Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Gathering Iran Delusion

An unintentional consequence of capturing and killing Saddam Hussein is that conservatives don't have Saddam Hussein to kick around any more. If Saddam didn't turn out to be the Hitler figure threatening to "take over the world," who is going to be the villain to "test American resolve," justify new military adventures, and provide the easy victories that conservatives crave. Neither Osama bin Laden (hiding in Pakistan) nor Moqtada al-Sadr seem to pass the super-villan test. So who is going to be the next target of right-wing delusion? We already have an answer. It's IRAN! While absorbing the horrors of American failure in Iraq, the right-wing media apparatus has also been pumping up "the Iranian threat." Indeed, Iran is a logical choice for the new "enemy." Because their Shiite theocracy actually is antagonistic to the United States and the West, the Iranians provide all kinds of statements that right-wing propogandists at places like the American Enterprise Institute can work up into a state of Nazi-like expansionism.

Here's a good example of Iran delusion-making in a Dec. 21 article Michael Ladeen of AEI. "With Ahmadinejad [the Iranian president], the mullahs [the actual leaders of Iran] bared their fangs to us. Convinced they were winning in Iraq, foreseeing the destruction of Israel, the domination of Lebanon, a jihadist reconquista in Afghanistan and the expansion of their domain into the Horn of Africa, they gave us the face of the unrepentant conqueror. He's played his role well, and he will continue to play it."

This has all the hallmarks of right-wing delusion. Most pointedly, there is the characterization of President Ahmadinejad as a Hitleresque "unrepentant conqueror." Indeed, Ahmadinejad has made several provocative statements concerning the Israelis, but Ladeen overlooks the important fact that no Iranian army has attacked or conquered anyone since Ahmadinejad took office. Given Iran's paltry defense budget of $6.2 billion in 2005, it is also unlikely that the Iranians will attack anybody. More importantly, it's unlikely that the Iranians would defend themselves very well if the U. S. attacks them. To compare, the U. S. had a defense budget of $419 billion for 2005 (more than 67 times the Iranian budget). It's also well known that the Iranian military are still using the 70's vintage American military equipment that they inherited from the Shah regime.

Of course, Ladeen and the other right-wingers who promote the "Persian Menace" know all this. Nevertheless, pumping up a cream puff like Iran into a world-class fighting machine is the standard method of right-wing delusion. For the right, the point is to have enemies who can be beaten without much effort or much domestic controversy in the U. S. Bush's people and pundits on the right all knew that the Saddam regime was weak even though they were promoting the fictional "bio-terror" threat posed by the Iraqis. That's much of what made attacking Iraq so attractive to the right.

The same is the case with Iran. The conservatives are promoting an attack on Iran know that the Iranians are not capable of retaliating against any American attack. Guys like Ladeen see an attack on Iran as a chance for the right to have its military aggression without paying a real price. In other words, attacking Iran would be the conservative utopia that attacking Iraq was supposed to be.

Second, there is a domino theory in which Iran conquers all the way from the Persian Gulf to Somalia and Ethiopia (the horn of Africa). That's the same domino theory that had the Vietnamese Communists moving on Australia soon after the fall of Saigon and Saddam Hussein (the last and now late embodiment of Hitler before Ahmadinejad) conquering his way across Africa, South America, and Mexico before reaching Texas. Or was that New Orleans. Every bit of Ladeen's scenario is either clownish exaggeration or wholly false. The Iranians are not "winning in Iraq" because they're not part of the struggle in Iraq. As a result of two elections, the U. S. handed the Iraqi government to political parties like SCIRI and Dawa that have long-standing ties to Iran. The Shiite parties in Iraq are winning, but that does not mean that Iran is winning in Iraq.

The same goes for the other scenarios. If there is a "jihadist reconquista" in Afghanistan, Iran won't be involved because the Iranians have been just as much enemies to the Taliban as they were to Saddam Hussein (with whom they fought an eight year war). Of course, Ladeen knows this, a fact that gives the whole scenario an aura of dishonesty as well as delusion. As has already been mentioned, Iran has no assets which would allow them to "destroy Israel," "dominate Lebanon," or conquer (unrepentently) through the Arabian peninsula and on to the Horn of Africa. Ahmadinejad has talked about the desirability of wiping Israel off the map, but if talk were conquest the U. S. would have conquered Syria and Iran by now. After all, administration neo-cons have been talking about "regime change" in these countries for at three or four years now.

