Monday, December 24, 2007

“We Can’t Leave Until We Win” ~ Part II

Do you remember the old songs we used to sing in “The Nam”? Lately I particularly remember the Boy Scout song “We’re here, because we’re here, because … etc.”, and , “We’ve gotta get out of this place” by The Animals.
We can’t just tell our soldiers in Iraq that they are “There because they’re there”; that is not fair and makes no sense. Also, I’ve got to think that they want to “get out of [that] place, if it’s the last thing [they] ever do.”
For their sakes, we need a definition of victory that they can live with; it would be nice if we as a nation could live with too.
We have to separate military victory from national victory if we are going to make any sense of this at all. Clearly, military victory is sufficient for the military to come home, while other agencies and associations work to complete “national victory.”
There is a story, probably apocryphal, that President Ford asked for an independent analysis of US involvement in Vietnam post-WWII, that is, from 1945-75. When he was given the report the title was, “US Wins Vietnam War”, but the subtitle was, “War was won in 1964, but subsequently lost in 1965-75”.
Using that logic, President Bush may have been very nearly right, if a bit premature, when he gave his “Mission Accomplished” address on the USS Lincoln. If the objective was to rid the world from the menace of a Hussein with WMD, then the absence of that risk was proven. If the objective, as later stated, was to dethrone Hussein – regime change – then the objective had been reached. All we needed to do militarily was to consolidate, clean up, and come home. If the objective was to establish a democratic Iraq, then with the State Department and the United Nations left to help Iraq get back on its feet after many years of economic sanctions that was perhaps possible, but not a military objective.
It is the subtitle of the Iraq War that is the problem: it might very well be, “War was won in 2003, but subsequently lost in 2004-2007 and beyond.” But that is not the military’s fault – that does not constitute a military defeat, although it may ad up to a national defeat.
The forces’ first mission in 2003 was: “Find and neutralize WMD in Iraq, and neutralize any WMD production and research facilities.” Result: 9 April 2003; MISSION ACCOMPLISHED (or if you’d rather) VICTORY.
The second mission was: “Depose Saddam Hussein and his government, allowing for a new regime in Iraq; find him, arrest him, and turn him over to the sovereign Iraqi government for prosecution.” Result: 14 December 2003; MISSION ACCOMPLISHED ~ VICTORY.
Unfortunately, since then the mission seems to have been: “Keep on keepin’ on.” Result: 2005-2007; STAGNATION, but not DEFEAT. There has been no appropriate military mission, therefore there has been no defeat.
So now we are faced with the task of redefining the objective to fit the situation. Let’s start with the four original goals for the future of this piece:
1. Stop the loss of US lives as soon as reasonably possible.
2. Stop the loss of Iraqi lives at the hands of US forces.
3. End the occupation by US forces of another sovereign nation.
4. Leave Iraq a chance to stabilize itself through its own efforts, with outside economic and political help.
Add to that a reasonable description of the situation at hand. By the common account, “The U.S. troop buildup has brought down violence, but that has failed to spark cooperation among politicians. If anything, the country appears more balkanized into ethnic and sectarian enclaves.” LA Times The decrease in violence to Iraqis is reported to be a combination of the Balkanization of all of Iraq into many ethnically “clean” zones (read sectarian turf), and a lack of legitimate reporting on violence occurring daily throughout the country as the Iraq war fades from the news. The general atmosphere in the countryside and in most of the cities seems to be small-to-large turf wars among the various factions, much like the Italian Mafia families with the Sicilians or Cosa Nostra (Shia), the Calibrians or ‘Ndrangheta (Sunni), the Camorra (Kurds), and the Sacra Corona Unita (Uzbeks and others). US Forces do not belong in the middle of such a fight, and have no acceptable mission there.
