Monday, January 22, 2007

America Psycho

A recent article on, “Bush and the Psychology of Incompetent Decisions,” by the father-son team of John Briggs Sr. & Jr., provides an uncomfortable insight into the peril America finds itself in. The Briggs team analyzes the now-voluminous information that finds in President George W. Bush a psychologically troubled man, obsessed with the need to at once escape his father’s influence, get his approval, and defeat him all at the same time. Hounded by years of clear failure, and now the stresses of a presidency gone wrong, Bush is portrayed as being at or near a critical juncture where the prospect of failure in Iraq so plays into longtime fears of inadequacy that the wall of defenses designed to disguise that fear seriously jeopardize any ability he may have left to make sound decisions. Thus, though “the Decider” pretends to be certain of the right course to victory in Iraq, in reality this is all bluster, yet another aspect of what Briggs & Briggs call Bush’s “Christian Defense”–i.e., the “perfect defense against any doubts he or anyone else might have” because of the divine hand presumably guiding him. So though on the surface the President’s certainty might seem reassuring, analysis reveals “more and more that, psychologically, he’s defending himself against the very feelings of uncertainty that are the necessary concomitant to making tough decisions. His tough decision-making is a sham.”
This leaves the United States and its people in a perilous position. Having supported Bush in his defenses for so long—most people, after all, have some feelings of inadequacy and so admire someone like Bush who has apparently pulled off a monumental leadership scam by sheer nerve—we are reluctant to confront the disaster we now see in the making. As Briggs & son put it: “We don’t dare to really confront the scale of his incompetent behavior, because then we would have to face what it means to have such an incompetent and psychologically disabled decision-maker as our president. It raises everyone’s uncertainty.”
In fact, to this writer, “facing what it means” is the real point here, i.e., that America itself is in psychological trouble. Consider that three of our last five presidents were either impeached or seriously subject to investigations that could have meant impeachment: Nixon, Clinton, and Reagan (for Iran-Contra). Two others have been Bushes, with all the muck and mire that implies. But it’s not just a question of leadership. America’s standing in the world, despite the fact that it has reigned as the lone superpower since 1989 when the Soviet Union collapsed, has been steadily eroding. From our peak of economic power after WWII, we have become the world’s largest debtor nation and that debt is growing. We import far more than we export, producing not so much those famous American-made goods any longer but primarily services and entertainment. Indeed, we find ourselves almost in the position of a third-world country: we import billions of dollars worth of manufactured products from places like China and India and Japan, and export mainly agricultural products like wheat, corn and soybeans. Morally, we no longer lead but resist those forces of reason and sanity which demand a policy on global warming, on the International Court of Justice, and on a fair policy regarding nuclear weapons. In fact, we are the world’s chief supplier of weapons of all kinds, a reality that renders our complaints about Iraq’s WMD (false), and Iran’s possible moves to acquire nuclear weapons (unproven) both hypocritical and impotent. A list of the democratic leaders we have overthrown or assassinated in recent years, added to the list of dictators we have supported and continue to support, is enough to make one wretch with shame.
And yet, all we hear from our leaders, both in the White House and the Congress, is breast-beating about our role as the hope of all the world, the envy of all other nations, the greatest force for good ever to appear on the planet.
In this sense, we are, psychologically, the equivalent of our dysfunctional president. We are riddled with defenses, smug about our chosen role as God’s elect, impervious to criticism from abroad, and constantly ready, like our President, to bully and brutalize any nation that refuses to conform to our demands. Meantime, our role as the world’s chief consumer/polluter and the overwhelming leader in the production of greenhouse gases –with 1/20 of the world’s population, we contribute nearly 1/4 (22%) of the carbon dioxide—and our refusal to do anything about it, suggests that to maintain our illusory self-image (read “lifestyle”), we are willing to undermine life itself.
In short, a psycho president leading a psycho nation. One can only wonder if anything short of a major collapse—either the president’s, or ours—will wake us up.

