it’s a long, long way to tucumcari

Time to beat the dead horse again. And frankly, if Iraq were a horse, that glue pot would have been used up long ago.

But here we are nearly three years after the Mission Accomplished photo-op, and still there is no end in sight. Not that this is at all surprising to informed observers. Way back then when I used the word “decades” to describe what it would take to change Iraq, I was treated as something akin to Benedict Arnold. Three years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, I have seen nothing to change my opinion on what is required to fundamentally alter the social calculus Over There.

Then again, when I suggest that it will take decades, I am assuming we are talking about competent governance of Iraq. That is looking like an unjustified assumption as well.

Yet Iraq-nam has worked out so well, it looks like serious consideration is being given to liberating Iran too. You should not buy the liberation thing this time either. Perhaps it could be adequately explained by jealousy on the part of Emperor W who wants to plant the American flag on more Arab soil than did Britannia at her apex. Covetousness can be such an ugly thing you know.

Unlike many Americans, Rule Uncle Sam simply doesn’t work for me.

The irony here is that I will probably end up opposing the impending intervention in Iran when in fact I have been and remain a strong advocate of containing the Iranian nuclear threat. Unlike the case in Iraq, the Iranian nuclear infrastructure is real and of ominous portent. The West must act, and ideally act in a unified fashion.

But what I can not support is continued ham-handed and unilateral actions under false pretenses. Let us name these coming military actions plainly for what they are-legitimate defensive moves against hostile threats and behave in accordance with honest agendas. The bad news is that we haven’t seen a shred of honesty out of the imperial court since…well, I’m sure there was something they were honest about.

The good news is that limited military action is likely to be effective against the Iranian nuclear infrastructure. The facilities that process uranium hexafluoride are relatively large and immobile. This is perhaps a tailor made opportunity for the military to unveil their “rods from god” system that does not exist. Wink.

An Iraq style invasion of Iran is simply unthinkable now as our reach has already well exceeded our grasp. The panic on world oil markets alone could bring down Western civilization. Something more narrow in time and scope is in order. To pull it off politically, action must be sudden and swift. Done well, such an action could in fact be stabilizing.

The larger problem here is that it is hard to find a soul in this world outside of the American Republican Party Faithful that trust our President to lead such an endeavor. The price of squandering our legacy of international good-will is going to be paid sooner rather than later I fear. We may in fact be in a position where unilateral action is the only viable action because of our recent forfeit of leadership ability.

And if we do not act, be even more afraid of unilateral action by Israel.

Whatever the facts may be or what is actually in the best interests of Americans and the World in general, we do know one thing for certain: this administration will pursue that which is in the best interests of the Republican party first and the rest only if it fits the party agenda. The administration is keeping up the misinformation campaign and doing so with increasing enthusiasm. War is Peace they tell us. Undoubtedly the focus groups are telling them that patriotic platitudes continue to sell well.

Thus the drums of war continue to beat loudly. The martial rhetoric and hubris are getting more deeply infused in our social consciousness with each passing day. Truly, we have become the heirs of Britannia in all the wrong ways. As this mindset deepens, I fear our culture will end up more like Sparta than the Shining City on the Hill and our legacy more like that of Alexander the Great than the America which liberated the world from the yoke of fascism.

We would do well to remember that we indeed follow in Alexander’s footsteps in undertaking to conquer Persia. Unlike Alexander, there is little doubt that militarily, we can do so. With a little luck, perhaps Emperor W’s name will not be cursed in Persia two-thousand years hence as is Alexander’s to this day.

But, I doubt it.

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bridgehead over troubled waters

Almost exactly a year after having written my post entitled premature iraqification discussions of troop withdrawal are again a hot topic. At that time I was seriously concerned about the possibility that the administration would perform some sort of cut and run under political duress.

Thankfully my concern was unfounded. But now it is a new year and time to examine the situation and to see why the withdrawal did not happen and will not happen any time soon.

I will not waste your time with the official version of why we remain. You can read that in any newspaper. And the opposition position is equally artificial, disingenuous and available.

Rather what I would like to consider is the facts.