Of course, proving that the Iranians are not a Hitler-like threat is not enough. American right-wingers are "unrepentently" bent on instilling the idea that the Iranians have replaced Saddam Hussein as a remorseless threat to American interests and national security. As they did with Iraq in the run-up to the invasion, the right-wing will exaggerate and lie to make their case, relentlessly repeat their lies as long as they have any credibility, and then make up new lies when the old ones no longer work. If the right-wing can sell the Iran delusion, they think they'll be able to salvage some part of their war-mongering foreigh policy despite the disaster in Iraq. That's why it's necessary to keep exposing the lies and distortions of the Iran delusion before the right leads us into yet another foreign policy disaster.


"Meet Me in St. Louie." In today's St. Lous Post-Dispatch, there's a picture of an American soldier being greeted a wheel-chair bound comrade as he disembarks his plane. The disconnects are painful. Spc. Nathaniel Krotzer of the 463rd MP unit exudes health, wholeness, and physical authority as he leans to talk with Spc. Brandon Breyer in his chair. But Breyer lost part of a leg while he was serving in Iraq and looks thin and helplessly eager in his chair. Any physical authority Breyer had is gone as the aura of his immersion in rehab and his dependence on government services hangs about him. Still, both men are aware of the thin line that separates their disconnected physical conditions. It's a big part of what ties them together.

Moqtada! The execution of Saddam Hussein was supposed to be a sweet moment of vindication for the Bush administration. But it's yet another measure of the disconnect between the Bush administration and events in Iraq that Saddam's death turned out to be a vindication of Shiite rather than American power. According to one of Saddam Hussein's lawyers, Prime Minister al-Maliki timed the execution to coincide with the Muslim holy day of Eid as " a gift" to the Dawa religious party without any expression of gratitude to Maliki's American allies. To add insult to injury, the guards shouted Moqtada in tribute to the firebrand Shiite cleric as Saddam was being prepared for hanging. It was Moqtada's power that was triumphing over Saddam Hussein not the power of the Americans. Indeed, Saddam's last word was "Moqtada."

The spectre of Iran. Neo-conservatives like Sen. Joseph Lieberman are working overtime to recast the conflict in Iraq as part of the regional struggle between "moderation" and the "extremism" directed from Iran. But the "spectre of Iran" is yet another attempt by the right-wing to promote the war by creating a disconnect between the American public and the situation in the Middle East. Iran is a bit player in Iraq. Moqtada al-Sadr might get a bit of financial help from the Iranians, but his power base is in Iraq's democratic political structures and popular Shiite resentment over the American occupation. The American occupation made al-Sadr into a popular leader not the Iranians. But once Sadr became an important figure, he felt much more of a natural connection with fellow Shiites in Iran than he felt with the American occupiers. The same has been the case with the other Shiite parties which look at the Iranians as a potential stabilizing force while they see the Bush administration as fundamentally disconnected.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Consolations, Fantasies, and Real Wars

Manhood Moment Almost Here. It looks like Saddam Hussein is going to be executed within an hour. In a lot of ways, this is the Bush administration and neo-con's consolation for failing so badly in the war in Iraq. Bush, Cheney, and the neo-cons may be incompetent buffoons, but they get to prove that they're bigger men than Saddam Hussein in the most definitive way possible--by executing him.

Meet the New Saddam. Given that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated so badly since the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003, it's been necessary for the neo-cons to conjure up a new enemy figure in the Middle East--Iran. Who's behind the Shiite militias? The neo-cons would have you believe it's Iran? The same with the death squads that working in Iraqi ministries. A good example of this kind of fantasizing can be seen in Joe Lieberman's Washington Post op-ed today. Also Hezbollah attacks on Israel. In fact, neo-con pundits have inflated the Iranians to such an extent that they now have the Iranians (with their Syrian lackeys) trying to create a greater Shiite empire in the Middle East. But neo-con fantasies about Iranian power and intentions are even less grounded in reality than their fantasies about Saddam Hussein. Iran is militarily weak, relatively poor, and fundamentally defensive. But neo-cons like Lieberman are going to inflate them into the next manifestation of Adolf Hitler as long as they maintain their independence from American influence.

Retaliation for Saddam's Execution. I would be surprised if there were extensive Baathist or Sunni retaliation for the execution of Saddam. The fact of the matter is that Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade have had the upper hand in the sectarian terror campaigns that have going on since the bombing of the dome in Samarra last March. They would still have the upper hand in any post-execution exchanges. The new reality in Iraq is that the emergence of the Shiite militias has shifted the locus of war from Sunnis vs Americans to Sunnis vs Shiites. Although the war in Iraq is still an insurgency, it is now much more of a civil war.

