovereign territory and an attack on an embassy could be considered an act of war.

But other reports from the region indicate Sheik Nasrallah may be in Damascus. A Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Seyassah, reported from the Syrian capital yesterday that Sheik Nasrallah was seen moving through the city with Syrian guards in an intelligence agency car, Associated Press reported. He was dressed in civilian clothes, not his normal clerical robe.
As I and others have been saying for some time, they want a wider war. The major supporters of our current foreign policy and those who implement it have been very explicit about their aims. Since Israel has now announced that it has the blessing of "the world" to continue its military assault, they just might get that regional war and possibly much more, and very soon.

In any case, everyone in Syria and Iran has had plenty of warning. If they were truly innocent, they would have left by now. So it can't be disputed that "[a]ll those now in [Syria and Iran] are terrorists." Let the slaughter increase! All patriotic Americans know that a genuine and lasting peace cannot be achieved in any other way.

From Wilfred Owen, one of the most distinguished of the World War One poets:
The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb, for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an Angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not they hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him, thy son.
Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns,
A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

P.S. I discussed the story of Abraham and Isaac and its deeper meaning as part of my series of essays based on the work of Alice Miller. An excerpt from Miller's book, The Untouched Key:
In the fact of mobilization for war--even a conventional one, a nonnuclear war--the questions of the younger generation are silenced. To doubt the wisdom of the state is regarded as treason. Any discussion or consideration of alternative possibilities is eliminated at a single stroke. Only practical questions remain: How do we win the war? How do we survive it? Once the point of asking these questions has been reached, the young forget that prosperous and prominent old men have been preparing for war for a long time. The younger generation will march, sing songs, kill and be killed, and they will be under the impression that they are carrying out an extremely important mission. The state will indeed regard highly what they are doing and will reward them with medals of honor, but their souls--the childlike, living, feeling part of their personality--will be condemned to the utmost passivity. They will resemble Isaac as he is always depicted in the sacrificial scene: hands tied, eyes bound, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to wait unquestioningly in this position to be slaughtered by one's father. (In my German translation of the Bible the verb used in this passage is schlacten, which refers to the butchering of animals.)

What Are These People Thinking?

I often wonder what even strong critics of the Bush administration and of the general direction of our country are thinking. In a column in the Star Tribune, Brian Fogarty carefully traces the similarities between the United States today and Weimar Germany of the 1920s, parallels that many others have noted -- and with very good reason.

Fogarty then writes:
In Germany of the 1920s, as now in 21st-century America, appeals to reason and prudence were no way to get votes in times of crisis. Much more effective were appeals to the anger and fear of the German people. A politician could attract more votes by criticizing the government than by praising it, and a vicious negative campaign was usually more effective than a clean one. One of the problems of democracy is that voters aren't always rational, and appeals like these could be very effective.

As usually happens in times of distress, the Germans became a people for whom resolve was valued more highly than prudence, daring more than caution, and righteousness more than discretion. In many ways, they were a people not so different from today's Americans.

What was needed, the Germans thought, was a strong leader -- someone who would put an end to politics as usual; most of all, someone who could unite all the divisions in Germany and dispel the clamor. They found that leader in Adolf Hitler, and for a time, most Germans were glad they did.

Of course, America is not 1920s Germany, and we are certainly not on the verge of a fascist state.
Where has this man been? A fascist state is exactly what we're on the verge of: a corporatist, authoritarian dictatorship.

At the end of his column, Fogarty wonders how we would react "if things got worse" -- whether we would "cling even more fiercely to our democratic ideals":
Or would we instead demand greater surveillance, more secret prisons, more arrests for "conspiracies" that amount to little more than daydreams, and more quashing of dissent?

Our history suggests the latter. We Americans have had our flights from democracy -- the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, the Red Scare and the McCarthy era, Watergate -- but we have always pulled back from the brink and returned to normal.

The time is coming for us to pull back from the brink again. This must happen before the government gets so strong that it can completely demonize opposition, gain complete control of the media, and develop dossiers on all its citizens. By then it will be too late, and we'll have ourselves to blame.
Yes, indeed, Mr. Fogarty. Of course, it would help considerably if there were a strong, courageous, principled opposition. There isn't, on top of which we have a press that has voluntarily and enthusiastically neutered itself, and placed itself in unquestioning, obedient service to those in power. It would also help if intelligent critics of the current administration wouldn't keep pulling their punches. They seem to believe, like people who put credence in magic spells and incantations, that if they don't state how profoundly dangerous current trends are boldly and without qualification, then they aren't really that bad.

They are that bad, and worse. People had better wake up and speak up before it's too late, which it may be already. Meanwhile, we stumble toward the abyss, desperately hoping that something or someone will "save" us -- while most of us don't do a damned thing.

July 27, 2006

When States Make War, Everyone Is Finally Presumed Guilty

I will have a lot more to say about these issues in the next several days; the terrible heatwave here in Southern California has put me almost entirely out of commission, particularly given my already existing health problems. But in an upcoming essay, I will analyze Alan Dershowitz's recent, extraordinarily dangerous article, as well as several other related pieces.

For the moment, let us note the inevitable consequences of views like Dershowitz's -- which are, in fact, the necessary endpoint of the views of much of our foreign policy and military establishments, as well as those of Israel. From the BBC:
Foreign ministers from key countries - including the US, Britain and regional powers - attended emergency talks on the crisis in Rome on Wednesday.

They did not call for an immediate ceasefire, vowing instead to work with the "utmost urgency" for a sustainable truce.

"We received yesterday at the Rome conference permission from the world... to continue the operation," Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon said.

Mr Ramon - a close confidant of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - said "everyone understands that a victory for Hezbollah is a victory for world terror".

He said that in order to prevent casualties among Israeli soldiers battling Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon, villages should be flattened by the Israeli air force before ground troops moved in.

He added that Israel had given the civilians of southern Lebanon ample time to quit the area and therefore anyone still remaining there could be considered a Hezbollah supporter.

"All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah," Mr Ramon said.
I came upon this story via Jim Bovard, who adds:
Ramon made these comments on Israeli Army radio. He was apparently not asked about the IDF's practice of blowing up the cars full of civilians fleeing south Lebanon.

Ramon has made stark the standards that the Israelis are using, and there is no excuse for any American politician or citizen to continue denying that the Israelis are intentionally targeting civilians en masse.

