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July 30, 2006 - Getting Surreal

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Friday, July 28, was the birthday of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), who helped introduce cubism and dada to the United States and was prominent in the surrealist movement of the twenties and thirties. It was his kind of day, a tad surreal.

Out here the day opened with news of the arrest of Mel Gibson, the fellow who gave us The Passion of the Christ and along with those Lethal Weapon movies, and Braveheart. At two in the morning, down in Malibu on Pacific Coast Highway, he was driving way too fast and seemed to be drunk at the wheel. He was arrested and then released on five thousand dollars bail. The story is here, if that sort of thing interests you. He has his demons - he imagines violence, pain and redemption all the time. That can drive you to drink. They booked him at the Lost Hills station, appropriately. Later in the day, as day seventeen of the war in southern Lebanon raged, as more died in Baghdad as Iraq disintegrates, as the Pentagon announced we're sending five thousand more troops into the city and one-year tours of duty for soldiers about to leave had been extended for four months and all outgoing flights cancelled, and on the day Prime Minister Blair was in town to meet with President Bush and jointly announce there would be no immediate cease-fire in Lebanon as that would be wrong, the president took a breather and met with contestants from "American Idol" for a photo op. That detail is here, and the item notes someone on the White House staff must have realized this was just too surreal, and barred reporters from the event - no one was going to ask second rate singers from Hollywood what they thought of world events this day. Still photos only - and no questions. This could get out of hand.

And it was a day of things getting even more out of hand, as Hezbollah fired five Iranian-made missiles south of Haifa (details here). This is new, an escalation, as what they had been lobbing in previously didn't have that range. At the same time Israel called up 30,000 reservists (details here). Things are not calming down, and the UN is pulling all its observers from the war zone (details here). Four were taken out by a precision bomb courtesy of the Israeli Air Force, so that might be wise. And this was just after al Qaeda declared holy war against Israel (details here) - so it seems that the Sunni al Qaeda is willing to overlook the fact they don't consider Shiites really Muslims at all, just evil infidels, and will back the Shiite Hezbollah right now, as fighting to destroy Israel is more important than who believes what about Ali, the son of Mohammad. That's a pretty big deal. We're uniting them.

Then the former second man in the State Department, Richard Armitage, who reported to Colin Powell way back when, broke with the neoconservatives and said the systematic bombing of much of Lebanon by Israel was just going to end up "empowering Hezbollah" (details here). Of course the Israelis were saying that the nations who met the previous Sunday in Rome and couldn't agree on a call fro an immediate cease-fire had obviously given Israel the "green light" to bomb anything they liked for as long as they liked (details here)

Now that last one was amusing. The European Union nations were flabbergasted, and even the United States couldn't run with that and had to say something -


The US state department has dismissed as "outrageous" a suggestion by Israel that it has been authorized by the world to continue bombing Lebanon.

"The US is sparing no efforts to bring a durable and lasting end to this conflict," said spokesman Adam Ereli.


There are limits to the surreal. But the day ended with this -


At least five people were shot, one of them fatally, at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, and one person was arrested, authorities said. A witness told a local newspaper that the man said he was a Muslim who was angry at Israel.

That's from the AP wire, posted at Fox News. Fox put the second sentence in red bold. They're like that.

All in all, this particular day was not a particularly good day.

But that depends on your perspective.

In the joint statement and news conference where President Bush and Prime Minister Blair explained everything, and fit it all together in a hopeful pattern, the president explained -

President Bush proudly declared that American foreign policy no longer seeks to "manage calm," and derided policies that let anger and resentment lie "beneath the surface." Bush said that the violence in the Middle East was evidence of a more effective foreign policy that addresses "root causes."


You see calm is a bad thing. It's overrated. That's for wimps and girly-men. Real men address "root causes" and we no longer manage calm. It's just not effective, which is why war is good. It gets down to root causes.

Maybe so. But people don't like it much. Of course this is part and parcel with the much discussed "reverse-domino theory" that Secretary of State Rice seems to be enamored with - Israel takes care of Hezbollah and Hamas will see resistance is futile and folds, and that success will discourage Syria and Iran and they'll see there's no percentage in doing what they're doing. The insurgents in Iraq all give up. The dominos will fall, and this business in southern Lebanon is the first domino. All the "root causes" are addressed, by being removed. The dominos fall. It's a pretty cool theory.

