Sunday, October 26. 2014
Having jotted down one or two of these on the road, I figured on doing
a Sunday links column, followed by a Monday music column, just like normal
times. Didn't work out that way, but thanks to the magic of back-dating
my tardiness will eventually be forgotten.
Alex Henderson: Rise of the American police state: 9 disgraceful events
that paved the way: Let's just list 'em:
- Ronald Reagan Escalates the War on Drugs
- Rodney King Beating of 1991
- 9/11 Terrorist Attacks
- Waterboarding and Torture at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base
- Growth and Expansion of Asset Forfeiture Laws
- National Defense Authorization Act and Erosion of Habeas Corpus
- Department of Homeland Security Promoting Militarization of Local Police Departments
- Growth of the Prison/Industrial Complex
- NYPD Assault on Occupy Wall Street
Note that nothing facilitates the creation of a police state like war --
even pretend-wars like the one on drugs, but see how the pace picks up with
Paul Krugman: The Invisible Moderate: A more accurate assessment of
Obama than the one Krugman put forth in his Rolling Stone puff
I actually agree with a lot of what David Brooks says today. But -- you
know there has to be a "but" -- so does a guy named Barack Obama. Which
brings me to one of the enduringly weird aspects of our current pundit
discourse: constant calls for a moderate, sensible path that supposedly
lies between the extremes of the two parties, but is in fact exactly
what Obama has been proposing. [ . . . ]
Well, the Obama administration would love to spend more on infrastructure;
the problem is that a major spending bill has no chance of passing the House.
And that's not a problem of "both parties" -- it's the GOP blocking it.
Exactly how many Republicans would be willing to engage in deficit spending
to expand bus networks? (Remember, these are the people who consider making
rental bicycles available an example of "totalitarian" rule.)
[ . . . ]
It's an amazing thing: Obama is essentially what we used to call a
liberal Republican, who faces implacable opposition from a very hard
right. But Obama's moderation is hidden in plain sight, apparently
invisible to the commentariat.
Actually, when I think of Obama as a "liberal Republican" I flash
back to an earlier Illinois senator, Charles Percy, who was better on
foreign policy and no worse on economics or civil rights than Obama.
But Obama doesn't have the luxury of being a liberal Republican, or
for that matter a centrist Democrat. Today's Republicans allow no such
luxury, nor do today's problems. As far back as 1998, Jim Hightower
warned: "there's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes
and dead armadillos." Today there's just more roadkill.
By the way, Krugman's too kind to Brooks, whom he quotes as saying,
"the government should reduce its generosity to people who are not
working but increase its support for people who are. That means reducing
health benefits for the affluent elderly . . ." You may wonder why the
party of the rich proposes adding means tests to Medicare. It's because
they don't want anyone to think they have a right to medical care.
Seth McElwee: Why Turning Out the Vote Makes a Huge Difference in Four
Charts: The charts show that non-voters are consistently more liberal
than voters, which reinforces the by-now-conventional view that Democrats
win when then can get the vote out, while the key for Republican gains is
voter suppression. This doesn't go into the question of why non-voters
don't vote, even though voting is one of the few ways they have to advance
their own interests. Clearly one reason is that the economic costs of
voting (which include things like the time it takes to vote) are high
enough to suppress turnout. Another likely reason is widespread cynicism
about politicians -- especially about Democrats, who appeal for public
support on election day but more often than not spend the rest of their
time triangulating between interest group lobbies, raising money that
they often see as more valuable in securing reëlection than any work
they do to benefit their constituents.
When voter turnout is discussed in public it is often treated as a civic
obligation, rather than a means to advance individual interests. Republican
candidates often denounce low-income voters for voting for the party that
best advances their class interests (while at the same time supporting
massive tax cuts for their rich constituents). Yet when Benjamin Page
interview the rich he finds that they, "acknowledged a focus on fairly
narrow economic self-interest" when discussing their engagement in the
political process. In this way, the recent Lil' Jon video, "Turnout For
What," while tacky, has reframed the voting as a means to forward political
interests, rather than as a civic obligation. Since some 41 percent of
non-voters claim that their vote wouldn't matter, this message is important.
It's also important to remove barriers to voting. Research by Jame Avery
and Mark Peffley finds, "states with restrictive voter registration laws
are much more likely to be biased toward upper-class turnout." In contrast,
states that have adopted same-day registration and vigorously enforced the
National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) have lower levels of class bias in
their electorate. Research also suggests that unions are an important
mechanism for low and middle income voters to engage with the political
process. Attempts to disempower than should also be viewed through the
lens of voter suppression.
Indeed, Republican opposition to unions seems to have more to do with
reducing their political effectiveness than as a favor to the rich. Since
their blip in 2010, when Obama voters took a nap, Republicans have seized
the opportunity to do as much as they could to suppress voting (as well
as to distort it through the infusion of extraordinary sums of money).
I expect this to produce some kind of backlash -- the message for those
who bother to pay attention is that your vote must be worth something,
otherwise why would they be so eager to take it away? -- but thus far
the clearest message is how shameless Republicans have become about
their desire to exclude a really large segment of the American people.
For more on voter suppression efforts, see
Jeffrey Toobin: Freedom Summer, 2015 (and from 2012,
Jane Mayer: The Voter-Fraud Myth).
Paul Woodward: Terrorism exists in the eye of the beholder: I was
in Arkansas Tuesday [October 22], when a soldier on duty at a "war
memorial" in Ottawa [Canada] was shot by a lone gunman, presumably
the person shot and killed later that day in Canada's Parliament
building. The TV was tuned into CNN, where they spent the entire day
blabbing on and on based on scant information and fervid imagination.
The shooter was later identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.
In 2012 there were seven murders in Ottawa (population close to a million),
2013 nine murders, and so far in 2014 there have been five (including
The overwhelming majority of the crazy men running round shooting
innocent people are on this side of the border. What makes them dangerous
is much less the ideas in their heads than the ease with which they can
lay their hands on a gun.
It's often hard to be clear about what should be described as
terrorism. What's much easier to discern is hysteria.
By the way, Zehaf-Bibeau's gun was evidently a
Winchester Model 94 lever-action rifle, a design that dates back to
1894 and is limited to eight rounds, which have to be individually loaded --
a very inefficient choice for a "shooting rampage."
