Archive for the 'iraq' Category

29
Sep
10

“I can’t stand you. Now go vote for me!”

Well, all righty. It’s now clear that the proliferation of Hippie-punching comments from the White House is not just a series of off the cuff remarks, not just blowing off steam, but an actual Campaign Strategy.

Blame the whiners and those who cling to their quaint literal understanding of the word Change. For it is they who are at fault for the Democrats’ impending electoral doom.

There are any number of good pieces on Firedoglake on the topic.  Jane Hamsher offers the most perceptive take on the motivation behind the strategy, and points out how self-defeating it is.

I also liked Cenk  Uygur’s rant on Ratigan, but this from Bluetexan was perhaps the most succinct.

Just so we’re clear, here are a few examples of messages that don’t appeal to me at all.

Wake up!”

Get over it.”

Get in gear, man.”

Right back at’cha. Right back at’cha.

That’s not reality.”

You know who you are.”

Yes, I do.

And none of these phrases motivate me to want to vote, canvass, give money, phone bank, blog, you know, generally take time away from putting food on my family to pull the lever for Democrats in November.On the other hand, these would do the trick.

“We’ll fight to add the public option to the health care bill.”

“We’re getting out of Afghanistan.”

“We are pulling the remaining 50,000 troops out of Iraq.”

“We’re going to cut the approximately $1T annual defense budget in half and use the remainder to fund US infrastructure projects, including high speed rail.”

“We will roll back the Bush/Cheney executive power grabs.”

“We will repeal DADT.”

“We will fight for marriage equality.”

“We will reform the Senate and eliminate the filibuster.”

“We will make the Fed transparent.”

“We will legalize marijuana.”

Hope that helps.

On the other hand, these would do the trick.

01
Sep
10

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be “Blogosphere titans”

Jeffrey G, living large

Simon Owens’ Clash of the Blogosphere Titans sees Glenn Greenwald’s relentless (and entirely justified) criticism of Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg as a useful yardstick with which to measure “the effect of media criticism in a Web 2.0/3.0 age.”

The  journalistic catastrophes that made Goldberg’s name synonymous with spectacular wrongheadedness, a pair of long pieces about the Iraq threat for the New Yorker (the first one titled  “The Great Terror”), came back in 2002.

Times have changed. Today, Greenwald, a “blogger” (a term of utter contempt once, now losing its bite) has a featured column at Salon, a site that gets far  more online readership than the Atlantic, according to Owens, as  well as a New York Times bestseller to his credit. Owens says Greenwald  now possesses the clout to compel Goldberg to respond to criticism, especially as regards “The Point of No Return,” his attempt to replicate his scare/war-mongering success, this time with regard to Iran.

Goldberg declined Owens’ invitation to discuss his disputes with Greenwald; Greenwald did not. Responding to the suggestion that his singular focus on Goldberg might be perceived as an “obsessive feud,” Greenwald tells Owens that Goldberg’s stature demands close scrutiny:

“[T]here are two things that distinguish this case. One is the consequentiality of it and the centrality [Goldberg] played. It wasn’t like he was just kind of wrong about something, he was one of the leading people validating the war. The thing that happened in the Iraq War is that obviously the right got behind it because the people on the right — the leaders on the right — were clearly behind it. But in order to make it a majoritarian movement, they had to get centrists and liberals behind it. So they needed liberal validators … There’s probably nobody that you can compare in influence to getting Democrats and liberals to support the war than Jeffrey Goldberg. It wasn’t just that he was for the war, he was using his status as a reporter to feed lies. I mean he didn’t just write one New Yorker piece but a second one too, and he was all over the television with this stuff saying that Saddam had a very active nuclear program and most importantly that Saddam had an enthusiastic alliance with al-Qaeda.”

The second distinguishing characteristic of Goldberg, Greenwald argued, is that he’s one of the few mainstream reporters who hasn’t issued a mea culpa on the facts he got wrong. Greenwald pointed out that though Judith Miller paid a career price for her Iraq reporting at the New York Times, Goldberg — who Greenwald considers equally culpable — continues to gain prominence despite doubling down on his past reporting. In fact, Goldberg recently used his blog to argue that there truly was a strong connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda.