On the other hand, there's this assessment -


This is sheer, abject lunacy of the sort that imagined the invasion of Iraq would lead to city squares in Iraq named after George W. Bush and the invasion would pay for itself out of oil revenues. The only appropriate reaction is to very loudly proclaim this is the reasoning of madmen. No rational human being thinks like this.

… The people who came up with an American foreign policy based on addressing "root causes" and no longer managing calm need straitjackets.


So managing calm - keeping things peaceful, is now no longer our official foreign policy, and to some it seems nuts.

But the president explained it all in detail when he was asked why everything seemed to going so, as they say badly.

That went like this -


QUESTION: Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, with support apparently growing among the Arab population, both Shiite and Sunni, for Hezbollah, by bounds, is there a risk that every day that goes by without a cease-fire will tip this conflict into a wider war?

And, Mr. President, when Secretary Rice goes back to the region, would she have any new instructions, such as meeting with Syrians?

BUSH: Her instructions are to work with Israel and Lebanon to get a - to come up with an acceptable U.N. Security Council resolution that we can table next week.

And, secondly, it's really important for people to understand that the terrorists are trying to stop the advance of freedom. And, therefore, it's essential that we do what's right - not necessarily what appears to be immediately popular.

There's a lot of suffering in Lebanon because Hezbollah attacked Israel. There's a lot of suffering in the Palestinian territory because militant Hamas is trying to stop the advance of democracy. There is suffering in Iraq because terrorists are trying to spread sectarian violence and stop the spread of democracy.

And now is the time for the free world to work to create the conditions so that people everywhere can have hope. And those are the stakes. That's what we face right now. We've got a plan to deal with this immediate crisis.

It's one of the reasons the prime minister came, to talk about that plan. But the stakes are larger than just Lebanon.

Isn't it interesting that when Prime Minister Olmert starts to reach out to President Abbas to develop a Palestinian state, militant Hamas creates the conditions so that, you know, there's a crisis, and then Hezbollah follows up?

Isn't it interesting, as a democracy takes hold in Iraq, that Al Qaeda steps up its efforts to murder and bomb in order to stop the democracy?

And so one of the things that the people in the Middle East must understand is that we're working to create the conditions of hope and opportunity for all of them. And we'll continue to do that. This is the challenge of the 21st century


One quick reaction -


I remember as a child a strange little neighbor girl who was found in her backyard swinging her cat by the tail against the sidewalk screaming "you're gonna love me!"

I'm pretty sure it didn't work.


And this, similarly, isn't working. NBC's Davis Gregory asks about that -


QUESTION: Mr. President, both of you, I'd like to ask you about the big picture that you're discussing.

Mr. President, three years ago, you argued that an invasion of Iraq would create a new stage of Arab-Israeli peace. And yet today there is an Iraqi prime minister who has been sharply critical of Israel.

Arab governments, despite your arguments, who first criticized Hezbollah, have now changed their tune. Now they're sharply critical of Israel.

And despite from both of you warnings to Syria and Iran to back off support from Hezbollah, effectively, Mr. President, your words are being ignored.

So what has happened to America's clout in this region that you've committed yourself to transform?

BUSH: David, it's an interesting period because, instead of having foreign policies based upon trying to create a sense of stability, we have a foreign policy that addresses the root causes of violence and instability.

For a while, American foreign policy was just, Let's hope everything is calm - kind of, managed calm. But beneath the surface brewed a lot of resentment and anger that was manifested on September the 11th.

And so we have, we've taken a foreign policy that says: On the one hand, we will protect ourselves from further attack in the short run by being aggressive in chasing down the killers and bringing them to justice.

And make no mistake: They're still out there, and they would like to harm our respective peoples because of what we stand for.

In the long term, to defeat this ideology - and they're bound by an ideology - you defeat it with a more hopeful ideology called freedom.

And, look, I fully understand some people don't believe it's possible for freedom and democracy to overcome this ideology of hatred. I understand that. I just happen to believe it is possible.

And I believe it will happen.

And so what you're seeing is, you know, a clash of governing styles.

For example, you know, the notion of democracy beginning to emerge scares the ideologues, the totalitarians, those who want to impose their vision. It just frightens them.

And so they respond. They've always been violent.

You know, I hear this amazing kind of editorial thought that says, all of a sudden, Hezbollah's become violent because we're promoting democracy. They have been violent for a long period of time. Or Hamas?

One reason why the Palestinians still suffer is because there are militants who refuse to accept a Palestinian state based upon democratic principles.