First, as an aside, let me point out that I am not saying that this administration will not pull some troops out and call it a withdrawal or “draw down”. After all, this is the crew that boldly declared Mission Accomplished some two and a half years ago. No matter what actual course we take there is little of which I am so certain as the ultimate declaration of victory by this President and those of his party which will attempt to assume his mantle.

But the facts continue to be rather stubborn. American deaths continue to mount and the grim reaper’s roll call will continue as long as we are present there. Islam is fundamentally hostile to foreign rule and nothing is going to change this in a time frame measured in anything smaller than decades. Because of the mounting political pressure, some kind of withdrawal is inevitable before the next election, and the question is only what form and shape it will take.

If you think that complete withdrawal is a possibility, forget about it. The reason we will never entirely leave Iraq is buried in our real purpose for being there in the first place.

Iran.

It has been clear at least since the end of Gulf War One that the real threat to world peace in the Middle East was not an emasculated Iraqi regime, but the Islamic Revolution. Recent headlines highlight the problems which a powerful Islamic State can cause. Of course, Iran is not the only threat, just the biggest and the one with the greatest chance of striving toward a greater Islamic State.

Iraq II is not about terrorism and never was. There is little doubt remaining in this Curmudgeon’s mind that the major reason for occupying Iraq was to create a permanent Western bridgehead at the center of this volatile region.

That bridgehead until recently had been Saudi Arabia. But events there have rendered our reliable forward logistics area problematic in the future. Hostility to the House of Saud continues to grow as does the world’s appetite for their oil. And Diego Garcia is too small and too remote to facilitate a significant modern military embarkation.

I can not even say that such a base of forward operations are undesirable. Whether we like it or not, the modern world runs on oil. If the oil stops flowing, modern civilization grinds to a halt. Or ceases altogether as a result of the social disorder a closed spigot would spawn. However obnoxious you may find the idea, the West must be prepared to keep the spigot open and to do so by force if necessary.

Forward bases in the less occupied regions of Western Iraq are just the ticket.

It is not a bad motive to want to insure the continued existence of modern civilization. Truly that which renders all of this so incredibly obnoxious is all the deception. Since we have gotten in the bullying business in extreme form already, perhaps it is time for a little honesty? Perhaps we should draw a perimeter of some size on a map of western Iraq and add a Fifty-first star to our flag? I doubt that Americans would get killed in any greater numbers.

John Adams should certainly consider his copious work on the topic of Factions vindicated by the present mess. It was during the Clinton reign that the methodology of all campaign all the time was first made overt. Those in charge of this formerly great nation continue to operate in continual campaign mode and the bridgehead must continue to be made politically palpable.

So I suspect that the current campaign slogans about a drawdown are nothing more than trial balloons just as was the case a year ago. Just another probing by the political savvy to determine the exact contours of what will sell to the masses of functionally illiterate people known as the American public.

But cheer up: an election is coming. The choice will be clear for the “informed” voter exercising their “responsibility” to go vote. We will again have our chance throw the bums out. A chance for redemption through regime change.

And you KNOW the party that brought you Vietnam can turn this thing completely around.

impressionist pantings

If one stands closely to a Pissaro or Monet, it is often difficult to discern whether one is looking at a water lily, bridge or parasol. The individual brush strokes are bold and coarse; the subject resolves more clearly as one moves farther away. Up until the impressionist school changed Western art forever, realism was the order of the day.

The Bush administration foreign policy is radical in much the same way as was impressionism.

Looking at the brush strokes of the administration’s foreign policy endeavors, it is impossible to grasp the whole. It is often tempting to consider the elements independently and assess hubris or incompetence as being representative. But statements by this administration have trickled out over the last few days that are giving us more perspective and we can more confidently conclude what has been and continues to be the subject of 43’s magnum opus.

Unlike approaching a Van Gogh, however, let us first consider some of the details. Anyone who today doubts that Syria and Iran are directly in the crosshairs of the Bush doctrine scope were not paying close attention during the prelude to the war in Iraq. The casually dropped comments by senior officials and leaked words of senior advisors are more than just a little bit reminiscent of the early rumblings about Iraq. The tempo of events is already picking up speed.