Then on Friday [October 24], a high school student in suburban Seattle
went on his own
shooting rampage, killing two and injuring three more before shooting
himself. I missed CNN's wall-to-wall coverage (assuming that's what they
did), but it's safe to guess that the talking heads spent much less time
speculating on the shooter's ties to ISIS. For one thing, shooting each
other is just something Americans do.
- I don't have time to dig through Israel's recent garbage, but if you
do here are some typical links from Mondoweiss:
Also, a few links for further study:
Tom Engelhardt: Entering the Intelligence Labyrinth: An introduction,
or precis, of Engelhardt's new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance,
Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World
(paperback, Haymarket Books). It bears repeating that the US annually
spends $68 billion on 17 major "intelligence" agencies -- sorry for the
quotes but it's hard to think of them without choking on that word --
that do, well, what exactly? Sorry, that's a secret, but thanks to the
occasional leak or boast we do know a wee bit:
You build them glorious headquarters. You create a global surveillance
state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their
communications in staggering quantities. Your employees even morph into
avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a
penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect
information on visits to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail
might be useful. You pass around naked photos of them just for . . .
well, the salacious hell of it. Your employees even use aspects of the
system you've created to stalk former lovers and, within your arcane
world, that act of "spycraft" gains its own name: LOVEINT.
You listen in on foreign leaders and politicians across the planet.
You bring on board hundreds of thousands of crony corporate employees,
creating the sinews of an intelligence-corporate complex of the first
order. You break into the "backdoors" of the data centers of major
Internet outfits to collect user accounts. You create new outfits
within outfits, including an ever-expanding secret military and
intelligence crew embedded inside the military itself (and not counted
among those 17 agencies). Your leaders lie to Congress and the American
people without, as far as we can tell, a flicker of self-doubt. Your
acts are subject to secret courts, which only hear your versions of
events and regularly rubberstamp them -- and whose judgments and
substantial body of lawmaking are far too secret for Americans to
You have put extraordinary effort into ensuring that information
about your world and the millions of documents you produce doesn't
make it into our world. You even have the legal ability to gag
American organizations and citizens who might speak out on subjects
that would displease you (and they can't say that their mouths have
been shut). You undoubtedly spy on Congress. You hack into congressional
computer systems. And if whistleblowers inside your world try to tell
the American public anything unauthorized about what you're doing, you
prosecute them under the Espionage Act, as if they were spies for a
foreign power (which, in a sense, they are, since you treat the American
people as if they were a foreign population). You do everything to wreck
their lives and -- should one escape your grasp -- you hunt him implacably
to the ends of the Earth.
As for your top officials, when their moment is past, the revolving
door is theirs to spin through into a lucrative mirror life in the
intelligence-corporate complex. [ . . . ]
Keep in mind that the twenty-first-century version of intelligence
began amid a catastrophic failure: much crucial information about the
9/11 hijackers and hijackings was ignored or simply lost in the labyrinth.
That failure, of course, led to one of the great intelligence expansions,
or even explosions, in history. (And mind you, no figure in authority in
the national security world was axed, demoted, or penalized in any way
for 9/11 and a number of them were later given awards and promoted.)
However they may fail, when it comes to their budgets, their power,
their reach, their secrecy, their careers, and their staying power,
they have succeeded impressively.
Speaking of secrets, also see:
Nick Turse: Uncovering the Military's Secret Military (back from
2011, more relevant than ever):
In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command
carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level
targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night
raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with
indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans.
Once "special" for being small, lean, outsider outfits, today they are
special for their power, access, influence, and aura.
That aura now benefits from a well-honed public relations campaign
which helps them project a superhuman image at home and abroad, even
while many of their actual activities remain in the ever-widening shadows.
Typical of the vision they are pushing was this statement from Admiral
Olson: "I am convinced that the forces . . . are the most culturally
attuned partners, the most lethal hunter-killers, and most responsive,
agile, innovative, and efficiently effective advisors, trainers,
problem-solvers, and warriors that any nation has to offer."
I suspect that the main target of that propaganda campaign is the
president, to drive home the point that "special forces" are a no-risk,
high-return, small scale option for any problem that can be solved
simply (with a bullet, that is).
Rory Fanning: Why Do We Keep Thanking the Troops?: I can't be the
only person who finds the constant adulation given to the "troops" of
the US military downright disgusting, but it sure is hard to find anyone
saying so in print. America has always cultivated hypocrisy, and those
in my generation suffered through more than usual dose. We noted the
beginnings of a cult of the troops in the Vietnam War, where failure
on the battlefield was ever-more-generously decorated with medals, but
memory was too close to WWII to get carried away: WWII was an intense,
all-encompassing collective effort; with so few uninvolved it would have
seemed silly to declare everyone a hero (although as memory dimmed that
eventually happened with the "greatest generation" hype). The obvious
excuse for putting troops on a pedestal today is that so few people
sign up (and many of them are tricked into thinking it's some sort of
jobs program). Still, this idolatry obscures one of the fundamental
political questions of our time: do the sacrifices of US troops do any
good for the vast majority of Americans who are otherwise uninvolved?
The answer, I'm certain, is no. If all the US had done after 9/11/2001
was to put out a few Interpol warrants, I doubt that even the tiny
number of "terrorist attacks" we've seen since would have happened.
Had we practiced policies in the Middle East favoring democracy and
basic human rights for all but eschewing intervention and arms sales
we probably would have missed out on 9/11 (and both Gulf Wars). Sure,
the troops had no real say in the decision to squander their lives in
a vain attempt to buttress the Neocon ego, but I'm not so sure they
shouldn't shoulder some of the blame. Back in the Vietnam War days
there was a popular saying: "suppose they gave a war and nobody came."
We were under no illusion that most of those who "came" for the war
then were compelled to do so. I can understand, and even sympathize,
how one might succumb to the force of the state -- I did, after all,
feel that force -- but for me that made those who resisted, either
by going to jail or avoiding that fate, were the era's real heroes;
nothing one could do in battle came close. Since the draft ended,
the choice to deny the war machine its bodies is less fraught, and
indeed most people choose that path. So today's troops range from
malevolent to the merely misinformed, but they all help to enable
a set of policies that ultimately do massive harm to the nation and
its people. And often, of course, they do great harm to themselves,
adding to the public costs of war. (Aside from the dead and maimed,
Fanning mentions that "there is a veteran suicide every 80 minutes
in this country," nor does the PTSD stop there.) Of course, there
are more nuances to the whole phenomenon, but at root is a common
misconception that those who "served" did something to protect the
rest of us, something that we all should be grateful for. That simply
did not happen. That they sacrificed for something we should regret
and be embarrassed by, well, that's more to the point. Only once we
recognize that can we get past the charades, and that will be better
for all of us.