It’s true that Goldberg has responded to Greenwald multiple times over the Iran piece,  both on his blog and as a guest on NPR, but these responses have been perfunctory at best, mendacious at worst:

“It’s almost like his responses are three or four years behind. When I first started writing about criticizing media figures — establishment media figures — that was very much the reaction. It was a very lame sort of not-really-attentive response, just dismissive or plain mockery. Like, ‘I don’t have to respond because in my world he’s nobody and I’m somebody so the most I’m going to do is be derisive about this.’ That’s a journalist/blogger cliché from 2005, and most journalists know they can no longer get away with it. He’s living in a world where he thinks it doesn’t affect his reputation. Among his friends it doesn’t. I’m sure he calls [TIME writer] Joe Klein or whoever else I’ve criticized and he’s like ‘he’s an asshole and a prick, don’t worry about that.’ But I guarantee you that there are a lot more people reading the stuff I write than the stuff he writes, in terms of sheer number. And the level of impact that that kind of level of critique has is infinitely greater than it was three years ago. So I’m sure he tells himself and convinces himself that it doesn’t actually matter but it does. And it’s hurting his credibility.

True, but my more cynical take is that Goldberg’s credibility is not the point. Or at least  it isn’t anymore. In fact, his willingness to use his credentials as a correspondent for the New Yorker (liberal! fastidiously fact-checky!) to stretch the case for war with Iraq, at the cost of his journalistic reputation in the “reality-based community,” was what got him to the pinnacle of the blogging profession.

This sort of failing upwards is not a new thing, especially given Goldberg’s journalistic focus.

If you make a case for a militaristic solution to a perceived problem, and possess even a middling capacity for persuasion, and if you make that case boldly  and loudly enough, you are well on your way a successful career in punditry in America.

Why should Goldberg apologize? Reckless accusations that lead to war, in the face of contrary facts and likely catastrophic consequences, are a feature, not a bug.

29
Jan
10

“Sh#t! Busted.” Blair ready for his close-up

Happy is the wrong word, but I find it gratifying to see that Tony Blair is being raked over the coals by his own government for his role in the monstrous, illegal by any possible definition, attack and occupation of Iraq.

Blair takes a bow

The Guardian has a great deal of good coverage on the Chilcot panel here, including live streaming video. Here in the States, a clever Gawker commenter  noted that Blair’s demeanor could be summed up thusly:  “1/3 happy to explain to you dolts, 1/3 pained that he wasn’t being understood and 1/3 “SHIT! Busted’.”

Independent columnist Matthew Norman writes that following this inquiry Blair will remain a free man, and that this is regrettable, especially since he will continue to earn up to the neighborhood of half a million dollars a day giving speeches. But Norman finds some solace in the fact that Blair will never be completely at ease:

For Mr Blair, the journey will not end on Friday, or when the inquiry publishes its findings. However damning these appear, however transparent the intent to cast him as a deceitful warmonger, they will be written in the language of euphemism, thus allowing each side to claim a victory of sorts. For Mr Blair, in fact, the trek can never end. Even if he is as canny in his choice of foreign destinations as he is with his answers on Friday, and avoids any Pinochet-type indignity, much less a war crimes trial, he … must trudge through his remaining days as a pariah.

This, it seems to me, is justice. It isn’t a modern form of quick-fix justice, as would be evidenced by front-page pictures of him being led into a Dutch courthouse, and then led out of it to a cell. Erich Segal, who moonlighted as a professor of classics, might confirm that this is justice ancient Greece style, in which the offence of Olympian arrogance – of confusing one’s puny self with a deity – was punished by something even more agonising than global humiliation or a lengthy spell in jug. The penalty from which death alone can free Mr Blair is soul-crushing futility. For the rest of his life, he must push the boulder of his self-proclaimed innocence and self-protested good intent up the hill, aware that he cannot reach the summit but powerless to evade the pointlessness of trying.

…For all the braggadocio, the sunken eyes and haunted expression betray his fear of arrest, and even more so his awareness of the loathing felt for him here and around the world. He may or may not be tortured on Friday by the Furies, as represented by the parents of troops killed in Iraq, but he will be tormented until the only Judgment Day he tells us means anything to a demigod whose stature far transcends the insolent judgments of mankind. If he leaves for a well-guarded gated community in the United States or Australia, he will be an exile. If he stays to flit between his many homes in England, he will be an outcast in his own land. Robert Harris brilliantly portrayed him as The Ghost in his excellent novel of that name. Now he looks more like one of The Undead.