And so what the world is seeing is a desire by this country and our allies to defeat the ideology of hate with an ideology that has worked and that brings hope.

And one of the challenges, of course, is to convince people that Muslims would like to be free, you know, that there's other people other than people in Britain and America that would like to be free in the world.

There's this kind of almost - you know, kind of a weird kind of elitism that says well maybe - maybe certain people in certain parts of the world shouldn't be free; maybe it's best just to let them sit in these tyrannical societies.

And our foreign policy rejects that concept. We don't accept it. And so we're working.


This is so loony one doesn't know where to begin.

Andrew Sullivan makes a stab here -


The president's press conference with Blair today struck me as revealing - and not in a good way. Bush is right on the basic issue. He grasps the nature of the enemy. But he is so out of his depth - rhetorically, strategically, politically, intellectually - that it is hard to have much confidence in his leadership. This is one reason why I couldn't endorse him for a second term. He is an incompetent. He is too incompetent to lead the West at this time. He is simply without the skills to navigate the very treacherous waters we are all now in. He is being outmaneuvered at every turn by wily enemies who are becoming more dangerous and emboldened by the day.

Bush, in a word, is overwhelmed. He has no idea what to do except return to the catechism of freedom versus terror, like an ideological security blanket. Of course that it what this is about. The trouble is: freedom is being defended by the incompetent and the clueless. In Bush's blank, bewildered eyes, you see the image of someone who is finally beginning to see reality. And it's something with which he simply cannot cope. Our enemies, moreover, see the weakness in the president and they are ruthlessly exploiting it. And we have more than two years left to survive.


Okay, look at the video and see if you agree. Josh Marshall has and says this -


We know the president isn't very articulate in news conference settings. But national leaders don't have to be articulate to be good leaders. In fact there have been a number very good ones who could scarcely speak coherently for thirty seconds.

But if you watch this passage I think you see something different. Namely, that pretty much everything that's happened over the last three years, and certainly over the last three months has just gone in one presidential ear and out the other. He is, in both the deepest and most superficial sense, out of it.


Elsewhere he says - "This is the Bush administration's apocalypse. We are, to borrow the phrase, just living in it." How nice.

And other people are living in it too, and not much liking it. One of our big projects in the Middle East was Lebanon. We maneuvered to get the Syrians out. We praised their election and new government - the "Cedar Revolution" and all that. Yes, Hezbollah has more than few seats in their parliament, but they were elected to them, and they hold a few ministries, but not key ministries. In a democracy everyone gets a say. This was a success, and the economy was booming, before Israel got ticked and bombed all the new infrastructure. But they understand, don’t they? They will rise up toss out the Hezbollah bums, who have ruined everything for them. That's a key event in the "reverse-domino" theory. Hezbollah has cooked its own goose.

Not according to this, a poll released by the Beirut Center for Research and Information. Eighty-seven percent of the Lebanese support Hezbollah's fight with Israel, up twenty-nine percent from the last pool in February. As for those who are not Shiite folk, eighty percent of Christians polled supported Hezbollah as do eighty percent of the Druze and eighty-nine percent of Sunnis. Oops. It seems the Lebanese no longer blame Hezbollah for setting off the war by kidnapping those Israeli soldiers, but blame Israel and the US instead.

Now eight percent of Lebanese feel the US supports Lebanon, down from thirty-eight percent in January, and you get stuff like this -


"This support for Hezbollah is by default. It's due to US and Israeli actions," says Saad-Ghorayeb, whose father, Abdo, conducted the poll.

… If Israel establishes an occupation zone along the border to police the area, Hezbollah will likely continue fighting, unhindered by a weakened Lebanese government and backed by a radicalized Shiite community. That growing radicalization is palpable in this laid-back coastal town where support for Hezbollah traditionally has been arbitrary.

Ghassan Farran, a doctor and head of a local cultural organization, gazes in disbelief at the pile of smoking ruins which was once his home. Minutes earlier, an Israeli jet dropped two guided missiles into the six-story apartment block in the centre of Tyre.

"Look what America gives us, bombs and missiles," says this educated, middle-class professional. "I was never a political person and never with Hezbollah but now after this I am with Hezbollah."


The Washington Post reports the concept - "In the long term, the United States and Israel hope that Hezbollah is discredited or marginalized politically, too."

How "long term" are we talking here? And just who is winning?