If you care to listen, recent history is speaking to us and to the world with a roar that is as deafening as the administration’s feigned concern is shrill. In the media you can already hear the daily breathless panting of the officially distressed .

There is one significant difference: this time there are real weapons of mass destruction.

To point it out may in part be to say “I told you so”, but that it did not have to be this way is still so. The rapidly growing threat of Iran and North Korea were news well before we invaded Iraq. This Curmudgeon was advocating then the need for an aggressive policy to contain these real risks. Instead, we tilted at windmills while the real “giants” went unopposed in any meaningful way. Indeed, there is little doubt that the contrast of the alarmingly speedy regime change in Iraq with the more circumspect treatment of North Korea, which at that time already possessed nuclear weapons, gave new urgency to the need for WMDs for the very despots 43 would seek to depose. Like other humans, despots are rational actors.

Here on the other side of the chasm which is the Bush Doctrine, our options to deal with despots are increasingly limited. In the immediate post 9-11 groundswell of support, it might well have been possible to garner Western support for and perhaps even assistance in mounting targeted military strikes aimed at weapons of mass destruction infrastructure. What a shame that we forfeited the tactical advantage in favor of an attempt at strategic hegemony: given the capabilities of modern weapons and delivery systems there will often be little to gain militarily by taking and holding territory when weapons of mass destruction are at issue.

The great irony here is that preemption in the cause of nuclear and biological weapon containment can be easily defended. Indeed, I have done so in the past when I proposed a legal framework based on the International Law doctrine of Universal Jurisdiction as support for asserting United States jurisdiction over certain criminals in foreign territories. It is clear that it is the whole nation building and cultural export agenda of this presidential administration which calls our sensibilities into question. A botched invasion plan that left Iraqi lives shattered and Iraqi oil wells in production calls our motives into question as well.

But All the President’s Men do not seem to be questioning anything regarding the pursuit of the neo-con vision of a New World Order and it is looking increasingly unlikely that work on rebuilding old bridges will begin before the demolition of yet others. I fear that 43 will be entirely comfortable assembling another “coalition of the willing” which next time will likely consist of the United States and the Grand Duchy of Outer Kumquat.

The apparent lack of concern over the disintegration of the Western Alliance is clear evidence of a desire by the neo-cons for the United States to trod a new path and to do so essentially alone. I suspect 43’s upcoming trip to Europe will unveil a few more bold brushstrokes as a weak attempt is made to reassert American leadership in the face of the growing power of the European Union.

My sense, however, is that Europe is now set on a new path and understands that its’ future interests will often diverge from those of the United States. They understand that American leadership is not painting the natural scenes of the impressionists, but rather the egocentric themes of the expressionist school. Expressions of introspection rather than impressions of observation. Expressions of empire; not impressions of commonwealth.

The bold brush strokes thus have become more coherent and the imperious motives can be seen to unify the whole. Europe sees clearly that this “great work” is in fact a self-portrait.

One can only hope that old-fashioned realism will creep back into the technical repertoire of the foreign policy artists in the White House. One can hope that these students of the great masters will step back from their dabbling in radical expressions because while radical thought is to be lauded in the arts, it is to be mightily feared in the affairs of nations.

In this arena, where lives and livelihood hang in the balance, radical thought is the stuff of Armageddon.

premature iraqification

The psychological pull-out has already begun even if the troops haven’t started packing their bags yet. That the withdrawal is well underway can be heard clearly if you pay close attention. Yesterday, Colin Powell’s remark that American troops would start returning home this year is no off the cuff trial balloon floating-Powell is nothing if not deliberate.

Was it not just the other day we were hearing that we needed more troops to do the job? Clearly a major change in policy is in the works and this is just the first noise we are going to hear about letting the Iraqis clean up the mess themselves. All the fine words about long-term commitment will not be retracted because to do so would be to admit error and we certainly can have none of that. The premature withdrawal will instead be explained in terms of fulfilling the plan for the incremental hand-over in power that was in place all along.

