Saturday, December 31, 2005

A thought for the New Year

Courtesy of the great Howard Zinn: the goal has to be nothing less than to abolish war.

For me, it was a year that began with a continuing reevaluation of how I could have been swept along with the pro-war, or at least war-tolerant, sentiment of 2002 and 2003. I still feel a sense of great shame for not resisting the post-911 bloodlust (something I've come to think was more manipulated than inherent in "the American people," but our responsibility nonetheless).

In 2004 and 2005, I did a lot of reading, and my attitude towards war changed with my disappearing ignorance about its means and motivations. I'm a grown, educated man, and had no excuse for that ignorance. Books like Andrew Bacevich's The New American Militarism, Chalmers Johnson's The Sorrows of Empire, and Sven Lindqvist's A History of Bombing, Wendell Berry's Citizenship Papers, and Zinn's People's History of the United States are available in many public libraries, and in many bookstores. They should be required reading in high schools and colleges.

With the possible exception of Berry's "Thoughts in the presence of fear,"I can't think of a single essay that better expresses what our attitude should be towards war than this one by Howard Zinn, published in the January 2006 Progressive. Initially I resisted the optimism, but then thought, hell, what better time to think about shooting the moon than at the beginning of a New Year.

After the War

The war against Iraq, the assault on its people, the occupation of its cities, will come to an end, sooner or later. The process has already begun. The first signs of mutiny are appearing in Congress. The first editorials calling for withdrawal from Iraq are beginning to appear in the press. The anti-war movement has been growing, slowly but persistently, all over the country.

Public opinion polls now show the country decisively against the war and the Bush Administration. The harsh realities have become visible. The troops will have to come home.

And while we work with increased determination to make this happen, should we not think beyond this war? Should we begin to think, even before this shameful war is over, about ending our addiction to massive violence and instead using the enormous wealth of our country for human needs? That is, should we begin to speak about ending war—not just this war or that war, but war itself? Perhaps the time has come to bring an end to war, and turn the human race onto a path of health and healing.

A group of internationally known figures, celebrated both for their talent and their dedication to human rights (Gino Strada, Paul Farmer, Kurt Vonnegut, Nadine Gordimer, Eduardo Galeano, and others), will soon launch a worldwide campaign to enlist tens of millions of people in a movement for the renunciation of war, hoping to reach the point where governments, facing popular resistance, will find it difficult or impossible to wage war.

There is a persistent argument against such a possibility, which I have heard from people on all parts of the political spectrum: We will never do away with war because it comes out of human nature. The most compelling counter to that claim is in history: We don’t find people spontaneously rushing to make war on others. What we find, rather, is that governments must make the most strenuous efforts to mobilize populations for war. They must entice soldiers with promises of money, education, must hold out to young people whose chances in life look very poor that here is an opportunity to attain respect and status. And if those enticements don’t work, governments must use coercion: They must conscript young people, force them into military service, threaten them with prison if they do not comply.

Furthermore, the government must persuade young people and their families that though the soldier may die, though he or she may lose arms or legs, or become blind, that it is all for a noble cause, for God, for country.

When you look at the endless series of wars of this century you do not find a public demanding war, but rather resisting it, until citizens are bombarded with exhortations that appeal, not to a killer instinct, but to a desire to do good, to spread democracy or liberty or overthrow a tyrant.

Woodrow Wilson found a citizenry so reluctant to enter the First World War that he had to pummel the nation with propaganda and imprison dissenters in order to get the country to join the butchery going on in Europe.

In the Second World War, there was indeed a strong moral imperative, which still resonates among most people in this country and which maintains the reputation of World War II as “the good war.” There was a need to defeat the monstrosity of fascism. It was that belief that drove me to enlist in the Air Force and fly bombing missions over Europe.

Only after the war did I begin to question the purity of the moral crusade. Dropping bombs from five miles high, I had seen no human beings, heard no screams, seen no children dismembered. But now I had to think about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden, the deaths of 600,000 civilians in Japan, and a similar number in Germany.

I came to a conclusion about the psychology of myself and other warriors: Once we decided, at the start, that our side was the good side and the other side was evil, once we had made that simple and simplistic calculation, we did not have to think anymore. Then we could commit unspeakable crimes and it was all right.