David Bromwich: American Exceptionalism and Its Discontents:
Speaking of hypocrisies, here's the hoary mother lode, the notion
that we're so special the world wouldn't know what to do without
our enlightened guidance. Needless to say, the tone has changed
over time. Once America was unique in declaring that "all men are
created equal"; today our self-esteem is the very celebration of
David Gerald Finchman: The hidden documents that reveal the true borders
of Israel and Palestine: In 1947 David Ben Gurion begged the UN to
vote in favor of partition borders for Palestine which would give 55% of
the mandate to a majority-Jewish nation that represented only 35% of the
total population, and 45% to an almost exclusively Arabic-speaking nation.
In 1948 Israel's Declaration of Independence proclaimed a Jewish State
but said nothing about borders. This unwillingness to define borders has
kept Israel in a state of war ever since, with Israel grabbing another
23% of the Mandate's territory during the 1947-49 war, and the remaining
22% in 1967 (plus chunks of Egypt and Syria). This piece looks into the
decision-making process from UN-borders to no-borders. A longer version
Karen Greenberg: Will the US Go to "War" Against Ebola? It's telling
that Obama's initial response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was to
send in the US military. That made some sense inasmuch as AFRICOM has
money to burn and some expertise in logistics, but it also imposes a
rigid worldview and introduces a dangerous level of intimidation. The
one thing Ebola does have in common with Terrorism is an exaggerated
level of hysteria, but that seems of a piece with the media's highly
orchestrated kneejerk reactions. I'm reminded of the anthrax scare of
2001, which would have soon gone freaking insane had the perpetrator
not had the good sense to stop. Greenberg points out many ways Ebola
differs from the Terrorism model.
Louis Menand: Crooner in Rights Spat: A useful review of copyright
Baldwin joins Saint-Amour, the law professors Lawrence Lessig, Jeanne
Fromer, and Robert Spoo, and the copyright lawyer William Patry in
believing that, Internet or no Internet, the present level of copyright
protection is excessive. By the time most works fall into the public
domain, they have lost virtually all their use value. If the public
domain is filled with items like hundred-year-old images of the back
of Rod Stewart's head, the public good will suffer. The commons will
become your great-grandparents' attic.
As it is, few creations outlive their creators. Of the 187,280 books
published between 1927 and 1946, only 2.3 per cent were still in print
in 2002. But, since there is no "use it or lose it" provision in
copyright law, they are all still under copyright today. Patry, in
his recent book, "How to Fix Copyright," notes that ninety-five per
cent of Motown recordings are no longer available. Nevertheless, you
can't cover or imitate or even sample them without paying a licensing
fee -- despite the fact that your work is not competing in the
marketplace with the original, since the original is no longer for sale.
Katha Pollitt: How Pro-Choicers Can Take Back the Moral High Ground:
An excerpt from Pollitt's new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.
A man's home is his castle, but a woman's body has never been wholly her
own. Historically, it's belonged to her nation, her community, her father,
her family, her husband -- in 1973, when Roe was decided, marital rape was
legal in every state. Why shouldn't her body belong to a fertilized egg as
well? And if that egg has a right to live and grow in her body, why shouldn't
she be held legally responsible for its fate and be forced to have a cesarean
if her doctor thinks it's best, or be charged with a crime if she uses
illegal drugs and delivers a stillborn or sick baby? Incidents like these
have been happening all over the country for some time now. Denying women
the right to end a pregnancy is the flip side of punishing women for their
conduct during pregnancy -- and even if not punishing, monitoring. In the
spring of 2014, a law was proposed in the Kansas Legislature that would
require doctors to report every miscarriage, no matter how early in the
pregnancy. You would almost think the people who have always opposed women's
independence and full participation in society were still at it. They can't
push women all the way back, but they can use women's bodies to keep them
under surveillance and control.
Peter Van Buren: Seven Bad Endings to the New War in the Middle East:
I know what you're saying: "only seven?" Van Buren doesn't get to the
political effects of continuing the War on Terrorism -- of continuing to
fund the surveillance state, of the increasing militarization of police
departments, of the circumvention of the justice system, of how public
funds are being drained as remote and preventable problems are prioritized
over real and immediate ones by a political establishment deeply in hock
to the security phantom.
Sunday, October 12. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Thomas B Edsall: The State-by-State Revival of the Right: Points out that Republicans have "complete control" (governors and state legislatures) in 23 states, "more than at any time since Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidency in 1952." Also that "they are exercising their power to gain partisan advantage far more aggressively than their Democratic counterparts."
The most visible effort is the drive to gut public sector unions, a key source of votes and financial support for Democrats. Wisconsin, under Republican Governor Scott Walker, has led the charge on this front. With support from the Koch brothers, the state has severely restricted collective bargaining rights for public employees, ended mandatory union dues and limited wage hikes to the rate of inflation.
Both supporters and opponents of Walker's initiative realized that this was a key battleground -- pathbreaking, in fact -- hence the rallies, the recall and so on.
Many Republican-controlled states have weakened or eliminated laws and regulations protecting the environment. In North Carolina the state legislature cut the budgets of regulators and prohibited local governments from enacting strict pro-environmental rules. The state chapter of the League of Conservation Voters has rated members of the legislature every year since 1999. Between 1999 and 2012, the group issued North Carolina a total of 48 scores of zero. In 2013 alone, 82 North Carolina Republicans got zeros. [ . . . ]
Democrats today convey only minimal awareness of what they are up against: an adversary that views politics as a struggle to the death. The Republican Party has demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice principle, including its historical commitments to civil rights and conservation; to bend campaign finance law to the breaking point; to abandon the interests of workers on the factory floor; and to undermine progressive tax policy -- in a scorched-earth strategy to postpone the day of demographic reckoning.
