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May 2, 2004 - It is all a matter of having the right attitude...

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How things are going depends on how you look at things, as it is all a matter of having the right attitude...


Alternate Title: Tinkerbell’s Timex – Clap or she DIES!



Steve Antler posts this comment.  It sums up a lot of what on hears these days:


Persistent media and Democratic war opposition have finally brought forth poll results showing near-Vietnam-levels of opposition to the war in Iraq. 


Yes, there is something in the air that takes one back to the heady days of 1968 and the slow rumble of gathering discomfort with the war at hand.  Then it was Vietnam. 

Steve Antler sees the poles turning 1968-ish.  What pole results is he seeing? 



How much confidence do you have in George W.  Bush's ability to make the right decisions about the ongoing conflict in Iraq -- a lot, some, not much, or none at all? 
28% — A lot
30% — Some
18% — Not much
24% — None at all

In his statements about the war in Iraq, do you think George W.  Bush is telling the entire truth, is mostly telling the truth but is hiding something, or is mostly lying? 
20% — Entire truth
56% — Hiding something
20% — Mostly lying

When it comes to what they knew prior to September 11th, 2001, about possible terrorist attacks against the United States, do you think members of the Bush Administration are telling the truth, are mostly telling the truth but hiding something, or are they mostly lying? 
24% — Telling truth
56% — Hiding something
16% — Mostly lying

Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W.  Bush is handling the situation with Iraq? 
41% — Approve
52% — Disapprove


Things are not going well for the current administration, at least in terms of how folks judge them in these months before the next election. 

This comment from Jesse Taylor argues that perhaps it is NOT the liberal media and Democratic carping that are the real problem:


Other than Ted Kennedy's "quagmire" remark, I'd honestly have to contend that the main reason public opinion on the war is declining is because the situation on the ground is deteriorating.  The old defense/counterargument to the realities of the Iraq war went something like this: "Sure, they blew up a hotel, but at least there was a hotel there to blow up!  And there are 25% more hotels now than there were when Saddam was in power!"

You can't keep putting perfume on shit and then blame everyone else when people actually notice that it's shit.  Nobody's saying that war supporters have to repent in the streets, wailing a threnody for the Iraqi occupation, but it would be nice if the severe problems with the occupation of Iraq could be addressed without blaming them on the people who point out their existence. 

The time for a Tinkerbell democracy in Iraq has long passed, and people, unsurprisingly, are getting tired of clapping. 


As you recall, at the end of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, children are urged to clap to signify their belief in fairies and to bring the expiring Tinkerbell to life.  They have to clap – or Tinkerbell DIES!  It always works (using the term “works” quite loosely) in the play (and in the movie oddly enough) – but I always wondered what would happen if, in some theater somewhere, just to see what happens, the kids all decided not to clap.  Dead silence, if you’ll pardon the pun.  Would the actor or actress playing Tinkerbell then have to improvise a death scene?  What if the kids all just sat on their hands, as a kind of thought-experiment, a kind of existential dramatic trap for the cast?  How would the other characters cobble together an alternative ending?  That really would be interesting. 

Well, no one is clapping as much as they ought, it would seem. 

And it is hard to clap given items like this about our guys:


Last night [April 28, 2004] CBS' 60 Minutes Two aired allegations -supported by numerous photographs and witnesses - that document numerous cases of torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners inside Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. 

Amongst the photographs were pictures of prisoners with wires attached to their genitals, prisoners stacked in a pyramid, prisoners forced to simulate oral sex on others, and prisoners who appear to have been beaten to death. 

The New York Times is now covering this story.  A total of 17 soldiers, including a brigadier general, have been removed from duty as a result, and Court-Martials are in the works for at least six soldiers.  At least one of those charged blames the military for staffing the prison with reservists, not providing them with procedures for running the facility, and not educating them on the proper treatment of prisoners. 

More bad and potentially inflammatory news at a bad time.  The pictures are already circulating out there and other articles are already in the works, so it's a safe bet that the pictures will be broadcast on Arab television very shortly--just like they were on CBS. 

I can't imagine what they were thinking... 


I can. 

But our main guy over there, the one who gives all the daily briefings to the press, General Mark Kimmitt, has said this - "If we can't hold ourselves up as an example of how to treat people with dignity and respect, we can't ask that other nations do that to our soldiers."

Clap here and make it so. 