I began to think about the motives of the Western powers and Stalinist Russia and wondered if they cared as much about fascism as about retaining their own empires, their own power, and if that was why they had military priorities higher than bombing the rail lines leading to Auschwitz. Six million Jews were killed in the death camps (allowed to be killed?). Only 60,000 were saved by the war—1 percent.

A gunner on another crew, a reader of history with whom I had become friends, said to me one day: “You know this is an imperialist war. The fascists are evil. But our side is not much better.” I could not accept his statement at the time, but it stuck with me.

War, I decided, creates, insidiously, a common morality for all sides. It poisons everyone who is engaged in it, however different they are in many ways, turns them into killers and torturers, as we are seeing now. It pretends to be concerned with toppling tyrants, and may in fact do so, but the people it kills are the victims of the tyrants. It appears to cleanse the world of evil, but that does not last, because its very nature spawns more evil. Wars, like violence in general, I concluded, is a drug. It gives a quick high, the thrill of victory, but that wears off and then comes despair.

I acknowledge the possibility of humanitarian intervention to prevent atrocities, as in Rwanda. But war, defined as the indiscriminate killing of large numbers of people, must be resisted.

Whatever can be said about World War II, understanding its complexity, the situations that followed—Korea, Vietnam—were so far from the kind of threat that Germany and Japan had posed to the world that those wars could be justified only by drawing on the glow of “the good war.” A hysteria about communism led to McCarthyism at home and military interventions in Asia and Latin America—overt and covert—justified by a “Soviet threat” that was exaggerated just enough to mobilize the people for war.

Vietnam, however, proved to be a sobering experience, in which the American public, over a period of several years, began to see through the lies that had been told to justify all that bloodshed. The United States was forced to withdraw from Vietnam, and the world didn’t come to an end. One half of one tiny country in Southeast Asia was now joined to its communist other half, and 58,000 American lives and millions of Vietnamese lives had been expended to prevent that. A majority of Americans had come to oppose that war, which had provoked the largest anti-war movement in the nation’s history.

The war in Vietnam ended with a public fed up with war. I believe that the American people, once the fog of propaganda had dissipated, had come back to a more natural state. Public opinion polls showed that people in the United States were opposed to send troops anywhere in the world, for any reason.

The Establishment was alarmed. The government set out deliberately to overcome what it called “the Vietnam syndrome.” Opposition to military interventions abroad was a sickness, to be cured. And so they would wean the American public away from its unhealthy attitude, by tighter control of information, by avoiding a draft, and by engaging in short, swift wars over weak opponents (Grenada, Panama, Iraq), which didn’t give the public time to develop an anti-war movement.

I would argue that the end of the Vietnam War enabled the people of the United States to shake the “war syndrome,” a disease not natural to the human body. But they could be infected once again, and September 11 gave the government that opportunity. Terrorism became the justification for war, but war is itself terrorism, breeding rage and hate, as we are seeing now.

The war in Iraq has revealed the hypocrisy of the “war on terrorism.” And the government of the United States, indeed governments everywhere, are becoming exposed as untrustworthy: that is, not to be entrusted with the safety of human beings, or the safety of the planet, or the guarding of its air, its water, its natural wealth, or the curing of poverty and disease, or coping with the alarming growth of natural disasters that plague so many of the six billion people on Earth.

I don’t believe that our government will be able to do once more what it did after Vietnam—prepare the population for still another plunge into violence and dishonor. It seems to me that when the war in Iraq ends, and the war syndrome heals, that there will be a great opportunity to make that healing permanent.

My hope is that the memory of death and disgrace will be so intense that the people of the United States will be able to listen to a message that the rest of the world, sobered by wars without end, can also understand: that war itself is the enemy of the human race.

Governments will resist this message. But their power is dependent on the obedience of the citizenry. When that is withdrawn, governments are helpless. We have seen this again and again in history.

The abolition of war has become not only desirable but absolutely necessary if the planet is to be saved. It is an idea whose time has come.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The I word? What about the D word?