One key point here is that this does not represent a turn in public opinion toward the right. The Democratic Party collapsed in 2010 because Obama gutted the successful national organization that Howard Dean had built, then muddled all the key issues, many by thinking that bipartisan approaches would be superior to partisan ones -- clearly a mistake the Republicans didn't make.
Paul Krugman: In Defense of Obama: If some pollster came along and asked me the standard question of whether I approve or disapprove of the job Obama has done as president, I'd have to answer "disapprove." I'm not unaware of, or unappreciative of, some positive accomplishments under Obama. And I wouldn't withhold my approval just because I thought Obama could have done more and better than he did. On the other hand, I can't give him credit merely for not being as bad as any Republican -- especially John McCain and Mitt Romney -- one might vote for a "lesser evil," but that is no reason to approve of one. Nor should one go to the lengths of creating strawman arguments like Krugman does here:
There's a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who "posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit." They're outraged that Wall Street hasn't been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that "neoliberal" economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have constrained even his much more modest efforts. It's hard to take such claims seriously.
That's hardly the only critique of Obama from the left, but it shouldn't be dismissed so cavalierly. One reason Obama failed to implement much of the "change" he campaigned on in 2008 was that he stopped talking about the need for such change as soon as he was elected. By backpedaling he not only gave up on success, he let the issues vanish from public discussion -- creating a vacuum that all the Tea Party nonsense quickly filled. Maybe we expected more from Obama than he was ever willing to deliver, but the ease with which he moved from critic of the status quo to defender should have been alarming. What alarmed me more than anything was how readily he dismantled the very successful Democratic Party organization that Howard Dean had built -- giving credence to David Frum's quip that where the Republican Party fears its base, the Democratic Party despises its core constituency. Time and again the people who paid the price for Obama's retreats were the people who voted for him, whose trust he squandered, whose interests he sold out.
I pretty much accept Krugman's arguments for Obama's health care and finance reform programs, and for various other details -- the value of the stimulus, of higher tax rates on the rich, of more aggressive environmental regulation, etc. Where I disagree most strongly is on foreign policy, where Obama has failed to break decisively with neocon orthodoxy on everything from Israel to Russia to Iran to Iraq. That is -- what else can he do? -- the point where Krugman resorts to the argument that Obama isn't as bad as McCain. That strikes me as wishful thinking, inasmuch as Obama has wound up doing exactly what McCain wants.
Rick Perlstein: The Long Con: Written in 2012, hence the introduction on "Mittdacity," but the background info on the long association between Republican propaganda and mail order scams and other cons is as apposite as ever.
Wednesday, October 8. 2014
OK, this is an on-the-road experiment: instead of collecting a week's (or half-week's) links and comments, then posting the final result, I'll try it bit-by-bit (with a delayed posting date):
Peter Beinart: Without a two-state solution, Americans will challenge Zionism itself: Behind their paywall, but the basic argument is that American liberals have tended to support Israel because they like the appeal of Israel as a liberal democracy (like us) -- and the only thing holding up the long-promised "two-state solution" is Palestinian intransigence. However, that is in fact wrong -- pretty much categorically so, as should be clear to anyone who listens to what Netanyahu and his cohort say. If, in the end, all the "Jewish state" has to justify itself with is an ethnocracy empowered by gratuitous violence -- i.e., about the only plausible explanation of Netanyahu's tantrum this summer -- few Americans (neocon militarists and Apocalypse-minded Christians) will be willing to continue supporting Israel. That strikes me as fair, even if a bit removed from the jingoism still dominant in US political discourse.
This dawning of reality would be taken as good news by most critical thinkers, but Beinart remains committed to the Zionist idea that Israel's existence is a good thing for Jews not only in Israel (where they are, in Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar's phrase, "lords of the land") but also in the Diaspora. A more accurate analysis would show that Zionism is intrinsically hostile to the Diaspora, no matter how conveniently Zionists suck up to generous (albeit misguided) foreign donors.
I still believe the best answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a democratic Jewish state alongside a democratic Palestinian one. I believe that because, in a post-Holocaust world, I want there to be one country that has as its mission statement the protection of Jewish life. And I believe it because among both Palestinians and Israeli Jews, nationalism remains a massively powerful force. To assume each community could subordinate its deep-seeded nationalism to a newfound loyalty to secular state strikes me as utopian. Secular binationalism barely works in Belgium. Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea it's probably a recipe for civil war.
But this requires arguing that Israel/Palestine is, at least right now, fundamentally different than the United States. It requires defending Zionism as something alien to the American experience, something necessary because in Israel/Palestine, the civic nationalism we revere here is neither possible nor desirable. That's very different than arguing that the United States should support Israel because it's America’s Middle Eastern twin.
But if you take the "twin" aspect away, it's hard to see many Americans caring about Jewish nationalism, especially since the anti-semitism that Israel is supposedly the solution to is hardly evident -- nor is it clear that Israel's "solution" really works.
Paul Krugman: Why Weren't the Alarm Bells Ringing?: Review of Martin Wolf's The Shifts and the Shocks: What We've Learned -- and Have Still to Learn -- from the Financial Crisis, which explains the 2008 financial meltdown and ensuing depression using the now-standard Minsky model: that prolonged economic stability leads to financial laxness, excessive leverage, and collapse. Krugman is skeptical that that's all there is to it.
First, while the depression that overtook the Western world in 2008 clearly came after the collapse of a vast financial bubble, that doesn't mean that the bubble caused the depression. Late in The Shifts and the Shocks Wolf mentions the reemergence of the "secular stagnation" hypothesis, most famously in the speeches and writing of Lawrence Summers (Lord Adair Turner independently made similar points, as did I). But I'm not sure whether readers will grasp the full implications. If the secular stagnationists are right, advanced economies now suffer from persistently inadequate demand, so that depression is their normal state, except when spending is supported by bubbles. If that's true, bubbles aren't the root of the problem; they're actually a good thing while they last, because they prop up demand. Unfortunately, they're not sustainable -- so what we need urgently are policies to support demand on a continuing basis, which is an issue very different from questions of financial regulation.
Wolf actually does address this issue briefly, suggesting that the answer might lie in deficit spending financed by the government's printing press. But this radical suggestion is, as I said, overshadowed by his calls for more financial regulation. It's the morality play aspect again: the idea that we need to don a hairshirt and repent our sins resonates with many people, while the idea that we may need to abandon conventional notions of fiscal and monetary virtue has few takers.
