Sunday, December 31. 2006
Helena Cobban makes the key point about Saddam Hussein:
One lesson of history is that once war starts everyone does things that they would never do otherwise. The difference under war between monsters and bureaucrats turns out to be relatively minor. It's not even the case that the difference is that the monsters relish war, as the bureaucrats are equally capable of rationalizing it. Given what war brings, maybe the standard for determing who is and is not a monster should simply be who is willing and able to go to war. Saddam passes that test, but only so long as he ruled Iraq. Bush also passes that test, but again only while he had the power to act on his monstrous impulses. Separating such monsters from power turns them back into annoying but relatively harmless ordinary assholes.
It bears repeating that what empowers these monsters is our naive belief that war has some redeeming value. This may have had ancient roots, as Barbara Ehrenreich argues in Blood Rites, but the instinct has long become dysfunctional. Karen Armstrong argues that the Axial age religions were founded in response to "an unprecedented crescendo of violence." [interview in Salon: "In every single case, the catalyst for religious change had been a revulsion against violence.] Mark Kurlansky's Non-Violence outlines the long history of the rejection of war, going back to the Axial age religions, but the rationalization of war continues unabated to our day.
At present, the vogue for war is so great that many of us are tempted to reject the characterization of monsters -- even someone like Saddam Hussein -- on the well-founded suspicion that the any agreement would just empower our own monstrous tendencies. So it is crucial that we understand that war is the real monstrosity, enveloping all who participate in it. And that the solution isn't to slay monsters -- it's to starve them, by denying them the arms, the hate, the propaganda, the notion that they can succeed through force.
Further down, Cobban quotes Riverbend on US intentions in Iraq:
Actually, I doubt that the Americans can conceive of Iraq getting better without them. That's one of the staple delusions that the Bush gang exploits in hanging on there. But it's worthwhile to try to look at things from other people's perspectives. It certainly looks like the only intention the Americans had in Iraq was to destroy, to beat the country back into a primitive, desperate squalor which will take them decades, if ever, to recover from. In any case, such an endstate costs the US very little, especially given that Bush sees terrorism as a political asset.
Saturday, December 30. 2006
The execution of Saddam Hussein brings closure to a America's confused and rather pathetic handling of Iraq's warlord since they captured him in late 2003. It is perhaps the only closure Bush and Maliki are capable of on the weekend when US soldier deaths in Iraq are expected to pass the 3000 mark. (The count was 2996 when Saddam was hung.) But it's not just an opportune piece of PR timing. It's one more example of how trapped Bush and his crowd are in their conflation of justice and revenge. Executing political figures like Saddam Hussein provide scant satisfaction for either impulse. Their crimes far exceed any price they can pay with personal life, and their deaths offer little to the healing process. Indeed, because revenge is so inadequate, the main thing it does is set the precedent for further revenge.
The US had two relatively good options with Saddam Hussein. They could have taken the low road and killed him right away, perhaps by stuffing him back in that spider hole with a grenade. Or they could have taken the high road and packed him off to the Hague to spend the rest of his miserable life in court facing evidence of his crimes. The former would have settled matters fast enough that no one would have given it a second thought. The latter would have set a higher standard for justice than the US occupation could provide on its own, let alone through the fiction of an independent-but-subservient Iraqi government. But the latter was something Bush could not afford, lest he find himself invited to the Hague as well. The former may just have been bad luck -- the residue of bad planning and hapless performance -- but that, too, follows Bush around.
Instead, the US tried to split the difference: to convene a court no one could possibly mistake as fair and to prosecute Saddam Hussein for some of his lesser crimes, reinforcing the suspicion that the US was party to, or at least no less guilty of, the major crimes. The worst crime of all was starting the war with Iran, which dragged on eight years, costing both sides more than a million lives. But prosecuting Saddam for attacking Iran would show Iran as the victim and raise questions as to what extent the US and its regional allies supported him in starting and prolonging the war. And for that matter, it would raise the question of whether Bush is responsible for the same sort of crime in invading Iraq.
After Iran, there are numerous other things Saddam could have been prosecuted for. As it turns out, what he was prosecuted for was a relatively narrow incident against the ruling Dawa party, making the trial look more than anything else like an instance of revenge politics. This might not matter if Iraq were stable and the Iraqi government recognized as legitimate and equitable, but that is far from the case. As it is, the trial and execution only adds to the sum of sectarian revenge that is tearing Iraq apart. The real challenge with Saddam would have been to try to use him to start to heal the chasm.
I can't say that would be possible, but it's certainly beyond the grasp of someone like Bush, who believes that force clarifies all situations. As governor of Texas, Bush never had a second thought about an execution, and he wound up signing off on more death warrants than Saddam was prosecuted for. (Albeit, not more deaths than Saddam was responsible for. Bush only moved into that league when he became Commander in Chief.) Of course, we don't yet know just how this came about, but there is little doubt that Bush craved a death sentence, and that the show trial was staged for just that purpose. As usual, the trappings of legitimacy were intended to impress only the Americans -- Iraqis have seen things like this before. And so it gives Bush a talking point: that he brought Saddam Hussein "to justice" -- i.e., that he salvaged at least something from his war goals.
It makes for a very shallow victory. That he has consigned Saddam Hussein to history is probably for the best, especially given that he had no better use for him. A smart move at this point would be for Iraq to abolish the death penalty, but that won't happen -- and not just because it would be uncomfortable for Bush. Following WWII, an American general warned politicians seeking to keep Germany crippled that they can have revenge or peace, but not both. Iraq, like Bush, seems hellbent on revenge, and this execution is just one more example. At this rate, peace will be a long time coming.
The one irony in the timing of his execution is that the other big story this week is Gerald Ford, who is being remembered for his "courageous" contribution to "healing the nation" by pardoning Richard Nixon. I put the quotes are there because, as I've written already, there are problems with that interpretation, but it gives us a reference myth for evaluating this execution. (I'll resist the temptation to argue that Nixon was a war criminal comparable or worse than Saddam -- I'd say worse, but settle for the same.) I'm not a fan of capital punishment, but I wouldn't have minded seeing Nixon swing. In fact, one of the reasons I turned against capital punishment was my disappointment that Nixon never got his just desserts. But it also helped get me past my desire for revenge, and that moved me, if not our country, onto a much more peaceable path.
I don't doubt that Saddam Hussein deserved to die, or far worse if you could figure out what that might be. But it's a matter of mere faith to say that the world's better off with him dead -- it's going to be real hard to prove that it's much better. Once he was removed from power and locked behind bars, he ceased to be a danger to anyone -- much as Nixon ceased to be a public menace once he resigned in disgrace. People die in circumstances that are beyond anyone's control, but executions are always optional: Bush and his Iraqi cronies chose to kill Saddam Hussein. In doing so, they've taken a guy who was powerless and turned him into a martyr. We'll see whether that comes back to haunt them, but in the meantime it just feeds the revenge cycle. Iraq needs peace, not revenge. So does America.