Jonathan Schell's "The Hidden State Steps Forward" makes a very convincing case that W., with his stunningly brazen defense of his wiretapping offense, has basically declared himself dictator:

When the New York Times revealed that George W. Bush had ordered the National Security Agency to wiretap the foreign calls of American citizens without seeking court permission, as is indisputably required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), passed by Congress in 1978, he faced a decision. Would he deny the practice, or would he admit it? He admitted it. But instead of expressing regret, he took full ownership of the deed, stating that his order had been entirely justified, that he had in fact renewed it thirty times, that he would continue to renew it and--going even more boldly on the offensive--that those who had made his law-breaking known had committed a "shameful act." As justification, he offered two arguments, one derisory, the other deeply alarming. The derisory one was that Congress, by authorizing him to use force after September 11, had authorized him to suspend FISA, although that law is unmentioned in the resolution. Thus has Bush informed the members of a supposedly co-equal branch of government of what, unbeknownst to themselves, they were thinking when they cast their vote. The alarming argument is that as Commander in Chief he possesses "inherent" authority to suspend laws in wartime. But if he can suspend FISA at his whim and in secret, then what law can he not suspend? What need is there, for example, to pass or not pass the Patriot Act if any or all of its provisions can be secretly exceeded by the President?

Bush's choice marks a watershed in the evolution of his Administration. Previously when it was caught engaging in disgraceful, illegal or merely mistaken or incompetent behavior, he would simply deny it. "We have found the weapons of mass destruction!" "We do not torture!" However, further developments in the torture matter revealed a shift. Even as he denied the existence of torture, he and his officials began to defend his right to order it. His Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, refused at his confirmation hearings to state that the torture called waterboarding, in which someone is brought to the edge of drowning, was prohibited. Then when Senator John McCain sponsored a bill prohibiting cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners, Bush threatened to veto the legislation to which it was attached. It was only in the face of majority votes in both houses against such treatment that he retreated from his claim.

But in the wiretapping matter, he has so far exhibited no such vacillation. Secret law-breaking has been supplanted by brazen law-breaking. The difference is critical. If abuses of power are kept secret, there is still the possibility that, when exposed, they will be stopped. But if they are exposed and still permitted to continue, then every remedy has failed, and the abuse is permanently ratified. In this case, what will be ratified is a presidency that has risen above the law.

The danger is not abstract or merely symbolic. Bush's abuses of presidential power are the most extensive in American history. He has launched an aggressive war ("war of choice," in today's euphemism) on false grounds. He has presided over a system of torture and sought to legitimize it by specious definitions of the word. He has asserted a wholesale right to lock up American citizens and others indefinitely without any legal showing or the right to see a lawyer or anyone else. He has kidnapped people in foreign countries and sent them to other countries, where they were tortured. In rationalizing these and other acts, his officials have laid claim to the unlimited, uncheckable and unreviewable powers he has asserted in the wiretapping case. He has tried to drop a thick shroud of secrecy over these and other actions.

There is a name for a system of government that wages aggressive war, deceives its citizens, violates their rights, abuses power and breaks the law, rejects judicial and legislative checks on itself, claims power without limit, tortures prisoners and acts in secret. It is dictatorship.

Read the whole article...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Operation Screw This

Where would we be without The Onion? From "U.S. Troops Draw Up Own Exit Strategy":

In a striking rebuke of the assertions of the Pentagon and the White House that a swift exit is neither practical nor possible, soldiers of varying rank have outlined a straightforward plan of immediate disengagement, dubbed "Operation Screw This."

"We kicked around several withdrawal scenarios in our barracks, but ultimately settled on the idea of getting out of here as soon as possible," said Maj. Brian Garcia, who is on his third tour of duty in Iraq.

Supporters of the Iraq war say the reconstruction of politically and economically devastated Iraq will take decades, and the gradual process of departure will begin only after a lengthy occupation.

"I'm familiar with the 'years of occupation to facilitate reconstruction' theory," said Army Spc. Megan Beaulieu. "However, virtually every soldier I know—including myself—gives more credence to the successful Dutch and Spanish approach of 'we've done all we can here, let's move out.'"

She added: "Apache helicopters could rendezvous with us in Fallujah. If we left our supplies behind, we could be out of here in 15 minutes."

Rant extraordinaire...

War. What war? What fucking war?

My good friend Ron of rants quite beautifully on this point, and I hope he doesn't mind if I quote him at length:

we're not at war. repeat it. we're not at war. write it down. send it to your friends and enemies. we're not a nation at war. there is no war.