I've always found "secular stagnation" to be an oddly opaque term. The "persistent low demand" at its center is most certainly the effect of increasing inequality, where most people are increasingly denied the option to spend on real goods, while the rich often find their gains wrapped up in the illusion of inflated asset prices. This is, of course, a much deeper and more persistent problem than the stability of the banks. The Bush-Obama (or Paulson-Geithner) solution was to save the banks, figuring that if the front lines of the crisis held people wouldn't suspect that there was anything more rotten at the core of the crisis. But
the fact that the "Obama recovery," like the "Bush recovery" before it, feels so hollow should dispel us of such illusions.
Krugman's note on
2011 and All That is worth quoting at length:
But [Bill] Gross was by no means alone in getting these things wrong. Indeed, 2011 was a sort of banner year for bad macroeconomic analysis by people who had no excuse for their wrong-headedness. And here's the thing: aside from Gross, hardly any of the prominent wrong-headers have paid any price for their errors.
Think about it: 2011 was the year when Bowles and Simpson predicted a fiscal crisis within two years. There was never a hint of crisis, but BS are still given reverent treatment by the Beltway media.
2011 was also the year when Paul Ryan warned Ben Bernanke that he was "debasing" the dollar, arguing that rising commodity prices were the harbinger of runaway inflation; the Bank for International Settlements made a similar argument, albeit with less Ayn Rand. They were completely wrong, but Ryan is still the intellectual leader of the GOP and the BIS is still treated as a fount of wisdom.
The difference is, of course, that Gross had actual investors' money on the line. But you should not take that to imply that the profit motive leads to intellectual clarity; Gross has been forced out at Pimco, but I've seen hardly any press coverage tying that to his having the wrong macro model.
Speaking of getting things wrong, also see
Jeff Madrick: Why the Experts Missed the Recession. Madrick's sources are primarily recently released FOMC debates and "Greenbook" economic forecasts, which show how completely events blindsided the very "experts" who were responsible for setting Fed interest rates, and thereby adjusting the economy.
Friday, October 3. 2014
A quick listing of some open tabs as I'm shutting down the computer:
Dean Baker: Eric Holder: The Reason Robert Rubin Isn't Behind Bars
Rosa Brooks: But This Threatiness Goes to 11 . . .
Patrick Cockburn: Does David Cameron Have Any Idea What Kind of War He's
Tom Engelhardt: Failure Is Success: Subtitle: How American Intelligence
Works in the Twenty-First Century. "Intelligence," of course, is not what
the word implies.
Glenn Greenwald: After Feigning Love for Egyptian Democracy, US Back to
Openly Supporting Tyranny
William Hartung/Stephen Miles: Who Will Profit From the Wars in Iraq
Paul Krugman: How to Get It Wrong. His blog is also full of examples
of people getting it wrong; e.g.,
Bill Gross, and
Kate: 'Only a suicidal country doesn't recognize the Bedouin problem':
Israeli minister seeks ways to lower Bedouin birthrate: and other
stories of life under the Zionist state. For another, earlier report:
J'lem settlers amok: 10-year-old Palestinian is run over, 11-year-old
is nearly abducted.
Richard Silverstein: Shin Bet Murders Palestinians Who Killed Three Israeli
Border Police Special Forces Command Confirms Execution of Hebron
Why be curious about "Capital in the Twenty-First Century"?
Meanwhile, TPM is still specializing on stupid people saying stupid
Ed Board Member: Give US Credit for Voluntarily Ending Slavery.
Sunday, September 21. 2014
This week's scattered links:
David Atkins: Unsettling science:
Steve Koonin has an obfuscatory piece in the Wall Street Journal today
claiming that the science of climate change isn't settled. But it's not
the usual radically ignorant posturing. As with much of the evolution
of the conservative "debate" over climate, it represents another move
in the shifting ground of conservative chicanery intended to paralyze
action to solve the problem.
Koonin doesn't dispute that the climate is changing and that the
world is getting hotter. He doesn't dispute that humans are causing
the change through greenhouse gas emissions. He doesn't even dispute
that these changes are dangerous. His position is that because we don't
fully understand all of the complex reverberating effects of climate
change, we can't make good climate policy yet.
[ . . . ]
Of all the cynical arguments against action on climate change,
Koonin's ranks among the most disturbing because it's so obviously
calculated by a very smart person to make a radically irresponsible
conclusion just to protect a few entrenched economic elites.
By the way, a
People's Climate March took place in New York City today:
A comment I noticed on Twitter, from Robert Loerzel:
GOP lawmakers say there's no definitive scientific proof that there's
a Climate Change march today.
Carikai Chengu: How the US Helped Create Al Qaeda and ISIS: I've
alluded to this many times of late -- it's hard to think of Al Qaeda
without thinking of William Casey, even more so with Henry Kissinger
a new book -- but this bears repeating, especially since this
includes a few wrinkles I didn't even recall:
The fact that the United States has a long and torrid history of
backing terrorist groups will surprise only those who watch the news
and ignore history.
The CIA first aligned itself with extremist Islam during the Cold
War era. Back then, America saw the world in rather simple terms: on
one side, the Soviet Union and Third World nationalism, which America
regarded as a Soviet tool; on the other side, Western nations and
militant political Islam, which America considered an ally in the
struggle against the Soviet Union.
The director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan,
General William Odom recently remarked, "by any measure the U.S. has
long used terrorism. In 1978-79 the Senate was trying to pass a law
against international terrorism -- in every version they produced,
the lawyers said the U.S. would be in violation."
During the 1970's the CIA used the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as
a barrier, both to thwart Soviet expansion and prevent the spread of
Marxist ideology among the Arab masses. The United States also openly
supported Sarekat Islam against Sukarno in Indonesia, and supported
the Jamaat-e-Islami terror group against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in
Pakistan. Last but certainly not least, there is Al Qaeda.
Lest we forget, the CIA gave birth to Osama Bin Laden and breastfed
his organization during the 1980's. Former British Foreign Secretary,
Robin Cook, told the House of Commons that Al Qaeda was unquestionably
a product of Western intelligence agencies. Mr. Cook explained that
Al Qaeda, which literally means an abbreviation of "the database" in
Arabic, was originally the computer database of the thousands of
Islamist extremists, who were trained by the CIA and funded by the
Saudis, in order to defeat the Russians in Afghanistan.