One thing that killing Saddam Hussein accomplishes is to keep quite whatever relationship he had with the CIA and the US over the years. Juan Cole has a useful review of what is known about this.
As a special bonus, here's the way Boots Riley explains it in "Head (Of State)," from the Coup's Pick a Bigger Weapon:
The refrain goes: "Bush and Hussein together in bed/Giving H-E-A-D: head/Y'all muthafuckas heard what we said/Billions made and millions dead."
Friday, December 29. 2006
I'm looking at the Jazz Times "Year in Review" list of "Top 50 CDs" and one thing that strikes me is how concentrated the set of labels are. There's no information on how they selected the list. But it does seem peculiar that 42% (21 of 50) come from just four labels: Blue Note (8), ECM (6), Nonesuch (4), Cryptogramophone (3). Six more labels landed two records each -- Concord, Palmetto, Pi, Sunnyside, Telarc/Heads Up, Verve -- bringing us to 66% for the top ten labels. Four more records were by major artists now on their own labels: Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Dave Holland, Dave Douglas. That leaves 13 records for the hundreds of other labels releasing jazz these days.
The second thing to note is that only one of all those labels is based in Europe, and that's ECM, distributed in the US by Universal. For that matter, only two artists (4%) come from Europe (Tomasz Stanko and Nik Bartsch, both on ECM). For that matter, I only recognize one Canadian (Jane Bunnett), no one from south of the US border (Eddie Palmieri's a New Yorker and Brian Lynch is from Milwaukee), let alone anyone from Africa or Asia (Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa are a generation removed from India). Only two albums can be classified as Latin jazz (Lynch/Palmieri and Bunnett). The list isn't exactly anti-avant -- for instance, the pianists include Muhal Richard Abrams, Dave Burrell, Myra Melford, Matthew Shipp, and Vijay Iyer, even if I'm uncertain about Andrew Hill, Randy Weston, and Jason Moran these days. But it does seem to be rather narrowly sourced and insular.
For a comparison, I took the list of 52 A- or better new (well, some vault items) jazz (well, some related world) albums I published a few days ago, and found 38 separate labels. Of those, the most places any label scored was three (Atavistic, ECM, Fresh Sound); eight more labels scored twice (Arbors, Clean Feed, Cuneiform, Justin Time, Libra, Pi, Smalls, Sunnyside). Only 3 of those 11 labels placed 2+ times with Jazz Times: ECM, Pi, Sunnyside. I had 11 European labels, plus one from Japan (Libra) and one from Canada (Stony Plain). I figure that even in my case Europe is underrepresented because I get nothing from so many important labels -- some that pop into mind are Criss Cross, Steeplechase, Leo, Emanem, Hep, FMP, Hat, Dreyfus, Label Bleu, and all the Italian labels.
Thursday, December 28. 2006
The natural tendency when someone dies is to try to say something nice about the person. How hard this can sometimes be is a constant theme in Kudzu, the comic strip featuring the Rev. Will B. Dunn. But really, folks, why are we being so nice to Gerald Ford? The Wichita Eagle had a gushing editorial on Ford today, flanked by a Crowson cartoon showing a map of America with a big bandaid representing Ford crossing the heartland. Walter Shapiro's Salon piece sums up the sentiment: "The man who ended our Nixon nightmare." It's hard to imagine a clearer case of the fallacy of succession: the idea that what came after caused what went before to go away. Ford followed Nixon as President in an inside deal that, to the relief of everyone, first cleared Spiro Agnew out of the way. But Ford's only contribution to healing the damage that Nixon wrought was pardoning Nixon from future prosecution, and that too was part of the deal. The pardon stopped the digging, eventually allowing Nixon to be rehabilitated -- at least to the point where Bill Clinton, who of all people should have known better, wound up eulogizing Nixon at his funeral.
Actually, the people who "ended our Nixon nightmare" were the ones who exposed it: journalists like Woodward and Bernstein, politicians like Sam Ervin, prosecutors like Archibald Cox, a few insiders with a conscience like John Dean. It was only by exposing Nixon's crimes that we could in any way deal with them. Ford's only role in this was to clean up the mess -- primarily by putting a stop to the exposure. Watergate, after all, was not the worst thing Nixon did. The worst was Vietnam -- another mess that Ford conveniently mopped up, so we could recover without learning any painful lessons.
The net effect of the Ford cover-ups was that we never learned not to abuse the political power of the presidency and we never learned that US military power is not necessarily able to force other nations to bend to our will. Those lessons came back to hit us hard in the Bush administrations, especially the second. Is it some sort of coincidence that Ford's chiefs-of-staff Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney have been recurrent actors in those nightmares? I suppose it could be, but one thing Rumsfeld and Cheney must have witnessed firsthand is how power protects its own, and as such how much license they have to abuse it -- as long as they can keep it under wraps. This raises the question of whether, had Nixon really paid for his crimes, the Bushes would have been so cavalier about committing their own?
The answer is probably yes, because even if the lesser cover-up of Nixon's political machinations had been foiled, no one dared to question the the real problem: the militarization of the presidency, which resulted from America's addiction to hot and cold wars in the aftermath of WWII. Nixon was anomalous only in that he personalized war to such an extreme that he ordered crimes like Watergate. But every president from Truman on has on their own authority, with no real public debate or oversight, directed hostile acts against other nations, and in doing so they've built up as self-contained and as belligerent as the Ottoman sultans or the Mongol khans. To do that, they had to operate in secret -- the rationale and the consequence of the imperial presidency. For a long time this was justified by the ideology of anti-communism, but since the Soviet Union fell it has been self-sustaining, directed at evils that for the most part are mere reflections of itself. That, even more than Nixon, was what Ford covered up.
There's no need to blame Ford severely for this. He was, at most, a bit player, a man of no great curiosity or conviction who had some skills at getting along, presenting a straight face, and asking few questions. (It's worth noting that Ford had already proven this much on the Warren Commission.) Whether he was what the cold warriors needed at the time is hard to say. Mostly they needed time to bury Vietnam, and he was at least good for some of that. But he didn't heal anything, and in the long run he did his little bit to make things worse. One revelation that has come out since his death is that he was opposed to Bush's Iraq War. But, typically, he never went public with that when it might have made a difference. When you read about his "profile in courage" award, please gag.
These thoughts are echoed and expanded on in various letters responding to Shapiro.