George Bush Inspires American Youth

One of the unintentional consequences of George Bush's disastrous presidency is a renewed interest in American history among young people.

My twelve year old daughter Katy was riding up to a ski resort in Indiana when one of her friends Egan started a conversation by arguing that she didn't think George Bush was the worst president in American history. "What about Richard Nixon," she asked? My daughter replied that "James Buchanan was the worst president. He just sat around while the Civil War got started."

And on it went.

Would kids have been having a historical conversation like that if Al Gore or John Kerry had been president?

I don't think so.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Saddam in the Mirror

Hanging Saddam. It appears that Saddam Hussein is going to be executed by hanging at about the same time that President Bush is going to announce plans for his mini-escalation of the war in Iraq. No doubt Saddam will richly deserve this death and many more besides. Mass executioners like Saddam, Pinochet, or General Suharto of Indonesia deserve more deaths than they can suffer.

Hanging with Saddam. It's hard to over-estimate what the execution of Saddam Hussein means to George W. Bush and the other gunslingers in the Bush White House. The toppling of Saddam's statue and the capture of Saddam confirmed the Dubya's image of himself as a frontier sheriff who is stronger and tougher than both the bad guys and the critics who worry about the rights of defendants, whether the death penalty is cruel and unusual, and all the complexities of invading and occupying. The execution of Saddam will do the same. It will prove that Bush is stronger than Saddam, stronger than all his "pussy" liberal critics in the United States, and stronger than global opinion.

Of course, the execution of Saddam has a special poignancy for Bush because he has his own version of Saddam's special kind of problem. For Saddam, the problem is how to keep thinking of himself as the strongest man in the world even as the hangman comes to his door. Of course, there will be no hangman at Bush's door, but the spectre of a definitive, unmanning defeat hangs as heavy about George Bush as the hangman looms over Saddam. Bush has already suffered a stinging defeat at the hands of his liberal enemies, been rebuked by a collection of his dad's friends, and abandoned by most of his neo-con allies. The invasion of Iraq that was supposed to be the enduring testimony to the president's manhood is now seen as a monument to blundering incompetence and immature egotism. Like Saddam, George Bush did not turn out to be such a tough guy at all.

The Damage Done. The second analogy between President Bush and Saddam Hussein lies in the enormous damage they've done to Iraq. Saddam Hussein will be known primarily by his pogroms against the Kurds and Shiites and his legacy will be the tens or hundreds of thousands Iraqi men, women, and children who died at his hands. Such is the price of tyranny. George Bush will also be known by the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have died as a result of the American invasion. The U. S. is spending 2 billion a day in Iraq and the American military has lost almost 3,000 men and women, but the most important testimony to the horrific failure of the American mission in Iraq will be the mounting number of dead civilians. Such is the price of having a fool at the head of the most powerful nation in the world.

Tasty Holiday Follow-Ups

The Opposite of War. My panoscopy turned out to be the opposite of the Iraq War. The Iraq War had such an easy build up that it's still hard to believe what a grinder it's become. To the contrary, my panoscopy prep was pretty tough. Unable to eat or drink anything after midnight, I had such bad indigestion that I only slept for an hour before I had to go to the hospital. After I got into the surgery room everything was easy. After being told to breathe through my nose, I took four or five breaths and woke up 90 minutes later in the recovery room. If only the Bush administration had been as well prepared for the Iraq War as my medical team was for my procedure.

Old-Looking Oden. I'm not the only one who notices how old Greg Oden looks. Sports writer Jerry Tipton of the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader notes in a parenthetical comment that Oden "looks like he's 30." Tipton further observes that freshman basketball players generally seem more mature these days because of AAU basketball and the extensive travelling of high school teams. The same could be said of college athletes in general. Because sports are much more intense and grueling than they used to be, the wear and tear shows.

Killing the Surge. The chances that an increase in American troops would help the situation in Iraq were always minimum at best. By putting off the decision until sometime in January, President Bush has reduced that chance even further. As a result of the delay, Bush lost any element of surprise and the new American troops and their officers will half expect to be useless once they arrive in Baghdad, an expectation which they'll share with the Iraq Study Group, most of the military establishment, and American public opinion. Even Jerry Ford is speaking out against the war in death.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

There's Old and Then There's Oden

Ohio State's Greg Oden is the poster boy for this year's college basketball season. Although he did not play particularly well against Florida last weekend, the 7' 1" Ohio State freshman is expected to be the first draft pick in the NBA next year.