I am so tired of hearing the president and his flying monkeys repeat this ad naseum as if it's supposed to convince us that we must fight with them or be defeatists. the only thing I know I'm fighting for sure is tooth decay with minty fresh Colgate toothpaste and even that is only partially effective.

we may be at odds with a particular ideology, but what else is new. we may be at odds against terrorism just like we are at odds against poverty, illiteracy, and racism. but we are not at war against those things. people are not shooting other people over illiteracy. though people do get shot by racists and poor people do tend to get shot more by the police. because it's not a fuckin' "real" war.

we may be victims of sexism, homophobia, age-ism, and child abuse. but we are not at war against those things, except purely in a metaphorical sense. I will stand here at tell you that those issues might well be with us for a long time -- maybe even forever -- but it's not like you can find one person, kill him or her, and children will never be abused again. it doesn't work like that. There are no captains of racism nor playing cards with pictures of those who won't give women a raise -- and even if there were, it wouldn't make a difference because it's not a fuckin' war. and if you think there should be, guess what, you're a fuckin' idiot and you're part of the problem. there is no war.

we are not at war against people who use drugs, but drug addicts are battling against their own demons. you can drop bombs on all the illegal drug factories in the world, shoot down every pot smoker you see (or worse -- send them to Gitmo and torture them by flushing copies of Zap comics down the toilet) and you know what -- whatever it is that makes people take those drugs (and let's say most people I know are drug addicts -- whether it's heroin or prozac -- some people can afford to get a presciption and others get rid of the middle man) will continue to do so whether its a rotten childhood, chemical imbalance, or just because it's fun and feels good. because it's not a "real" war.

there have always been terrorists, just like there have always been greedy fucks who force other people to work for shitty wages and in dangerous conditions whilst they count their drachmas and drink their grog. and if you don't believe me, watch any version of Zorro or Robin Hood.

there is not war against terrorists, just like there is no war against greed, sloth, vanity or any of the other seven deadly sins. it's called the human condition. but maybe bush and his courtesans were absent that day in school. and if you think you can win such a war, you're a fuckin' idiot, because it's not a fuckin' war.

you want to fight against something? go fight against the ravages of time and get a fuckin' facelift. otherwise, get over it and sit the fuck down, there's no war. we're not at war. get it? no war.

Reminds me of this classic from get your war on:

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I'm not worthy...

... to be quoting the words of Detroit activist Kim Redigan, but her words—a most articulate 'fuck you' to the Vegan surveillance president and his minions—must be shared, even with the dozen or so (at most) readers of this blog.

Far be it from me to ask the government to take money it needs to wage war and enrich the arms industry to track down yet one more peace activist. Therefore, I consider it my civic duty to say, "Here I am, George. Come and get me." No need to squander cash that could be spent on refining the techniques of torture on costly surveillance projects and electronic wiretaps to track the likes of me.

That overweight middle-aged woman in bifocals standing on the street corner and marching in demonstrations would be me.

Age 48, married, mother of four, high school religion teacher, Catholic, garden-variety activist.

Yes, George, I was the one standing outside the doors of recruitment stations quoting Oscar Romero, who said, "God’s law must prevail. No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God." Not terribly original, I know, but that great cloud of witnesses that goads me on to do this work included people who were so much more articulate than I. At one recruitment center, I even quoted Pope John Paul II who told young people: "Do not listen to voices which speak the language of hatred, revenge, retaliation. Do not follow any leaders who train you in the way of inflicting death."

Monday, December 19, 2005

... but who's counting?

Dubya's mouthing of a (lowball) body count ("30,000, more or less") for his private war the other night prompted his staffers to downplay the figure—as though it were too high.

It prompted Andrew Cockburn to revisit the issue of the counting of the dead and to bring up that huge elephant in the corner of the room—the fact that the Lancet study, by far the most reliable study to date, puts the number of "excess deaths" in Iraq since the U.S. invasion much much higher.

The Lancet study, released in Oct. 2004, still stands as the best and bravest attempt to get at the true human cost of this disgusting venture. See here for reasons.

When that study is mentioned at all, the 100,000 excess deaths it posits is cited as the highest conceivable tally. Even liberal Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson says 100,000 is "the most controversial estimate."

But that tally of 100,000 deaths was as of autumn 2004, and is skewed by the fact that the Lancet authors made a point, somewhat arbitrarily, of excluding Fallujah, the hottest of all hot spots from the counting.