The military and governmental situation is that the Maliki government, strongly influenced by Iran and strongly pro-Shia, is making the occupying forces’ policy decisions; this is unacceptable to any American. We ought to remember this situation from the Vietnam War when local ARVN military commanders and province chiefs forced us to withhold missions and fires because their friends and relatives in the Cong and the PAVN were in the area. The Sunni militias are running their turf and we are paying [bribing] them to support us, a situation that will last only as long as the bribes last.
What should we do?
After almost five years of war we ought to say officially, “We’ve gotta get out of this place.” We need to say that our military goals have been met and then some. We cannot provide security by pretending that dealing with a central government without influence is the solution. We cannot continue to fight where the our tactical security decisions are being made by local tribal leaders and private militia bosses. Most of all, we can no longer be involved in a religious war where the multiple combatants care only for their own power and the supremacy of their ideology. In short, we cannot make a nation when the local leaders don’t really want one.
Thus we propose a new military objective which includes the premise that there will be no permanent stationing of forces in Iraq.
First objective – Disengage and move into secure enclaves. There is no need to continue losing allied lives, and there is no positive result by continuing to provide neighborhood security through search and destroy missions which at the least enrage, and sometimes destroy the neighborhoods we are trying to secure. After five years this job has to be turned over to the Iraqi police and military, regardless of their willingness, and regardless of their views on democracy, justice, due process, or religion.
Second objective – Provide national not neighborhood security by establishing the enclaves toward the borders of Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and committing to 6-12 months of providing border security.
Third objective – Withdraw after one year at the most, and regardless of the internal situation at the time. We cannot build a nation by beating the Iraqis into submission, and we don’t have the forces to do it if we could. We cannot continue to operate in an environment where critical policy decisions are made by any chief or bandit who wishes, when those decisions profoundly affect our forces. Withdrawal should be accomplished in the best military manner, with troop security the paramount consideration.
At the end of this editorial is their new “five-paragraph field order”
What then of Iraq? Don’t we have an obligation to them after all this time? Well yes we do, but it is not a military obligation. We ought to be firing up to aid reconstruction, to the extent that the Iraqis themselves can provide security to their reconstruction efforts. Those efforts should be international, involving our world partnerships, and not just the US alone. The bulk of the funding will have to come from us, and rightly since we have done most of the damage, but it should be in the form of grants, and should not involve US contractors unless the Iraqis request them.
But won’t the money be misused? Well yes, by our definition, but our definitions don’t always work. If you have ever worked in the Middle East, as I have, you know that an American’s “bribe” is a Middle Easterners “commission” or “fee for services”. That’s the way they do things, whether we approve or not. Guess what? They don’t understand or approve of our view either.
So by giving grants, we don’t have to worry about the “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” except when US contractors are involved. We can continue to fund them at the rate we have been pouring money into the war for another two years or so, and then pull the plug. After that, it’s all their show.
Finally, when the troops come home, honor them for MISSION ACCOMPLISHED ~ VICTORY!
As for the future, try reading "Restoring American Military Power: Toward a New Progressive Defense Strategy for America”, by Lawrence Korb and Max Bergmann. [Ed.]