Slackie Onassis wrote:
Ford's presidency is remembered as relatively benign in terms of foreign policy, but Miriam Adams points out:
One assertion in the letters is that Ford was in office a whole month before he pardoned Nixon, and only decided to do so at that point -- i.e., it was not part of the deal, as I suggest above, but a decision that he made independently. I don't have evidence that I'm right, but I find the logic of the deal so compelling that the burden of evidence should be on the other side. Maybe it wasn't formalized as a deal, but the basic need for limiting the damage, especially to the presidential institution, pushed Ford in the direction of some sort of cover-up. The pardon was a novel approach, and not necessarily a legally sound one. The time delay helped Ford establish a facade of independence, and let the bury-the-hatchet propaganda take root.
Ford was almost a definition of mediocrity, but his death comes at the same time as the death of a truly great American, James Brown. It surely is a coincidence that Ronald Reagan died at about the same time as Ray Charles -- one of the few American musicians of the 20th century even remotely on Brown's level. I got dragged into a desert island disc discussion a few years back and someone suggested a pick for me. I don't recall who now, just that my reaction was I'd rather have James Brown. If I had to pick two articles of unswerving faith, they'd be "it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing" and "funk is its own reward": James Brown, more than anyone else, embodied both. The "hardest working man in show business" set standards none of us can match. He not only kept it on the one, he was the one.
Wednesday, December 27. 2006
Francis Davis converted his year-end column into a jazz critics poll this year. He invited 40 more/less New York-focused critics, and got 30 ballots. The big winner was Ornette Coleman's Sound Grammar, followed by Andrew Hill's Time Lines and Sonny Rollins' Sonny, Please. The results get scattered after that, with seven ballots putting Nels Cline's Andrew Hill-themed New Monastery into 4th place, and five votes sufficing to place Paul Motian's Garden of Eden at 6th. The results are here, and you can navigate to the rest of the pieces from there.
One of those pieces is my own annotated ballot. This was submitted a couple of weeks ago, under mild protest that the year was still young, and I'm still trying to catch up. Normally I keep my year-end list open another year, adding things as I get the chance. You can see how this works by scanning the nearly-frozen 2005 list, where the late adds appear in green. The A-list there comes to 133 records, of which 20 were added late. This year's list, with less than a week to go before I start breaking out the green font, has 97 records, a drop I haven't analyzed yet. Looking through the pending list, I see maybe a dozen that might wind up A-, which would bring the two years reasonably close into line -- assuming I hit my deadline, a stretch. The total number of new records is up this year (741, including pending, vs. 646); the number of reissues of various sorts is down a smidgen (318, from 336), with the A-lists down quite a bit (68 vs. 115).
From all these records, a top ten seems arbitrarily short. Davis added a few more "honorable mentions" to his list. I'll go a bit further here and give you my up-to-the-minute 2006 A-list, minus the non-jazz records (which start with Todd Snider and Public Enemy):
The reissues category is harder to judge, in part because of how redundancy, utility, and historical value enter into the equation. When I did the ballot, I actually skipped over my top rated item to take Fats Waller, then skipped over some more obvious choices in favor of Irčne Schweizer and Andrew Hill. The following list comes from the year-end list, merging compilations and reissues together. (First releases of vault music are generally included with the new releases, although I didn't always do it that way.)
Some of these items are borderline jazz, but that's the way the world works. In particular, I included Toumani Diabaté because the record got votes in the Voice poll. Same for Pérez Prado, which I might have included anyway -- even thought about voting for it myself. Bob Wills is another case. There's actually quite a bit of stuff that doesn't get filed as jazz that can be listened to as jazz -- especially world and electronica, but western swing works for me.
I've gone through the published ballots and collected 45 new titles and 27 reissues that I don't have/haven't heard. I need to track some of those down. The winning jazz vocal record, by Nancy Kelly, is one. The winning debut record, by Francisco Mela, would have been but I got tipped off, hustled up a copy, and am playing it now. (Seems unlikely to dislodge my vote for Bob Reynolds.)
Tuesday, December 26. 2006
An excerpt from an opinion column in the Wichita Eagle today, written by Mark Updegrove, author of a book, Second Acts: Presidential Lives and Legacies After the White House:
It's hard to believe that Updegrove is so dense that he thinks the jury's still out on Bush. But he does do us a favor in pointing out that Bush's immediate post-9/11 "leadership" is the myth that most needs to be demolished. This was the period when Bob Woodward lionized Bush at War. Even in the 2004 presidential debates, Kerry complimented Bush for his post-9/11 act. The fct is that Bush failed utterly in that critical period. He failed to recognize that 9/11 was a consequence of years of manipulative policies in the Middle East, including a peculiar daliance with Islamists, prized in Washington for their anti-Communism. He failed to understand that a massive military response would lose the political ground, eventually ejecting the US from the region. And he didn't realize that his own interests and predilections -- his corrupt use of government to pay off his political obligations, his confusion of privilege with freedom, and his adolescent relish of violence -- would undermine his every effort.
None of the results of those efforts are very controversial now: the Taliban is back in Afghanistan -- pace Updegrove, they never actually left -- as well as stronger in Pakistan; Iraq is a seething cesspool of violence; occupied Palestine and Lebanon have been levelled by Israel with unquestioning Bush support; efforts to isolate and bully Syria and Iran have only stiffened their resolve to defy the US; the US military has been broken, while running up a bill that has massively expanded the national debt; US ability to project power is diminished, and whatever moral authority the US once had has been lost. Even to the extent that these things are trends as opposed to completed facts, the trends are locked into Bush's famed "resolve" -- his delusional conviction in his own righteousness.
I'm not a big fan of Truman. In particular, I consider his pivotal decisions to engage in what we came to call the Cold War with the Soviet Union to have been a long-term mistake. It should also be noted that Truman, like Bush, went with the popular flow down the easy slope to war, where real leadership would have resisted the temptation -- although to be fair, Truman was far more reluctant to bite off more than he could chew than Bush, and never seemed to have actually relished picking a fight, like Bush clearly does. Truman had another personal trait that worked in his favor: he established his reputation as an opponent of wartime profiteering, and he is widely recognized as one of the least corrupt politicians the US has had. Bush is at the far opposite end of that spectrum.
But Truman's rehabilitation is also based on two more factors that Bush doesn't have working in his favor. The first is that Truman was president at a time when American power was ascendant worldwide, and not just because the rest of the world had gone through the horrific destruction of WWII. This made is possible for the US to do things like the Marshall Plan, which actually had a lot more -- especially positive -- effect than military actions in Germany and Korea. On the other hand, US power has been declining for several decades now, leaving Bush in a much weaker position, with fewer options, than Truman had. It's also worth noting that self-conceptions lag actual power, so Truman was more modest than he needed to be, and Bush more arrogant. One measure of the extent of decline is that Truman was able to defeat the governments of Germany and Japan and to hold the Soviet Union and China at bay, while Bush can't even handle a couple of guerrilla revolts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The other secret behind Truman's reputation triumph was how the Republicans, exercising selective memory, adopted him as an avatar of their own postwar legacy. This was mostly limited to Cold War militarism, which in Truman's day was primarily opposed by conservative isolationists like Taft. But Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers built on Truman's foundation, but tougher and more aggressive -- the latter traits conveniently masked by citing Truman as their originator. There's no chance that Bush will be similarly adopted by his nominal opponents.