Writes Cockburn: "Columbia professor Richard Garfield, one of the [Lancet] team members and study authors, told me this week that by now the number of 'excess deaths' in Iraq 'couldn't possibly be less than 150,000.' But, he added, 'there's no reason to be guessing. We ought to know better.'"

Friday, December 16, 2005

Rock on, Russ

"I don't want to hear again from the attorney general or anyone on this floor that this government has shown it can be trusted to use the power we give it with restraint and care."
—Russ Feingold

And what was the paper of record doing with the totally outrageous information of the NSA's warrantless domestic spying? Sitting on it, for a whole frigging year! A year that included Nov. 2, 2004, a rather important date to some people.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A stupid question pondered, unstoned

Michael Kinsley, in Slate, takes the "ticking time bomb" justification of torture more seriously than he should, and goes on a little too long to build up his refutation of an argument that should never see the light of day (but such are our times).

Kinsley rightly lumps in the ticking time bomb terrorist who must be tortured to save hundreds/thousands/millions/all humanity in with other questions that "have been pondered and disputed since the invention of the college dorm, but rarely, until the past couple of weeks, unstoned."

But he does get around to the main point, and makes it well.
Of course a million deaths is hard to shrug off as a price worth paying for the principle that we don't torture people. But college dorm what-ifs like this one share a flaw: They posit certainty (about what you know and what will happen if you do this or that). And uncertainty is not only much more common in real life: It is the generally unspoken assumption behind civil liberties, rules of criminal procedure, and much else that conservatives find sentimental and irritating.

... Sure, if we could know the present and predict the future with certainty, we could torture only people who deserve it. Not just that: We could go door-to-door killing people before they kill others.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

My kind of Christmas carol...

... is the sublime "Fairytale of New York," a duet between Shane McGowan of the Pogues and the late Kirsty MacColl.

'Tis this season of joy and merrymaking, marred only by the "war on Christmas", as stupid a non-issue today as it was in 1959, when it was a pet issue of the John Birch Society.

What is UP with these idiots? Bill O'Reilly, John Gibson, Jerry Falwell and the other genius right-wingers who are boycotting Wal-Mart (!?!?)?? The mind boggles truly.

As Nina Burleigh put it so nicely in Huffingtonpost the other day," 21st Century Christians living in the United States, arguably among the best-protected believers on earth right now, [but] still feel that they are inches away from the lion's den."

Er, back to "Fairytale of New York." As a corrective to all this rancor over the holiday season, I frequently give that bittersweet, but mostly bitter, fable a spin. To the Falwells and O'Reilly's of the world, I frequently feel the apropos response is contained in that song's chorus, the immortal words:
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it's your last...
And while we're on the subject of dubious religious mythography, I share this inspired piece of satire by Jerry and Joe Long, from

BRIAN: Talking with Paul Of of “The Collected Letters of Paul Of Tarsus”. First of all, you refer to yourself as being “Of” you are from Tarsus?
PAUL: Yes.
BRIAN: And you’re an actual human being?
PAUL: Yes.
BRIAN: You’re not a composite?
BRIAN: Some of these religious authors are composites of fragments of writing accumulated over centuries...did you know that?
PAUL: Yes I did.
BRIAN: What are your letters about?
PAUL: God.
BRIAN: Which god?
PAUL: The true God.
BRIAN: Which true god?
PAUL: Jesus...the Son of the true God.
BRIAN: Some people feel this Jesus was a reforming Jewish rabbi.
PAUL: They’re wrong.
BRIAN: What god is this Jesus the son of?
PAUL: Yaweh.
BRIAN: The Jewish god?
PAUL: Yes.
BRIAN: Why would the Jewish god suddenly have an interest in what are known as “gentiles”?
PAUL: He just does.
BRIAN: the Jewish books..their god is petty, insecure, vindictive, bloodthirsty and intolerant.
PAUL: That’s right.
BRIAN: Yet in your letters...the same god is all loving, all caring and all forgiving...what happened to him?
PAUL: Uhh...he is who was... and will be.
BRIAN: So this is one of those “faith” things then?
PAUL: Yes.
BRIAN: Your Jesus is the son of god?
PAUL: Yes.
BRIAN: Did he ever make that claim for himself?
PAUL: Not as strongly as I am making it.
BRIAN: Were you a close friend of Jesus when he was alive?
BRIAN: Friend?
BRIAN: Acquaintance?
BRIAN: Hang out together once in awhile?
BRIAN: Ever meet him at all?
BRIAN: So this is an unauthorized biography then?
BRIAN: Well how are you qualified to speak for this Jesus?
PAUL: I used to persecute his followers.....
BRIAN: What are your long range plans? Any future scrolls in the works?
PAUL: Well, as I say in the letters, the world is going to end shortly... so there wouldn’t really be much point.
BRIAN: The world’s going to end?
PAUL: Yes.
BRIAN: Now, did you write that to sell scrolls or do you really believe it?
PAUL: I believe it.
BRIAN: Is it going to end soon?
PAUL: We are living in the final days.
BRIAN: You’re sure?
PAUL: Oh yes! Many alive today will witness the end of the world.
This is as absolutely and undeniably true as anything else
I have written.
BRIAN: Paul Of Tarsus, thank you.