Sandy Cook

Putin as Man of the Year

Russian President Vladimir Putin has just been chosen Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. Now aside from any quarrel with the idea that he has been the most influential man in the world for 2007 (what about Al Gore?), the selection and the report on Putin on the Lehrer News Hour leaves me seriously concerned for the Russian people. The main concern is this: once again, Russians seem to be placing their faith in a leader who not only rose to power from the secret police, but one who makes no secret of his aspiration to be leader for life. He has selected his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, and seems a cinch to become Prime Minister under this hand-picked president. When asked to explain how the Russians feel about the possible recurrence of yet another supreme ruler, one of the pundits on the News Hour explained that most Russians seem to have been willing to give up a “little” freedom in exchange for stability.

All this seems, especially after having read Nadezhda Mandelstam’s Hope Against Hope, a terrible case of ‘déjà vu all over again.’ Hope Against Hope is Mandelstam’s account of her years with the poet, Osip Mandelstam, as they struggled to survive the series of purges instituted by Josef Stalin after the Russian Revolution, purges which resulted in the deaths of millions. Though she survived to write her memoir, Osip Mandelstam did not: he was arrested for the second time in 1937 (presumably for a poem he wrote criticizing Stalin, but no one really knows), and perished shortly thereafter (no one really knows when). As Nadezhda Mandelstam writes, in the days of the Stalinist terror, with arrests occurring without notice or reason at any time, arrest meant not simply incarceration for a time, but a literal death sentence. Almost no one returned from the labor camps.

What is most chilling with regard to Putin are Mandelstam’s thoughts on why the Russian people put up with all this. Why did they tolerate a dictator who turned on his own people, his allies, his friends, anyone and everyone? Why did they act like such helpless sheep? Mandelstam attributes their behavior, in the first place, to fear of chaos. Here is what she writes:

There had been a time when, terrified of chaos, we had all prayed for a strong system, for a powerful hand that would stem the angry human river overflowing its banks. This fear of chaos is perhaps the most permanent of our feelings—we have still not recovered from it, and it is passed on from one generation to another….I remember Herzen’s words about the intelligentsia which so much fears its own people that it prefers to go in chains itself, provided the people, too, remain fettered. (p. 96)

When we think of the economic and social collapse Russia suffered beginning in 1990, we see history repeating itself. Once again, with the memory of the chaos and deprivation of those years of meltdown still fresh, it appears the Russian people have opted for “a powerful hand,” the hand of ex-KGB man Vladimir Putin. For an idea of the type of massive indifference to human suffering this can lead to, consider the story Mandelstam tells of the woman she encountered in a Prosecutor’s Office. The woman was desperate to find out about her son, who had been arrested by mistake: he had the same name as the person supposed to be arrested from the same building, and was therefore hauled off to camp. Still, “though it meant moving mountains,” the woman had actually managed to convince an official of the mistake, and obtained an order for her son’s release. Unfortunately, it was too late, and the woman now heard that her son had been killed in an “accident.” She began to scream and sob, but not only was she yelled at by the Prosecutor, she was also set upon by her fellow supplicants in the office, all trying to get their own cases heard:

“‘What’s the use of crying?’ asked one long suffering woman who was trying to find out about her own son. ‘That won’t bring him back to life, and she’s only holding us up.’ The disturber of the peace was removed, and order was restored.” (p. 285)

Thus does terror involve everyone, make victims of everyone. As Mandelstam puts it, “Anybody who breathes the air of terror is doomed, even if nominally he manages to saves his life.” This is because the reign of terror, the logical consequence of absolute rule, takes its victims beyond fear to what Mandelstam describes as “a paralyzing sense of one’s own helplessness to which we were all prey, not only those who were killed, but the killers themselves as well.”

Now we have Vladimir Putin, the man whose “soul” our insightful President once claimed to have seen as benign, placing himself in position to become yet another leader for life, with all the consequences in power and terror that position implies.

There was a time when we in the United States could contemplate such developments from afar. No longer. Especially since 9/11, what Americans no less than Russians have to fear is the self-same willingness of many of us to put ourselves in the hands of a power-hungry leader, to exchange just a “little” loss of freedom for the promise of security. Given the underlying shakiness of the economy and the U.S. dollar, the fallout from global warming, and much else besides, one can only imagine what further losses we might all be willing to tolerate in exchange for stability. In that regard, we should heed what Nadezhda Mandelstam has written, especially about the need to rage against such losses, to resist.

“If nothing else is left,” she says, “one must scream. Silence is the real crime against humanity.”

Lawrence DiStasi

Friday, December 14, 2007

How Could they Do It?

