Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Right Never Deals

In Arizona, right-wing activists are pushing an aggressive social agenda. Most importantly, the right is campaigning for a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions. The key to these bans is the petty animosity of people on the religious right who want to deny gay couples the health and other benefits enjoyed by married heterosexuals.

The bottom line for the religious right is their bitterness over the fact that most of America has accepted homosexual people living openly as gays, lesbians, and transexuals.

The activists of the religious right may not be picketing military funerals like Fred Phelps, but most of them are Fred Phelps conservatives in their disgust with America as a whole for the waning of homophobic bigotry.

The Israelis Deal

No doubt Condoleeza Rice is going to spin the UN cease fire resolution as the end of Hezbollah as we know it. But the biggest change in the Middle East was the hesitation, confusion, and ultimate failure of the Israelis. According to today's Haaretz, critics of Prime Minister Olmert question the delays in the invasion, Olmert doubted that the IDF could meet its objectives, and Olmert and foreign minister Livni had a falling out because she was even more sceptical. After a discouraging visit to the Northern Command last Monday, Olmert decided to pull the plug despite his ostentatious approval for expanded military operations.

The Israelis took the cease-fire deal because it was the best way they could extricate themselves from the debacle.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Israelis Gets a Fig Leaf

Today's UN resolution was much more about providing a fig leaf for Israel and the Bush administration than establishing pre-conditions for peace.

Contrary to their initial proclamations, the Israelis did not crush Hezbollah, eliminate Hezbollah as a military force, or intimidate the Lebanese government into renouncing Hezbollah. To the contrary, Hezbollah is still entrenched south of the Litani River, is still very well armed, and has much more confidence in their ability to withstand the Israeli military than they did two months ago.

The UN resolution calls for 15,000 UN troops and the Lebanese Army to deploy in Southern Lebanon. They also called for Syria and Iran to stop sending weapons to Hezbollah. As a result, the resolution seems to assume the disappearance of Hezbollah as a military entity.

Fat chance!

There's only one way that could happen and that is to settle the disputes between Hezbollah and Israel. In other words, Israel needs to release its Hezbollah prisoners and come to a settlement with the Lebanese government over Shebaa Farms.

If the Israelis and the Bush administration want Syria and Iran to stop sending weapons to Hezbollah, they will have to settle their issues with those countries as well. That means returning the Golan Heights to Syria and making non-invasion pledges to both Syria and Iran.

Otherwise, the situation is going to be very unstable. The fact is that the Shiite civilian population is going to be moving back into southern Lebanon soon. If there is no general settlement, Shiite men are going to be reorganizing and enhancing their Hezbollah, Amal, and other militias. If there is no settlement, the only way that the Lebanese government and the UN will be able to stop the re-establishment of the militias would be to act as an occupation army. The U. S. occupation of Iraq has failed despite 130,000 troops on the ground. Why would anyone think that a weakened Lebanese government and a much less motivated UN could succeed?

Having failed with the military option, it is now time for the Israelis to settle.

Police Success vs Military Failure

According to Simon Reeve, "al-Qaida has moved far beyond being a terrorist organization to being almost a state of mind." Inspired by the al-Qaeda state of mind, the British plane plotters moved forward on a major plot to bomb airlines without orders, assistance, or perhaps even meaningful contact with the al-Qaeda organization.

How does the U. S. and Western Europe combat the al-Qaeda state of mind? Is the war on terror a military war? A police war? A cultural war? A combination of all of these and more?

Currently, policing is the best thing that the Americans and British do. Airport security systems have to be given a lot of credit. Although airport security is far from impregable, it takes a significant effort on the part of occasional terrorist groups to breach airport security. Learning about explosives, acquiring the right kinds of explosives, figuring out how to get explosives through airport security, recruiting men and women for the operation and training them takes a great deal of time, energy, and coordination. The British terrorist plotters took over a year to get their plot together. Part of the reason that a couple of American groups have been arrested in the initial exploration stages, is that the initial exploration needed for terrorist attacks is pretty extensive.