Monday, December 25. 2006
Time to post the week's jazz prospecting, and what I find here is downright embarrassing: two Christmas albums. My first thought was to declare "no jazz prospecting" this week, but I figured it would look even dumber to run them after Christmas. (Of course, today's too late for shoppers, but they're not recommended all that highly.) So "Part 6" is pretty sparse, even after I plundered the notebook for three more not-really-jazz notes.
I hadn't expected to do much jazz this week, as the impending deadline is the 2006-roundup edition of Recycled Goods, and most of what I have to catch up with there is non-jazz. But I wound up spending a lot of time rummaging through the new 8th Edition of The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings. I'll write more about this in the next few weeks. Thus far I've started building up the differences chart: I figure I'm about 26% done, and don't know when I'll get around to finishing it. It's hard on the eyes, and 3-4 days of hacking at it cuts drastically into whatever else I'm trying to do. But you can take a look at what I have so far here. The Crown and Core lists should be complete.
The Village Voice should have its big year-end jazz poll out this week. More on that when it happens.
Christmas Break: Relaxing Jazz for the Holidays (1992-98 , Telarc): Selected from the label's Christmases past, avoiding any hint of merriment, joy, or, heaven forbid, excitement. Nonetheless, this order is mostly filled by thoughtful solo piano (Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, George Shearing) and guitar (Jim Hall, Al Di Meola -- the latter is unexpectedly lovely on "Ave Maria"), all of whom have something to add to the melody. Better still is Jeanie Bryson cooing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" over Kenny Barron's piano. Still doesn't break my tinsel ceiling, but comes close. B
Erich Kunzel/Cincinnati Pops Orchestra: Christmastime Is Here (2006, Telarc): Included here only because the featured singers, at least when they can shut up the Children's Choir and the Indiana University Singing Hoosiers, have jazz credentials -- Ann Hampton Callaway, Tony DeSare, Tierney Sutton, John Pizzarelli. Reminds me of a junior high recital, only at a higher standard of competency. Hard to say how much of a plus that really is. But it is clear that the jazz singers only made the program through the label's contacts, and that they were wasted. C+
The Robert Cray Band: Live From Across the Pond (2006, Nozzle/Vanguard, 2CD): A terrific blues guitarist, a so-so singer, and a songwriter I all too frequently find myself wanting to strangle. After twenty-some years, he's entitled to throw out a live double career retrospective. But that doesn't make me like the songs any better. Well, not much better, anyway. B-
Maria Kalaniemi: Bellow Poetry (2006, Alula): Finnish accordionist, classically trained but plays folk melodies, intimately detailed, warm and comfy, with occasional vocals -- which leaves them lacking sufficient energy to jump over the cultural barrier, or sufficient deviousness to tunnel under. B
John Holloway: Johann Sebastian Bach: The Sonatas and Partitas (2004 , ECM): The only music teacher I ever had -- an old geezer named Pankratz -- always named Bach as his all-time favorite. I aced his tests and the notebook, did my best to never actually listen to any classical music, and always felt self-conscious about my singing -- at least since Lannie Goldsten (or was her name Marva Goldberg? I think she used both) started kicking me every time I made a peep ("just lip sync!"). So this does and doesn't bring back traumatic childhood memories -- not the music because, as I said, I never actually listened to it, although the sound of violin was enough to send me scurrying. That's the only sound there is here, and I find it oddly soothing on a very gray, rainy December day, although I also find it rather indifferent -- the violinists I do like have a little swing in their kit. But I'll grade this one leniently: Laura thinks it's wonderful. B+(*)
No final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around this week.
Sunday, December 24. 2006
Billmon spent some time recently going back over his blog postings on Iraq. His conclusion:
I can post a similar audit trail. In fact, I did back in March 2005, listing links to material originally posted in my notebook or previous blog:
Since 2005, see the War/Terror thread, which repeats these themes ad nauseum. I'm struck by this quote from May 2004, although it's probably just typical:
I don't know about the mainstream media's courage or independence, but the insight they all seem to lack is the ability to see the US as "deceitful and manipulative and callous and contemptuous of the rest of the world." Those of us who could recognize those traits had little trouble figuring out where the war was going or why. Those who didn't were easy suckers. It's important to understand that long before Iraq was attacked, the first preëmptive attack was against the "blame America first" crowd on the "looney left" -- and that clearing out the critics most sensitive to what would go wrong was the essential first step toward such a disastrous war.
Friday, December 22. 2006
After two straight posts on Israel, this should be a good time to dump out my marked quotes from Tanya Reinhart's The Road Map to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine Since 2003 (Verso). This follows on from her earlier Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948. Reinhart is Professor Emeritus, Linguistics and Comparative Literature at Tel Aviv University. She is neither a journalist nor a historian, but is remarkably adept at pulling together a coherent picture of recent events from the current reporting.
Much of her story is familiar, albeit poorly reported here in the US. I didn't pull a lot out, but did find a few quotes that should be noted. The first is on the military and the politicians in Israel (pp. 6-7):
The US-backed Road Map insisted that Palestinians first put a halt to their violence before Israel would be required to make any concessions. The Israelis could thereby forestall the Road Map by fueling violence (pp. 20-21):
The Israelis use of assassinations (p. 29):
Israel also deflected peace overtures from Syria (pp. 37-38):
Israel's only overture during this period was Sharon's plan to unilaterally dismantle the Gaza settlements, a plan that Sharon cooked up with Abrams as an alternative to the Road Map (p. 59):
Reinhart analyzes Sharon's motives, which went beyond derailing any peace efforts to denying Palestinians the legitimacy of electing their own leadership (p. 106):
Reinhart argues that Sharon never really intended to disengage from Gaza, but that the US held him to the commitment, in part by sanctions against Israeli military purchases. This ended once the disengagement took place (p. 130):
On the elections where Hamas defeated Fatah (pp. 148-150):
In opposing the Hamas victory, Israel ratched up the propaganda war against Syria and Iran, dovetailing with US concerns over its failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Reinhart's book was finished before Israel's attack on Lebanon, but the groundwork is clearly evident here (p. 153):
The book ends with a chapter on the joint Israeli-Palestinian non-violent protest movement against the Wall. I didn't mark any quotes there, but it's noteworthy that the movement was opposed not only by Israel but by Fatah as well. As I said, the book was finished before the events that led to Israel's invasions of Gaza and Lebanon. No doubt another book is in the works.
Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost convinced me that Israel's political and military establishment has become so hooked on conflict and war that they are now primarily devoted to its perpetuation. The events covered in Reinhart's two books provide much further evidence of this -- not so much on the why, mostly how it plays out. It is worth noting that the US-backed Road Map indeed went no where -- that the plan for peace was a charade, and the plan for democracy turned out to be hollow.
Thursday, December 21. 2006
I want to expand a bit on last night's post. The upshot is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the result of bad choices repeatedly made over the better part of a century, based on a faulty political theory: nationalism, seen as embodying a distinct group of people and manifested through a state and its armed forces. Nationalism developed like a cancer from the French Revolution through its apotheosis in Nazi Germany, and lingers on today at the root of most of the world's festering conflict sores. Its power comes from the appeal of defining us against them -- it's self-flattering and other-deprecating, and as such is quickly reinforced by encounters with other nationalisms. As such, it is so easily exploitable by demagogues that it quickly became the preferred stance of the right.
Nationalism developed in 19th century Europe for various reasons which we need not go into here. The net effect from 1800 to 1950 was to radically separate Europe into homogeneous nations with a mere handful of exceptions -- Switzerland, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Russia, plus a few subnational minorities like the Basques and the Lapps. Europe's Jews, being a group that fit into no nation, suffered terribly as a result. Jews responded to the nationalist madness in four ways: some hunkered down in increasingly orthodox religion, isolating themselves, trying to ride out the storm; some moved to more open, pluralistic lands, such as the US, usually reforming their religion to become more secular; some joined anti-nationalist movements, such as the Bund, Socialism, or Communism; and some staked their own claim to nationalism, becoming Zionists. At the end of WWI the latter were a small minority, but three events worked in their favor: the British adopted Zionism as a means of establishing colonial control over Palestine; the US shut off the main outlet for Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe; and the rise to power of the Nazis, other Fascists, and the Soviets put pressure on Jews to flee -- for lack of any alternative, into the Zionists' arms.
The Ottoman-era Zionist movement was relatively benign -- the Ottomans ran a multinational state which had long been able to provide a haven for Jews fleeing from European purges. But from 1920 on the Zionists acted as a nation under the sponsorship and protection of the British Empire. The Zionist Yishuv (settlement) vied with native Palestinians, unwanted and unwelcomed in the Jewish nation, for the same land and resources. As such, the Zionist struggle was primarily demographic. Zionist success depended on promoting Jewish immigration and on marginalizing Palestinian political and economic power. In turn, Palestinian self-defense focused on limiting Jewish immigration -- tragically, given what happened to European Jews at this time. That proved to be a propaganda coup for the Zionists, conveniently skipping over how the Zionists worked to prevent Jews from moving anywhere but Palestine. The Zionist focus, after all, was on demography: Jews emigrating to American did them no good.
The Palestinian leadership missed the significance of all this, not least because their response to the Zionists was to adopt their own form of nationalism. In this they lost, badly. A better approach would have been to open up Palestine and the rest of the Arab world as a haven for European Jews, forging a bond with them in opposition to Europe's imperialists and colonialists. That couldn't happen for lots of reasons: the Arab nations were weak, mostly under European thumbs; the Zionists were opposed; the Americans were indifferent and disengaged, and deeply mired in their own racist delusions. But the main reason was that nationalism seemed to work as the one idea that unified non-Europeans into unities that could effectively resist European imperialism. The most immediate example was Turkey, and there were others -- until they overreached, the most spectacular was Japan. Later on Vietnamese nationalism successfully resisted the United States. But in the end nationalism is a formula for war, not peace. And the Zionists, unlike the European colonialists, came to stay, so for them every war was a challenge to their existence. The only way to deal with such a foe is to level the ground, to find common ground, and nationalism fails there, because all it has to offer is division.
More and more we see evidence that Palestinians are coming to see this, although it remains a struggle to see beyond decades of abuse under Israeli force. I think this is why Israel's extreme nationalists have come to look so desperate in their efforts to prolong the conflict. Israel never worried about Iran in the '80s when Khomeini actually made an effort to export his revolution, so why now? Surely it's not that the Israelis don't understand Nuclear Deterrence 101. Why do they worry about Hezbollah, which like a beehive can be avoided by not sticking your bare hand into it? Why do they worry about those Qassam firecracker attacks that amount to little more than the Gazan version of a Bronx cheer? Why do they work so hard to push Palestinian buttons? It's like they can't bear the thought of life without war. But without war, without their supremacist identity, without the persecution they forged their movement under, what becomes of Zionism? It fades away, like a bad memory. And just as well, it takes Palestinian nationalism to the grave with it.
As Laura Tillem taught me, Hitler hated the Jews because they were internationalists, rejecting the idiocy of nationalism. He failed to kill all the Jews, but to the extent that Jews took the lesson of the Holocaust as reason to embrace Zionism, he has further succeeded in destroying what he most hated about the Jews. So in essence what needs to happen is for the Israelis to rediscover their pre-Fascist cosmopolitanism, and who better to point this out than the Palestinians? Someone, after all, has to stop the cycle of violence -- a cycle that Bush has escalated both by supporting the Israeli hawks and by emulating them, bonding with them by putting us all in the same treacherous and ultimately pointless project.
Wednesday, December 20. 2006
I've been reading through an interesting post by Tony Karon called "What Arab Holocaust-Deniers Should Learn from Mandela." The main point is certainly right: that Holocaust denial by erstwhile supporters does the Palestinian cause no good. The second point -- that Mandela drew constructive lessons from the Boer War that enabled him and the ANC to relate positively to the Afrikaners in resolving their conflict -- is food for thought, but the history is far messier. I've long noticed that at least in some respects Palestinian political movements have come to mirror aspects of Zionism -- most obviously in counterposing the Nakba to the Holocaust, an analogy that has never been very satisfying. The exile from Roman times is more like it, but a far stronger argument can be made from contemporary declarations of human rights, which have clearly been denied to huge numbers of Palestinians.
A minor, almost academic, question is to what extent does Holocaust denial actually factor into Palestinian, Arab, Islamic, or pro-Palestinian thinking. Iran's Ahmadinejad has been quoted (possibly misquoted) on the subject, and is sponsoring some sort of conference, which occasioned this post. My impression is that Holocaust denial is very rare among Palestinians, since it has never been something that they were held responsible for. Rather, it forms the basis for a basic disconnect: if Israel's raison d'ëtre is the Holocaust, why take it out of the Palestinians' hides? That's seductive rhetoric, but it misses the point. The problem was that at the time of Israel's founding there had been an extraordinary crime committed against European Jewry, and the Zionists were able to successfully argue that the just response to that crime was the creation of a Jewish state, which for various historical and ideological reasons meant Israel.