            Increasingly, we humans are faced with acts that seem unexplainable. How, we ask, could the Nazi Holocaust, the genocides in Armenia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and elsewhere, and most recently, the torture committed by United States troops at Abu Ghraib, have happened? With this in mind, I recently read Iris Chang’s disturbing account of yet another genocidal killing spree, that of Japanese troops against the residents of the Chinese city of Nanking in 1937, all of it detailed in Chang’s The Rape of Nanking (Basic Books, 1997). And the question that Chang poses in at least two places in her book is the one haunting us all these days: How could they do it? How could otherwise rational human beings lose all sense of respect and restraint in order to torture, humiliate, dismember, and violate in every way fellow human beings, and on such a grand scale? Chang offers not one but several answers to explain the events in Nanking—where as many as 300,000 Chinese were slaughtered in a matter of weeks. Among them are the absolute deadliness of absolute power; the specific training which the Japanese military imposed on its soldiers, training them with exercises meant to instill killing instincts; the suppressed rage of those soldiers, themselves treated like dirt by their officers; the “frightening ease” with which all of us can witness and accept genocide as long as the danger is perceived to be far away. All these, and others, especially the training which portrays the enemy as “sub-human,” no doubt operate. But I think there is one more, a usually unspoken one, which relates to some recent thoughts of mine on betrayal (see the blogs, Traitors I and II).
            I am referring to a sense one can get when reading about truly unspeakable acts—the vindictive manner with which Japanese soldiers cut off the heads of all Chinese, including women they had just savagely raped; the torture and brutality imposed on little children, pregnant mothers, helpless old people, none of whom could have possibly represented a threat—that more than the numbing of civilized behavior or empathy is at work, that some unspoken animus is at play here. It is as if the soldier, the perpetrator, is blaming his victims, blaming them for being what they are. There is the distinct sense in this, in all sadism perhaps, that the perpetrator is blaming the victim for being something disgusting, something humiliating. The soldier/torturer, that is, first puts the victim in a situation of complete powerlessness, and then blames him or her for being powerless. For groveling. For not standing up to defend himself, but rather begging for his life, demonstrating his willingness to submit to any humiliation in order to be spared.
            And what we hear is the interior monologue of the torturer: you disgust me. You are beneath contempt, and therefore do not deserve to live. But why? we want to ask. What is so disgusting? And I think the answer is that you, as a victim, my victim, remind me of what I am, of what I am trying desperately not to be: completely vulnerable, a being who is a hair’s breadth away, always, from dying, from groveling in shit and humiliation myself. This, I think, is the deep fear that is raised by the sight of a completely helpless victim. And, at the same time, what is also raised is an exhilaration that I can, at least for the moment, rise above that horribly rejected condition by treating you as dirt. By destroying you, sending you back to that nothingness from which you came. That is to say, we, our conscious selves, always yearn to be invulnerable, always strive to position ourselves above the mess and perilous brevity of our existence, to see ourselves as somehow not the barely cobbled-together, watery beings we know we are. And the yearning runs on fear.
            In a real way, I think, this fear is connected to the fear of reversion I’ve referred to in my ‘Traitor’ series. We all know we are mud and dirt and slime, disgusting from the point of view of so-called “civilization” where we do everything to mute and disguise that origin. We also all know that our determination to pretend to be substantial, permanent, solid, to make our civilized works permanent and solid, stems from our evanescence, from the paltry nature of what we are and how pitifully brief and shaky is our appearance here. Iris Chang refers to this several times in her book, when she comments again and again on the “thin veneer of civilization” that can vanish so easily and quickly in a genocide. And that is true. And we all know it. And it terrifies us, the knowledge that any of us, all of us, can so easily revert to a state of anarchy, powerlessness, shapelessness. And again, it is precisely that terror which is turned on the victim, turned into rage against the victim who reminds us of our terror. Of the imminence of our reversion to mud and slime and liquefaction.
            This, then, is what I think lies at the heart of all this horror and brutality, this exultation in rape and dismemberment and torture and murder in the cruel fashion of which only humans are capable. ‘Don’t remind me of what I am. I hate you for reminding me of what I am. And therefore I will reduce you to the most abject piece of shit and trash imaginable.’ The Nazis did this constantly, routinely to the Jews in concentration camps. And, as Iris Chang demonstrates with chapter and verse, the Japanese in Nanking did this just as routinely. It wasn’t just killing soldiers or civilians who might be dangerous. It was humiliating them even after death. Most were dumped into the Yangtze River, which ran blood for weeks. But the most vivid depiction of what I am referring to occurred in the revolting story of the Japanese dumping the bodies of dead Chinese into pits—the pits which the Chinese had earlier dug in most roads in the vain hope that they could hinder the advance of Japanese tanks. The conquering Japanese responded with the genocidal cruelty which Nanking symbolizes: they filled the pits with Chinese bodies, some still alive, and took pleasure in running over these pits of piled-up bodies now functioning as dirt, with their tanks and trucks. Horror. But more than horror, this cruel inversion of decent burial turned the Chinese bodies into the deepest form of humiliation: ‘You are nothing but roadfill. Roadkill. Inanimate shapeless matter of the most worthless kind.’
            Something more than the numbing of civilized behavior in war is needed to explain such horror. Something, I would submit, like what I have referred to above. Something that all of us, however well trained, ignore at our peril.
Lawrence DiStasi

