Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

Just Getting Along

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

Undermining Valentines Day

Some Valentines Day - the big event was the president offering us his first press conference since just before Christmas.

Perhaps he was just in a bad mood -

    The deteriorating marriage of George and Laura Bush has reached crisis level - First Lady Laura Bush has secretly hired a divorce lawyer, The Examiner can reveal.

    … She remembers what happened to Sharon Bush when she was getting a divorce from George's brother Neil. She didn't get the settlement she deserved until she threatened to expose all the family secrets in a tell-all book.

    ... "It's over," says the source. "The minute George's term of office expires, so will their marriage."

    - The National Examiner

So we face another war, unless, upstairs at the White House, things get smoothed over. After all, the headline of the day read like this - Bush: Iran Is Source Of Deadly Weapons.  The lead sentence was this - "Challenged on the accuracy of US intelligence, President Bush said Wednesday there is no doubt the Iranian government is providing armor-piercing weapons to kill American soldiers in Iraq. But he backed away from claims the top echelon of Iran's government was responsible."

He said he was sure the Iranian government was waging war against us already, but he couldn't prove it.  He just knew it.  It's a faith-based thing.

He's not asking for a declaration of war or anything, but war may be necessary to protect our troops.  And, after all, it wouldn't be a "war" war - just something to get the Iranians to stop sending in munitions, thus part of what was already going on, if you look at it the right way, or something. He just can't say the top folks in Iran were behind this, as the military briefer guys had said was certain the Saturday before, and as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs had said wasn't certain at all a day or two later.  So, in short, the president knows it is so, but doesn't have the proof, and argues that it doesn't matter - he has to protect our troops.  The press was unusually skeptical, or perhaps just confused. That might be the idea.

But the president made it clear that no one can stop him.  Bombing then invading then occupying Iran might look like a new war - but when he does that it will really be just an effort to help out with the previously authorized war in Iraq. 

It's a neat trick, a matter of semantics - it all depends on what the definition of "war" is.  As he said - "Does this mean you're trying to have a pretext for war? No. It means I'm trying to protect our troops."

Congress can debate the nature of language.  They need something to do.  (And the president should work on his pronoun agreement.)

Here, Spencer Ackerman gets into the real details of the problem - the various possibilities for how and why Iranian explosives have been found in Iraq -

    Any number of alternative explanations are possible: renegade Qods Forces could be trying to make money on the lucrative Iraqi black market for weapons. Iran could simply be arming its Shiite proxies in the civil war as opposed to seeking attacks on U.S. forces. And those proxies could in turn be unloading some of the weapons on the very active black market. (Remember, some of them were discovered in December at a compound belonging to U.S. "partner" SCIRI.) An element of the Qods Forces could be attempting to attack U.S. forces without the knowledge of their leadership. And so on. These are contending theories that require additional information to be compelling. And there should be some explanation of why most of the deaths of U.S. forces from these IEDs are coming from Sunni insurgents who are opposed to the people Iran supports - a fact that some believe points to the black market.

Kevin Drum carries that forward -

    This last point seems like the most important one to me. It's certainly possible that the radical Shiite mullahs of Iran are supplying weapons to the radical Sunni insurgents of Iraq, but it's unlikely enough that, at the very least, it should raise some healthy skepticism about the whole story. The Iranian leadership might eventually turn out to be up to its ears in this - though even Bush is unwilling to flatly say so at the moment - but so far the evidence is thin. Wait and see.

The administration doesn't do waiting well, and that's the problem.  In matters of geopolitics, were talking severe ADD here.  What was offered by the president was not a reassuring message.

And the House was working up to the vote Friday on a nonbinding resolution opposing Bush's decision to "surge" - sending those 21,500 additional troops into the mix.

The president actuality covered other matters, by the way -

    The agreement announced Tuesday to shut down North Korea's nuclear program in exchange for fuel assistance was "a good first step." He said he strongly disagreed with former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton that it was a bad deal.

    He will not comment on the 2008 presidential race. "I will resist all temptation to become the pundit-in-chief."

    He will not comment on whether he authorized members of his administration to leak the identity of Valerie Plame, a one-time CIA officer whose husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, criticized the administration's case for the Iraq war. Similarly, Bush refused to say whether he might pardon I. Lewis "Scooter Libby, the former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby is on trial on charges of lying and obstructing the investigation into the Plame's identity.

But no one cared much, as, within hours, a few more Republicans started to abandon ship - "Breaking ranks, a small band of House Republicans declared their opposition to a troop buildup in Iraq on Wednesday, and President Bush appeared resigned to passage of a nonbinding measure disapproving of his decision."

Why should he care?

And the surge was getting started anyway - "Thousands of U.S. troops swept house-to-house through mostly Shiite areas virtually unopposed Wednesday in the opening phase of the long-awaited Baghdad security crackdown. But four U.S. soldiers were killed outside of the capital in an area not covered by the operation."

The Iraqi troops stood back and watched. Why should they care?

Maybe it was time to step back and rethink all this. And Jane Smiley did just that, taking the long view.