The article gets a little cloudier as it approaches ISIS. As far
as I know -- and I haven't read Patrick Cockburn's new book on ISIS,
The Jihadis Return, but I've read much of his reporting --
nobody's assembled a good accounting of the CIA in Syria. We do know,
for instance, that ISIS arms are overwhelmingly American, but we do
not know to what extent those arms were provided by the US by Syrian
rebels, looted from Iraq, or provided by Saudi Arabia or Qatar --
nations which are nominally allied with the US but are free to use
militant jihadis to implement their programs. Chengu does regard
ISIS as an offshoot from Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, but that runs somewhat
counter to the fact that another Syrian group, Al Nusra, claims the
Al Qaeda brand. The problem with secret organizations like the CIA
operating in Syria is that there's never any accountability, and
therefore never any reason for discipline or restraint. I think
that's reason enough to abolish the CIA (at least he "operations"
end of the racket): they can never plausibly deny anything, no
matter how outrageous, because their entire existence is based on
secrecy and lies. The US will never be able to be taken at its word
as long as the CIA exists.
Andrew Levine: Fear of a Caliphate, long and rather rambling, but
this much is surely true (bold added):
Talk of caliphates serves the IS's purpose, much as beheadings on You
Tube do. And talk is cheap, and become cheaper. Since 9/11, the cost
of getting America to do itself in has plummeted.
And so, the IS, wins: Obama's America is off to war again.
Worry about that; not about what the IS says it wants to establish
in the region or the world.
The potential for harm resulting from the United States and other
Western powers fighting against the IS is greater by many orders of
magnitude than any harm that the IS can do in the areas it controls.
As I've written before, what brought the World Trade Center towers
down wasn't Al Qaeda; it was gravity. As long as the US responds to
provocation with the same unthinking, unreflective automation as the
laws of physics, we'll never be able to command our fate.
Juan Cole: Shiite Militias of Iraq Reject US Return, Threaten to Attack
US Forces: More proof that US intervention against ISIS will be a
colossal failure even the Americans manage to kill every Arab who leaves
his house dressed in black. Nor are the threats only coming from Muqtada
al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army: the Badr Brigades and foreign minister
Ibrahim al-Jafari are upset that the US snubbed Iran in putting together
their "coalition of the killing." The Iraqi Army (effectively another
Shiite militia) is beginning to chafe about depending on US air support.
And Prime Minister al-Abadi is unlikely to have any wiggle room to make
concessions to Sunni tribes with the Shiite militias staging their own
revolt. Rather than destroying ISIS, the only thing the US mission is
likely to accomplish is the secession of Kurdistan from Iraq. Cole adds:
It is difficult to tell how serious these militia leaders' pronouncements
are, since they might be attempting to save face with their followers even
as they benefit from the US air cover. On the other hand, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haqq
actually did in the past kidnap US troops, and the Mahdi Army fought them
tooth and nail in spring of 2004, inflicting high casualties on them. Since
President Obama's air campaign requires Special Ops forces like Navy Seals
or Green Berets to be on the ground with the Iraqi Army, they should
apparently watch their backs. The people they are trying to help against
ISIL don't seem to appreciate their being there. And many of them seem
to prefer Iran's help.
Speaking of which, Kerry seems to have softened the anti-Iran stand (see
Changing US-Iran Relations: Kerry: Iran has a Role in Defeating ISIL
Militants, although I don't think we've heard the last from AIPAC
on this). The fact remains that the US is opposed to Assad in Syria,
but eager to fight against Assad's worst enemy, even if it winds up
aligning with Assad's allies to do so.
Matthew Kalman: Hoping War-Weary Tourists Will Return to Israel:
While Israel has generally been able to escalate its war on Gaza
without incurring any real costs or hardships for its first-class
citizenry, wars still make tourists nervous, so it shouldn't be a
surprise that Israel's tourist business has declined of late. (I
think it was during the 2006 war on Lebanon when we worried that
some of my wife's relatives were going to Israel; upon checking,
we were relieved to find out they had gone to Auschwitz instead.)
This year should have been a record year for Israeli tourism. In 2013,
Israel attracted 3.6 million foreign visitors. Numbers from January
to June showed a 15 percent increase. Then the war began in July,
and the number of visitors slumped. In July and August, the number
of tourists fell to 400,000, down from 578,000 in the same period
last year, a 31 percent decline. Ninety percent of cruise ship
United States flights to Israel were banned for 24 hours after a
rocket landed near Ben-Gurion airport. There was little damage and
few casualties, but those who came found themselves running for shelter
as air-raid sirens wailed in Tel Aviv.
The Israel Hotels Association said that occupancy rates, usually
80 percent in July, fell below 40 percent. Top hotels offered deep
discounts. The new Ritz-Carlton in Herzliya slashed its room rate to
$400 from $575. In Jerusalem, Hilton's new Waldorf-Astoria offered a
10 percent discount online and a 20 percent discount for inquiries
Dan Hotels, which owns the King David in Jerusalem, warned shareholders
in August that third-quarter revenue was liable to fall by 30 percent
because of war-related cancellations.
Wasn't the King David the hotel the Stern Gang blew up in 1948?
Kalman doesn't mention the most famous tourist during the war: a
Palestinian-American teenager visiting Jerusalem, where his cousin
was immolated by Israeli settlers, after which he was beat and
arrested by Israeli police, and was only allowed to leave the country
after Israel's normally servile allies in the US embassy intervened.
The article details various ideas Israelis have to revive the tourism
industry, but they don't include forgoing future wars, opening up
Gaza, or inviting Palestinian refugees to "come home" for a visit.