Phillip Raines, a writer and musician from Atlanta whose work often appears in these pages adds this:


Too bad about the torture.  Must have been some lingering vibe in the room, maybe an evil spirit that infected the interrogator with madness.  Same kind of thing hit Lt. Calley (sp) in Nam, even though he was a boy scout, but maybe he led snipe hunts as kid.  Hard to say really.  Certain bars are known for bar fights.  I don't even want to play in them.  As conquerors in Baghdad there might be the illusion that we can get away with it, what with all the power and weapons backing up our might.  And soldiers with floods of testosterone being released from calisthenics and fight and flight neurohormones rinsing through them.  Enough to make someone lose themselves.  It should have been expected if we went there.  I think it's made things worse.  Makes me feel like a clairvoyant.  So why don't I feel smug?  Naw, just a little sad.   Can we go home now?


Ah, Phillip…


This weekend Seymour Hersh has a piece in the New Yorker that says we’ve been investigating all this since January.  He got his hands on the Army documents, a report that our Army has been working on for some time.


As the international furor grew, senior military officers, and President Bush, insisted that the actions of a few did not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole.


Taguba’s report, however, amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority.


It’s not like we didn’t know.


But the pictures finally go out.  And how do the defenders of the administration deal with that.  They are not saying much, except for this from Jonah Goldberg over at William F. Buckley’s National Review:


Whoever leaked these pictures to the press was not doing anybody any favors.  Since the case was already being handled, the release of these pictures did more harm than good. I don't blame 60 Minutes for running them - though I don't applaud them either.  But a person would/could be morally obligated to leak these pictures if the army was covering it up or refusing to investigate.  It doesn't sound like that was the case.  So releasing the photos isn't prodding the government to do the right thing, it's encouraging millions of Arabs to hate us.  That's not whistle-blowing, that's sabotage.


You see, Phillip, you shouldn’t know we had a problem and were actually working on it.  The dreaded “Arabs” might find out.


Oh yeah, one minor detail here - as a British newspaper adds a detail the domestic press and CBS disregarded, or just missed:


A military report into the Abu Ghraib case - parts of which were made available to the Guardian - makes it clear that private contractors were supervising interrogations in the prison, which was notorious for torture and executions under Saddam Hussein. 

One civilian contractor was accused of raping a young, male prisoner but has not been charged because military law has no jurisdiction over him. 


You see, we are not really responsible for all this nasty stuff.  Sometimes when you outsource labor-intensive work, well, the subcontractor you engage screws up – disappointing, but this is not something we actually did, not something for which our government employees (our armed forces) can really be held responsible.  This simply calls for changing to another subcontractor.  (For a discussion of privatization and mercenaries see April 25, 2004 - Two friends from France comment on privatization and mercenaries... from last weekend’s Just Above Sunset.)

In addition, this from the BBC - CBS News said it delayed the broadcast for two weeks after a request from the Pentagon due to the tensions in Iraq.  I suppose that’s a good thing.  We are generating a lot of mistrust and animosity among the locals at the moment, and adding fuel to the fire with the release of this torture-and-humiliate-the-towelhead-losers report is probably best managed very carefully. 

Well, at least this week we gave Iraq a new flag, designed in London just for them.  That should help matters.  It does seem these folks have the wrong attitude about this too – as some Iraqis are whining that they had no say in whether the original one should be discarded, much less the design of the new one.  Reading The Independent (UK) you get these nuggets:


"This is a new era," said Hamid al-Kafaei, the spokesman for the Iraqi Governing Council yesterday.  "We cannot continue with Saddam's flag."

Apparently, the so-called "coalition" didn't consult anyone.  "So far, we haven't received anything about this from Baghdad," said Igor Novichenko, who is in charge of such matters in the UN's protocol unit. 


Hey, it was a surprise!  Everyone likes surprises, don’t they? 

Well, not everyone – as shown here:


…Dhurgham, a 23-year-old student, said: We cheered Iraqi footballers under that flag for a long time.  I feel it represents me as an Iraqi.  I don't like this new flag.  It does not look Iraqi.  It is more like the Turkish or Israeli flags.  The main reason I don't like it is that it comes from the Americans. 

… What gives these people the right to throw away our flag, to change the symbol of Iraq?  asked Salah, a building contractor of normally moderate political opinions.  It makes me very angry because these people were appointed by the Americans.  I will not regard the new flag as representing me but only traitors and collaborators. 


Bad attitudes here, of course. 

And the article gives more detail of the new flag – and the "contest" to create the thing:


Although the CPA's claims that the new design is from a contest winner, the designer himself revealed that he was unaware of any contest. 

The new flag is the work of an Iraqi artist resident in London called Rifat Chadirji whose design was the best of those considered.  He is also the brother of Nassir al-Chaderchi, the chairman of the IGC committee charged with choosing a new flag for Iraq.  I had no idea about a competition to design the flag.  My brother just called me and asked me to design a flag on behalf of the IGC.  Nobody told me about a competition," Mr Chadirji told The Independent yesterday.