Her piece was refreshing - on the absurdity of nearly everything Bush, Cheney, Feith, Kristol, Wolfowitz, Bolton, and the whole crew represents.  The absurdity, she claims, is now apparent to almost everyone else, just not to them.

The ides is that the end is nigh (sort of).

Consider her numbered points -

    1. Modern war is pointless. Since the end of the Second World War, the US has put a lot of its economic eggs in the war machine basket, and bet on the idea that wars can be fought with more and more sophisticated technology. The basic principle of this technology is that of the gun - I can stand farther and farther away from you, but kill you anyway with some sort of explosion (bomb, rocket attack, nuclear weapon, maybe some sort of star wars rain of death from space if only the American taxpayer will pay for it). The attack on Iraq was premised on this idea - Shock and Awe. The first plan the Pentagon geniuses came up with was to intimidate the Iraqis into submission by demonstrating our invincible might, kind of like a huge fireworks display in which only very narrowly targeted, and deserving, victims would be killed - presumably the bombs would serve as judge, jury, and executioner only for resolute followers of Saddam, and if we could label other victims as "collateral damage" we could get away with the inevitable mistakes. What the geniuses were aiming for was some sort of veneration by the Iraqis, as if the US were God-like in its power. But the Pentagon could not pull off the plan because technological war is by nature vast and messy. Technological war could not help killing, wounding, and alienating civilians, missing the well-protected ruling class and Saddam himself, and being the first demonstration for the Iraqis and the rest of the world, of who the Americans were - heartless, careless, murderous, robotic aliens intent on interfering in a country that was not generally agreed to be the Americans' business, no matter what the Americans themselves asserted. Shock and Awe did not work. The natural plan B of modern war is more modern war - more death, more injuries, more devastation. But we were supposed to be the Iraqis' friends, and so -

She may be onto something, considering the ground war that followed -

    … from the beginning, American soldiers might as well have been wearing signs on their backs saying "shoot me." In their desert camo uniforms, boots, and helmets with goggles, carrying all sorts of equipment, including weapons, of course, and driving in armored, but not sufficiently armored, vehicles, everything about their appearance showed that they did not fit into the local culture; every aspect of their appearance suggested to the local culture that they were alien. The geniuses at the Pentagon would have said, probably, that the army needs to retain its identity as a "fighting force", but that identity only served to focus the concentration of the Iraqi resisters more and more on resistance. Soldiers who were so markedly different from the local culture would have had to do everything perfectly in order to avoid arousing hostility, and we know that they didn't. They acted as the geniuses at the Pentagon ordered them to act - aggressively. Even apart from war crimes and other crimes that the American soldiers committed, their demeanor has been warlike, which is not perceived by the occupied populace as reassuring or secure, but as frightening and dangerous.

And then there were those contractors -

    At the same time, the US has several different "armies" in Iraq - the regular US army and the mercenaries run by Blackwater and Halliburton. The geniuses at the Pentagon who thought of "outsourcing" military operations for fun and profit didn't reckon with how the subject population would experience whole different sets of Americans doing lots of different and contradictory things, creating chaos and sowing more and more fear. What do people do when those who claim superiority over them don't act in a morally superior way and then show vulnerability? They attack. It's human nature. Iraq may be a multi-front civil war between groups with old enmities, but one thing they have shown themselves (and said themselves) to agree on is that the Americans ought to be attacked.

Why does this seem so obvious now, when it didn't before?  Almost everyone seems, at one time a few years ago, to have been in the "we have to be aggressive and show the world that's we wont take crap" frame of mind.  What were we thinking?

But the next point is devastating -

    2. The "free market" is actually just colonialism by another name. What is the mantra of the "free market?" It is "buy low, sell high." It aims at all times to externalize costs and keep the profits. In the "free market', there is always a sucker. Taxpayer, go look in the mirror! We can thank Bush and Cheney for demonstrating in a kind of absolute way the selfish inhumanity of that model of human existence. We know for a fact, no matter what the PR of the Bush administration says, that Cheney wanted to secure the Iraqi oil fields for the use of western corporations, with the possible byproduct of enabling American car buyers to keep buying SUVs and pickup trucks with impunity. He would externalize the costs of securing the oil fields by charging it to the American taxpayer in a multitude of different ways - stealing from us through the Pentagon, Halliburton, KBR. Even if Bremer and his bosses hadn't actually looted the accounts, the war itself would have been stealing, but Cheney and his gang piled stealing upon stealing. "Waste and fraud" are the mildest and kindest terms for how they have taken us to the cleaners. But what they stole from us is chickenfeed compared to what they planned to steal form the Iraqis, through securing the oil but keeping the profits for American companies.

This view may, in fact, be seeping into whatever passes for the national consciousness.  The evidence that this is so is becoming overwhelming.