Alice Rothchild: Gaza and the American awakening:
The seven week war on Gaza is theoretically over though Israeli forces
continue limited incursions into the beleaguered and bombed out strip
of coastal land and over 11,000 wounded and 100,000 homeless pick through
the rubble of their lives, mourn their dead children, and survive hungry
on the generosity of overstretched international aid. The headlines are
all Abbas and airstrikes in Syria and Netanyahu declaring without a shred
of credible evidence that ISIS is Hamas and Hamas is ISIS. Even more
invisible are the ongoing land grabs, continued Jewish settlement growth,
and arrests and killings of Palestinians in the West Bank and East
Jerusalem. [ . . . ]
Although the media has largely turned its gaze elsewhere, the war in
Gaza has forced more of these kinds of contradictions to become painfully
obvious to liberal Jews in the US. While the Israeli government talks about
"pinpoint strikes" and "unprovoked attacks from Hamas" it has become
increasingly difficult to ignore the massive destruction of the Gazan
infrastructure, hospitals, schools, government buildings, UN facilities,
homes. With more than 60 Israelis dead and a Jewish population fearful
of the ever increasing reach of the primitive Qassam rockets, it is time
to ask if three devastating attacks on Gaza in six years and a policy of
periodically "mowing the lawn" is a long-term strategy that leads to an
end to Palestinian resistance and a secure Israel.
Jay Caspian Kang: ISIS's Call of Duty:
The similarities between ISIS recruitment films and first-person-shooter
games are likely intentional. Back in June, an ISIS fighter told the BBC
that his new life was "better than that game Call of Duty."
[ . . . ]
The use of video games as a recruiting tool is not new. The United
States Army has, for the past decade, offered "America's Army," an online
multiplayer shooter; it is among the most downloaded war games of all time
and has been credited with helping boost enlistment. In 2009, according to
the New York Times, Army recruiters hoping to attract enlistees
from urban areas set up stations in a Philadelphia mall where kids could
play video games and, if they so chose, talk to someone about what life
in the armed forces would be like. [ . . . ]
Aside from the recruitment films tailored to evoke video games, they
also have released a series called Mujatweets, which stresses the
brotherhood of ISIS fighters and shows them handing out candy to children.
Paul Krugman: Wild Words, Brain Worms, and Civility:
First, picturesque language, used right, serves an important purpose.
"Words ought to be a little wild," wrote John Maynard Keynes, "for they
are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking." You could say, "I'm
dubious about the case for expansionary austerity, which rests on
questionable empirical evidence and zzzzzzzz . . ."; or you could
accuse austerians of believing in the Confidence Fairy. Which do you
think is more effective at challenging a really bad economic doctrine?
Beyond that, civility is a gesture of respect -- and sure enough,
the loudest demands for civility come from those who have done nothing
to earn that respect. Noah felt (and was) justified in ridiculing the
Austrians because they don't argue in good faith; faced with a devastating
failure of their prediction about inflation, they didn't concede that they
were wrong and try to explain why. Instead, they denied reality or tried
to redefine the meaning of inflation.
And if you look at the uncivil remarks by people like, well, me, you'll
find that they are similarly aimed at people arguing in bad faith. I talk
now and then about zombie and cockroach ideas. Zombies are ideas that
should have been killed by evidence, but keep shambling along -- e.g.
the claim that all of Europe's troubled debtors were fiscally irresponsible
before the crisis; cockroaches are ideas that you thought we'd gotten rid
of, but keep on coming back, like the claim that Keynes would never have
called for fiscal stimulus in the face of current debt levels (Britain in
the 1930s had much higher debt to GDP than it does now). Well, what I'm
doing is going after bad-faith economics -- economics that keeps trotting
out claims that have already been discredited.
[ . . . ]
And of course, people who engage in that kind of bad faith screech
loudly about civility when they're caught at it.
I never think of myself as a rock critic more than when I'm writing
about politics. Rock critics are always sensitive to ambient noise, and
looking for some choice words to break through the din.
Also see Krugman's
Return of the Bums on Welfare, about "John Boehner's resurrection of
the notion that we're suffering weak job growth because people are living
the good life on government benefits, and don't want to work." Conclusion:
So basically the right is railing against the bums on welfare not only
when there aren't any bums, but when there isn't any welfare.
Amanda Marcotte: Creationism is just the start: How right-wing Christians
are warping America's schools: This, of course, is nothing new -- I
recall reading Paul Goodman's book Compulsory Mis-Education back
in the 1960s, when it first occurred to me that the ideological purpose
of school was to brainwash the masses. Still, the broad consensus of
received wisdom in the 1950s at least gave lip-service to science and
smarts, and painted US history as progressive -- we were taught that
the US fought for independence and free trade, that the North faught
against slavery, and that the reunited US frowned on imperialism and
put an end to fascism (although we still had to read Animal Farm
on the evils of Godless Communism). Now, however:
The attempts to indoctrinate children into the belief that America
is basically a Christian theocracy are bad enough, but that's not the
only conservative agenda item the books are trying to trick students
into buying. The books also try to subtly discredit the civil rights
movement by implying that segregation wasn't so bad, with one book
arguing that white and black schools had "similar buildings, buses,
and teachers," which the researchers argue "severely understates the
tremendous and widespread disadvantages of African-American schools."
Researchers also found that the books were playing the role of
propagandist for unregulated capitalism. One textbook argues that
taxes have gone up since 1927, but society "does not appear to be
much more civilized today than it was" back then. It's an assertion
that ignores the much reduced poverty and sickness, improved education,
and even things like the federal highway system, all to make an
ideological point. Another book argues that any government regulation
whatsoever somehow means that capitalism ceases to be capitalism, a
stance that would mean capitalism has never really existed in all of
That these books are stuffed full of lies and propaganda is not a
surprise. From the get-go, the State Board of Education made it clear
it was far more interested in pushing a right-wing ideology on students
than actually providing an education. In July, the Texas Freedom Network
reviewed the 140 people selected to be on the panels reviewing textbooks.
Being an actual expert in politics or history practically guaranteed you
couldn't get a slot, as "more than a dozen" Texas academics with expertise
who applied got denied, while conservative "political activists and
individuals without social studies degrees or teaching experience got
places on the panels." Only three of the 140 members of the panel are
even current faculty members at Texas universities, but a pastor who
used to own a car dealership somehow got a spot.
Heather Digby Parton: Wingnuts' crippling Ebola fury: Why they're enraged
about fighting a disease: Superficially most of these wingnuts appear
to be griping about ISIS rather than Ebola, but I suppose that's because
they prefer threats they can misunderstand to ones they cannot grasp, or
maybe they just prefer enemies they can kill to diseases that could kill
them. For example, Allen West:
The world need to step up against Islamo-fascism but I suppose fighting
Ebola is easier for a faux Commander-in-Chief than to fight a real enemy
of America. Nice optics there Barack, good try to change the subject,
and make yourself seem like a leader fighting a really bad flu bug --
all the while you dismiss the cockroaches who behead Americans.