Bush again embraced Israel's effort in Lebanon today - even after the Justice Minister's comments.
By the way, if you haven't yet read Bovard's two books on the numerous crimes of the Bush administration, you ought to:

The Bush Betrayal

Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil

I just remembered I don't have his latest book myself:

Attention Deficit Democracy

So I added it to my Wishlist.

P.S. I should note that our own history is replete with examples of this kind of inhumanity -- perhaps most unforgivably in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

P.P.S. Read Billmon. Now, please.

July 25, 2006

You, Sir, Are Not Welcome in Rome

[Update added at the end.]

Here's the shorter version of the paternalistic, imperialistic, condescending Democrats:
After we destroy your country and unleash a vicious civil war which takes the lives of between 100 and 200 innocent Iraqis every day, and after we see that you are installed as leader of this dying country and prop up your doomed and ineffectual government, we expect you to repeat our propaganda without question or criticism. If you do not, you obviously cannot expect to be warmly received in Rome. We have lost American lives and treasure on this disastrous venture. True, we had no justifiable reason whatsoever for taking these actions, and it was absolutely none of our goddamned business. But we did so anyway, out of the endless beneficence of our magnanimous, "civilizing" hearts. So you will express appropriate thanks, you ungrateful bastard. Otherwise, get the hell out of town.
Here's the longer version. I draw your attention to these paragraphs:
Senate Democrats in a letter to Maliki called his statements "very troubling" and asked for an explanation, but did not demand that his speech be canceled.

Several lawmakers said they would press Maliki for his view on the Middle East conflict in meetings before the prime minister makes his address, which is intended to try to reassure lawmakers that U.S. lives and money have not been squandered on a country descending into civil war.
Oh, my, yes: we have to reassure the lawmakers -- who helped make this disaster possible, a disaster which they still will not disavow -- that their immoral and illegitimate actions were not taken in vain.

And note this:
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Maliki, in his White House appearance with President George W. Bush, again failed to state his view of Hizbollah, which the United States deems a terrorist organization.

"We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq. We've lost more than 2,500 American soldiers, more than 20,000 wounded. We deserve that answer," Reid said.
With all due respect -- which is to say: none -- shut up, you offensive idiot. No one asked us to "spen[d] hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq." No one asked us to send Americans to Iraq. We did that all on our own, goddamn us.

One more excerpt:
House Democrats in their letter to Hastert cited reports that Iraqi leaders were "increasingly influenced" by Iran, and said the "goal of the invasion in Iraq was not to remove one threat in favor of another."
A number of people pointed out this precise danger, among many others, before the invasion of Iraq began. Our governing class ignored all such warnings.

The attitude of Western colonialism and condescension is nauseating in the extreme -- and it is typical of the Democrats. This is why I have repeatedly said that everyone in the political and foreign policy establishment works out of the same playbook: the playbook of "Western exceptionalism," which gives us the "right" to "civilize" the rest of the world by force, whether they want us to or not. Our narcissism is disgusting and repellent. We have but a single, monolithic, warmongering establishment. Since these views are so entrenched in all parts of the governing class, the next war cannot be far away.

What an absolutely sickening nation we are today. God can forgive us, although I have no idea why He would. I do not expect the rest of the world to -- nor should they.

UPDATE: I linked my discussion of John Kerry's NYT op-ed piece above. I had forgotten how profoundly offensive his article is. Consider this passage from my post:
The nauseating depths of the Western conviction of its own "exceptionalism" and its unquestionable "right" to coerce the rest of the world to act as we demand are revealed in Kerry's final paragraph:
For three years now, the administration has told us that terrible things will happen if we get tough with the Iraqis. In fact, terrible things are happening now because we haven't gotten tough enough. With two deadlines, we can change all that. We can put the American leadership on the side of our soldiers and push the Iraqi leadership to do what only it can do: build a democracy.
Let me repeat the only fundamental point that matters here: we have no right to be in Iraq in the first place. Since we have no right to be there at all, by what damnable "right" are we entitled to get "tougher" with the Iraqis? Endless violence, instantaneous death or dismemberment, the inability to live any kind of normal existence, and the destruction of an entire country are the "gifts" we have brought to Iraq. And now we're going to get "tougher"? To call this sickening does not even begin to capture the degree of immorality and dishonesty involved.

Kerry's approach thus veers perilously and disgustingly close to the American military commander who said toward the end of 2003: "You have to understand the Arab mind. ... The only thing they understand is force — force, pride and saving face." As I wrote about such comments (and the full essay has much more on the mechanisms involved)....
The earlier entry has more.

Even Churchill Wasn't Churchill

Don't certain liberals ever get tired of reinforcing the right's favorite talking points and the right's endless propaganda? Apparently not. ThinkProgress quotes Cliff May on Churchill:
There is a war of arms. And there is a war of ideas. They are not just inter-related, they are interdependent. They are equally consequential.

...Let’s take just one example: In the 1930s, Churchill fought a war of ideas. He tried to warn the world about Hitler; tried to warn Europe and America that Hitler’s hatred and ambition had to be checked. But most people did not listen. Churchill’s ideas did not prevail. They called Churchill a "war monger."
ThinkProgress then unhelpfully -- and inaccurately -- adds:
To be fair, there is some truth in what May is saying. Arguments about ideas can have real consequences. But blogging on the National Review (or ThinkProgress, for that matter) is not the equivalent of Churchill warning the world about Hitler.
Boy, that Churchill was some great, far-sighted hero, huh?

No, he was not, not even on the Hitler question. It was because of this aspect of the Churchill myth -- and that's all it is, a myth from beginning to end -- that I reposted my essay, "Shattering the Churchill Myth: Facing Facts, and Becoming Adults," several months ago.