That’s nice, but for some, it’s not enough. Guardian columnist George Monbiot has set up an Arrest Blair web site, which “offers a reward to people attempting a peaceful citizen’s arrest of the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, for crimes against peace. Anyone attempting an arrest which meets the rules laid down here will be entitled to one quarter of the money collected at the time of his or her application.” As of this morning, Friday Jan. 29, the kitty is closing in on ten thousand quid. Monbiot has a history with this sort of thing, having attempted a citizen’s arrest on John “Bonkers” Bolton at the Hay festival in 2008. By Monbiot’s own description, this was a “feeble attempt” to bring Bolton to justice. And yet, I like the thinking behind it. Let’s hope it spreads across the Atlantic.

27
Jan
10

“relapses into barbarism”

Another precision operation

Glenn Greenwald notices that now the Obama Administration doesn’t distinguish between U.S. citizens and non-citizens when it comes to targeting them for assassination. From the Post (italics are Greenwald’s):

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said. . . .

The Obama administration has adopted the same stance. If a U.S. citizen joins al-Qaeda, “it doesn’t really change anything from the standpoint of whether we can target them,” a senior administration official said. “They are then part of the enemy.”

I almost always agree with Greenwald but I don’t quite share the outrage over the U.S. citizen part.

I mean, really, once the President declares he has the right to order someone killed, without anything resembling due process, in a country with which we may or may not be “at war”, the citizenship of that poor misfortunate bastard (or the equally misfortunate bastards who happen to be in the vicinity when the Hellfire missiles come screaming down) seems like a quibble.

The issue is that the President and some anonymous spooks can, as a matter of everyday routine business, get together and say “Today, we are going to smoke some guy in Yemen,  who may be what we call a terrorist, and anyone standing near him. And if we miss him this time, we will keep trying to kill him WITH ROCKETS until we do.” Also, if you’re a major drug lord, but NOT one of OUR major drug lords, you’re on the list, too. Got that?

According to Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article last October there are ten–ten!–collateral damage kills for every successful murder of an intended target, and that’s taking the Government’s word that the target was indeed worth targeting. (Imagine a SWAT team blowing away ten women and children in a gunfight with a suspected terrorist, and then high-fives all around because they got the guy. Actually, not that hard to imagine….)

This has not always been OK. You can go back to Ronald Reagan, that high-minded man of peace, or even further to Abraham Lincoln. Targeted assassinations, extrajudicial murders, have always been forbidden (at least officially).

A 1981 Executive Order signed by Ronald Reagan provides: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”  Before the Geneva Conventions were first enacted, Abraham Lincoln — in the middle of the Civil War — directed Francis Lieber to articulate rules of conduct for war, and those were then incorporated into General Order 100, signed by Lincoln in April, 1863.  Here is part of what it provided, in Section IX, entitled “Assassinations”:

The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individual belonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hostile government, an outlaw, who may be slain without trial by any captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows such intentional outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage. The sternest retaliation should follow the murder committed in consequence of such proclamation, made by whatever authority. Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism.

These days, such relapses into barbarism aren’t hidden from the public eye. They’re bragged about.  In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush said,  “Many [suspected terrorists] have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way, they are no longer a problem to the United States.” He gave that weird chortle, and there was thunderous applause. Obama has not only continued targeted assassinations, he has expanded them, via a surge in missiles fired from those newfangled drones, and quainter methods such as dragging schoolchildren hardened terrorists from their beds, tying their hands, and shooting them.

He’ll probably have the decency not to chortle about that in his State of the Union address tonight, though.

18
Jan
10

Not so secret history of Haiti: dive-bombers, occupations, deforestation

President Obama has once again demonstrated, in the pages of Newsweek, that he’s capable of uplifting but ultimately empty rhetoric, this time on behalf of “the Haitian people who have been stricken with a tragic history.” Which would be nice, but…. Obama doesn’t once mention our government’s role in that tragic history.

In “No, Mister! You cannot share my pain!” Jamaican columnist John Maxwell offers a brief lesson in the history of Haiti from a perspective we’re unaccustomed to hearing.

Besides offering a withering account of Aristide’s disgraceful 2004 ouster, Maxwell offers some eye-opening angles about earlier Haitian-American relations. The first was that Haiti, along with Nicaragua, was a crucial testing ground for U.S. bombers between the first and second world wars.

Long before Franco bombed Guernica, exciting the horror and revulsion of civilised people, the Americans perfected their dive-bombing techniques against unarmed Haitian peasants, many of whom had never seen aircraft before.

Might I suggest this as a thesis subject for a grad student in history: the role of the people of colonized nations as target practice? The Brits, for example, favored “experimental” bombing of their subject nations. Just one of the myriad revelations in A History of Bombing, Sven Lindqvist’s masterpiece, was that Churchill  himself was an early and eager advocate of the bombing of savages in Iraq. He saw it as a “cheaper form of control” and declared himself to be “strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.” Man of the Century? That’s about right.

The second interesting angle: the central role played by war hero-turned-antiwar-crusader General Smedley Butler in Haiti, who looked back late in his life to describe his activities in uniform thus:

“I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half-a-dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long….. I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. … My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical in the military service.” [That’s a pretty good line!]

Butler was a fascinating character, who in 1934 claimed that he was approached by a cabal of businessmen to lead a Fascist march and to overthrow Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Congressional committees looked into the allegations, found they were credible … and did nothing. I have always wondered why left-leaning wealthy young actors with clout–Affleck, Damon, Cusack, Penn–haven’t produced a biopic of the life of Smedley….

The third angle Maxwell explores, the purposeful deforestation of Haiti, featured FDR in another role. Under the Dessalines constitution, written in the early years of the 19th century, “only officially certified ‘blacks’ could own land in Haiti.” That inconvenient rule was deleted from the new constitution written for the Haitians by the occupying American regime who had swept in during World War I. Opening up Haiti to foreign ownership was …. drum roll … FDR himself, who was then assistant secretary of the Navy. After FDR opened the door, “the lumberjacks [became] busy, felling old growth Mahogany and Caribbean Pine for carved doors for the rich and mahogany speedboats, boardroom tables seating 40, etc. The devastated land was put to produce rubber, sisal for ropes and all sorts of pie in the sky plantations.”

And let’s not forget religion. Maxwell quotes Haitian performer Marguerite Laurent’s vivid description of Catholic Church collaboration with colonial terror. It evokes echoes of Avatar:

“Don’t expect to learn how a people with a Vodun culture that reveres nature and especially the Mapou (oak-like or ceiba pendantra/bombax) trees, and other such big trees as the abode of living entities and therefore as sacred things, were forced to watch the Catholic Church, during Rejete – the violent anti-Vodun crusade – gather whole communities at gunpoint into public squares, and forced them to watch their agents burn Haitian trees in order to teach Haitians their Vodun Gods were not in nature, that the trees were the “houses of Satan”.

Yup, that kinda stuff doesn’t just happen to blue people on distant planets.

14
Jan
10

“This is pure ‘lord of the flies’ stuff”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Facts are getting in the way of the idea that Afghan corruption is hindering America’s noble efforts to rob, kill and destroy save that poor, benighted country.

According to the AP:

The U.S. agency overseeing the multibillion dollar Afghanistan reconstruction effort is investigating 38 criminal cases ranging from contract fraud to theft – most involving non-Afghans, officials said Tuesday…Just 10 of the criminal cases under the microscope involve Afghans only, while the rest involve U.S. and other foreigners, according to Raymond DiNunzio, the agency’s assistant inspector general for inspections.

And in not unrelated news, the President is asking Congress for another “$33 billion to fight unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, on top of a record request for $708 billion for the Defense Department next year.”

And this is yet another must-read piece from Tomdispatch about “a tale of a new-style battlefield that the American public knows remarkably little about, and that bears little relationship to the Afghan War as we imagine it or as our leaders generally discuss it.”

We don’t even have a language to describe it accurately. Think of it as a battlefield filled with muscled-up, militarized intelligence operatives, hired-gun contractors doing military duty, and privatized “native” guard forces. Add in robot assassins in the air 24/7 and kick-down-the-door-style night-time “intelligence” raids, “surges” you didn’t know were happening, strings of military bases you had no idea were out there, and secretive international collaborations you were unaware the U.S. was involved in. In Afghanistan, the American military is only part of the story. There’s also a polyglot “army” representing the U.S. that wears no uniforms and fights shape-shifting enemies to the death in a murderous war of multiple assassinations and civilian slaughter, all enveloped in a blanket of secrecy.

… Today, in Afghanistan, a militarized mix of CIA operatives and ex-military mercenaries as well as native recruits and robot aircraft is fighting a war “in the shadows” (as they used to say in the Cold War era). This is no longer “intelligence” as anyone imagines it, nor is it “military” as military was once defined, not when U.S. operations have gone mercenary and native in such a big way. This is pure “lord of the flies” stuff — beyond oversight, beyond any law, including the laws of war. And worse yet, from all available evidence, despite claims that the drone war is knocking off mid-level enemies, it seems remarkably ineffective. All it may be doing is spreading the war farther and digging it in deeper.

Talk about “counterinsurgency” as much as you want, but this is another kind of battlefield, and “protecting the people” plays no part in it. And of course, this is only what can be gleaned from afar about a semi-secret war that is being poorly reported. Who knows what it costs when you include the U.S. hired guns, the Afghan contractors, the bases, the drones, and the rest of the personnel and infrastructure? Nor do we know what else, or who else, is involved, and what else is being done. Clearly, however, all those billions of “intelligence” dollars are going into the blackest of black holes.

05
Jan
10

All these wars: some questions

old war bond ad

How quaint! We once had to pay for wars

Who among us has the time, or indeed the inclination, to pore over the myriad (and I think deliberately obtuse) reports in the major media outlets about our five, count ’em, FIVE fronts in the glorious global war on terror? Tom Englehardt does, thank God! In The Year of the Assassin, Englehart and Nick Turse ponder ten pretty fricking important questions about the coming year for America and its multiple battle fronts, so bizarrely disconnected from daily life in the homeland.

We, of course, think of ourselves as something like the peaceable kingdom.  After all, the shock of September 11, 2001 was that “war” came to “the homeland,” a mighty blow delivered against the very symbols of our economic, military, and — had Flight 93 not gone down in a field in Pennsylvania — political power.

Since that day, however, war has been a stranger in our land.  With the rarest of exceptions, like Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan’s massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, this country has remained a world without war or any kind of mobilization for war.  No other major terrorist attacks, not even victory gardens, scrap-metal collecting, or rationing.  And certainly no war tax to pay for our post-9/11 trillion-dollar “expeditionary forces” sent into battle abroad….

Although our country delivers war regularly to distant lands in the name of our “safety,” we don’t really consider ourselves at war (despite the endless talk of “supporting our troops”), and the money that has simply poured into Pentagon coffers, and then into weaponry and conflicts is, with rare exceptions, never linked to economic distress in this country.  And yet, if we are no nation of warriors, from the point of view of the rest of the world we are certainly the planet’s foremost war-makers.  If money talks, then war may be what we care most about as a society and fund above all else, with the least possible discussion or debate.

The article really deserves to be read in full, but I’ll just offer an excerpt from the first question, “1. How busted will the largest defense budget in history be in 2010?”:

If you want to put a finger to the winds of war in 2010, keep your eye on something else not included in that budget: the Obama administration’s upcoming supplemental funding request for the Afghan surge. In his West Point speech announcing his surge decision, the president spoke of sending 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan in 2010 at a cost of $30 billion. In news reports, that figure quickly morphed into “$30-$40 billion,” none of it in the just-passed Pentagon budget. To fund his widening war, sometime in the first months of the New Year, the president will have to submit a supplemental budget to Congress — something the Bush administration did repeatedly to pay for George W.’s wars, and something this president, while still a candidate, swore he wouldn’t do. Nonetheless, it will happen. So keep your eye on that $30 billion figure. Even that distinctly low-ball number is going to cause discomfort and opposition in the president’s party — and yet there’s no way it will fully fund this year’s striking escalation of the war. The question is: How high will it go or, if the president doesn’t dare ask this Congress for more all at once, how will the extra funds be found? Keep your eye out, then, for hints of future supplemental budgets, because fighting the Afghan War (forget Iraq) over the next decade could prove a near trillion-dollar prospect.

Ethics, tactics, drones, counterterrorism (“which is just terrorism put in uniform and given an anodyne name”). We should all be up to speed on each of these subjects, and there should be a ferocious debate in our media and Congress. Fat chance.  Last week, a truly horrible story surfaced and was pretty much ignored by our major news outlets. “The occupied government of Afghanistan and the United Nations have both concluded that U.S.-led troops recently dragged eight sleeping children out of their beds, handcuffed some of them, and shot them all dead.”

Really, you’d think there would be more of a fuss…..




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