(Paul was executed in 64 A.D.. A few years later, the Emperor Galba, grown weary of Brian of Lamb’s persistently reasoned questioning, had him sown alive inside animal skins and thrown to a pack of wolves. The world is still here.)

Air can hurt you too

Tom Englehardt and Dahr Jamail are terrific about the extremely troubling aspects of the increasing U.S. air war.

It's shocking how little is revealed by the U.S. military about what they're doing up there, and how little is demanded by mainstream reporters about the kinds of munitions being dropped everyday on Iraqis' heads.

Plus, I don't think anyone is making the case strongly enough that precision air strikes are a bunch of bullshit. Sometimes "smart" air attacks come off as planned (but what's the margin of error? Nobody's saying), sometimes they don't.

But I'm thinking the U.S. is using more "dumb" bombs than they're letting on, and I think journalists should be asking more pointed questions, not because they think their questions will get honest answers, but as a minimal show of spine, maybe a little self-respect.

I'm thinking for some reason about that great (but cryptic) Talking Heads song Air.
Where is that protection that I needed?
Air can hurt you too
Air can hurt you too
Some people say not to worry about the air
Some people don't know shit about the...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Agroterrorism: How Could You Tell?

Writing for Common Dreams, Stan Cox, a Kansas-based plant breeder and writer, has a witty and awfully sad take on the specter of "agro-terrorism."

First, he gets a big "thank you" for calling attention to the absurdly random semantics of the terror threat naming racket. The bottom line: watch out for prefixes:

Keeping in mind that terrorists never seem inclined to take targeting suggestions from US politicians, we know these days to treat any use the word "terrorism" with deep skepticism. But when a prefix is attached, we should be especially wary.

Given the lack of standardization (the prefix of "bioterrorism" denoting the means of attack, of "narcoterrorism" the means of finance, of "ecoterrorism" the beneficiary, and of "agroterrorism" the target) it's clear that "terrorism" is simply a device to draw attention to whatever is in the prefix, and maybe scare up some funding.
The meat of his argument, however, is in a point-by-point look at the variety of agroterrorist threats, as described so breathlessly by Republican senators Susan Collins and Pat Roberts.

Contaminating the food supply? Who would know, with 76 million Americans getting sick each year from foodborne illness? Poisoning the rural water supply? Already got that goin' on pretty well, too, thanks. Chemical weapons? Let's look at the consequences of the 1.2 billion POUNDS of pesticides used in the U.S. each year.

Cox concludes:

Those who are sounding the agroterrorism alarm acknowledge that the increasing concentration of US agriculture, and its increasingly industrial infrastructure, make it more vulnerable. But those same, homegrown forces are already having consequences that are not easy to distinguish from the results of a hypothetical agroterror attack.

With an agriculture like this, who needs terrorists?

Read the whole article...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Lieberman Lieberman

Lieberman, shown above with Dubya's tongue down his throat, is calling for formation of a "War Cabinet," to be called the "Bipartisan Victory in Iraq Administrative Group."

And Dick Cheney would have kissed him if he could: "He is entirely correct. On this, both Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree. The only way the terrorists can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission."

Um. And that mission was to ... ?

Earth to Lieberman: A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday said 60 percent favor withdrawing from Iraq. And a leaked British military poll says a full 80 percent of Iraqis want the U.S. and coalition troops gone.