American military initiatives have been counter-productive. The American military was well-equipped and trained to defeat Saddam Hussein's army. However, American politicians, administrators, and military forces were extremely ill-equipped to conduct a successful occupation and the results have been disastrous. Iraq's elected government is immobilized, the economy is almost prostrate, Sunnis and Shiites are in a protracted state of civil war, and Western Iraq has become a haven for global terrorists. The American occupation of Iraq has also further inflamed Muslim opinion throughout the Middle East and made the "al-Qaeda state of mind" worse rather than better.

Criticism from the left in the United States has focused on the blundering incompetence of the Bush administration and certainly the Bush administration has been systematically, even willfully, ineffective. At the same time, it is very doubtful that any part of the American political establishment is prepared to deploy American military, economic assistance, propoganda skills, and intelligence assets effectively as an instrument in the war on terror. Most American politicians, bureaucrats, and foreign policy specialists began their careers during the Cold War and have to devote much of their current energy to fighting partisan battles in the U. S. As a result, the American political establishment has a long way to go before it gets any kind of feel for the struggle with global terror.

The same is the case with the American military and intelligence apparatus. American military history, doctrine, and training has focused for the last fifty years on preparing for tank battles and dog fights with advanced enemy fighters. As a result, American armed forces were simply unprepared for defining and carrying out successful large-scale, anti-terror missions.

I don't believe that the situation in Iraq can be retrieved right now. However, the U. S. might begin to derive something positive from the Iraq misadventure if we came to realize how completely unprepared our political establishment is to combat the "al-Qaeda state of mind." Right now, the relative effectiveness of our policing is buying us time to figure out military, economic, and cultural approaches to fighting global terror that are not as counter-productive as the invasion of Iraq or blank-check support for the Israelis. We need to use that time effectively.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Subtle Reminder

President Bush stressed today that the terrorist arrests in London should remind us that we're in a war against global terrorism.

A further reminder.

The Bush is doing an extremely poor job of conducting that war.

Who Needs Enemies?

Twenty-one men were arrested for today's busted plane bombing threat. All of the men were British citizens of Pakistani extraction and they were perhaps a month from executing their plans. Aren't Britain and Pakistan supposed to be our allies?

Only the heads of government!

President Musharraf of Pakistan is an American ally. Nevertheless, there's more al-Qaeda influence in Pakistan than anywhere in the world outside Iraq. Bin Laden is either hiding in Pakistan or regularly comes to Pakistan to hide. Significant elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies support al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda has a great deal of popular support in Pakistan.

If Musharraf's enemies finally succeed in assasinating him, Pakistan could become the kind of virulent enemy that the Bush administration now fantasizes Iran and Syria to be.

The British situation is more complex, but has similarities. The occupation of Iraq is even more unpopular in Britain than it is in the United States. That's why Bush's ally Tony Blair is hanging on to his job by a thread and why Britain will fall in with the other European powers when Blair finally leaves office.

Likewise, radical Islam has sunk deeper roots among British Muslims than it has in other European countries. Just as Pakistan is the most volatile of the Islamic countries, Great Britain has the most volatile of all the expatriate Muslim populations.

The roots of radical Islam run deep in both Pakistan and Great Britain, but one has to wonder if our invasion of Iraq and support for Israel's hyper-aggressive tactics has not made things worse. Condoleeza Rice keeps talking about the "birth pangs" of a new order, but it looks like the "new order" is going to be even more dangerous than the present.

Is Domination Fundamental to Democracy?

In RedState America, the domination of nature is a fundamental characteristic of democracy. The conquest of nature was the first priority in colonial South Carolina, the establishment of the Cotton Belt in the Southeast, and the settling of the Plains and the Desert. Wolves, bears, rivers, sod, trees, mountains--we made them all bend to our will, serve our purposes, or do our bidding. The Arizona Republic has an article today about the need for desert communities to have a sense of connection to rivers, but conquest and control are the most preferred types of relation.