Lawrence DiStasi

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Control the Cowboy and Save a Nation

Meanwhile in the saloon
The swinging door is closing
Behind the cowboy buffoon
Who doesn’t know he is losing
A faith, a people, a war
And mothers cry: What for?
And the quagmire only gets deeper
For an incompetent brother’s keeper

Once again, Bush has modeled American foreign policy on a Hollywood B western. As the tough new sheriff in town, he has warned Evil Roy Slade (Iran) to stay out of Dodge (Iraq). He has organized a posse (two aircraft carrier task groups) to control the territory (Persian Gulf) and is ready to get the draw on anybody that raises a hand in question. In fact, his deputies have already put on their star badges and raided a hideout (the Iranian Consulate in Irbil, Kurdistan, Iraq).

Last night’s presidential speech not only defied Democrats, but also most Republicans, virtually 75% of Americans and even higher percentages in nations across the world. Instead of following the Baker-Hamilton Commission advice to negotiate with Iran and Syria, he is threatening them directly with the Eisenhower and the Stennis carrier task forces. To fully understand the enormity of the insanity that is King George, we need to recall that we are losing a war occupying a nation of 25 million souls (minus casualties and escapees) and that Iran has 76 million souls, most of whom are younger than 30. Targets in Iran are hardened. The enemy in Iran is now joined at the hip with the Shiites in Iraq through Muqtada al Sadr and others. The Shiites, including the PM al Malaki, are running Iraq as the armed majority. Iranians have some modern surface-to-surface missiles purchased from China and perhaps Russia. They have Chinese subs. They have speedboat patrols that protect their shores. The Persian Gulf is analogous to the Box Canyon of the spaghetti western and we just had a collision of one of our subs with a Japanese tanker in those tight waters near the Straits of Hormuz. Neither the Iraqi insurgency not the Mahdi Army death squads has ballistic missiles, yet we are deploying Patriot missile batteries to the area. The air war in Iraq is long over. Given the history of utter incompetence of this administration to provide credible intelligence or effective military plans, what are the odds that we will not suffer a shore to ship strike from Iran that will “justify” retaliation? The contest is between Ahmedinijad and Bush. Neither one strikes me as logical yet both strike me as ideologues. That adds up to two strikes. Bush’s strike on a Consulate demonstrates a lack of discipline. Was that the third strike in a no-win contest? Can we expect more from Ahmedinijad than Bush? As a survivor of the Gulf of Tonkin ploy by Johnson, I see this not as blunder but a deliberate provocation aimed at getting us into war with Iran. Iran has surface-to-surface missiles that put our troops in Iraq in great jeopardy, especially when they are canalized in the Bremer Wall Gully that is Baghdad. Even the appointment of a flag level naval aviator to lead the ground forces in the zone must now be questioned. Was it done because we have no competent ground generals or are we opening the (nuclear?) air war? The Eisenhower is due to stay on station through March 2007 and the Stennis just arrived.

When I studied for my MBA, the Finance course made it clear that a sunk cost was never a valid reason for an investment in the future. It is good money after bad. A rational investor knows when to cut his losses. What makes this situation in the Middle East far more threatening is that the losses are calculated in measures of blood not money. Who will stop this reckless cowboy? I am not a supporter of suicide, so if Bush is suicidal, why doesn’t he get counseling instead of condemning our troops to injury and death? I know enough about ideologues to understand that they can have great conviction and even great faith, but when two ideologues confront each other and the world is at risk, it is time to consider a psychiatric removal of the one that reports to us, as the American people. He is our president, and to that extent, we are responsible for him. Let the Iranians take care of their problem. If Bush can no longer act rationally, then our elected representatives should take all steps for a competency hearing for Bush. If they cannot control his foreign excesses like Iraq or his domestic excesses including his signing statements to deprive us from mail and telephone privacy, then perhaps, it is time for a medical intervention. That cowboy is sick and he is a vector that may get us all hurt or killed.

