Sunday, March 9. 2008
Matt Taibbi: Hillary's Last Stand. Can't find the link on Rolling Stone's byzantine website. Some insightful comments on why women identify with Clinton, but here's the payoff quote:
As Taibbi points out, Clinton's got support from people who oppose (and evidently don't blame her for) most of that long list of things that got her and her husband to where they are now. One reason Bill Clinton fared so poorly is that he spent eight years ducking Republican flak. (On the other hand, people do identify and sympathize with getting the crap kicked out of them by Republicans, and the repeated experience seems to have helped the Clintons, if nothing else than by lowering expectations.) It's possible that if Hillary is nominated and elected she'll have a Congress she can do something with, if only she has a clue as to what.
Rolling Stone followed this with three pieces on Obama -- Jann Wenner's endorsement, Tim Dickinson on Obama's campaign, and Robert S. Boynton interviewing Cornell West. I didn't bother reading them. It takes a remarkable set of skills and a discomforting series of compromises for anyone to mount a serious campaign to be president, and I don't see a lot of point on dwelling on either, especially with Clinton and McCain the only surviving alternatives. That Obama has come from so far off the beaten path is itself impressive. Clearly he does at least have a sense of where he came from and what it took to get him this far. You have to respect that, and it's OK to think that coming from so far outside the elite and making it largely on his own he might react a little differently than your standard issue politician. On the other hand, the main ingredient to his success is his ability to raise money, and that puts him at the service of the people who have money to spare (or invest in political favors).
The Democrats (at least some of them) have managed to pull even (or ahead) of the Republicans in fundraising this year. The main reason is that eight years of Bush haven't been much of a blessing for the rich. Sure, some folks have done well -- defense contractors, security services, oil companies -- and the tax benefits have been generous, but the dollar has lost about 40% of its value against the euro, which hasn't been good news for anyone with dollars. The economy as a whole is sinking into recession, and everywhere you look there are ominous signs. Unless you got a big cut out of the war, unless you're a big-time polluter, unless you're making a killing off your foreign investments, unless you're selling out to foreigners stuck with too many dollars, you're unlikely to come out ahead when all the bills come due. Clinton's appeal to the rich is pretty straightforward, because she (or at least he) has a solid track record. Obama's appeal is more nebulous, but in desperate times that may be a plus. In any case, that fact that he's raising competitive money means he's learned how to play the game. That's probably a mixed blessing, but nobody's going to do as well as he's done by railing against big business.
So we'll see how this goes. Despite the closeness of the race and Clinton's presumed insider advantages, the fact that Obama is still in the race and by most accounts in the lead is a remarkable achievement. Even if the nomination winds up decided by established superdelegates, they may do well to recall how little help the last Clinton was to the fortunes of their party. The following quote is from Paul Woodward at WarInContext:
Matt Taibbi: McCain Resurrected. Some quotes:
Robert Dreyfuss: Hothead McCain. Basic background on McCain the patron saint of the neocons. A good example of his recklessness is his attitude toward Russia:
On McCain and the neocons:
Patrick Cockburn: Why Iraq Could Blow Up in John McCain's Face. Not really about McCain, nor much inclined to prognosticate about what will happen in Iraq between now and November, but plenty of detail about the present impasse. Cockburn likens the US forces to Syria's occupation of Lebanon from 1976-2005: "The Syrian army prevented the civil war escalating, but also stopped anything being resolved between the different communities." The violence may be down, but not as much as reported, and still worse than anywhere else in the world. The improved security hasn't led to much in the way of reconstruction or economic development. The political space is still fractured, and the outs are better armed than ever.
One thing Cockburn doesn't mention is that pretty much every year there has been a seasonal downturn over the winter months with a resurgence of violence in the spring. The seasonal nature of fighting in Afghanistan is more widely recognized. The path of McCain's surge platform isn't likely to be smooth.
Trita Parsi: Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States (2007, Yale University Press)
I wound up marking a huge number of quotes in Parsi's book, so some sort of executive summary is in order. The book doesn't really cover the latest sabre rattling, but offers much necessary background to understand what's happening, not least the superficial and cynical opportunism exhibited by all three powers.
One striking thing is the relative continuity of interests shared by Iran under the Shah and under the Islamic Republic. These relate to deep-seated national values: resentment against British, Russian, and (more obliquely in the Shah's case) American imperialism and the reduction of a proud empire to second- or third-class status in the region and the world; the even deeper rivalry between Iran and its Arab neighbors, reinforced by language, culture, and the Sunni-Shia religious divide. The main differences between the two periods are that after the Shah was overthrown the US became much more hostile toward Iran (broken up by stretches of malign neglect), and under Khomeini Iran's attempts to project regional influence were mostly couched in religious terms.
The US attitude toward Iran shifted in 1953, when the CIA staged a successful coup against Iran's democratic government (the Shah had been installed by the British in 1944, but his powers were limited), and again in 1979 when the Shah was overthrown. Before 1953, British control over Iran's oil industry left the US on the sidelines with no particular role, although US oil companies had started to operate in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states. After the coup, the Shah developed into one of the most megalomaniacal rulers of recent years, especially in the 1970s with oil prices booming and Iran given a favored role as a US proxy under Kissinger's geopolitical scheme.
The main thing Americans remember about Iran is that during the revolution Iranian student seized the US embassy and held Americans hostage for over a year. The Carter administration was frustrated by the hostage crisis. Ronald Reagan turned this to his advantage, securing the release of the hostages as soon as he took office. Reagan enjoyed a secretive relationship with Iran leading to the embarrassment of the Iran-Contra affair, but he also tilted toward Iraq in its war against Iran. Since then the US has veered between indifference and outright hostility, the latter tracking Israel's changing attitudes toward Iran.
Parsi maps out Israel's changing relations with Iran, showing that Israeli attitudes had more to do with Israel's own strategic power interests than with whatever Iran was or was not thinking or doing at the time. In particular, he shows how Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu at various times took pro- and anti-Iran stances depending on other factors. Rabin, for instance, despite a long history of supporting Israel's "peripheral strategy" that favored good relations with Iran, turned hard against Iran while working on the Oslo peace process -- with the Palestinians no longer in play as Israel's existential enemy, Rabin ratcheted up tensions with Iran to keep Israel stocked with a critical enemy. Netanyahu, hoping to dismantle Oslo, took the opposite tack, dismissing Iran as a threat while emphasizing the Palestinians. Later on, with Oslo routed, Netanyahu became the prophet of Iranian doom. The two US-Iraq wars both resulted in Israel ratcheting up rhetoric against Iran. Both Iraq wars threatened to undermine the special US-Israel relationship because both times the US found itself in need of Arab allies than and unable to make much use of its alliance with Israel. Stirring up trouble between the US and Iran helped bolster Israel in America's eyes. (Although in the latter case, one might argue that US neocons were so far ahead of everyone in opposing Iran that the Israeli support was merely helping out.)
One conclusion we should draw from this is that Israel has from the very beginning thought of nothing but continuing its conflict. The reasons for this may have varied over time, but whenever Israel makes a step toward peace they immediately undermine it with a counterstep toward more war. One example is how Oslo was matched with Rabin's exacerbation of Iran. An earlier example was how the 1979 agreement with Egypt was followed by the 1982 invasion and occupation of Lebanon. All through history, Israel has primarily viewed its relationship with Iran in terms of conflict: the reason Israel supported Iran both under the Shah and later during the Iran-Iraq war was for Iran's strategic value against Israel's Arab enemies. As Arab countries have dropped out of the conflict, Iran was seen as more of a threat in its own right, even though Iran's ideological and rhetorical position against Zionist Israel has been consistent. The fact that Iran has almost never acted against Israel in any concrete way has never mattered.
Another thing worth noting here is how Israel's neediness interferes with trying to construct a realistic American foreign poicy. The US has done things to Iran that we should be ashamed and apologetic for: overthrowing Mossadegh, arming the Shah, arming Iraq in a war with Iran that left over a million dead. There's also smaller items, like the Iranian airliner the US shot down. Iran's own record has more than a few blemishes on it, but there have been opportunities to put these things to the side and rebuild a constructive, respectful relationship that would help both countries. Certainly the US would benefit from a civil working relationship with Iran when dealing with major problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, but our inability to separate US interests from Israel's demands has made that impossible. Instead, the confluence of Bushist and Sharonist war mongering keeps driving Iran into a corner, making them more wary and more dangerous -- despite all the belligerent threats coming from Bush's hawks, probably more than anyone responsible in the US military wants to bite off for now.
Parsi's book is notable for showing us the full history of these relationships, and how nonsensical the conflicts have become.
Quotes follow in the extended body.
Continue reading "Treacherous Alliance"