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Meaning of IS

It all depends on the meaning of “is”
Clinton said with measured reason
And annoyed us with a fizz
Just short of national treason
But now we face more lies
Than truth can possibly uncover
In Dana Perrino’s blinking eyes
Or a news helicopter’s hover

There is an irony in the news recently that Barry Bonds is being charged with perjury for denying that he used performance-enhancing drugs because it is competing with the news that Bush lied about the nuclear danger posed by Iran. Sports are important and I do not mean to diminish the impact of a role model for our youth. One could argue that President Bush has long ago given up the role of being a person to emulate and perhaps nobody expects the truth from him any longer. If Barry Bonds lied, then the sport of baseball is diminished. He is going to trial. If Bush lied, then Democracy is diminished. He is not going to trial. Today, the LA Times and several news organizations are carrying the story of the CIA destruction of video demonstrating their use of methods that the world calls “torture.” Bush has repeated the mantra that the “United States does not torture.” I guess that it all depends on what the meaning of “torture” is.

As a simple example, we have charged and convicted perpetrators of waterboarding as torturers at least since the Spanish American War. We convicted Japanese for that offense during war crimes trials for WW II. Not incidentally, we held leaders responsible for the actions of their followers. Does it really depend on what the meaning of “torture” is when we have longstanding precedent and we have isolated ourselves from the civilized world in defining it? Does the CIA destroying evidence constitute vindication in our neocon world? Does it matter that the evidence was requested by a Federal Court? An earlier presidential spokesman, Scott McClellan has recently written a book decrying the fact that he was lied to and made to lie, in turn, to the American people.

The specific reference by McClellan is the treasonous act of outing an undercover agent and the following perjury. McClellan repeated the lie that Bush, Cheney nor anybody else in the White House participated in the process. Recall that Bush said that he would dismiss anybody in his administration involved, including White House members? Bush hardly waited for the jury to reach a verdict before he commuted Scooter Libby's jail sentence. Does it really matter that Bush communicated that he would fire anybody involved? Maybe he crossed his fingers and we failed to notice. Does it matter that Bush’s Brain “turd blossom” Rove is writing a book to revise the history of the rush to war in Iraq? Rove now claims that it was Congress and not the President that rushed to war despite dozens of video clips that demonstrate that both he and the President urged and chided the Congress for not acting fast enough. Does it matter?

We have long criticized the Russians and Chinese who brazenly used propaganda during the Cold War. We laughed at their attempts to cover up failures and blunders in politics and science. We winced at their human rights abuses when they minimized their crimes as essential to maintaining justice. Their lies were transparent to us. It seemed to matter then. We have now outsourced some of our propaganda and are spending millions annually for the Lincoln Group to propagandize Iraq through the press. Does it matter? Don’t the ends justify the means, after all?