That the solution was at the Palestinians' expense was typical of the times, a consequence of colonialist norms which Europe and America had yet to shake off. The Zionists succeeded in large part because no one else came up with an alternative solution -- and here no one else does include the Palestinians, the Arabs, the broader Muslim world. I understand that Rashid Khalidi's new book The Iron Cage delves deeper into the limits and weaknesses of Palestinian political leadership from the 1920s to the present day, so he may be a good source on the details. But the weak link in the Zionist argument was the assertion that only a Jewish state could protect Jews from further state-sponsored violence. One could, and should, have responded that a better solution would be for Jews to secure their human rights under international law recognized by all nations. If only Arab nations, including Palestine, had taken the initiative to do this -- to open their doors to immigration, especially in the '30s when the Nazis seized power and initiated their racist laws -- they would have undercut the Zionist argument and come out far ahead. That they didn't do this is unsurprising given the more general history -- the Arab nations were mostly under European thumbs at the time. But the fact of Palestinian resistance to Jewish immigration during the Nazi rise to power, the Holocaust, and its aftermath -- which for several critical years much of Europe was still a dangerous place for Jews -- is the foundation of the idea that Palestinians are intractably anti-Jewish. And that is the trump card that Zionists have played repeatedly over the last sixty years.
After all that's happened to the Palestinians, it may seem patently unfair to insist that they must first contribute to a fair and just solution to the WWII-vintage Jewish problem, but I believe that to be the case. Zionism strikes me as a bad deal for Jews, whom it consigns to live in a garrison state forever at war with the rest of the world -- the Palestinians suffer most for being the closest targets. But only if you go back and examine the history closely and honestly can you recognize the pointlessly self-perpetuating pain that Zionism has caused, on both sides of its weapons, on both sides of its iron walls. And ultimately that pain is the common ground shared by both Israeli and Palestinian. Which is, I think, where Karon's argument ultimately leads.
Tuesday, December 19. 2006
I got a note from F5 publisher Josh Oxley yesterday, saying that "the production of F5 Magazine will be postponed until further notice." Translating from the Hirohito-ese, that means it's dead, but a little further context might be helpful. Up to about six months ago, F5 was run by a company called Hubris Communications and edited by a guy named Mike Marlett, who -- as best I recall -- actually started the paper before getting involved with Hubris. I don't know any of the details of the break-up, but Oxley bought the paper, and Marlett went on to start a new paper, something called Wichita City Paper. Oxley is otherwise involved in billboard advertising. He took F5 and toned it down politically and culturally -- among other things, dropping the "work like a farmer, party like a rock star" slogan. As editor Michelle Ross explained to me, they wanted to make it a family paper. Presumably this would be good for advertising.
On the other hand, Marlett took almost all of his writers with him, and seems to have raised a lot more money, so when Wichita City Paper came out a couple of months ago it looked to be a much more substantial operation. I had actually been thinking that I might like to write for F5 for several years, but never got around to broaching the subject until, rather accidentally, after the break occurred. I knew a couple of their writers -- even knew the owner of Hubris, although that wasn't necessarily a plus. (He is, after all, the guy who gave his company that awful name.) But I was thinking more about writing opinion pieces -- Marlett's turf, and actually he's not bad at it -- than music. But only when I saw that F5 had no one writing record reviews did I finally make my move. Looks like I bet on the wrong horse.
I wound up writing 21 F5 Record Report columns. Not sure if last week's edition actually came out. Certainly the column I wrote for this week won't appear in print, but you can find it here, with all the rest of the columns available through the navigation menu and the arrow glyphs. I covered 148 records. Much of the material was cribbed from other work, but even there I did quite a bit of editing, and I think the reviews came off rather polished.
Not sure where we go from here. I'll touch base with City Paper, and see if they have any interest. I've wondered about possibly syndicating these columns -- if nothing else, they could easily be broken up to provide filler. I could also take this as a sign to buckle down and get Terminal Zone back up and running.
Lineup for the final column:
I feel bad about the records I've asked for but didn't get around to covering here. You always feel that there's a future, even when there isn't one. Maybe I'm not such a pessimist after all. Or maybe the world is just worse than even we can imagine.
Monday, December 18. 2006
Last week was pretty much a personal wipeout, although I suppose I can take credit for surviving it without fumbling anything too bad. The long-awaited 11th Jazz Consumer Guide was published with no major glitches. I got all my files updated, so now I'm ready to go after #12. I sent a year-end ballot in to Francis Davis for the Voice's jazz poll. I wrote some annotation to the ballot to be published as a sidebar to the poll results. I got an F5 column done. I made latkes, chopped liver, and salt-cured salmon for Hanukkah. I managed to blog something every day, and got a bit of jazz prospecting done, although I made damn little progress on my year-end research. I also finally cracked open the new 8th edition of the Penguin Guide and started to chart differences.
No final grades on records I held back this week. It's early in the cycle and best to keep an eye on what's new. Starting to get 2007 advances. This will probably remain slow over the next two weeks as holidays interfere with my schedule, guests come and go, and year-end Recycled Goods looms large.