But then comes the killer -

    3. White men are nothing special. Those of us who marvel at the unprecedented stupidity and arrogance of the Iraq war often wonder what it is that sets Bush and Cheney and Libby and Feith and Wolfowitz and Kristol etc apart from the rest of humanity. How is it that they arrogate to themselves the right to visit such destruction on Iraq, and then Iran? Clearly, the Christian religious impulse accounts for part of it, in some of these people, and Zionist fear accounts for part of it in others. But the biggest lesson we see when we watch them walk and talk is that just being white men is enough for them. In fact, it is the basic long term premise of conservatism as we know it that white men of power ought to do and can do whatever they feel like because they are white men of power. If there were anything special about Bush, Cheney, and the others - if they were talented or handsome or articulate or had charisma or were wise or extra moral, those qualities would confuse the issue. It is because Bush and his pals are so entirely and unrepentently ordinary (although white and well-connected) that we can clearly see that they don't deserve and have never deserved the power that they claim. Having nothing else, only power, to solve their existential dilemma, they try to use it and fail to achieve any results.

To be fair, she later adds a caveat -

    As an independent-minded woman, of course, I naturally prefer secular western civilization, but the Iraq war has failed to demonstrate the superiority of western civilization, and has in fact done just the opposite - it has demonstrated all the bad things about western civilization, beginning with its willingness to accept "collateral damage" to other people when its convenience (driving, selling cars, retooling factories) is endangered by their personal and property rights.

But then she adds some real venom, the venom of deep resentment regarding the underpinnings of it all -

    One of the powers of secular western civilization used to be its allure; what Bush and Cheney have done to our country as well has to Iraq has tainted that allure, perhaps fatally. Do the Russians want to be like us? The Chinese? The Canadians? Anyone? Perhaps there would eventually have been a natural balancing around the world of what various nations and peoples aspired to, but Bush and Cheney and the American war machine have accelerated that rebalancing in a very dangerous way, one that threatens the secular and reasonable fabric of western civilization. The very best thing about the separation of church and state is that all religions know that they have a place, but only a place, among others. This is practical. Since it is in the nature of religions to claim ever more power and to back up their claims with shootings, bombs, violence, and war, then the separation of church and state is our only hope. Bush and Cheney have put this already-resolved question back into play for their own purposes, taking away yet another reason for anyone in the world to accept the superiority of western civilization.

Oh well. Her final point is that the end of the world as we knew it was inevitable -

    In the future, and not so far in the future, the idea that burning fossil fuels would alter the atmosphere in unpredictable and probably dangerous ways, along with the idea that eating chemicals in our food might harm us, and the idea that the effect of antibiotics would be to engender populations of antibiotic-resistant bacteria will be seen as no-brainers. The foot-dragging and resistance on the part of our ruling class to accepting these ideas will be seen as yet another example of raw human idiocy, on the level of using all your manpower to raise one last Easter Island head before everyone dies in the attempt. As a child of the fifties, I was taught to revere the fruits of American know-how - refrigerators, automobiles, superhighways, atom bombs, air conditioners, pesticides, television. We all lived in a bubble of self-congratulation that promised a technological solution to every dilemma -even to things that were manufactured dilemmas…

    It is now clear that capitalism plus ingenuity plus materialism does not add up to "wealth creation", but to wealth transfer - what was once sitting in the ground, for example, becomes something else because capitalists want to make money off it, whether or not it is safe, necessary, or desirable. It is also abundantly clear that the side-effects of all this wealth creation are not always happy or pleasant, mostly because greed trumps care every time. If one in 166 of our children is autistic, if more than a quarter of the population is obese, if cancer is on the rise, if the variety of the ecosystem is diminishing by the day, if parts of the ocean are filled with plastic bags and other parts of the ocean are dead, if Earth's orbit is filled with junk, if we have to go to war in order to profit the military industrial complex, who did that?

You have three guesses. 

This is one unhappy woman. It's too bad what she says rings oddly true.

On the other hand, perhaps these are the wrong excerpts for the item.  Click on the link and decide.

But then again, we may not have to have a third major war, in Iran.  There's a new idea floating around the right-side publications, where the administration's ideas first appear. It is now being discussed far and wide.  Glenn Reynolds has the short version -

    We should be responding quietly, killing radical mullahs and Iranian atomic scientists... Basically, stepping on the Iranians' toes hard enough to make them reconsider their not-so-covert war against us in Iraq.

    ... too be clear, I think it's perfectly fine to kill people who are working on atomic bombs for countries - like Iran - that have already said that they want to use those bombs against America and its allies, and I think that those who feel otherwise are idiots, and in absolutely no position to strike moral poses.

Some would call this plan of action something like… terrorism. But the idea is that this would be "wet work" for a greater good, and we need to be morally responsible, after all. If some Middle Eastern types snuck into this country and started bumping off the PhD's at Los Alamos, and blowing up the car Rush Limbaugh or James Dobson or Pat Robertson was taking to work, well, that really would be terrorism.  This would be different, somehow. You work out that difference if you'd like.

It may be underway, or at least under consideration. If the National Examiner is right about Laura Bush, it very well could be.

And all of the above meant it wasn't a very good Valentines Day for anyone.

This item posted - in its final version - February 18, 2007

[Just Getting Along]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik