Monday, December 29, 2008

Bold, transformational leadership

Israel's war on the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated  and impoverished areas in the world, has now killed almost 350 Palestinians (and probably more by the time you read this):
Israel bombs Gaza in 'all-out war' on Hamas
GAZA CITY (AFP) — Warplanes pounded Gaza for a third day on Monday as tanks stood by to join the "all-out" war Israel vowed would wipe out Hamas, as the death toll rose to 345 and militants responded with deadly rocket fire.
Israel made it clear the offensive was just beginning, even as UN chief Ban Ki-moon called on world leaders to work urgently to end the "unacceptable" violence.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who has threatened to launch ground incursions alongside the aerial blitz, said Israel is in "an all-out war with Hamas and its proxies."
Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon said the goal of the Israeli offensive "is topple Hamas."
With Israeli tanks idling just metres (yards) away from Gaza, the army decreed the area along the border a closed military zone -- a move that in the past has often been followed by ground operations.
"After this operation there will not be a single Hamas building left standing in Gaza, and we plan to change the rules of the game," said armed forces deputy chief of staff Brigadier General Dan Harel, quoted by the YNet News website.
"We are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas government and all its wings," Harel said.
Meanwhile, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, elected on a mantra of change, is signaling that there is little hope his administration will give serious thought to reconsidering the U.S. government's reflexive, unflinching support for whatever brutal, short-sighted and counterproductive policies the state of Israel pursues:
Obama Defers to Bush, for Now, on Gaza Crisis

WASHINGTON — When President-elect Barack Obama went to Israel in July — to the very town, in fact, whose repeated shelling culminated in this weekend’s new fighting in Gaza — he all but endorsed the punishing Israeli attacks now unfolding.

“If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,” he told reporters in Sderot, a small city on the edge of Gaza that has been hit repeatedly by rocket fire. “And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

Now, Mr. Obama’s presidency will begin facing the consequences of just such a counterattack, one of Israel’s deadliest against Palestinians in decades, presenting him with yet another foreign crisis to deal with the moment he steps into the White House on Jan. 20, even as he and his advisers have struggled mightily to focus on the country’s economic problems.

Since his election, Mr. Obama has said little specific about his foreign policy — in contrast to more expansive remarks about the economy. He and his advisers have deferred questions — critics could say, ducked them — by saying that until Jan. 20, only President Bush would speak for the nation as president and commander in chief. “The fact is that there is only one president at a time,” David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, reiterating a phrase that has become a mantra of the transition. “And that president now is George Bush.”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Israel's war on Gaza (and international law)

On NBC/General Electric's "Meet the Press" this morning, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was asked by host David Gregory to explain why Israel chose this moment to launch a full-scale assault on the open-air prison known as the Gaza Strip  -- an assault that has (so far) killed more than 300 people in under two days, including a significant number of women and children, dwarfing by a factor of more than 10 the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian rocket fire in total. Her response?
MS. LIVNI: Oh, why now? Because after Israel decided to leave Gaza Strip a few years ago and we got Hamas in return. About a half a year ago, according to the Egyptian Initiative, we decided to enter a kind of a truce and not to attack Gaza Strip. Hamas violated, on a daily basis, this truce. They targeted Israel, and we didn't answer. But unfortunately, Hamas misunderstood the fact that Israel didn't retaliate, and only last week we had in a day 80 rockets, missiles, mortars on Israeli civilians. More than that, they used the field of truce in order to rearm themselves. They smuggled weapon, they built a small army in Gaza Strip, so the situation was unbearable.
The idea that Israel "didn't answer" and "didn't retaliate" to rocket fire from Gaza would be news to the Palestinians suffering under the Israeli-imposed blockade, which bars both fuel shipments and much-needed humanitarian aid to Gaza. 

As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay notes, the blockade has certainly made the situation in Gaza unbearable for those unfortunate enough to live there, having "forcibly deprived" 1.5 million Palestinian men, women and children "of their most basic human rights . . . in direct contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law." 

The UN has also documented numerous violations of the erstwhile cease-fire by Israel, including IDF soldiers firing at Palestinian farmers who had the temerity to farm their own land. That notoriously radical news service, the BBC, also reported that the cease-fire had been "violated repeatedly" by both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Naturally, being a well-prepared and unbiased journalist, Mr. Gregory cited this widely available information in his followup question, calling Ms. Livni on her blatant attempt to rewrite history:
MR. GREGORY: What is Israel's goal right now? Is it to re-establish the cease-fire, or is it to invade Gaza and remove Hamas from power?
Oh well. At least GE/NBC, being a respectable mainstream news outlet dedicated to balanced and objective journalism, brought on another guest as a counterpoint to the Israeli government who pointed out that the attack on Gaza is tantamount to even more collective punishment -- a war crime -- destined to fuel evermore violence and extremism:
MR. GREGORY: Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, thank you very much for your time.

Ms. LIVNI: Thank you.

MR. GREGORY: And turning back home, we are now joined from Chicago by senior adviser to President-elect Obama, David Axelrod. Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
I guess no critics of Israeli actions, or persons familiar with recent history, could be found on such short notice. Funny how the same thing happened in 2006 when Israel attacked Lebanon, killing over 1,000 innocent civilians in response to the kidnappings of a couple soldiers. It's almost like there's a pattern . . .

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

John Warner: Great Senator, or Greatest Senator?

When a prominent U.S. politician either dies or retires, the press and his or her fellow lawmakers can be expected to fall over themselves to praise their dignity, their devotion to country over party, etc. (see: Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, et al.) no matter how corrupt or immoral they actually were.

The latest beneficiary of bipartisan hosannas is retiring Senator John Warner, a Republican from Virginia who did his best to gloss over the Bush administration's responsibility for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq and helped shepherd the Military Commissions Act of 2006 through Congress -- the bill that abolished habeas corpus for those accused of acts of terrorism and retroactively legalized torture.  And when I last spoke to Warner in the summer of 2006, amid rampant bloodshed in Iraq, what issue was the respected senator focused on? Pushing a constitutional amendment to ban the national epidemic of flag burning, which he told me was necessary in order to honor our nation's veterans (which, via his support of the Iraq war, he was ensuring there would be many more of).

Of course, these details -- you know, actual facts about Warner's record -- seem not to matter to his colleagues in the U.S. Senate, including his fellow Virginia Senator, Democrat Jim Webb, who offers this howler:
"There is not a person who is wearing the military uniform today who has not benefited from the wisdom and judgment of John Warner."
Yeah . . . except maybe all those wearing military uniforms who are being bombed and shot at in the quagmires that are Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now, I'm not entirely naive -- I realize politicians spout b.s. about "my good friend" this and "my esteemed colleague" that all the time. Nonetheless, it's a bit disconcerting to see Webb -- an opponent of the Iraq war whose son is currently deployed in that country, and who certainly knows better -- gloss over Warner's outspoken support for a war of aggression that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, but so it goes.

More amusing, however, is what Warner believes is wrong with the Republican Party today (hint: it's not the Party's support for "preemptive" war and crony capitalism):
Warner thinks the Republican Party in Virginia, which he helped build, is substituting rigidity for independent thinking.

"I would have to say that I'm deeply concerned, indeed sad, about the Republican Party of Virginia," he said.

A year ago, when he knew he was not going to seek re-election, Warner said he donated $2,000 to the Republican Party of Virginia to help defray the costs of a luncheon and straw poll at the party's annual Advance in Arlington.

"Guess who they elected? Ron Paul. That was the worst investment of several thousand dollars I ever made."
If the problem with the Republican Party, as Warner posits, is that it is "substituting rigidity for independent thinking," why, prey tell, is he bemoaning the fact that the only Republican presidential candidate who dared to challenge his party on its support for endless war and corporatism -- and the only one to challenge the consensus during the primaries that the economy was fine and dandy -- won a local straw poll? Say what you will about Ron Paul (who I interviewed here and here), but he was clearly the only Republican candidate who had any semblance of "independent thinking", for which he was pilloried by the Party establishment. 

Methinks John Warner's opposition to "rigidity" and support for "independent thinking" just may be nothing more than meaningless claptrap self-styled mavericks like he and John McCain are expected to utter for the media's consumption. Admitting the Republican Party lost the '06 and '08 elections because of the policies he himself pushed -- imperialism abroad and corporatism at home -- would probably be too much for the senior senator from Virginia. 

It sure must be comforting for Warner to blame the Party's woes on poor old Ron Paul. Too bad it isn't true.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Doubling down

In addition to Obama Defense Secretary Robert Gates' suggestion that the president-elect would be fine with maintaining  40,000-plus troops in Iraq "for decades" (to say nothing of the private contractors), military commanders are now declaring that the erstwhile peace candidate will double the U.S. presence in that other quagmire, Afghanistan:
Dec. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. seeks to send an additional 20,000 to 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in the first half of next year.

“Some 20,000 to 30,000 is the window of overall increase from where we are right now. I don’t have an exact number,” Mullen said at a press conference in Kabul today. “We’re looking to get them here in the spring, but certainly by the beginning of summer at the latest.”
With prominent gay marriage opponent -- and assassination proponent -- Rick Warren conducting the "invocation" at the president-elect's inauguration, one could be forgiven for thinking John McCain won last month's election. 

(The modern practice, beginning with FDR, of having religious leaders conduct an inaugural invocation is disturbing in of itself, at least to those who question the desirability of selling statism -- and the view of head-of-state as quasi-deity -- as the secular religion.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

"I bring from President-elect Obama a message of continuity"

Unlike hope or change, "continuity" is a term that doesn't lend itself to campaign stump speeches or glossy merchandise, so it's understandable that Barack Obama did not overly emphasize the concept in his race against John McCain, whose own dedication to continuity in foreign policy earned him the derogatory nickname "McSame."

But in laying out a national security team heavy on hawkish Iraq war supporters -- like "humanitarian interventionists" Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, and Bush's defense secretary, Robert Gates -- the notion that Obama would usher in a new era of peaceful U.S. relations with the world markedly different from the last eight years is becoming less tenable to maintain each day (not that a candidate who backed unilaterally invading Pakistan and "surging" in Afghanistan ever should have been viewed as an anti-war/peace candidate by his supporters or detractors).

And now that the heated denunciations of Obama as a neo-McGovernite bent on destroying Israel are subsiding, even The New York Times is noting how Obama's administration is likely to provide little more than an attractive veneer to the policies of George W. Bush, as suggested by Obama's future defense secretary during a recent trip overseas:
Mr. Gates's four-day trip was an indication that Mr. Obama would be continuing much of the Bush administration's latest policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, at least for now: reducing American troops slowly in Iraq but adding some 20,000 next year in Afghanistan.
Mr. Gates, who said he had had discussions with Mr. Obama about both wars, also signaled that Mr. Obama would take a forceful line against Iran.

"The president-elect and his team are under no illusions about Iran's behavior and what Iran has been doing in the region and apparently is doing with some weapons programs," Mr. Gates said Saturday at a regional security conference in Manama, Bahrain, where he stopped between visits to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Mr. Gates is also a proponent of continuity in national security, a view he underscored to the leaders of the Persian Gulf nations assembled in Manama. "I bring from President-elect Obama a message of continuity and commitment to our friends in the region," he told them.
Though loyal Democratic enthusiasts such as Spencer Ackerman have portrayed Obama's decision to keep on Gates as evidence that the latter has "signed on to Obama's agenda" -- which, according to Ackerman, includes such allegedly "progressive goals for the Middle East like 'responsibly ending the war in Iraq,' 'preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to Iran… [and] seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.'" -- it appears more likely that Obama's agenda is not, in fact, all that different from the second term of the Bush administration.

(I would also question whether "responsibly ending the war in Iraq" -- i.e., keeping tens of thousands of troops there indefinitely -- should qualify as a "progressive" goal. I'd also question whether mere rhetoric should qualify as an "agenda" . . .)

Meanwhile, Gates' comments concerning Iran's worrisome "weapons programs" signals Obama is likely to continue the Bush administration's policy of ignoring factual evidence in favor of politically convenient fear mongering about Tehran. Of course, it's worth noting that according to the International Atomic Energy Agency's November 19 report (pdf), IAEA inspectors have "been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran."

The November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (pdf), the consensus opinion of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, also declares that "Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005." Both reports do suggest questions remain about Iran's nuclear ambitions, though none suggest Tehran is "apparently" working on nuclear weapons as Gates implies.

But as for the larger question of continuity in foreign policy under Obama, conservative columnist George Will dispelled the hope of change in that realm in a piece he recently wrote based on an interview with Gates:
Regarding Iraq, Gates is parsimonious with his confidence, noting that "the multisectarian democracy has not sunk very deep roots yet." He stresses, however, that there is bipartisan congressional support for "a long-term residual presence" of perhaps 40,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and that the president-elect's recent statements have not precluded that. Such a presence "for decades" has, he says, followed major U.S. military operations since 1945, other than in Vietnam. And he says, "Look at how long Britain has had troops in Cyprus."

Regarding Afghanistan, Gates recalls with a flicker of a smile that two decades ago, when "we were the quartermaster for the mujaheddin" fighting the Soviet army, "I was pumping arms across the border to some of the same guys" America is dealing with today. He is encouraged by the "dramatic expansion" of Afghanistan's national army and police. But when asked if Afghanistan has ever had a national government whose writ ran nationwide, he says "no."
Obama's promise to withdraw "combat troops" within 16 months -- based on conditions on the ground, of course -- was always a rather sneaky way of not actually committing to end the war in Iraq. After all, keeping troops there to train Iraqi troops and fight terrorism is the ostensible reason the Bush administration has cited for continuing the occupation, so Obama's pledge never really signaled a substantive change in policy.

Meanwhile, the last part in Will's column concerning Afghanistan is particularly noteworthy for, as Gates readily admits, the American public is being asked to trust U.S. national security to very same people who thought funding Osama & Friends in their war against the Soviets was a good idea. Disturbingly, handing control of foreign policy back to these same old establishment types appears to be exactly what liberal reporters/commenters like Ackerman seem to desire, as liberal (and pro-Iraq war when it was still cool) blogger Matthew Yglesias wrote earlier this year:
My ideas really are basically the ideas that were at the core of the bipartisan, establishment consensus throughout the Cold War years. And they're ideas that could and should have been the key ideas of center-left think tanks in the post-9/11 world. But that's not what actually happened. Instead, a set of ideas that originally existed as a fringe right-wing position wound up being espoused not only by nearly the entire Republican Party but by a huge swathe of the broader establishment. The kind of institutions that you would expect to try to put the country back on an even keel -- The New York Times's foreign affairs columnist, The Washington Post's editorial page, the top foreign policy officials from the second Clinton administration, the Brookings Institution, etc. -- instead hopped aboard George W. Bush's madcap adventure.
While Yglesias may be perplexed as to why all his fellow respected, serious foreign policy thinkers were so quick to hop on the Iraq war bandwagon, the reason so many liberal establishment types supported it is actually rather simple: because they, contrary to the wishes of the Code Pink types, believe in war as an instrument of policy. "Regime change" in Iraq became official U.S. foreign policy under the aforementioned second Clinton administration, after all, and certainly none of the serious types at the Washington Post or Brookings Institution ever objected to the genocidal sanctions regime their fellow humanitarian interventionists imposed on that country.

Is it just me, or is naiveté -- either real or affected -- the only qualification one needs to become a sought-after Beltway commentator?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Negative interest rates or bust

The Federal Reserve has cut interest rates "to their lowest level on record," according to the Associated Press, with overnight loans to banks now as low as zero percent. That means the money is essentially being printed and then given away to major financial insititutions, as the money the Fed receives in return for the loans will not have kept pace with inflation (which can be expected to greatly increase). Though the move has been hailed by Wall Street, naturally, something about the Fed's latest gives me a strong case of deja vu:
"Not only does [the lowering of interest rates] help in reducing the actual borrowing costs — home equity loans, credit cards or your auto loan — but it improves the affordability, so more people are eligible for credit because their interest payments are lower," said Brian Bethune, chief financial economist for Global Insight, a Lexington, Mass.-based forecasting service.

He said that will help improve chances that borrowers with borderline eligibility will qualify for loans.
Now I know I'm not a highly respected economist regularly quoted in the Washington Post or anything, but isn't a policy of encouraging banks to give loans to people of questionable qualifications exactly what led the U.S. into its current economic malaise?

But it would appear Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has decided to more or less repeate the Greenspan policy of providing easy money to banks (also tried during the 1920s before another calamitous economic period) that will then try to make a quick buck by lending it to people they probably shouldn't, all in an attempt to inflate the economy back to its previous unrealistic heights. In the short-term, this may indeed spur another artificial boom and the appearance of prosperity -- maybe. But when the inevitable bust comes, it won't be pretty, especially for those on fixed incomes who will have to deal with the likely prospect of significant inflation.

Yet this is the serious monetary policy backed by everyone from George W. Bush to Paul Krugman, which means whenever the blowback of the Fed's actions finally hits nobody will be to blame, except those Americans not patriotic enough to go out and buy a new high-definition television they can't afford.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

President Bush greeted as liberator

President George W. Bush, on a final victory tour of the world before he leaves office, participated in a press conference in Baghdad that no interview with a member of the American press could have prepared him for:

While it may appear harsh and a tad unnerving, in Iraq throwing one's shoes at someone is actually seen as a gesture of the utmost humility. "Here. Take the shoes off my very feet, for I am not worthy to walk in your presence."

Or it's a gesture of extreme disrespect and loathing, indicative of the widespread hatred of Bush present throughout the Middle East and much of the world. One of the two.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Will Barack Obama nuke Iran?

Despite the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has found no evidence that Iran has diverted any uranium to a covert nuclear weapons program, and that all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies have declared that Iran does not have an active weapons program, American politicians haven't come to grips with that reality -- Barack Obama included. How else can one explain his offer, as reported by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike against Iran should it ever use nuclear weapons (which the aforementioned intelligence agencies say they don't have) against Israel (which the whole world knows has nukes)?
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's administration will offer Israel a "nuclear umbrella" against the threat of a nuclear attack by Iran, a well-placed American source said earlier this week. The source, who is close to the new administration, said the U.S. will declare that an attack on Israel by Tehran would result in a devastating U.S. nuclear response against Iran.
Assuming this story is true (which is not confirmed), Obama would seem to be doing this either because he actually believes Iran may soon get a nuclear weapon -- and, presumably, that Iran's leadership would be suicidal enough to use them against the very well-armed Israel -- or he is trying to alleviate fears that he is actually some sort of closeted Marxist-who-wants-to-surrender-to-the-terrorists, and not the conventional liberal interventionist that he actually is.

Alternatively, the story could also be read as signaling that Obama may see a nuclear-armed Iran as something which the world can live with, and that Iran's leadership could be deterred from using nukes based on the same doctrine of "mutually assured destruction" that was maintained with respect to the Soviet Union.

But would Barack Obama actually nuke Iran? Well, no. Iran does not have nuclear weapons, according the IAEA, and it would have to kick out the inspectors monitoring its nuclear facilities in order to enrich uranium to the level necessary to make a nuke. In other words, Iran can't make a nuclear weapon without the whole world knowing, and even if Iran should develop one, there's no evidence that its leadership would be so irrational as to actually launch a nuclear first-strike against Israel knowing they would be annihilated in return (fears in some segments of the right that Iran's government wants to start the apocalypse to the contrary). Iran's government had no qualms buying weapons from Israel and the "Great Satan" during its war with Iraq in the 1980s, after all, so one shouldn't confuse nasty rhetoric with a desire to end life as we know it.

Now for those who still inexplicably believe Obama will significantly change the course of U.S. foreign policy, cherish the fact that his (alleged) proposal to extend the U.S. "nuclear umbrella" to Israel makes the Bush administration sound reasonable:

A senior Bush administration source said that the proposal for an American nuclear umbrella for Israel was ridiculous and lacked credibility. "Who will convince the citizen in Kansas that the U.S. needs to get mixed up in a nuclear war because Haifa was bombed? And what is the point of an American response, after Israel's cities are destroyed in an Iranian nuclear strike?"
The National Review's Jim Geraghty points out that when Hillary Clinton proposed this very idea during the Democratic primaries, it was criticized as laughably hawkish posturing by Obama's liberal supporters. Now that it's their guy, of course, the story receives a "so what?" response from the committed partisans commenting at Daily Kos.

More disturbing than the reflexive, preemptive support for whatever Obama decides from the Kossacks, however, is that the idea of promising a retaliatory nuclear attack on Iran was first proposed by one of the Washington Post's many resident neoconservatives, columnist Charles Krauthammer. The fact that it was too out there for the Bush administration, but seemingly not Obama, should certainly give his anti-war supporters pause -- one would think.

Indeed, as Geraghty writes:
Hear that, netroots? From Krauthammer's column to Obama administration policy. Glad you put all that effort into beating McCain, huh?
That Obama's foreign policy views are not actually all that different than the hawkish foreign policy establishment many of his supporters criticize has been readily apparent for quite awhile -- but you wouldn't know it from reading most liberal blogs, which no doubt are already gearing up for the next Most. Important. Election. Ever.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Chris Hedges on terror

Chris Hedges, a former Pulitzer prize-winning correspondent for the New York Times and author of the highly recommend War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, recently wrote an excellent piece for on the differences between terrorism (as defined by the 9/11 attacks and the recent events in Mumbai), and state-sponsored terrorism (i.e. the U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, or Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon), that is worth reading in its entirety. In short, the biggest difference is whether one uses an F-22 or a box cutter:
The Hindu-Muslim communal violence that led to the attacks in Mumbai, as well as the warnings that the New York City transit system may have been targeted by al-Qaida, are one form of terrorism. There are other forms.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when viewed from the receiving end, are state-sponsored acts of terrorism. These wars defy every ethical and legal code that seek to determine when a nation can wage war, from Just War Theory to the statutes of international law largely put into place by the United States after World War II. These wars are criminal wars of aggression. They have left hundreds of thousands of people, who never took up arms against us, dead and seen millions driven from their homes. We have no right as a nation to debate the terms of these occupations. And an Afghan villager, burying members of his family’s wedding party after an American airstrike, understands in a way we often do not that terrorist attacks can also be unleashed from the arsenals of an imperial power.

Barack Obama’s decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan and leave behind tens of thousands of soldiers and Marines in Iraq—he promises only to withdraw combat brigades—is a failure to rescue us from the status of a rogue nation. It codifies Bush’s “war on terror.” And the continuation of these wars will corrupt and degrade our nation just as the long and brutal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank has corrupted and degraded Israel. George W. Bush has handed Barack Obama a poisoned apple. Obama has bitten it.
Antiwar Radio's Scott Horton conducted a engrossing interview with Hedges the other day regarding this article, which you can listen to here. Also, for what it's worth, one of the first pieces I ever had published was on an address at a Hedges dared to deliver at a college graduation in 2003 on the morally corrupting nature of war, which resulted in a predictably fascistic response from the campus and talk radio brownshirts. 

As I wrote at the time:
[Hedges] dared -- dared! -- to warn of the soul-destroying effects that can be wrought by war and empire. “For the instrument of empire is war and war is a poison,” said Hedges, “a poison which at times we must ingest just as a cancer patient must ingest a poison to survive. But if we do not understand the poison of war -- if we do not understand how deadly that poison is – it can kill us just as surely as the disease.” In these United States, it has become that pointing out the horrors of war and the pain and suffering which accompany it is now tantamount to “hating America” in the popular eye.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Echoes of post-9/11 America

Via blogger almostinfamous, one finds anecdotal evidence that something akin to the mass pro-war hysteria that erupted in the United States in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks seems to be appearing in India following the Mumbai attacks, with some Indian bloggers professing to be "very disappointed" that India seems unlikely to attack Pakistan in retaliation, and expressing anger that India has "been too soft, too long."

It goes without saying that one shouldn't be "very disappointed" that two powerful states armed with nuclear weapons aren't going to war against each other. But alas, irrational militaristic sentiments are the strongest following attacks like the ones experienced on 9/11 or last week in Mumbai.

The recurrent myth that seems to accompany these attacks is of particular note, as in both India and the U.S. many people -- stoked by nationalistic politicians eager to increase their own power -- came to believe following the respective terrorist attacks that the events had been brought on not by ill-considered state interventionist policies, or that they were merely unexplainable fluke acts of evil, but specifically brought on by the country appearing to be "weak" or "soft."

In the states, this manifests itself in claims that the U.S. government had pursued an "isolationist" foreign policy prior to 9/11 -- as supposedly evidenced by the sudden withdrawals from Lebanon in the 1980s and Somalia in the 1990s -- that convinced the likes of Osama bin Laden that the United States could dish it out, but it sure couldn't take it. While it's true that Americans as a whole certainly have much less stomach for dead Americans than dead foreigners, to claim the U.S. was "isolationist" during the 1990s would of course be overlooking such minor things as the sanctions against (and continual bombing of) Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of people. Just because it didn't lead the evening news doesn't mean it didn't happen.

Writing on the pro-war hysteria seizing some in India, almostinfamous writes:
this is almost exactly the sort of thing i used to read on various right-wing sites(lgf, freeperville etc) almost exactly 7 years ago, except replace ‘pakistan’ with afghanistan. it disgusted me then with regard to the usa, and it disgusts me even more today with regard to india precisely because of the utter futility of the wars waged by the most powerful army in the world.:
But, being a mass hysteria, rationality and commonsense rarely enters into the equation -- the mindless pursuit of vengeance, combined with an ardent refusal to, as somehow-popular NY Times columnist Tom Friedman puts it, "justify or 'explain'" the events in question, being the mark of a good citizen. As a senior in high school during the 9/11 attacks, I particularly remember an otherwise intelligent friend who went on to an elite college demanding that the U.S. essentially kill every man, woman and child in the Middle East because "they" hadn't shown any mercy toward "us". Beyond exposing the evils of collectivism run amuck (Who is "us"? And more importantly, who are "they"?) the remark crystallized to me the danger inherent in the vulgar, violent nationalism that tends to spring up after a calamity -- an ugly "patriotism" that the state is all too willing to exploit, and which often ends in political power being further strengthened and centralized while innocent people in poor, far off lands die for the crimes of others.

With many Indians looking for some way to lash out for last week's crimes, the country's political leadership would do well not to repeat the mistakes of the Bush administration, as even former Nixon speechwriter and onetime belligerent Cold Warrior Pat Buchanan argues in his most recent column:
War would pit two nuclear powers against each other for the first time since the Sino-Soviet border clash of 1969. It would spawn bloodshed between Muslim and Hindu in India. It would see the collapse of Pakistan, its possible dissolution and a military dictator in a nation already divided against itself over whether to continue resisting al-Qaida and the Taliban, or cut ties to the unpopular Americans.
Wounded and enraged by the atrocities of 9-11, America lashed out, first at Afghanistan and the al-Qaida source of the conspiracy, then at Iraq, which had nothing to do with the attacks. Thus did the Bush administration disunite its nation and forfeit its mandate.
For India to lash out at a Pakistan that was not complicit in the Mumbai crimes against humanity, but harbors elements within that are guilty and are celebrating, would be as great a mistake.
India and Pakistan both have a vital interest in no new war.
But a new war is exactly what the terrorists killed for and died for.
Should it come, they win — and enter history as revolutionary terrorists alongside Princip and the perpetrators of 9-11.