George Giacoppe
11 January 2007

Monday, January 01, 2007

Palestine: Peace not Apartheid

Former President Jimmy Carter implemented what was perhaps the most important piece of diplomacy between Israel and Palestine in history: the Camp David Accords of 1978. As the mediator between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, he managed to persuade the leaders of Israel and Egypt into signing an agreement that had seemed impossible, along the way amassing a volume of information and insight about the Middle East’s most enduring conflict that is unrivaled. It is this volume of information, first-hand experience, and keen insight that he brings to bear in his new book
--All of which makes him very hard to refute. And it is for this reason—his authority on this issue—that he has been personally attacked so viciously by the pro-Israeli forces (including most of the media and the U.S. Congress) in the United States. They know that if Jimmy Carter refers to “apartheid” in the title of his book, there must be a basis for that usage.
There is. What Israel has done with its continuing settlements in the occupied territories and with the building of its wall (the wall is not only wholly built on the Palestinian side of the “green line” but also cuts deeply into Palestinian territory in countless places to protect major Israeli settlements and to isolate major Palestinian cities) is to create a de facto system comparable to the infamous one erected by whites in South Africa. One need only look at one of Carter’s maps to see this. The illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank in effect carve up the territory supposed to be allotted to a Palestinian state into “bantustans”—small islands of land cut off from each other to the extent that no sane person could call this a unified state. When one adds the separate road system (only Jewish settlers can use the good roads, with Palestinians shunted to their own inferior roads blocked with countless checkpoints), the unequal water system (“each Jewish settler uses five times as much water as a Palestinian neighbor, who must pay five times as much per gallon” p. 121), the fact that the wall cuts off “about 200,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem from their relatives, property, schools, and businesses,” (p. 195), and the fact that “untreated sewage [from settlers’ villages] is discharged onto the surrounding fields and villages” (p. 121) of the Palestinians, one can be in no doubt that this is, indeed, apartheid of a particularly vicious kind. The International Court of Justice has agreed, in a July 2004 ruling “the Israeli government’s construction of the segregation wall in the occupied Palestinian West Bank was illegal.” (p. 193)
Jimmy Carter has pointed all this out in no uncertain terms. His doing so has been taken as a flagrant violation of the unwritten pact governing political and media discourse in the United States, i.e., that no information detrimental to Israeli policy can be publicly aired. To do so, thereby incurring the resultant charges of “anti-Semitism,” is tantamount to political suicide. Given the fact that Carter even more egregiously violated the pact when he was president, by actually, in response to a 1978 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, warning Prime Minister Begin “that if Israeli forces remained in Lebanon, I would have to notify Congress, as required by law, that U.S. weapons were being used illegally in Lebanon, which would automatically cut off all military aid to Israel” (p. 44), whence Israel withdrew, it is not surprising that Carter’s new book would cause such furor.
One can only hope the furor will fail, or better still, backfire. For Carter’s book has done a signal service to the right of free political discourse in the United States. He has hammered away at the central problem preventing peace in the Middle East: that Israel has been in violation of United Nations resolutions almost continuously since its victory in the 1967 war. UN Security Council Resolution 242 refers, without equivocation, to “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war,” and states, “fulfillment of Charter principles requires…Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” It also calls for “achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem” (all quotes p. 218). This language could not be clearer, and yet, for forty years now Israel has maintained its illegal occupation of Palestinian land, established hundreds of illegal settlements on the best of that land, and is now dividing up what remains into virtually unlivable bantustans. It is also literally starving the Palestinians of resources and everything that makes life even modestly livable. To talk of a two-state solution with these settlements and this apartheid wall in place is to speak nonsense—and Jimmy Carter points this out. For this, for his honesty, his courage, and the measured, authoritative nature of his presentation, we all owe him a debt of gratitude. One can only hope that members of the United States Congress will find even a small modicum of Carter’s courage to demand the fairness, honesty and real American justice that he recommends.

Lawrence DiStasi