What constitutes premature depends, I suppose, on perspective. From the vantage point of before the commencement of the invasion, I doubt there were too many sober minded individuals making the case that we would be in and out of Iraq in less than three years. I think most informed Americans, certainly myself, anticipated that we would be in Iraq for an extremely long haul.

The possibility that we might pull out of Iraq more quickly than the space shuttle fleet could be returned to service really never occurred to this Curmudgeon.

There are many little hints that this administration’s ability to keep up the fiction that everything is great in Iraq is straining to the breaking point. The recent revelations of the poor state of the National Guard, the Pentagon beginning an open-ended review of Iraq policy, continual rumblings over postponing elections, and, of course, the continual march of death across our television screens, all combine to give us a sense that finally some Americans are actually daring to speak of the Emperor’s fine birthday suit.

Truthfully, holding slipshod elections and packing our bags for a hasty exit may be the best we can hope for now. Don’t misunderstand me: I am all for staying the course and making sacrifices. I have been consistent and even vitriolic on that very obligation. At some point, however, you have to assess whether our continued presence in Iraq is in the best interests of the Iraqi people and the deepening spiral into civil war that we are seeing play out suggests that perhaps a democratically elected government might have a better shot if they weren’t strapped to a giant target labeled “Made in USA”.

One can hardly blame the Iraqis if they are left with impression that the government-to-be was manufactured by the United States when, by the Presidential Administration’s own words, they say exactly that. Judge for yourself based on this excerpt from the New York Times:


Powell has said it is imperative for the elections to go forward as planned to give more credence to the concept that insurgents are fighting an Iraqi government rather than an American occupation force.

If you were like me, you had to read that twice. What we, through our elected representatives, are saying is that what needs to change is the anti-democratic militia’s “concept” of who they are fighting.

Does anyone in Washington have a “concept” of what they are doing?

In fairness to Powell, those are not his words, but this is the type of stuff you hear constantly out of this Administration. Maybe changing concepts is how you create those new realities of which they are so fond. Unfortunately, the anti-democratic militias in Iraq have a pretty clear agenda and pretty well-defined Reality. Until we choose to begin acting in some version of reality that bears some relationship to Reality, we should resign ourselves to ineffectualness.

We the People may love to be deceived by our home-made self-image, but the people of the Middle-east are shockingly reality based.

Leaving Iraq now is certainly premature. Even beginning the process to leave Iraq now is premature when infrastructure work is nowhere near completion. That we are starting down that road is undeniable. It is time for all Americans to pray for mercy on ourselves because after all of the lies, poor planning and hyperbolic rhetoric, leaving may be the only option. And time also to pray for mercy on the Iraqi people, because after all of the lies, poor planning and hyperbolic rhetoric, our leaving may be the only option.

bulwark abuse

I have hesitated to add my two cents on the matter of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse simply because there is little to say on it that doesn’t strike me as obvious. However, on a matter of such extraordinary impact, I would be remiss to not at least record a few observations.

It disheartens me to hear many Americans be dismissive of the torture of prisoners. The argument we have heard can be abbreviated to something like, “well, we aren’t as bad as Saddam”-which sounds to me not significantly different from the old fashioned, “the ends justify the means”.

I am in the midst of reading the excellent David McCullough biography of John Adams, and the famous words of Adams to the effect that United States is a nation of laws, not of men, was more haunting to me now than when I had read them some years ago. Haunting because of the extraordinary willingness lately of Americans to ignore the rule of law.

This goes much deeper than the stupidity of this administration’s repudiation of the Geneva Convention: in the last two decades we have collectively looked the other way on numerous occasions to avoid stumbling over the rule of law. The most notable, and I think foreshadowing, of the various incidents of America Shrugging are the Iran-Contra affair and Presidential perjury impeachment trial. I was literally laughed at back then when I said we are setting precedent for all kinds of bad government behavior when we ignore such serious extralegal government activity.

I wonder who is laughing now.

The respect for individual sovereignty and the rule of law have been the bulwark of ideas that has helped make the United States the most successful nation in the history of the world. If we lose that, we have lost everything.