Jazz Yule Love II (2006, Mack Avenue): If Christmas music really outsells jazz, as I've seen reports claiming, I guess this is one way to help pay the bills. Seems useless to me, but I've heard far worse down at the local mall. The roster includes familiar names from the label's recent releases, plus two I hadn't noticed: Oscar Brown Jr. and Bud Shank. No dates provided. Brown died in 2005, with his last album in 1998. Shank is 80 now, still active, with a good live record last year joined by Phil Woods. Here he makes the best case I've heard in years for letting it snow. B-
Bruno Hubert Trio/B3 Kings: A Cellar Live Christmas (2005 , Cellar Live): Hubert plays piano. The B3 Kings have Cory Weeds on alto sax, Bill Coon on guitar, Chris Gestrin on the famous organ, and Denzal Sinclaire on drums. My impression is that the two groups alternate rather than play together, excepting that Sinclaire sings one song with each. There's some good news here. One is that they're serious enough about jazz that sometimes they deconstruct these songs until you forget what they're playing. Another is Coon's guitar, although the others, notably Hubert, strike me favorably. Still useless. B-
The Frankenstein Concort: Classical-A-Go-Go (2006, Sfz): Subtitled "invigorating musical novelties for woodwinds, piano, and percussion." Featuring Erik Lindgren, the piano player, who is best known from one of the first landmark experimental rock groups, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. Don't really know what to make of this one, which seems neither classical not go-go, but rather something that works within a closed system of humor I'm not really privy to. Includes pieces from usual suspects Erik Satie and Raymond Scott, a gloss on Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein," and originals, including one close to "Tomorrow Never Comes." Not without interesting bits, but too clever by some factor beyond my powers of calculation. B
Jacques Loussier Trio: Bach: The Brandenburgs (2006, Telarc): I have him rather stuffily filed under classical, since that's what a quick glance at discography, at least since 1987's Reflections on Bach, reads like. Bach represents about half the list, but I also note Handel, Mozart, Chopin, Satie, and Ravel. But there's nothing stuffy about this record. I don't know the classical readings, so it's hard for me to tell where the texts end and the jazz begins, but surely the walking bass wasn't in the original. B+(*)
Expolorations: Classic Picante Regrooved, Vol. 1 (2006, Concord Picante): Better than the usual back catalog remix project, probably because most of the originals are so awash in beats they hardly need remixing. Surprising because Picante had turned into something of a retirement home for salseros, so maybe we should hand it to the A-list remixers, who evidently know how to juice up the clave. B+(**)
Mort Weiss: The B3 and M3 (2003 , SMS Jazz): Not sure what SMS stands for, but the website motto is "Straight Ahead," and that's clear enough. (OK, Sheet Music Shoppe, a music store Weiss owns.) Weiss played a little sax in his youth, giving it up when he turned 30, and picking up the clarinet again when he turned 65. He plays bright, bouncy swing, working here with an organ-guitar-drums trio on two Charlie Parker warhorses and a set of old standards. The booklet details a series of legal hassles with Concord over how the organ player's name and image can be used to promote the record, but only when you hear the record do you realize why Concord was so pissed: it's not as if their boy ever turned anything in to them this downright infectious. [B+(***)]
David Smith Quintet: Circumstance (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Young Canadian trumpet player, currently NYC-based, in a quintet with saxophonist Seamus Blake, guitarist Nate Radley, bass, and drums. Wrote all the material except for Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes." Straightforward: the rhythm section has a little swing to it, the two-horn stuff meshes nicely, I like his tone and lyricism, and the guitarist gets in a couple of nice solos. [B+(***)]
Hat: Hi Ha (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): One thing I'm sure of is that sooner or later Sergi Sirvent will wind up producing an A-list album. This piano quartet with Jordi Matas on guitar may be the one. Right now my main reservation is his vocal on the closer, "Everyday Is a New Beginning." He's not much of a singer, although he tries to make up for it in passion. Reminds me a bit of Annette Peacock, but not as skillful. But his command of the piano continues to advance, and I have no complaints about the Fender Rhodes he credits first either. His compositions offer interesting ideas, and he's moved to the point where it's hard to pigeonhole him. He has his own sound, he's prolific, and he's on a role. It's just a matter of time before he gets some recognition. [A-]
Oscar Peńas Group: The Return of Astronautus (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Don't know much about Peńas, and never heard of anyone in his group except perhaps -- rings a bell, anyway -- keyboardist José A. Medina. Barcelona group, Peńas plays guitar. Evidently Javier Vercher played sax in an earlier edition of the group, but the current saxophonist goes by the name Guim G. Balasch. The other band members are D-Beat Gonzalez on bass and Mariano Steimberg on drums. Peńas has a thick, metallic tone, which melts into the fender rhodes and electric bass. Postbop, more or less. The ballads are lovely. The faster pieces don't make much of an impression. B
Michael Blanco: In the Morning (2004 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Bassist, born and raised in San Diego, studied at North Texas (evidently a strong jazz program), moved on to New York. He puts his compositions forth on a broad pallette with five or six pieces, and he's managed to draw on first rate players all around: Rich Perry on tenor sax, Alan Ferber trombone Aaron Goldberg piano, Bill Campbell drums, plus two cuts with Rob Wilkerson alto sax. Perry sounds terrific, and of course I love Ferber's solo. But my favorite moment turns out to be the bass lead on the closer. Educated postbop, impressively executed. B+(**)
Bruce Arkin Quartet: Wake Up! (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Arkin plays tenor and soprano sax. Don't know anything more about him. Record was recorded in Barcelona with Albert Bover on piano, Chris Higgins bass, Jorge Rossy drums. Mostly indifferent postbop, but he does pick up some steam on a "bittersweet love song" called "All I Wanted Was You (Bitch)," so maybe he just needs to be slapped around a bit. A meditation on Tookie Williams, executed in California recently, is also worthwhile. B
Queen Mab Trio: Thin Air (2005 , Wig): Two Canadians, clarinettist Lori Freedman and pianist Marilyn Lerner, started recording as Queen Mab a decade or so ago. I haven't heard anything they've done before, either together or in side projects, which include classical and klezmer as well as free jazz improv. This is their second trio album with cellist Ig Henneman, who is right in the thick of things. It's difficult going, and I'm not sure just what I think of it, but on second play the discordant piano gets my attention. [B+(*)]
Duo Baars-Henneman: Stof (2006, Wig): Like most avant improv duos, this is slow, thin, and demanding. Ab Baars plays tenor sax, clarinet, shakuhachi, noh-kan -- the last two are Japanese bamboo flutes. Ig Henneman plays viola. It's tough for me to concentrate closely enough, but there are enough spots of interest to keep it in play. [B]
Peter Brötzmann Group: Alarm (1981 , Atavistic): Don't know whether I'm just getting used to Brötzmann or whether this actually stands out. This is a 40-minute radio shot from a group with three saxophones, trumpet, two trombones, piano, bass and drums. The brass is there mostly to roar and blare on the siren-like alarm motif -- something about reactions to a nuclear emergency. It's simplistic, but at least it's something you can hang onto while the saxophones -- Frank Wright and Willem Breuker join Brötzmann -- get all exercised. After the two-part title piece, we get 3:38 of a Frank Wright piece, complete with vocal -- uncredited but presumably Wright, since a) it's in English and b) he did that sort of thing. But the real star in the early going is pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, who bounds over everything the horns throw at him. The South African rhythm section of Harry Miller and Louis Moholo also impress. Beware that the concert got caught short by a bomb threat. [B+(***)]
Peter Brötzmann/Albert Mangelsdorff/Günter Sommer: Pica Pica (1982 , Atavistic): A meeting of two major figures of the German avant-garde -- almost two generations, as trombonist Mangelsdorff was 13 years older than saxophonist Brötzmann. Sommer plays drums and "horns," whatever that is, and is basically a substitute for Han Bennink -- an inferior one, if you accept the authority of the Penguin Guide (first edition, back when the LP was available). I find the encounter generally gratifying all around. B+(*)
Christoph Gallio/Urs Voerkel/Peter K Frey: Tiegel (1981 , Atavistic): Soprano sax, piano, bass, respectively, although there are bits of drums (Voerkel) and trombone (Frey). Recorded in Zurich. Seems to be a previously unreleased work tape, with thirteen compositions each called "Improvisation" followed by a number. Gallio went on to form a group named Day & Taxi, where he has a substantial body of work I'm unfamiliar with. AMG only lists one album for Voerkel, but a web search reveals a half dozen or so. Voerkel and Frey reportedly lived in a house with Irčne Schweizer and other luminaries -- Mal Waldron was another on the list. The music is delicate, articulate, sharply drawn, with each member contributing memorable moments. B+(**)
I got a rather late invite to Idolator's Jackin' Pop poll. The deadline is too short for my taste -- today, 3PM EST -- so I went with what I have, without an awful lot of confidence in it. Still have a fair amount of unresolved 2006 non-jazz, not to mention all that stuff I don't even know about yet. The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll doesn't demand their ballots until the end of the month/year, so I reserve the right to change my mind by then -- presumably for the better. In fact, I'll probably keep changing my mind well into 2007, especially as I find out about those things I don't know about.