Here's one relevant passage:
[Ralph] Raico moves further along the trajectory of Churchill's career:
So far Churchill had been engaged in politics for 30 years, with not much to show for it except a certain notoriety. His great claim to fame in the modern mythology begins with his hard line against Hitler in the 1930s. But it is important to realize that Churchill had maintained a hard line against Weimar Germany, as well. He denounced all calls for Allied disarmament, even before Hitler came to power. Like other Allied leaders, Churchill was living a protracted fantasy: that Germany would submit forever to what it viewed as the shackles of Versailles. In the end, what Britain and France refused to grant to a democratic Germany they were forced to concede to Hitler.
Ironically--considering that it was a pillar of his future fame--his drumbeating about the German danger was yet another position on which Churchill reneged. In the fall of 1937, he stated:
["]Three or four years ago I was myself a loud alarmist. ... In spite of the risks which wait on prophecy, I declare my belief that a major war is not imminent, and I still believe that there is a good chance of no major war taking place in our lifetime. ... I will not pretend that, if I had to choose between Communism and Nazism, I would choose Communism.["]

For all the claptrap about Churchill's "far-sightedness" during the 30s in opposing the "appeasers," in the end the policy of the Chamberlain government--to rearm as quickly as possible, while testing the chances for peace with Germany--was more realistic than Churchill's.

The common mythology is so far from historical truth that even an ardent Churchill sympathizer, Gordon Craig, feels obliged to write:

["]The time is long past when it was possible to see the protracted debate over British foreign policy in the 1930s as a struggle between Churchill, an angel of light, fighting against the velleities of uncomprehending and feeble men in high places. It is reasonably well-known today that Churchill was often ill-informed, that his claims about German strength were exaggerated and his prescriptions impractical, that his emphasis on air power was misplaced.["]

Moreover, as a British historian has recently noted: "For the record, it is worth recalling that in the 1930s Churchill did not oppose the appeasement of either Italy or Japan." It is also worth recalling that it was the pre-Churchill British governments that furnished the material with which Churchill was able to win the Battle of Britain. Clive Ponting has observed:

["]the Baldwin and Chamberlain governments...had ensured that Britain was the first country in the world to deploy a fully integrated system of air defence based on radar detection of incoming aircraft and ground control of fighters...Churchill's contribution had been to pour scorn on radar when he was in opposition in the 1930s.["]
The endless, interminable comparisons of the world situation today to the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s are noxious and almost entirely wrong. Given the neocons' plans for endless and constantly widening war, they are especially dangerous. And the perpetual mythologizing of Churchill -- joined in by conservatives and liberals alike, with almost everyone else thrown in -- is tiresome in the extreme. Even a cursory examination of the actual historical record reveals most of it to be untrue. But people absolutely refuse to give up their myths.

Fine. Let's set all the facts and the real history aside. Let's embrace the myth completely.

None of us wants to be Chamberlain. We all want to be Churchill. Cool.


July 24, 2006

When Even Silence Is a Lie

All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting. -- George Orwell
From Ken Silverstein:
I reported in May that despite the deteriorating situation in Iraq, no National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has been produced on that country since the summer of 2004. ...

The situation has gotten even darker since my initial story—a United Nations report cited in Wednesday's New York Times found that an average of more than 100 Iraqi civilians were killed each day in June—and I've learned from two sources that some senior figures at the CIA, along with a number of Iraq analysts, have been pushing to produce a new NIE. They've been stonewalled, however, by John Negroponte, the administration's Director of National Intelligence, who knows that any honest take on the situation would produce an NIE even more pessimistic than the 2004 version. That could create problems on the Hill and, if it is leaked as the last one was, with the public as well.

"What do you call the situation in Iraq right now?" asked one person familiar with the situation. "The analysts know that it's a civil war, but there's a feeling at the top that [using that term] will complicate matters." Negroponte, said another source regarding the potential impact of a pessimistic assessment, "doesn't want the president to have to deal with that."

The sources said that forces at the CIA have been lobbying for the new NIE for about six months. Not only is one overdue, but there's also a fear that if the Democrats win control of at least one chamber of Congress this November, the agency is going to get hammered for not having produced an NIE for so long.

A third source, a former CIA officer who served in Iraq, said he had no direct knowledge of Negroponte blocking the NIE but that it jibed with past practice. "The NIE is a crucial document . . . that tells you how to tweak your policy," he said. "That's hard to do if you don't want to look at it." He said he had two recent conversations with people in Iraq, one an official at the Ministry of Interior who told him that as of two days ago there were 1,600 bodies piled up at the central morgue in Baghdad. The second conversation, he said, was with an Iraqi general officer who told him, "I never thought I would see my capital like this. It's on fire."

"[The administration] can call it whatever they want," said the former CIA officer. "There's a civil war going on in Iraq."

Embracing Ignorance on Principle: And Still, We Will Not See

[I first published this essay on May 14, 2005. I offer it again now and place it here, out of date order, for one primary reason: I continue to see many discussions about how the Bush administration has "bungled" the war and occupation of Iraq, and handled this tragic episode "incompetently." I explained in general terms what is dangerously wrong with this approach in, "Trapped in the Wrong Paradigm: Three Handy Rules."

To repeat the first and overriding point: because Iraq was no threat to us, the U.S. invasion and occupation of that country were and are entirely unjustified and immoral. Saddam was a notably vicious, brutal dictator. But so long as Iraq constituted no serious threat to the United States, it was not our government's business. Great evil occurs in many countries throughout the world. Nothing in the Constitution, or in reason, morality or even common sense provides our government a roving warrant to roam the globe, attempting to correct injustices wherever they occur. In foreign affairs, the primary concern of our government is our nation's self-defense, period. If you wish to spend your life battling evil, that is to your credit. Pursue such work as a private citizen, or as part of some non-governmental organization. But do not ask the government to attempt a task that does not rightfully belong to it. Moreover, short of militarizing all of America and destroying our economy forever, the task is an impossible one.

Several readers have written to me indicating that they agree that the invasion of Iraq was fundamentally immoral. But, they ask, can't we still meaningfully point out that the Bush administration has performed and continues to perform in a spectacularly incompetent manner? This question raises certain complex issues of moral and political theory, some of which I'll be discussing in more detail in the future. Such questions relate to the general category of means and ends, and more particularly to whether an immoral end can be pursued in a more or less immoral manner. I've analyzed these issues to some extent in the second part of my series, On Torture. My brief answer is a very strong, No. It is not possible to pursue an immoral goal by certain means that are more "moral" or "competent" than others. Given what has happened in Iraq, we are now entitled to use a very simple example to make the point. Since we have now killed an entire country, ask yourself if it is possible to kill a friend or neighbor -- not in self-defense, but completely gratuitously, for no good reason -- "morally" or "competently." What would those words mean in that context? That you killed your friend quickly and efficiently? To the extent you performed such an evil deed "competently," that makes it worse, not better.