It seems Iraq's original flag was your basic red, green and black, the three colors of Islam.  This color scheme predates the regime of Saddam Hussein but the Arabic text, which says Alu Akbar, or "God is Great", was added by Hussein when he became more serious about his religion.  Doing some research one finds that Iraqis regard the flag as their own rather than Hussein's or the Ba'ath party's, and don't understand why the occupation's representatives, the CPA, discarded it without consulting them.  

And one wonders why we decided this was important.  We wanted the Iraqi people to have a new attitude when June 30 rolls around and they get their official but severely limited new sovereignty?  That’s probably it – symbols matter. 

Anyway new Iraqi flag features two parallel blue stripes along the bottom, to represent the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  The yellow strip in between represents the Kurds.  The blue crescent, symbolic of Islam, is not in Islamic colors of red, black or green. 

And it kind of looks a tad like the Israeli flag.  Oops. 

Well, that’s no surprise. 

We pay the Iraqi National Congress of Ahmed Chalabi 340,000 bucks a month and have for years.  We have spent the last three years pretending Chalabi is to the future Iraq what Charles de Gaul was to the future France in 1944 or so – the legitimate leader in exile.  Yeah, he was sentenced to twenty-two years in prison for bank fraud and cannot set foot in Jordon, Lebanon or Switzerland ever again (details here) – but he’s our guy.  He has his admirers in Washington.  He’s the man to the neoconservative right - who call him brilliant, selfless and courageous.  Senator Joseph Lieberman has called him "a person of strength, principle and real national commitment." His friend Richard Perle, the influential Defense Department adviser who also worked for Conrad Black as the Editor of the Jerusalem Post, loves the guy.  Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith think he’s great.  His nephew is now in charge of the tribunal that will try Saddam Hussein.  His other close relatives have been appointed to head various ministries in the new Iraq – Oil, Finance and such things.  Others of his relatives are getting big no-bid reconstruction contracts – you could look it up.  He’s our guy. 

Yeah, another of his nephews was a plant who gave us false information about non-existent weapons of mass destruction – and this embarrassed Colin Powell no end as he used that very information to tell the UN we were so very sure about all that weapons stuff. 

Chalabi admits this was kind of a scam to get him back to Iraq and back in power, but as he told the press - "As far as we're concerned we've been entirely successful.  That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad.  What was said before is not important."

Oh, right. 

Well, the locals don’t like him much.  He hadn’t set foot in Iraq since 1958 – so they kind of wonder who the hell this guy is.  Hey, he’s our guy. 

And that brings us back to the flag business.  Why does it look so much like the Israeli flag? 

Here is a nugget from Washington Post on Friday, April 4, 2003 that might help explain things.  Richard Perle likes this Chalabi guy –


In public comments last month, Perle suggested that installing Chalabi in power in Baghdad would alleviate any Muslim fears of U.S. imperialist aims.  It would also improve the chances for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Perle said, because "Chalabi and his people have confirmed that they want a real peace process, and that they would recognize the state of Israel."


Ah.  Get it?  The Iraqi’s will get a democracy, but they had better elect Chalabi to run the place, and recognize Israel.  Otherwise, there’ll be hell to pay. 

So they need an attitude adjustment.  The new flag is part of that attitude adjustment. 

It doesn’t seem all this is going well.  We should clap more.  Then Tinkerbell won’t die. 

But it is getting rough – as this shows -


The U.S. military is demanding the return of five howitzers that two Sierra Nevada ski resorts use to prevent avalanches, saying it needs the guns for the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Alpine Meadows and Mammoth Mountain received the artillery pieces on loan from the Army and began using them last year to fire rounds into mountainsides and knock snow loose.


Desperate time require desperate measures?  Clap harder, if only to prevent avalanches. 







Footnote on Tinkerbell and her Timex:


A few weeks ago the Los Angeles Philharmonic did the odd Ninth Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich, conducted by the visiting David Zinman - someone I actually know and who wrote a tune for my jazz group back in the seventies.  Zinman back then conducted the Rochester and Rotterdam philharmonics, then he did the Baltimore, and now he’s music director of the Aspen thing.  His son Paul was my student and the bass player in my jazz group back in the seventies.  Paul wrote us a thing called “Tinkerbell’s Timex” – on a twelve-tone row, in 7/8 - and the maestro wrote us the melody.  It was awful (except for the melody) - think Schoenberg meets Jimi Hendrix meets John Coltrane.  I provided the counterfeit Coltrane on tenor saxophone.  I still have the tape of the concert.  What were we THINKING? 


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