The same with people. From the slaveholding, resource-exploiting point of view, the strongest group should be in control and the people in control should be the strongest group. That's one of the reasons why multi-culturalism, feminism, environmentalism, gay rights, and all the other isms that are so prominent in the East seem so objectionable to conservatives here. For liberals, hierarchy and control is something disgusting, like sexual abuse, rape, or murder, rather than a fundamental element of civilization and democracy.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Lamont's Roots in the Right

The Republicans will be able to get a week's worth of smears out of Joe Lieberman's defeat to Ned Lamont yesterday.

But the seeds of Lamont's victory lay just as much in the Republican Party as the Democrats.

The Clinton-era Democratic leadership was all about mutual accommodation. Clinton loved to negotiate and fished for political advantage in devising ways to accomodate the Gingrich-era Republicans.

The Republicans first stopped negotiating with the Clinton establishment, then stripped them of their political manhood. Negotiations ended after Tom DeLay became de facto Republican leader in the House. Bush refused to give any quarter to the Democratic leadership from Day 1. Bush and Rove's policy has been to refuse accomodation, pick as many fights as possible, provide cover for right-wing smear campaigns, and carry the battle to the home states of Democratic leaders.

It was brilliant strategy. Bush completely flummoxed the Democratic leadership with their handling of Homeland Security legislation, tax cuts, education, and a variety of other issues. The Republicans then picked off weak Democratic moderates like Max Cleland and Tom Daschle to cement their majority.

Finally, the Republicans completely stripped the Democratic leadership of their dignity in the run up to the war. Establishment Democrats didn't like the invasion, but were so intimidated that most of them voted to authorize the war anyway. The Democratic leadership was so pathetic that liberal wimpiness became a standing joke on the right and a source of constant irritation for Democratic constituencies opposed to the war.

In 2004, the Democratic leadership hit bottom in a variety of ways. Democratic leaders could not even come close to matching the Republicans in fund-raising, campaign technology, and tactical manuevering. They had not agreed on a "consensus candidate" to oppose George Bush and were becoming increasingly distant from the anti-war feeling of Democratic constituents.

Enter internet liberalism.

Beginning with the Dean campaign and continuing with the Kerry campaign, the liberal blogosphere has gradually become one of the most important stakeholders in the Democratic Party.

However, much of the blogosphere's success owes to the Bush administration's and Republican leadership's continued domination of the Democratic Establishment. As long as the right-wing makes punching bags out of the Establishment Democrats, the liberal blogosphere is going to gain ground because their fundamental point, that the Democratic leadership is too weak to provide effective opposition to the Bush administration, will continue to be valid.

Lieberman would not have lost if the Republicans were not so thoroughly dominating the Democratic leadership. The Republicans created the vacuum that's now being filled by the liberal blogosphere.

Grand Terrorism on the Right

The right-wing is already learning its lessons from the failure in Iraq. Do they want to be more sure about the necessity of invasion? Are they determined to be better prepared to occupy a country? Better trained to deal with civilian populations? Have more people on the ground who know the languages?

No! No! No! And No!

The lesson that the right is deriving from Iraq is the need for larger scale attacks on civilian populations. Following up on a column by Cal Thomas, Rush Limbaugh has a "historical essay" today on his web site proposing the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the fire-bombing of Hamburg and Dresden as the proper models for dealing with recalcitrant civilian populations like Middle Eastern Arabs.

The idea on the American right is that Arab populations won't ever love us unless they absolutely submit to us and they won't ever submit to us unless we kill so many thousands and tens of thousands that they recognize the futility of any resistance.

In essence, what the right is beginning to advocate is that the U. S. engage in a policy of "grand terrorism" toward the Arab world. And if the Arabs keep resisting after we nuke Damascas and Mecca, then the right will probably start pressing for complete elimination of Arab populations.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Lieberman Concedes

Joe Lieberman made his concession announcement at 11:13 or thereabouts. Talking Points Memo reported Lamont as being up 3% with 94% of the vote in.