But, you might object, if we had done it "competently," the country would still be alive. Again, we had no right to be there at all in the first place, so whatever might have happened is entirely irrelevant in the most fundamental sense. But the conjecture is invalid for additional reasons. Means and ends cannot be divorced in this manner. Properly viewed, the ends determine the means. Immoral ends will always require immoral means. This is why I have pointed out that to argue that the Bush administration's program could have been carried out more "competently" simply means that we would have replaced Saddam's authoritarian rule with a puppet Iraqi government controlled by an authoritarian occupation authority. That is all it can mean in this particular context. But even that is not possible, as this earlier essay indicates. The problem for most of those who still make the "competence" argument, just as it is the problem for the Bush administration, is what I identify in what follows: because of certain misconceptions and a faulty methodology, "the reality of Iraq itself never assumes solid shape before them." The Bush administration never understood Iraq at all, or its culture and history. This is why I have maintained from the beginning that we were defeated before the first American soldier ever set foot in Iraq.

There is a deeper reason why so many people still cling to the "competence" argument, and to the idea that if only we had done things the "right" way, everything would have at least turned out in a significantly better manner. The reason arises from the particularly Western perspective that I have discussed in many essays (see here, for example, and here as well), and from the idea that we can virtually always shape reality in accordance with our preferences by an act of will, by the imposition of our thought on the world. We are belatedly discovering that this is a dangerous approach when utilized with regard to nature: we begin to appreciate that even the non-conscious world can only be manipulated and altered within certain constraints. When we go too far, the consequences can be very dire, and ultimately can prove to be profoundly self-destructive. But we still think we can order men's affairs by acts of will in a similar manner. A moment's reflection should reveal that if this approach is a dangerous error with regard to the inanimate world, it is notably more dangerous when applied to the complexities of human beings and the societies they create. With regard to humankind, the variables are if anything even more complex -- and you are also contending with the thoughts and ideas of others, which might be hugely different from your own, or even directly opposed to them.

This is the point that Barbara Tuchman made about the Vietnam humiliation. Replace the Middle East for Asia, and Iraq for Vietnam, and the point is the same:
In the illusion of omnipotence, American policy-makers took it for granted that on a given aim, especially in Asia, American will could be made to prevail. This assumption came from the can-do character of a self-created nation and from the sense of competence and superpower derived from World War II. If this was "arrogance of power," in Senator Fulbright's phrase, it was not so much the fatal hubris and over-extension that defeated Athens and Napoleon, and in the 20th century Germany and Japan, as it was failure to understand that problems and conflicts exist among other peoples that are not soluble by the application of American force or American techniques or even American goodwill. "Nation-building" was the most presumptuous of the illusions. Settlers of the North American continent had built a nation from Plymouth Rock to Valley Forge to the fulfilled frontier, yet failed to learn from their success that elsewhere, too, only the inhabitants can make the process work.
To put it in other terms: to be successful, social and political transformation must ultimately come from within the society itself. It cannot be imposed from without. "Good intentions" will not save the project from disaster and destruction. (See Ken Jowitt's article, "Rage, Hubris, and Regime Change," for a discussion about why the examples of Germany and Japan after World War II do not disprove this general point, and for an enormously valuable analysis of many related issues.)

Even though the catastrophe of Vietnam happened only a moment ago in historic terms, we never understood the lesson. That failure made the catastrophe of Iraq possible, and even inevitable. Since we failed to learn from our terrible error, we would have made the same mistake again, if not in Iraq, then somewhere else. And given the terms in which so many commentators continue to discuss the disaster of Iraq, we still refuse to learn the lesson. We refuse to give up the notion of our "omnipotence," and the idea that we can achieve anything if we only set our minds to it with sufficient willpower, and if we only execute the plan "competently."

That has never been true for any people, at any time in history. And it is not true for us. We had better learn the lesson, and learn it soon, or the price we will have to pay may be higher and worse than any of us will care to contemplate.

As a final note about this earlier essay, I will point out that the predictions I made in the concluding part of the article have all proven to be entirely accurate. There is no mystery about this: if you understand the principles involved, predicting what must follow is a comparatively simple exercise. But to understand those principles, you must also grasp the relevant context. In this case, that means understanding Iraq and its history, including the fact that it was an artificial nation created by mapmakers in Whitehall after World War I. Neither Britain then nor the United States now ever thought it necessary to understand the peoples of this region, or their own history and culture. For that reason, and as I state below, neither the British nor we ever knew what we were doing in the most important sense.

And we still don't, even now.]

A recent pair of articles illustrates very powerfully the significant, and dangerous, differences between much of the reporting about Iraq in the American press and in the European press. Reading the articles side by side also reveals the enormous failures of comprehension of Iraq's history and culture exhibited by most Americans, including by the American government. Remember that it was Paul Wolfowitz himself who famously (or infamously) said that "there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq." Moreover, a UPI story I first excerpted in November 2003 included this passage on the same general subject [story link no longer working]:
The Pentagon civilian hawks and their neo-conservative media allies who preached the necessity for toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and building a shining monument to American democracy never referred much to Iraqi history and they seem to have known little or any of it, which is not surprising, as few of them had ever visited Iraq.

The general impression one got from their writings, and from the pronouncements of President George W. Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz and the other masterminds of the war was that Iraq, the legendary site of the Garden of Eden, had indeed been one, and that that state of innocence had endured until Saddam and his allies seized power to establish the Second Baath Republic in 1968 or, at least until the pro-Western monarchy with its trappings of parliamentary democracy was destroyed in the bloody coup of 1958.

But that was not the case.

The history of Iraq before the 35-year-long night of the Baath Republic descended upon it should have provided ample warning that once the lid was lifted off, those long decades of repression, more years of terrorism, assassination and massacre were only too likely to follow. For they were what had gone before. ...

Although Britain came to Iraq as its military conqueror in 1918 with a 300-year long record of imperial conquest and colonial administration unequalled by any other power in modern history, it failed to successfully transplant any of the institutions of freedom and Western democracy there, even though it tried hard to do so for 40 years. And almost as soon as they entered the country, the British faced a ferocious popular uprising of Sunnis and Shiite alike, though dominated by Sunnis, which it mercilessly crushed at the cost of thousands of dead. ...