The top ten new albums at this point:
I went with the descending points option (15-11, 9-5), which seemed good enough for a first approximation.
Top ten singles/album tracks, to this point: none, right now, anyway. I don't think much of singles or individual tracks, and have skipped the category more often than not in the Pazz & Jop poll. I did start a list this year, but don't have enough time to sort it out today.
Top five reissues, to this point:
These aren't exactly in rank order -- Chuck Berry's The Definitive Collection tops them all -- but were selected for their interest and importance.
Top five artists of 2006:
I don't know exactly what they're getting at here, so I tend to stick close to the records. Vandermark didn't make my top ten, but he's got several records docked just off the list, and even the ones that don't quite measure up show inspired risk-taking. Lane also has a pair of very good trio albums with Vinny Golia just off the list. He's the least-known of the five -- I don't even know his work very well myself, but I'm impressed with everything I've heard, and have no doubt that he's going to be recognized as a major mover and shaker over the next decade. The Klezmatics also have a good second albums this year, plus Frank London's been busy on his own. Haven't gotten to More Fish yet, which might have argued for Ghostface.
The ballot also asks for comments. I don't have anything to add at this point. I'll do a Pazz & Jop ballot in a couple of weeks, and we'll see what I've learned by then. Don't know whether I'll have comments then, either, but I'll write up some sort of year-end summary for the website sometime in January. More than the ballots, my year-end focus will be on a special 2006 wrap-up edition to be published as the January column.
Sunday, December 17. 2006
General William Odom has a piece where he asserts Six brutal truths about Iraq. He has basically been right about the war from before the start, and he is basically right here, but not exactly.
Truth No. 1: No "deal" of any kind can be made among the warring parties in Iraq that will bring stability and order, even temporarily.
This should be qualified: as long as the US has troops in Iraq and/or is arming any segment of Iraq. There are two reasons for this. One is that US interests, which whether we specify them or not is ultimately why we are in Iraq, are inimical to some, many, most, or maybe even all Iraqis; therefore US support for any party in Iraq will be resisted by other parties, and will taint the supported party. The second is that the promise of US backing will embolden any favored party, thereby making it less likely to settle on equitable terms.
Whether a deal is still impossible in the absence of US or other foreign interference remains to be seen. But if all or most parties in Iraq are effectively stalemated, a deal is the only way out to attain what are most likely common goals, such as encouraging trade and economic development.
Truth No. 2: There was no way to have "done it right" in Iraq so that U.S. war aims could have been achieved.
True, especially given the war aims that Bush evidently had, even though they were rarely if ever articulated. US aims in Iraq started from a severe trust and credibility deficit -- the Crusades, British colonialism, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, US support for Israel, the checkered history of US and allied involvement in the Iraq-Iran War, the Gulf War, the sanctions regime, the tendency of US foreign policy to support business interests in the region, etc. The US had other problems as well: the US military had the wrong skill set for what was ultimately a political mission, the Bush administration was hopelessly ideologically inept and corrupt, and the entire war was built on a stack of falsehoods and self-delusions.
Truth No. 3: The theory that "we broke it and therefore we own it," with all the moral baggage it implies, is simply untrue because it is not within U.S. power to "fix it."
True. If you do insist on responsibility, there are ways that the US can make amends; e.g., through financing international efforts that Iraqis can direct as they see fit. But the US has little, if any, experience providing aid without self-interested strings.
Truth No. 4: The demand that the administration engage Iran and Syria directly, asking them to help stabilize Iraq, is patently naďve or cynically irresponsible until American forces begin withdrawing -- and rapidly -- so that there is no ambiguity about their complete and total departure.
This is somewhat backward. Neither Syria nor Iran can stabilize Iraq, any more than the US can. What they can do is destabilize Iraq, as can other regional powers, like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. To some small extent each of these countries has already done so, but far less so than the US and its allies have. However, if/when the US exits Iraq, it becomes important that other nations stay out, lest they prolong the internal struggles. That is precisely what should be negotiated, although it's not the limit of what should be negotiated. The nations in and involved with the region have long lists of issues that should be reconciled, specifically because satisfaction on those issues would reduce the temptation to gain some benefit from Iraq.
Truth No. 5: The United States cannot prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Probably true, especially if "prevent" is limited to punitive measures, ranging from sanctions to tactical bombing. More extreme measures, like a ground invasion or nuclear holocaust, would come with heavy costs, especially to what's left of America's moral credibility. On the other hand, the US could work toward removing Iran's motivations to produce nuclear weapons: by giving up our own hostile anti-Iranian stance, by working to settle the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, by launching a new effort to extend the NPT to include non-signatories (Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea) and work toward mutual disarmament.
Truth No. 6: It is simply not possible to prevent more tragic Iraqi deaths in Iraq.
That is, it is not possible for the US to prevent more deaths. This is partly because the US mission of killing "bad guys" directly causes such deaths. Also because US forces use extensive firepower for their own force protection. Also because the US concern with force protection keeps them away from most inter-Iraqi violence. Also because, frankly, they don't much give a damn.
We've been told repeatedly for over a year now that if the US leaves Iraq will descend into civil war. During this entire period Iraq has in fact steadily slipped deeper and deeper into sectarian violence. The US has not prevented this, nor is there any evidence that the US has slowed it down. It is quite possible that the US has, inadvertently or even deliberately, actually promoted the civil war its apologists see just over the horizon. My own view is that the US finds civil war preferable to having Sunnis and Shiites unite against the Americans -- as they were coming close to doing in May 2004. On the other hand, the time that the US has bought in playing each group off against the other has only led to more chaos, more instability, more revenge. Having descended this far, this won't end overnight when the US leaves, but the US clearly has nothing to offer to stop it. Certainly, US soldiers are not going to put their bodies in the way. So the only thing they can do to lessen the conflict is to get out. And, as we've been saying for a long time now, the sooner the better.