Not enough Joe-mentum.

Lamont's victory is the biggest take-down of a Democrat in a primary that I can remember and ranks right up there with the losses of Tom Daschle in 2004, Tom Foley in 1994, and Birch Bayh and George McGovern in 1980 as huge defeats for senior Democratic leaders. However, those losses were to Republicans. I can't think of any comparable primary defeats. Amazing.

One has to wonder if Lieberman's loss is going to be that significant to Joe Lieberman in the long run. Lieberman is friendly with the Republicans and comfortable in front of the camera. So, he shouldn't have a problem finding a new job. Given that he has been getting increasingly grumpy with liberal Democrats, Lieberman might find himself happier in his new position as well.

I hope all the prominent Democrats who rallied to Lieberman are tuned in because Joe's loss is also their loss. Lieberman's primary problem was his refusal to respect anti-war sentiment in the Democratic Party. It's time for Bill Clinton, James Carville, Chris Dodds, Barbara Boxer, John Lewis, and others to open themselves up the anti-war left and start integrating them into the Democratic Party apparatus.

Judging from the grilling she gave Donald Rumsfeld last week, it looks like Hillary is already getting the message. Her ability to keep learning as she goes along is one reason why she would make a good president.

Whether the Democratic leadership likes it or not, the anti-war movement is now a force.

Kick the Democrats

If Lamont wins, it will be a repudiation of the Democratic Party leadership as well as Lieberman. That's good. The Democratic Party needs a kick in the butt. The Democrats have provided such weak opposition on Iraq that they are almost as responsible for the failure of the occupation as the Bush administration.

Lamont-Lieberman Watch--Fox Behind News

Of all the web sites I've looked at for numbers on Lamont-Lieberman, Fox is the slowest in getting numbers up. It's 10:58. Daily Kos has figures from 89.17% of returns; Fox only from 46%. Conservatives are not as quick as they used to be.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Ways of American Power

The Coming Iraqi Coup: One of the unsettling undercurrents in Iraq is the diversion of interests between Iraqi politicians and the Iraqi military. Politicians like Prime Minister Maliki have to deal with the Iraqi public and are losing patience with American support for Israel and incidents of American brutality against Iraqi civilians. To the contrary, the top generals in the Iraqi armed forces are under American tutelage and are primarily responsible to the American military. The generals are frustrated by the inability of the politicians to overcome sectarian divisions. In the pressure cooker of civil war, such conflicts of interest and organizational culture can lead to military coups.

A Nurturing Society at Home: The Iraqi invasion grew out of the neo-conservative vision of the triumphant projection of American military power. One of the consequences of that vision is the need for American society to care for wounded, disabled, and troubled veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Omaha World-Herald mentions today that 79 Iraq/ Afghanistan vets have already committed suicide and that the rate of suicides is higher for the Iraq war than it was for the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Given the traumatic character of the Iraq war, thousands of veterans are going to need extra patience and consideration from their families, neighbors, and loved ones as well as extra physical therapy and mental health services from the government. If the invasion of Iraq was meant to be an exercise in domination, doing our best for the returning vets might make the U. S. into a more nurturing society in the future.

Failure Wears Blackface. Public discussion of the Jane Hamsher image of Joe Lieberman in blackface seems to have faded, but the image resonates. Blackface minstrelsy was a form of entertainment in which white performers staged racial humiliations of blacks. Blacks were represented as stupid, ridiculous, and lazy, and subject to all the varieties of humiliation that whites could imagine. For Jane Hamsher, the representation of Joe Lieberman in blackface was meant to convey an image of Lieberman as a failure. The incongruity between Lieberman's black skin and his eyes, mouth, and hair, the plantation tie, and zoot suit all were designed to use a racial image to emphasize Lieberman's ridiculous attempts to get black support. What's disturbing here is that Hamsher seems to view success as inherently white and failure and incapacity as inherently black. It's a racist image and Hamsher shouldn't have gotten away with it as easily as she did.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Cutting Against The Cult of Success

One of the newest and most frightening addictions to emerge into public view is "cutting," a procedure in which a person tears long, thin, gashes into their arms with knifes, pieces, of glass and other instruments. Cutting has become popular enough that it has some cache as a cool thing to do. Hundreds of on-line message boards for self-injurers have popped up on the internet.