See Christopher Dickey in Newsweek here -


The bottom line: Hezbollah is winning. That's the hideous truth about the direction this war is taking, not in spite of the way the Israelis have waged their counterattack, but precisely because of it. As my source Mr. Frankly put it, "Hezbollah is eating their lunch."

We're talking about a militia - a small guerrilla army of a few thousand fighters, in fact - that plays all the dirty games that guerrillas always play. It blends in with the local population. It draws fire against innocents. But it's also fighting like hell against an Israeli military machine that is supposed to be world class. And despite the onslaught of the much-vaunted Tsahal, Hizbullah continues to pepper Israel itself with hundreds of rockets a day.

The United States, following Israel's lead, does not want an immediate ceasefire precisely because that would hand Hezbollah a classic guerrilla-style victory: it started this fight against a much greater military force - and it's still standing. In the context of a region where vast Arab armies have been defeated in days, for a militia to hold out one week, two weeks and more, is seen as heroic. Hezbollah is the aggressor, the underdog and the noble survivor, all at once. "It's that deadly combination of the expectation game, which Hezbollah have won, and the victim game, which they've also won," as my straight-talking friend put it.

… When I heard Condi talking in pitiless academic pieties today about "strong and robust" mandates and "dedicated and urgent action," I actually felt sorry for her, for our government, and for Israel. As in Iraq three years ago, the administration has been blinded to the political realities by shock-and-awe military firepower. Clinging to its faith in precision-guided munitions and cluster bombs, it has decided to let Lebanon bleed, as if that's the way to build the future for peace and democracy.


Or as Digby puts it -


I've long speculated that one of the biggest miscalculations of the war in Iraq was exploding the American mystique of military and intelligence superiority.

… But at least America had decades of post war success to draw upon and diplomatic and economic clout to employ even as it degraded its reputation in all those areas. Israel, on the other hand, is entirely dependent upon its military superiority and this ill-fated overreaction in Lebanon is exploding that image.

… I'm not sure I really get why the US and Israel haven't yet come to terms with the fact that this fourth generation war cannot be won with classic military action. I suspect it is the neocon influence which, throughout many decades, never gave a passing thought to terrorism or asymmetrical warfare. They have been stuck in a cold war mindset (a mindset that was wrong about the cold war too) and have consistently seen the world through the prism of rogue totalitarian states. This is why, in spite of the fact that everything is going to hell in a handbasket in a hundred different ways, they persist in focusing on Iran (formerly Iraq) and ignoring all the moving parts that make their aggressive plans to "confront" these regimes simpleminded and doomed to failure.

For Israel and the US it couldn't be worse. They have systematically chipped away at any moral authority they had while demonstrating that their military, diplomatic and economic power are paper tigers. What an excellent strategy for all concerned. Oh, and too bad about all the dead bodies that have been produced to create that sad outcome.


It really is a bit surreal.

Michael Hirsch captures just how surreal in Newsweek here -


The Bush administration has fought the "war on terror" [with] one lunatic leap of logic after another based on unreliable sources, linking up enemies that had little to do with each other.

… The president has used Al Qaeda to gin up the threat from Iraq, just as he is now conflating Hezbollah and Hamas with Al Qaeda as "terrorists" of the same ilk.

… What's sad is that the "war on terror" began as a fairly straightforward affair. Al Qaeda hit us. Then we went after Al Qaeda. We had a lot of support around the world in pursuit of our mission to hunt these men down, kill them or capture them and do with them as we pleased.

But inexorably, month by month, the Bush administration broadened the war on terror to include ever more peoples and countries, especially Saddam's Iraq, relying on thinner and thinner evidence to do so. And what began as a hunt for a relatively contained group of self-declared murderers like bin Laden became a feckless dragnet of tens of thousands of hapless Arab victims.

… Today, more from the muddled strategic thinking of the Bush administration than the actual threat from Al Qaeda, the 'war on terror' has become an Orwellian nightmare: an ill-defined war without prospect of end. We are now nearly five years into a war against a group that was said to contain no more then 500 to 1,000 terrorists at the start. … The war just grows and grows. And now Lebanon, too, is part of it.

Everyone will soon be part of it. The man doesn't use logic. He trusts his gut instincts. And those who advise him know military power is the only tool to use in this world.

How did it come to this, the world in flames and we're being told it's a good thing? And don't look at the details. Happy birthday to the surrealist.


Marcel Duchamp - Sad Young Man in a Train

Marcel Duchamp - Sad Young Man in a Train

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik

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