Greg Oden is also the oldest looking college freshman I've ever seen. I can't generate pictures here, but Oden has deeply set eyes, an even more deeply lined forehead, and an expression that is so mature it looks almost world-weary. Most college football players and male basketball look older than the rest of the student body and I've heard female athletes make fun of football players for looking like old men. The reason is that the pounding involved in football and basketball takes its toll on young men. Six to ten months a year of organized sports not only damages knees, backs, and shoulders, it puts enormous stress on internal organs. However, Oden looks older than the oldest looking college football player. Greg Oden may be a "man among boys," but it won't be long before he's an "old man among men."

This is another reason people should not begrudge professional athletes their high salaries. They not only have relatively short professional careers, they sometimes have short lives as a result of their professional careers.

Showing the Iraqis Who's in Charge

More than anything else, the arrest of the Iranian diplomats in Iraq seems to be an exercise in showing the Iraqi government who's really in charge.

Details are sketchy, but it is clear that two of the Iranians were in Iraq at the invitation of Iraqi President Jalil Talabani. Likewise, at least one of the Iranians was seized in a raid on the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of Iraq's largest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). The American military has been telling the usual lies that the Iranians had "a lot of material" on them that justified the detentions. But, the obvious message to both Talabani and al-Hakim is that "you are being watched. The American government opposes official contact between Iraq and Iran and you are subject to arrest or worse if you continue such contacts. You may think you're leaders of a sovereign government, but we're in charge here."

It's a curiously stupid policy. No doubt, the Bush administration would prefer to see the Iraqi government view the U. S. and Israel as it's natural allies. However, Iraq has become an Islamist religious society in both both the Sunni and Shiite sectors. It follows therefore that the Iraqi government would be an Islamist government fundamentally opposed to Israel. Likewise, it should not be surprising that the Iraqi government is looking to Iran as a potential counter-weight to American influence. Even though the American military occupation is failing to pacify the country, the U. S. still has a commanding position in relation to the Iraqi government. One of the few ways that Iraq could gain a real independence from the U. S. is to counter-balance American influence through ties with other countries. Given that Iraq's Shiite leaders and President Talabani all have close ties with Iran, Iran is the most logical candidate for counter-balancing ally. The U. S. might grimace at the prospect of an Iraq allied to Iran, but the alliance is a sign of the independence that we want the Iraqis to have.

Over the last two years, the Iraqi government, in fact, has become independent from the U. S. in several ways. This is especially the case with the government factions that have sponsored Shiite militias like al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and SCIRI's Badr Brigades. However horrific the death squad activities of the militias have been, they constitute a source of power for the Iraqi government that is independent of the American military and thus are a sign of real independence for Iraq. At the same time, the militia campaigns against Sunni civilians and insurgents have demonstrated that the Shiite population is willing and able to defend itself against global terrorist groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq as well as Sunni insurgents. The Sunnis may still be able to establish an independent enclave in al-Anbar, but there would be no Sunni takeover in Baghdad even if the U. S. withdrew from Iraq tomorrow. Indeed, the main immediate danger created by an American withdrawal would be the possibility of Shiite militias engaging in a bloody ethnic cleansing campaign against Sunnis in the Baghdad area.

Even though the American military can still humiliate political leaders, Iraqi Shiites are gradually taking control of their own affairs.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to RSI readers.

Op-ed Published. On Christmas Eve, my "Why I Like Santa Better Than Jesus" article appeared as an op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader. I was happy about getting the piece published and even happier about not getting any hate mail.

At least not yet.

Don't Poison the Dog. Last night, we left milk, cookies, and a little fudge out for Santa as we were cleaning up the house. Unfortunately, our dog Missy beat Santa to the fudge and cookies. Given that dogs do poorly with chocolate, we're lucky that she didn't get very sick.

The Dreaded Panoscopy Prep. Tomorrow, I do my prep for my panoscopy on Wednesday. For those who are not connoisseurs of panoscopies, a panoscopy is a colonoscopy where they also stick a tube down your throat to check for damage to the esophogus from acid reflux. Two uncomfortable procedures for the price of one.

Actually, the prep is the worst part for anyone who does not have colon cancer. Besides fasting for 24 hours on "clear liquid meals" and water, you have to take enough in the way of laxatives to clear out your colon for the procedure. And all of that clearing is done while sitting on the toilet.

Wish me luck. I'm going to need it.