The fact of the prisoner abuse in Iraq is horrible. It is inexcusable that the responsible parties where not called to account immediately and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Sadly, even those in agreement with me on this point generally are making the argument based on notions of realpolitik, not on what is right. Of course based on pragmatic concerns alone we should be enormously upset, but where is the outrage? I for one wish for louder expressions that this kind of behavior is not what we are about as a people.

But then, as I have said recently, I’m not sure what we are about as a people anymore.

With all of the concern I have over the acts of abuse, and the lack of a credible response from the current administration, it isn’t even my most serious concern that arises from this crisis. The words of Donald Rumsfeld in his testimony before Congress should send shivers up the spine of every living American, and most dead ones as well:

We’re functioning with peacetime constraints, with legal requirements, in a wartime situation in the Information Age, where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise.

In Rumsfeld’s world, the most upsetting thing is that you and I found out about it; that the veil of secrecy was not an iron curtain, but rendered a sieve by modern technology. This guy is one of the ones in charge people, not some blogger delivering glib commentary. While his remarks did stir up a dust devil of anger, I should think there would be a real fury of calls for his resignation.

Instead, Rumsfeld’s boss gives him a pat on the butt and like so many serious issues of our day, people get bored and soon the passions subside. And of course the press will soon follow suit too because the pictures of naked prisoners sell more copy than do the details of a government run amok. After all, its just one more lie. Just one more little secret extralegal government activity. A little torture for a good cause.

Anyone still laughing?

a firm grip on reality

I had wanted to write something ironic or perhaps witty in honor of the holiday, however the headlines do not permit such trivialities.

What surprises me most about the murder and subsequent desecration of the bodies of four American civilians in Iraq, is that people are surprised. Don’t misunderstand me: I am as horrified as anyone. I am just not surprised.

I’m betting some of those young boys involved in the desecration had fathers, brothers and uncles killed by Americans over the course of two wars. How exactly did we expect them to feel about Americans? There are still a lot of Germans and Japanese that don’t care for us very much either, and I’m betting there are a bunch of people my age who aren’t too placid in their feelings toward Vietnamese people either. And these people are still acting in the heat of the moment.

My first reaction to the news reports that the incident could be pivotal for the November Presidential elections was a disgusted huff. After all, we have a moral obligation to be there and set things right at this point. But, as I reflect on it, perhaps that obviously real possibility that the election could be affected would be a just and fair outcome.

Fair because it displays in a particularly graphic way the cost of the lying and poor preparation for Shrub’s War for Daddy’s Honor. There has been much talk about the deception of the American people and based on what I’m hearing, there was more than a little deception going on within the administration with regard to the post-war planning. It seems justified that if you can’t plan it any better than this, you should be thrown out as a penalty for the botched attempt.

Of course my fear is losing track of the moral obligations to these people in a rush to pull out of Iraq. If we pull back now, we may as well paint a target on our backsides and line up for our punishment because it will be both deserved and directly forthcoming. Our hope going forward is to stand firm and let our deeds match our words for a change. Until we demonstrate the courage of our convictions to the Arab street over a sustained period of time, there is little hope of softening the animosity built up over decades of exploitation.

And speaking of courage, how about those “pixilated” images and the calls by the current administration for “responsible reporting”? Hey, I don’t like the images either, but we need to look and not grow faint. Collectively, we must understand the risks we are undertaking with ventures in war and nation building.

This is reality. Grisly, ugly, reality.

I was somewhat prescient when I said in my February 26, 2004 post entitled “passionate pondering”:

Apparently, we don’t like blood and gore unless it is in fictional accounts or computer games.

As I said then, we need to get over our squeamishness if we are to live up to our self-proclaimed status as the “Land of the Brave”. Our very aversion to the images fuels terrorism. Have no doubt that our imputed cowardice gives courage to our enemies. While we have put Vietnam behind ourselves and moved on in our uniquely American short-lived memory way, that episode is still current events for the rest of the world.

In short, my word for the American people is this: get a grip.

{sigh}