Hey, but it's only their country.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Riverbend reports

The priceless "Iraqi girl blogger" on the trial of Saddam Hussein:
It wasn't really like a trial. It reminded me of what we call a 'fassil' which is what tribal sheikhs arrange when two tribes are out of sorts with one another. The heads of the tribes are brought together along with the principal family members involved in the rift and after some yelling, accusations, and angry words they try to sort things out. That's what it felt like today. They kept interrupting each other and there was even some spitting at one point… It was both frustrating and embarrassing—and very unprofessional.

One thing that struck me about what the witnesses were saying– after the assassination attempt in Dujail, so much of what later unfolded is exactly what is happening now in parts of Iraq. They talked about how a complete orchard was demolished because the Mukhabarat thought people were hiding there and because they thought someone had tried to shoot Saddam from that area. That was like last year when the Americans razed orchards in Diyala because they believed insurgents were hiding there. Then they talked about the mass detentions- men, women and children—and its almost as if they are describing present-day Ramadi or Falloojah. The descriptions of cramped detention spaces, and torture are almost exactly the testimonies of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, etc.

It makes one wonder when Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and the rest will have their day, as the accused, in court.

Read the whole post...

Rule of Thumb

If it's "good news" in the war on terror, if yet another al queda "number two"—or in this case "number three" (maybe 'cos there are already several dozen dead number twos) has been eliminated, you'd better make a point of checking the follow-up stories in a couple days.

HAISORI, Pakistan, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Pakistani tribesmen on Sunday displayed parts of a U.S.-marked missile they said hit a house and killed two boys, evidence at odds with the government which says an explosion there killed a top al Qaeda commander....

Haji Mohammad Siddiq told Reuters his 17-year old son and an eight-year-old nephew were killed in a missile attack, but denied there were any militants present. "I don't know anything about them -- there were no foreigners in my house," Siddiq said.

"I have nothing to do with foreigners or al Qaeda. "We were sleeping when I heard two explosions in my guest room. When I went there I saw my son, Abdul Wasit, and my eight-year-old nephew, Noor Aziz, were dead," said the tall, moustachioed tribesman as he received condolences from a stream of relatives and neighbours.

Pakistan, sensitive to domestic public opinion, has denied U.S. drone aircraft have carried out missile strikes on its soil in the past and Washington has declined to comment....

President Pervez Musharraf said on Saturday he was "200 percent" sure Rabia was dead. But confirmation of Rabia's death is based on intelligence reports and message intercepts, intelligence sources said, and Pakistani security forces have still to find a body....

Monday, December 05, 2005

I'm a big fan of this

I absolutely love the site.

What 'tude! I love that it can take a WaPo article with the bland title "Democrats Find Iraq Alternative Is Elusive" and give it the much more appropriate hed Democrat Elites Clueless on Iraq.

Really, I'm to the point where I respect the libertarians a lot more than mainstream democrats when it comes to recognizing the idiocy of war. (Still, I need some convincing on the religion of trusting markets).

I think they do a great job rounding up stories, and I enjoy reading many of their columnists (I never thought I'd agree on anything with people who've worked for the Hoover Insitute or the WSJ edit page.)

My favorite feature is the quote in the upper right hand corner. It reminds us all that when it comes to war, plus ├ža change, plus c'est la meme chose is the operative principle.

I check the quote several times a day. The current one is:
Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. – William Pitt
The quotes are archived here. Some of my other favorites include:
Those who give up essential liberties for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
—Benjamin Franklin

The chain reaction of evil—wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence.
—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The worst crimes were dared by a few, willed by more and tolerated by all.

You've got to forget about this civilian. Whenever you drop bombs, you're going to hit civilians.

—Barry Goldwater

Because I do it with one small ship, I am called a terrorist. You do it with a whole fleet and are called an emperor.
—A pirate, from St. Augustine's "City of God"

It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.
—Albert Einstein

Friday, December 02, 2005

The same old bombs

In a New Yorker article earlier this week titled Up in the Air, Seymour Hersh says Bush plans to draw down ground troops and to continue fighting the insurgency by relying more on air power.

It's a great article, and its depictions of Bush's conviction that he has been divinely chosen to prosecute this bloody, evil war give us all even more reason to fear the crazy bastard. The Brits would say he's "barking mad"—and they'd be right.