If the end was to attack Iran by building up the tempo and drum beat, then it did matter that the intelligence community collectively decided not to cave in to pressure from the White House. Distorted intelligence from an alcoholic “Curve Ball” was used to get us into Iraq and it appears that intelligence providers did not want a repeat that scandal. It does matter. It matters to the thousands who may have been killed or injured and it matters to each of us that at least one of our checks and balances worked for reason instead of rashness. It matters to our Army and to the Marine Corps that have been depleted by repeated deployments. It matters to our friends who may have lost faith in the United States. It matters to our enemies who have seen us as a justifiable target for retaliation. Reports indicate that the Vice President delayed the report for a year, but it matters that the report was made. That is progress from an administration that has been singular in promoting secrecy and hiding truth.

Baseball will survive the Barry Bonds trial. The sport will not be severed from our culture. We need to follow that example and see that justice is served and not severed from our culture.
George Giacoppe
7 December 2007

Thursday, December 06, 2007

NIE Report on Iran

 Is it not astonishing to watch the smarm coming out of the White House in response to the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which reported that Iran is NOT working on a nuclear weapon, and in fact ended its nuclear weapons efforts in 2003?  Is it not mind-boggling to see the President at a news conference assuring us that far from contradicting the saber-rattling blather that he has been hyping for months-recently raising the specter of WW III if Iran were to get the "knowledge" to build a bomb--the NIE report just confirms and reinforces his suspicions of Iran?  And further to see, in response to a question about the timing of his WW III comment, the President smirking (as he always does when he's lying) and insisting that he didn't know about this report when he made his remarks because he only found out last week?
I mean, have they no shame?  No discomfort to be caught lying through their teeth, to the point where their whole Iran policy is revealed as yet another fraud?  Apparently not.  Because in the first place, has just rerun a story dated Nov. 9, 2007 by Inter Press Service that literally doubles the fraud:

"A National Intelligence Estimate on Iran has been held up for more than a year in an effort to force the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on the Iranian nuclear program, and thus make the document more supportive of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's militarily aggressive policy towards Iran...."

In other words, the report that the public just read about yesterday was not only ready to be published a year ago, but the President knew it and tried to quash it entirely.  Failing that, he had sent it back three times to modify it as to conform with the administration's attempt to create enough fear about Iran to justify a military strike on its "secret" nuclear-building operations.

And now that the intelligence experts have refused to bow to administration pressure, and have directly (though a year late) contradicted the administration's propaganda about those "secret" operations, the President and his minions in Congress,  without batting an eye, contend that the report actually substantiates their view that Iran was working on nukes before, and will be working on them again.

So, where any rational human being would interpret the NIE report as exposing Cheney and his neocon henchmen as the fools they are, the report is tortured to resemble new evidence against the alleged nuclear devils in Tehran.

In short, evidence means nothing to the adolescent fascists in the White House.  Determined to paint Iran as a rogue nation deserving of a pre-emptive strike, they will reinterpret, undermine and make up their own intelligence to do it.  And, of course, one of the ways they do this is to keep repeating the other durable lie--that President Ahmadinejad of Iran "intends to wipe Israel of the face of the earth."  In regard to which Marjorie Cohnpointed out recently,

"According to University of Michigan professor Juan Cole and farsi language analysts, Ahmadinejad was quoting Ayatollah Khomeini, who said the "regime occupying jerusalem must vanish from the page of time."  cole said this "does not imply military action or killing anyone at all."

Rather, it means that the Iranians predict (and devoutly hope) that the Zionist regime will sooner or later disappear.  Anyone familiar with the history of Israel and the Middle East would be hard pressed to disagree.  But language, like truth, means nothing to these people.  Or rather, it represents just another tool to be tortured and twisted to create the impression of constant crisis, to instill fear in the populace, and to use that fear to justify the loss of liberty  at home and "pre-emptive" aggression abroad.

So beware.  Even though its own intelligence has confirmed that the so-called nuclear danger from Iran was and is pure bullshit (as was the similar hype over Iraq's WMD), the sociopaths in this White House have proven that they not only have no shame, they lack even the minimal conscience needed to be embarrassed,  much less dissuaded from their criminal designs.

Lawrence DiStasi
6 December 2007