According to the Houston Chronicle, cutters start slicing themselves as a way to substitute physical pain for emotional distress.

Eighteen-year old Ashley Sellers began cutting herself over a breakup. "The pain was so bad, I was so hurt, that the first thing I thought of was that I'd rather feel something else . . . "

In her early nineties feminist self-help book, bell hooks argues that many addictions begin a way for people to comfort themselves in the face of emotional pain. For hooks, addictions to cocaine, alcohol, food, or work all begin as ways to seek substitutes for pain.

Of course, many factors are involved in the trend toward cutting--the established popularity of painful procedures like tattooing and piercing and the lightning communication of fads through the internet among them.

Another factor, one which has enormous consequences for American society, is our increasing intolerance of failure. "Second Place is First Place for Losers." If you fail, you're a moron, idiot, dumbass, or redneck. If things go wrong, expect no sympathy. If things go really wrong, you're on Jerry Springer. Feel bad. Too bad. Get over it! If you complain you're a WATB (Whiney Ass Titty Baby). If you can't get over it, expect people to treat you like you're a useless sack of shit. "Get out of my space," they'll tell you. "You're wasting my time!"

Well, I have bad news.

We're losing in Iraq and our Israeli allies are failing in Lebanon to boot. And we're losing in the worst way because we started as heavy favorites. When the U. S. invaded Iraq, we were Sonny Liston getting ready to fight Muhammed Ali, the Baltimore Colts running on the field for Super Bowl III, and the Soviet Union invading the backward country of Afghanistan. We were the big guns, the boss, the new sheriff in town. It was going to be our way or else.

As Americans, what we need to do now is to learn from our failure without denying what's happened in Iraq and without falling into the kind of self-destructive shell that characterizes cutting. The failure in Iraq has been systematic. The Bush administration has failed any test of competence. However, the Democrats also have failed as an opposition party and the media failed to function either as a "marketplace of ideas" or as an institution that "speaks truth to power." The same was true of a military which never learned the lessons of our failure in Vietnam and still doesn't have the skills required for effective occupation.

The Bush administration refused to consult, refused to negotiate, refused to adapt to circumstances, refused to admit mistakes even to themselves, and ended up in a situation where they were hoping for a miracle to turn the situation around. Unfortunately, the miracle arrived in the form of Zarqawi's death and things still got worse. Now, they're almost completely out of steam.

What should we do now? Much of what the U. S. public has to do at this point is suffer through the final 27 months of the Bush administration and watch the Iraq situation continue to slowly deteriorate. After that, we'll all be prepared to shift gears quickly. I don't think we can withdraw all of our troops from Iraq because much of Anbar province would be quickly Talibanized and would become a haven for global terrorists. However, there's no real danger now that Sunni insurgents are going to take Baghdad or overrun the country. The Sunni insurgents aren't even holding their own against the Shiite death squads. As a result, I believe that we can withdraw from 80-100,00 of our troops and retrain them in the art of occupying civilian populations before rotating any of them back to the Middle East. Our military desperately needs training in language skills, dealing with civilian populations, economic reconstruction, and other areas of occupation work if they're ever to be an effective occupation force. In the same way, the U. S. government needs to learn the art of balancing multilateral and unilateral initiatives and the opposition, media, and public need to develop a combination of critical perspective and tolerance in relation to the inevitable frustrations and failures. I could go on but won't.

The struggle against global terrorism is going to be a long, drawn-out affair. In order to succeed, we need to change our own culture if we are going to be tolerant enough of our current failures to learn from them.