Monday, December 01, 2008

India's 9/11?

Eating dinner the other day at a local Indian-Pakistani restaurant, I caught a few minutes of coverage from an Indian news network of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. This particular network -- and as I later found it, every other network and publication in the world -- repeatedly referred to the events as "India's 9/11", complete with a logo and everything.

Perhaps it was just the curry, but I found the phrase almost laughably vulgar and more than a little sad. With well over 150 people dead and guns continuing to fire, the media still couldn't stop itself from finding another terrorist attack to compare the tragedy to -- and as far as horrific acts of terrorism go, 9/11 is the gold standard from the perspective of a 24-hour news channel producer.

The comparison to September 11th, however, seems not only crass but unwittingly sad -- and I expect I would be more saddened by it if I were an Indian citizen. Why must a tragic event be branded, and the suffering it entails compared to an incident that occurred thousands of miles away? Can't the attacks be discussed in their own right without the comparisons to 9/11 looming over one's shoulder?

Also disturbed by the comparison is Vijay Prashad, a history professor at Trinity College, as he discussed on Democracy Now:
Anytime there is any attack they start to say this is our 9/11. You know whether it is the attack in London or the attack and Indonesia, everybody claims a terrorist attack now as their 9/11. There is something ominous about this. It means the state has to then follow the playbook laid out by the Bush Administration right after it experienced of course its 9/11. Which is to say you then go and start a war against an adversary that you claim did the attack and simultaneously, you begin to create a security apparatus inside your state to restrict the civil liberties of all people who live within that country.

So 9/11 or branding something as 9/11 has come to have these two aspects. One, go to war against somebody without any kind of full police investigation that is decisively shown us who has done the act. So one, a foreign war, secondly, what you might even consider to be a war against your own population. Where you start to restrict civil liberties far in excess of anything necessary. And of course, always fighting the last terrorist attack. So you build up this enormous apparatus of restrictions which is dealing with the previous attack against population and not trying to forecast the safety of the population into the near future. That is why the media started to talk about Mumbai’s 9/11.
The third reason is, the media had not really called any of the other attacks in Mumbai, and there have been many since 1992, 9/11, precisely because most of those attacks the have taken place in areas which afflicted the working poor, working-class, and middle-class people. This attack, for the first time, targeted places of the top elite. Very expensive hotels, leading restaurants, and this therefore, brought this kind of assault into the bedrooms, into the restaurant of the elite. And they found then that this is their 9/11. The other attacks were not called 9/11. There were the kind normal conditions of suffering borne by ordinary people in places like Bombay.
Others, however, like Indian opposition party member Arun Jaitley, inexplicably see the U.S. government's response to the 9/11 attacks (the response that has the U.S. army mired in two quagmires and, 7+ years later, Osama bin Laden still on the run) and think, let's emulate that:
We must follow the example of what United States did after 9/11. We are more vulnerable them and we must be a tough state and not a soft state. Out intelligence network, our security response, our legal framework all need an overhaul and all need a strengthening. When all of them see the political establishment is weak on terrorism, each one of them collapses. That’s where the basic change is required.
The constant, obsessive fear of being seen as "soft", "weak", or -- my personal favorite -- "impotent" in the face of terrorism or some adversary is commonly associated with U.S. neoconservatives (and males who feel the need to overcompensate for certain . . . deficiencies). Yet as we see with Mr. Jaitley, the need to assert one's masculinity by advocating militaristic policies is not one that the U.S. has any monopoly over, as evidenced by the bloody entirety of human history.

Contrary to his advice, though, if "India's 9/11" should teach one anything, it is that massive centralized security bureaucracies are incapable of defending against acts of terrorism, but are quite good at terrorizing civilian populations with their intrusive ineptitude and inevitable blowback. Each dollar that goes toward male enhancement -- er, toward the military and police -- is also one less dollar that can go to a more productive purpose. Too bad "increasing productivity" doesn't scream "manliness" as loud as cracking a few skulls or carpet bombing a country.