Friday's frightful bombing in Najaf, coming so soon as it does after the destruction of the U.N. compound in Baghdad and the murder of the chief U.N. envoy within it, serves notice that the bullet, the knife and the bomb are reigning again in Baghdad, just as they did during all those four long decades of supposedly enlightened British rule. U.S. policymakers should cease laboring under the delusion that they are about to change it.
With this background in mind, consider the first of the articles -- "The Mystery of the Insurgency," by James Bennet, appearing in The New York Times:
WASHINGTON -- American forces in Iraq have often been accused of being slow to apply hard lessons from Vietnam and elsewhere about how to fight an insurgency. Yet, it seems from the outside, no one has shrugged off the lessons of history more decisively than the insurgents themselves.

The insurgents in Iraq are showing little interest in winning hearts and minds among the majority of Iraqis, in building international legitimacy, or in articulating a governing program or even a unified ideology or cause beyond expelling the Americans. They have put forward no single charismatic leader, developed no alternative government or political wing, displayed no intention of amassing territory to govern now.

Rather than employing the classic rebel tactic of provoking the foreign forces to use clumsy and excessive force and kill civilians, they are cutting out the middleman and killing civilians indiscriminately themselves, in addition to more predictable targets like officials of the new government. Bombings have escalated in the last two weeks, and on Thursday a bomb went off in heavy traffic in Baghdad, killing 21 people.

This surge in the killing of civilians reflects how mysterious the long-term strategy remains - and how the rebels' seeming indifference to the past patterns of insurgency is not necessarily good news for anyone.

It is not surprising that reporters, and evidently American intelligence agents, have had great difficulty penetrating this insurgency. What is surprising is that the fighters have made so little effort to advertise unified goals.

Counter-insurgency experts are baffled, wondering if the world is seeing the birth of a new kind of insurgency; if, as in China in the 1930's or Vietnam in the 1940's, it is taking insurgents a few years to organize themselves; or if, as some suspect, there is a simpler explanation.

"Instead of saying, 'What's the logic here, we don't see it,' you could speculate, there is no logic here," said Anthony James Joes, a professor of political science at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia and the author of several books on the history of guerrilla warfare. The attacks now look like "wanton violence," he continued. "And there's a name for these guys: Losers."


A clear cause - one with broad support - is usually taken for granted by experts as a prerequisite for successful insurgency.

But insurgents in Iraq appear to be fighting for varying causes: Baath Party members are fighting for some sort of restoration of the old regime; Sunni Muslims are presumably fighting to prevent domination by the Shiite majority; nationalists are fighting to drive out the Americans; and foreign fighters want to turn Iraq into a battlefield of a global religious struggle. Some men are said to fight for money; organized crime may play a role.

This incoherence is something new. "If you look at 20th-century insurgencies, they all tend to be fairly coherent in terms of their ideology," Dr. Metz said. "Most of the serious insurgencies, you could sit down and say, 'Here's what they want.'"

In Iraq, insurgent groups appear to share a common immediate goal of ridding Iraq of an American presence, a goal that may find sympathy among Iraqis angry about poor electricity and water service and high unemployment.


What is curious about the Iraqi tactic is that it appears aimed at creating active opposition. The insurgency is powered by Sunnis; the civilians they have killed have been overwhelmingly Shiites and Kurds. The goal appears to be to split apart the fragile governing coalition and foment sectarian strife.

Yet if the insurgents achieve all-out civil conflict, the likely losers are the Sunnis themselves, since they are a minority. Having governed for decades in Iraq, Sunnis are accustomed to the whip hand and may simply assume they will be able to regain control. Or perhaps they are betting that chaos will lead to partition, allowing Sunnis to govern themselves.


If the immediate objective of the insurgents is relatively limited - not to topple the government and drive the Americans out now but to pin them down and bleed them - that at least would have solid precedents. As the counterterrorism expert Bruce Hoffman noted in a paper for Rand last year, "For more than 30 years, a dedicated cadre of approximately 200 to 400 I.R.A. gunmen and bombers frustrated the maintenance of law and order in Northern Ireland, requiring the prolonged deployment of tens of thousands of British troops." Yet the I.R.A. is still far from its larger goal: to drive the British out.


Yet it may prove to be one of history's humbling lessons that history itself fails to illuminate the conflict under way in Iraq. No one really knows what the insurgents are up to.

"It clearly makes sense to the people who are doing it," said Dr. Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute. "And that more than anything else tells us how little we understand the region."
The next article was published in the London Review of Books. Perhaps the point of greatest significance is that its author, Patrick Cockburn, has been reporting from Iraq since 1978. This makes all the difference in the world, but it is a difference our government seems determined to ignore, as a matter of some unstated principle. While Bennet relies on history from everywhere else in the world -- from Vietnam, from Greece, from Northern Ireland -- Cockburn appreciates and understands the central importance of the history of Iraq itself. One might be pardoned for not having thought that this stunningly obvious point would require explanation and justification, but such is the nature of our disastrously failed foreign policy -- a failure which is all too comprehensible, if one knows where to look for the reasons.

So while Bennet is unable to put the pieces together and can only consult other "models" to explain the Iraqi insurgency -- and fails miserably, by his own admission -- Cockburn has no such problem. You should read Cockburn's entire article, but these excerpts capture the main points:
The three months it took to cobble together a government in Iraq after January's election shows the depth of the divisions between the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities. In the north of the country the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds are close to civil war. Their savage skirmishes, around the oil city of Kirkuk and in the streets of Mosul, are generally unreported in Baghdad. The war of 2003 made the Kurds the north's dominant power. They are no longer penned in their mountains, or in their decrepit cities crowded with refugees from the 3800 villages destroyed by Saddam Hussein. But their advance south is contested by the Sunni Arabs, everywhere on the retreat but able to stage daily suicide bomb attacks, ambushes and assassinations.


Whichever town or city I visited in northern Iraq, government officials, almost all of them Kurds, made the same two points: however bad things looked now, they were worse three months ago and the situation was more dangerous further south. ...

Khasro Goran, the deputy governor of Mosul and the leader of the KDP, claimed that security in the city was much improved, though not perfect. The largest government security force in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, are the 14,000-strong, mainly Arab, blue-uniformed police. 'They are not much good at finding terrorists,' Goran said, 'because they are terrorists themselves.' He suspected them of being implicated in the assassination of the previous governor and had warned his own bodyguards against telling the police about his movements: they might try to assassinate him.

The police showed their real sympathies during an uprising on 11 November last year when the resistance entered Mosul in force. It happened a few days after the start of the US Marines' assault on Fallujah -- an assault that one US general claimed would "break the back of the insurgency" -- and so was little noticed by the outside world. The Western media were either confined to their hotels in Baghdad for fear of being kidnapped or embedded with US army units. While triumphant American reporters and generals trumpeted victory from Fallujah, a city with a population of 350,000, the insurgents were able quietly to capture Mosul, which has a population five times as large. The police abandoned their barracks -- some thirty of them are still empty six months later -- and their commander fled. The resistance captured $40 million worth of arms and equipment. Weeks later the bodies of executed Iraqi soldiers were still turning up all over the city. Police loyalty has not improved since. Recently, a Kurdish unit of the Iraqi army was ambushed west of the city, close to the Syrian border. The soldiers pursued their attackers, but only as far as the nearest police station, where they had found refuge. The Kurds say that both groups -- insurgents and police -- belong to the powerful Sunni Arab Shammar tribe.

US influence is on the retreat in Nineveh province, as it is in the rest of Iraq. There are few troops on the ground: no more than six thousand American soldiers remain in an area with a population of nearly three million. For a year after the invasion, 21,000 men from the heavily equipped 101st Airborne Division had been stationed in Mosul. The division's commander, General David Petraeus, probably the most intelligent senior American officer in Iraq, reached a tentative understanding with the local Sunni Arab establishment. Thousands of former army officers took a public oath renouncing the Baath Party. The Kurds were furious that the Americans were truckling to Saddam's former lieutenants. Since then, the American military has changed tack, favouring the Kurds and hostile to the Sunni Arabs. But they have no choice: the Kurds are America's most important ally. In Mosul the CIA depends on Kurdish intelligence. ...

The strength of the armed resistance is misunderstood outside Iraq. It has always been fragmented. Unlike the National Liberation Front in Vietnam or the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, it is not well organised. It grew so fast after the fall of Saddam and proved so effective because the American occupiers managed to make themselves extraordinarily unpopular within days of entering Baghdad. The insurgents have many weaknesses. They have no political wing. The fanatical Sunni fundamentalists, commonly called the Salafi or the Wahhabi, see Iraqi Shias and Christians as infidels just as worthy of death as any US soldier. When American forces damaged two mosques in Mosul in the fighting last November, the resistance blew up two Iraqi Christian churches. Such sectarianism makes it impossible for the resistance to become a truly nationalist movement, but there are four or five million Sunni Arabs -- a strong enough base for an insurgency.

The war will go on in Iraq because no community has got what it wants and none has given up hope of getting it. The Shias, 60 per cent of the population, want power. They turned out to vote in January despite suicide bombers. They now believe that the US, the Kurds and the Sunni Arabs are plotting to marginalise them. Political authority in Iraq has always been exercised through the security agencies. That is why, during the three months of negotiations to form a government, the Shias, under the new prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, insisted on getting the Interior Ministry. The US is resisting a full Shia takeover and wants to stop them getting the Defence Ministry as well. Donald Rumsfeld flew in to Baghdad in April to make it plain that Jaafari's proposed purge of "suspected infiltrators" would not be tolerated.

The Sunni Arabs are divided and unclear in their aims. They want the US occupation to end. But, having boycotted the election, they are not sure how they will relate to the new government. Despite the Sunni boycott, the government was elected by popular vote and has a legitimacy its predecessors lacked. The Kurds, almost to their own surprise, are the community which made the biggest gains after Saddam's fall: they hold Kirkuk; they are allied to the US; Jalal Talabani, one of their leaders, is president of Iraq; they enjoy a degree of autonomy close to independence. But they fear that this may be as good as it gets. The government in Baghdad will get stronger in time, and as it does so it may try to restore its authority over Kurdistan.

Politically and militarily strong for now, the Kurds are geographically isolated. It took me two days to travel from Kirkuk to Baghdad: the two-hour road journey is too dangerous, and I had to go by way of Turkey. The only airport in Iraqi Kurdistan, at Arbil, was closed: the central government claims it isn't properly equipped. Traffic between Iraq and Turkey passes over two bridges a few hundred yards apart on a fast-flowing river at Ibrahim Khalil. This might be the longest traffic jam in the world. Columns of trucks and petrol tankers waiting to cross the border stretch back 70 kilometres into Turkey. Sometimes drivers wait two and a half weeks to get across. Turkey, worried by the impact of events in Iraq on its own Kurdish population, tightens or relaxes the regulations for crossing the bridges to show the Iraqi Kurds that it controls their main link with the outside world.


Travelling in Iraq has now become so dangerous for journalists that much of the violence is unreported. For Washington and London the absence of journalists is convenient. The capture of Fallujah by the US Marines last November could be sold as a turning-point in the war only because few realised that Mosul had fallen to the insurgents at the same time. The election itself was presented by Bush and Blair as a triumph for democracy, although the three months it has taken to form a government shows that Iraq is more divided than ever. The safest areas in the country, despite the bomb in Arbil, are the three inner Kurdish provinces: Iraq's 15 other provinces are a bloody no man's land. In the summer heat of the last few weeks, the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates have become warmer. Bodies that were dumped in the river in the winter months are now rising to the surface. Hundreds of them are being buried in temporary graves but nobody knows who they are or why they were killed.
The contrast between these two perspectives is alarming, and damning. The most telling detail from Bennet's article is the final one:
"[The insurgency] clearly makes sense to the people who are doing it," said Dr. Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute. "And that more than anything else tells us how little we understand the region."
This statement -- particularly when coupled with Bennet's immediately preceding observation: "history itself fails to illuminate the conflict under way in Iraq" -- pinpoints the problem. The U.S., and most of the American media, have been and remain resolutely determined to look at the wrong history. They act as if Iraq's own history, including its long, bloody history of ethnic strife (pace Wolfowitz), is entirely irrelevant. It is hardly a mystery why they are then unable to grasp what is right before their eyes. They look at events in Iraq (to the extent they do look at them, which is far from comprehensive as Cockburn makes very clear) through the prism of ideas they have gleaned from other countries' histories -- and the reality of Iraq itself never assumes solid shape before them.

This determined refusal to look at and understand the relevant facts, including the crucially relevant history, is a significant part of the reason why Bush's repeated mantra that "everyone wants freedom," and moreover that everyone wants freedom in roughly the same form that we enjoy it, is so hollow and so unconvincing. It was not true in Vietnam, and it is not true in Iraq. Peoples' attitudes, objectives, alliances and enmities are uniquely shaped by their particular history -- not by ours, or by no history at all. And it is the latter that is unavoidably implied by the attitude revealed by Bennet in his article, and by the Bush administration: they seem to believe that "freedom" and "democracy" are abstractions that are plucked by people from the sky overhead -- and then applied by everyone in precisely the same manner, regardless of history, geography, culture and every other aspect of their specific lives.

Or, as Barbara Tuchman expressed the point with regard to Vietnam:
Americans were always talking about freedom from Communism, whereas the freedom that the mass of Vietnamese wanted was freedom from their exploiters, both French and indigenous. The assumption that humanity at large shared the democratic Western idea of freedom was an American delusion. "The freedom we cherish and defend in Europe," stated President Eisenhower on taking office, "is no different than the freedom that is imperiled in Asia." He was mistaken. Humanity may have common ground, but needs and aspirations vary according to circumstances.
We invaded and occupied Iraq thinking that Iraq's own history was utterly irrelevant to our own aims. The Iraqis wanted freedom, we thought, just as everyone does; we would provide it, even if we had to do so at the point of a gun, and even if we had to kill roughly 100,00 Iraqis (or more) to do it. As I noted yesterday, this is why we failed before the first U.S. soldier set foot on Iraqi soil. In the most critical sense, we never bothered to educate ourselves about the history and desires of the people we set out to "liberate" (even if we grant that was the aim, despite all the evidence to the contrary) -- which meant that, fundamentally, we did not know what we were doing.

And we still don't, as Bennet's article and many similar ones make painfully clear. And this is yet another reason why I maintain, as I explained yesterday, that we should leave immediately, or as close to immediately as we can -- and set a time limit of six months at the outside, for example, for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops. Not only are we a significant source of the ongoing violence, but we continue to refuse to learn about the nature of the Iraqis themselves, and what their perspectives and their aims are.

Because we are determined to remain ignorant of the actual nature and consequences of our own actions, and because this state of ignorance appears to be ongoing and unchangeable, the degree of the disaster will only increase. This is why we must leave now. The longer our withdrawal is delayed, the greater the devastation will be.

Ignorance is never bliss -- and it is especially not bliss when a huge military force is deployed against another nation, one which never seriously threatened us, and when we engage in torture, murder and devastation on a huge and unforgivable scale. Our actions are only made worse when they are supposedly "justified" by the indiscriminate use of terms such as "liberation" and "freedom," when those otherwise laudable and even glorious goals are used in a manner devoid of context and lacking in any specific meaning.

It is tragically common in mankind's history to see entire governments and societies watch while bloody and unforgivably monstrous horrors unfold before their eyes -- while the explanations for those horrors are also directly in front of them, and they remain steadfast in their determination to refuse to understand. We are now seeing this embrace of ignorance -- ignorance on principle, ignorance as a pitiful and pathetic defense against the necessity of admitting that a grievous error has been made -- yet again.

Thus the horrors continue, and more people die. And still, we will not see.

Stop Your Damned PowerPoint War Immediately

Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz:
This war must be stopped now and immediately. From the start it was unnecessary, even if its excuse was justified, and now is the time to end it. Every day raises its price for no reason, taking a toll in blood that gives Israel nothing tangible in return. This is a good time to stop the war because both sides can claim they won: Israel harmed Hezbollah and Hezbollah harmed Israel. History shows that no situation is better for reaching an arrangement. Remember the lessons of the Yom Kippur War.

Israel went into the campaign on justified grounds and with foul means. It claims it has declared war on Hezbollah but, in practice, it is destroying Lebanon. It has gotten most of what it could have out of this war.


A decisive victory is not in the offing.

On the other hand, the price is skyrocketing. Every day increases international criticism of Israel and hatred of it. That is also an element in "national security." As opposed to the choir in Israel that makes a false presentation as if the world is cheering Israel, the images from Beirut are causing Israel enormous damage, and rightly so. Not only in the streets of the Arab world is more and more hatred being sown, but also in the West. Not only hundreds of thousands of Lebanese but tens of thousands of Westerners fleeing from Lebanon are contributing to the depiction of Israel as a violent, crude and destructive state.

The fact that George Bush and Tony Blair are cheering Israel might be consolation for Ehud Olmert and the media in Israel, but it is not enough to persuade millions of TV viewers who see the images of destruction and devastation, most of which are not shown to Israeli audiences. The world sees entire neighborhoods that have been destroyed, hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing in panic, homeless, and hundreds of civilians dead and wounded including many children who have nothing to do with Hezbollah.

The continuation of the war therefore is neither moral nor worthwhile. The economic blow the war caused to Israel will even remain limited if the war ends now. A lethal summer will exact a much greater economic price.


It is still too early to weigh out the balance of achievements and failures of this war. The day will come when it will become clear that it was purposeless, as are all wars of choice. Ceasing it now guarantees a limited achievement at a limited price. Continuing it guarantees a heavy price without any guarantee of a suitable reward. Therefore, Israel must cease and desist. The president of the United States can push us to continue the war all he wants, the prime minister of Britain can cheer us in parliament, but in Israel and Lebanon, the blood is being spilled, the horror is intensifying, the price is rising and it is all for naught.
It is entirely laughable that anyone regards it as "news" that the U.S. has "approved" Israel's continuing this assault for at least another week. Israel is following the war plan that it has made known to selected and sympathetic governments for a long time:
Israel's military response by air, land and sea to what it considered a provocation last week by Hezbollah militants is unfolding according to a plan finalized more than a year ago.

In the six years since Israel ended its military occupation of southern Lebanon, it watched warily as Hezbollah built up its military presence in the region. When Hezbollah militants kidnapped two Israeli soldiers last week, the Israeli military was ready to react almost instantly.

"Of all of Israel's wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared," said Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University. "In a sense, the preparation began in May 2000, immediately after the Israeli withdrawal, when it became clear the international community was not going to prevent Hezbollah from stockpiling missiles and attacking Israel. By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we're seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it's been simulated and rehearsed across the board."

More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to U.S. and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail. Under the ground rules of the briefings, the officer could not be identified.

In his talks, the officer described a three-week campaign: The first week concentrated on destroying Hezbollah's heavier long-range missiles, bombing its command-and-control centers, and disrupting transportation and communication arteries. In the second week, the focus shifted to attacks on individual sites of rocket launchers or weapons stores. In the third week, ground forces in large numbers would be introduced, but only in order to knock out targets discovered during reconnaissance missions as the campaign unfolded. There was no plan, according to this scenario, to reoccupy southern Lebanon on a long-term basis.
Enough. For all the talk from Bush, Blair, et al. about the critical importance of "nascent democracies" in the Middle East, the government of Lebanon and Lebanon as a functioning, independent country have been effectively destroyed for the foreseeable future. The collective punishment visited upon Lebanon is utterly unjustifiable, and completely unforgivable.

And the longer this goes on, the greater is the likelihood that the war will spread -- to include the ultimate targets, Syria and Iran. That explains the homicidal cheerleading from Bush, Blair and their warbot zombie brigades.

The rest of us -- who hopefully still retain some minimal regard for innocent human life and for the basic requirements of decency -- should do better.

July 23, 2006

The War on Women -- and on Doctors

[See Update at the end.]

Become a doctor, and maybe go to jail or even face the death penalty:
Doctors who perform illegal abortions under the terms of HB1215 could face a first-degree murder charge under revised homicide provisions in South Dakota law, a lawyer for the South Dakota State Medical Association says.

Pierre lawyer Dave Gerdes said in a legal memo written for the association that if HB1215 survives challenges at the ballot and, possibly, in court, it could combine with a revised state homicide statute to pose an ominous legal threat to doctors charged with violating the law.

"It is at least possible that a prosecutor or a court will decide that a physician performing a procedure qualifying as an abortion under the language of the new statute can be prosecuted for first-degree murder," Gerdes wrote in the memo.

In response, the prime sponsor of HB1215 said Thursday that violating the law would be a Class 5 felony, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison. But Republican Rep. Roger Hunt, a lawyer from Brandon, wouldn't rule out the possibility that a doctor could face a murder charge and even the death penalty in certain situations.

"I've never been a state's attorney, but I do know that when you take the life of a human being in our society, every state's attorney is going to look at all potential charges - murder all the way down to manslaughter and aggravated assault," Hunt said.

In his memo, Gerdes said there's a question about whether HB1215 - which bans almost all abortions - would ever have effect in law. Although the bill was approved by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Mike Rounds, it has been referred to a public vote in November. And even if it survives that vote, the law will likely be challenged in court on constitutional grounds, a process that could take years to conclude.

"As a practical matter, in due course a federal court will likely restrain the effect of 1215 until its constitutionality is litigated," Gerdes wrote. "But a period of doubt may exist."

And if HB1215 eventually does take effect, its potential penalties could be magnified by changes in homicide statutes that were passed by the South Dakota Legislature in 2005 and took effect July 1, he wrote.

Lawyers disagree on the combined effects of the homicide law (South Dakota codified law 22-16-4) and HB1215, Gerdes wrote. But because the issue hasn't been clarified in court, the possibility exists that a doctor could be tried for first-degree murder for performing an illegal abortion, he wrote.

First-degree murder is a Class A felony with a maximum penalty of death. Hunt said that's not something that a state's attorney would casually bring against a doctor.


The fact that it's being discussed at all has Dr. Marvin Buehner, a specialist on obstetrics and gynecology in Rapid City, ready to move his practice to another state.

"If this law doesn't get repealed in November, I'll be looking for another place to work," Buehner said. "It would be hard to stay in this kind of environment."
The South Dakota abortion ban and Bush's indefensible and morally obscene veto of the embryonic stem cell research bill are straight out of the Dark Ages, or worse.

I would have thought it would trouble those who still support Noble Leader's war allegedly fought on behalf of "Western civilization" that Bush and many of the current crop of Republicans are ultimately on the same side as our enemies. Of course, that would only be true if they were capable of coherent thought, and of understanding what the concepts of liberty and personal freedom actually mean.

Since we know they aren't, never mind.

UPDATE: Patrick Cockburn, one of the handful of genuinely superb foreign reporters, shines an unforgiving light on the immoral and sickening contradictions:
While the eyes of the world are elsewhere, Baghdad is still dying and the daily toll is hitting record levels. While the plumes of fire and smoke over Lebanon have dominated headlines for 11 days, with Britain and the US opposing a UN call for an immediate ceasefire, another Bush-Blair foreign policy disaster is unfolding in Iraq.

Invoking the sanctity of human life, George Bush wielded the presidential veto for the first time in his presidency to halt US embryonic stem cell research in its tracks. He even paraded one-year-old Jack Jones, born from one of the frozen embryos that can now never be used for federally funded research, and talked of preventing the "taking of innocent human life". How hollow that sounds to Iraqis.

More people are dying here - probably more than 150 a day - in the escalating sectarian civil war between Shia and Sunni Muslims and the continuing war with US troops than in the bombardment of Lebanon.


Iraqis are terrified in a way that I have never seen before, since I first visited Baghdad in 1978. Sectarian massacres happen almost daily. The UN says 6,000 civilians were slaughtered in May and June, but this month has been far worse. In many districts it has become difficult to buy bread because Sunni assassins have killed all the bakers who are traditionally Shia.


Where are the Americans in all this? Iraqis who used to say that they were against the US occupation but at least the Americans prevented civil war now think that a civil war has started regardless of their presence.


I never expected the occupation of Iraq by the US and Britain to end happily. But I did not foresee the present catastrophe. Baghdad has survived the Iran-Iraq war, the 1991 Gulf War, UN sanctions, more bombing and, finally, a savage guerrilla war. Now the city is finally splitting apart, and - most surprising of all - this disaster scarcely gets a mention on the news as the world watches the destruction of Beirut so many miles away.
Read the entire article.