Hersh is of course a great journalist, and I have in the past wondered where we'd be without him. But I have to quibble with him a bit on this one.

A main point of his piece is that Bush's new plan would entail Iraqis calling in air strikes by American aircraft. The Iraqis couldn't be trusted not to target, say, personal or political rivals.

There's something to that, but it overlooks the barbarity of what's likely going on at present, and gives the impression that caution is currently being exercised with regard to "collateral damage." I really do wonder...

Today, in Toward a Greater Air War in Iraq, Ron Jacobs does a little simple tabulation exercise that could be performed by any journalist:
At this point, it seems that the US is using its air power in Iraq (and Afghanistan) for what they call close-support operations. Usually this means that the air attacks are on a relatively small scale and that bombs and rockets are targeted at individual buildings and city blocks. Still, the number of air support missions is not small. In fact, according to a November 28, 2005 press release from the U.S. Central Command Air Forces, "Coalition aircraft flew 46 close-air support missions Nov. 27 for Operation Iraqi Freedom. They (the missions) supported coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities, and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities. Coalition aircraft also supported Iraqi and coalition ground forces operations to create a secure environment for upcoming December parliamentary elections." These 46 missions were followed by 42 more on November 28th. That's 88 acknowledged air support missions in two days. (In addition, 18 more close support missions were reported in Afghanistan for the 28th of November). Multiply that by seven days in a week and it becomes 308 flight combat missions in Iraq alone [per week]. Given the nature of the weaponry, even so-called close air support means that there will be civilian deaths. It's pretty much impossible to kill only one or two people with a quarter-ton bomb or even a 50 pound rocket.
Read the whole article...

That's a whole lotta bombing going on, and a whole lotta "accidental" deaths, even if the air strikes all involve "precision" weaponry. The Pentagon ain't saying, and reporters ain't reporting, but my strong suspicion is that these air strikes hardly ever involve super-expensive "smart" weapons and there's not a lot of surgical precision involved. I suspect, especially given that this war has dragged on much longer than its planners had anticipated, that the cheaper "dumb" bombs are doing most, if not all, of the work.

I've linked to it before, and I'll link to it again, but this article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists about the weapons used in the first Gulf War is probably a pretty good guide to what's being used in this one:
One little-known fact is that of the 88,500 tons of bombs dropped, only 6,520 tons-7.4 percent-were precision-guided ordnance, according to official Pentagon figures. Most of the weapons used were conventional, and very destructive, bombs and artillery. The military has not provided a breakdown of the weapons used but an air force spokesman has acknowledged that the "full complement of tactical munitions was employed throughout Desert Storm" and that he "wouldn't disagree with" a long list of destructive air-launched ordnance presented to him for confirmation that they were used in the war [including cluster bombs and fuel-air explosives such as the notorious Daisy Cutter].
The article concludes that, contrary to the way the first Gulf War was sold, "This was not a surgical war; it was a slaughter. History may judge high technology the winner, but human beings were certainly the victims."

This is corroborated by Sven Lindqvist's brilliant, disturbing and powerful A History of Bombing:
On the television screen the war looked like a computer game, without blood, without civilian injuries. The image was dominated by cruise missles that sneaked around streetcorners and, with perfect precision, found their military targets. What we saw seemed to be a new kind of war that fulfilled the demands of both humanitarianism and military efficiency--custom-made destruction without messy side effects. It was only afterward that we found out how tightly controlled that propaganda image really was.

In reality it was the same old bombs striking the same old villages. The French general Pierre Gallois, who visited Iraq immediately after the war, reported: "I drove for 2,500 kilometres in my four-wheel-drive and in the villages everything was destroyed. We found bomb fragments dating from 1968, left over from the Vietnam War. This was the same kind of bombing I did half a century ago in World War II."
Really one has to wonder what exactly has changed since the discovery of bombing's not inconsiderable "terror effects." In 1921, a memo from inside the British Air Ministry stated that misrepresenting the true nature of aerial bombardment might be the best thing for all concerned: "It may be thought better, in view of the allegations of the 'barbarity' of air attacks, to preserve appearances by formulating milder rules and by still nominally confining bombardment to targets which are strictly military in nature ... to avoid emphasizing the truth that air warfare has made such restrictions obsolete and impossible."