Then there are the right-wingers who fear illegal child refugees
will sneak Ebola into the country. Unless, of course, we head them
off by setting up an ambush on the Syria-Iraq border.
Paul Rosenberg: We really must remember the epic failures of George W.
Bush: Frank Bruni asks, "Whenever Barack Obama seems in danger of
falling, do we have to hear that George W. Bush made the cliff?" Well,
yes, not that there was no cliff before Bush, but it got much steeper
and less study under Bush's eight years of malign neglect and extreme
But the real problem here was not that Obama supporters attacked Bush.
It was that Obama himself did not. [ . . . ]
While it's true that we can't undo Bush's mistakes, that hardly
means it's foolish to keep them in mind. It would be foolish to forget
them, after the terrible price we've paid -- and at the same time when
the architects of that disaster are urging another mission in the Middle
East to "destroy" ISIS.
And yet, as with domestic policy, Obama's most significant mistake
has been his reluctance to break sharply with previous Republican policy,
call out their failures, and hold them responsible. War crimes have not
even been investigated, much less punished -- only those who sought to
expose them have been prosecuted. Yet, holding our own accountable for
their misdeeds would work wonders for regaining trust throughout the
I don't see how you can blame Obama's supporters. He did promise
change when he ran in 2008, and I'm pretty sure most of us took that
as meaning change from G.W. Bush, who gave us seven years of stupid,
pointless wars; two huge tax giveaways to the already rich; runaway
deficits; a bad recession early, a fake recovery, and an even worse
recession late, which he turned into a trillions of dollars of gifts
to the big banks; perversion of the criminal justice system and the
right-wing politicization of civil service; major failure in federal
disaster relief; complete inattention to festering problems like
health care and climate change; utter disregard for international
law. Obama, the Democrats, the press, everyone should have routinely
repeated that list, not so much to heap scorn upon the Republicans
(although they certainly deserve to be shamed) as to warn ourselves
against repeating such disastrous policies.
Indeed, most of Obama's problems since taking office result not
from the few changes Obama did manage -- Obamacare, for instance,
is a success by any measure, at least against the previous system
if not against the single-payer system we would have preferred --
but from the many ways he continued and conserved Bush policies.
Sunday, September 14. 2014
On September 10, getting a jump on the unlucky 13th anniversary of
Al-Qaida's planes attacks, President Obama laid out
his plans for the fourth US invasion and assault on Iraq:
Barack Obama became the fourth consecutive American president to
deliver a prime time speech to the nation about Iraq on Wednesday,
vowing to wage "a steady, relentless effort" to wipe out ISIS, the
Sunni militant group in Iraq and Syria which recently beheaded two
"Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy,
ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism
strategy," Obama said.
The president was quick to emphasize that this won't be a war like
Iraq or Afghanistan, instead likening it to U.S. engagement in Yemen
and Somalia. He said it "will not involve American combat troops
fighting on foreign soil," and will instead involve "using our air
power and our support for partner forces on the ground" to attack ISIS
(also called ISIL).
"If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat
beyond that region -- including to the United States," Obama said. He
stressed that the strategy will be conducted with global allies,
saying the four elements of his plan are air strikes, support for
rebel forces on the ground, counter-terrorism and intelligence and
humanitarian assistance to civilians.
[Some quick notes: the second invasion of Iraq was under Clinton,
when US forces drove Saddam Hussein's forces out of the Kurdish enclave;
that was done without a military engagement, although Clinton also
conducted a sporadic air war against Iraq over much of his two terms,
a practice Bush continued upon taking office in 2001. US troops first
entered Somalia in 1992, so how is that working? The first person
Obama ordered killed was a Somali pirate in 2009. The US killed a
leader of Al-Shabab there as recently as Sept. 2. The US started
using drones over Yemen to assassinate alleged terrorists in 2002,
so that, too, is at best a slowly evolving "success" story.]
As usual, Obama managed to offend everyone with his position --
the hawks for not acting sooner and more recklessly; the rest of us
for throwing us back into another pointless, hopeless war. For a
guy who claims his first principle of foreign policy is "don't do
stupid shit," Obama just blew it. As near as I can tell, he did
this for three reasons:
When US troops finally left Iraq, due to the Iraqi government's
refusal to sign a "status of forces agreement" that would give US
troops immunity to commit crimes against Iraqis (as they had been
doing since 2003), Obama chose to celebrate the occasion as a great
American success story, and as such he became party to a war that
he had campaigned against. So when the success story unraveled and
Iraq sank back into a civil war that the US had started by turning
Shiite death squads against Sunnis, Obama felt obligated to repair
the damage, even where Bush and 160,000 US troops had failed. (Obama
made a similar gaffe when he touted a false recovery from the Bush
recession, leading people to think he was responsible for the whole
crash.) The net effect is that Obama is willing to destroy his own
reputation in order to salvage Bush's. That sure isn't the "change"
millions of people voted for Obama to bring about.
Obama is a pushover, and he let himself get snowed here. A
lot of people have been pushing for war against ISIS lately, and
they've painted the group as unspeakably evil, pulling out every
cliché and playing on every prejudice that has ever been used to
sell Americans on a war in the Middle East. Granted, most of the
people who've been agitating for war against ISIS were already
trying to push the US into war in Syria against ISIS' primary
enemy, the Assad regime. Many of them belong to the "real men
go to Tehran" faction that wanted to extend the 2003 invasion of
Iraq to overthrow the governments of Iran and Syria. But all the
publicity of ISIS' beheadings and massacres has gripped people
initially inclined against escalating a war, even, some would
say, the Pope (but see
this for a more nuanced reading). For someone like Obama, who
periodically feels the need to prove he's no pacifist, the chance
to vanquish a foe as abhorent as ISIS was irresistible.
Finally, Obama has outsmarted himself, thinking his peculiar
combination of aggression (bombing, special forces) and restraint
(no regular combat troops) will work magic while avoiding the risks,
the abuse and blowback that inevitably follows American troops all
around the world. The fact remains that no matter how light or heavy
you go in, bombing will inevitably kill the wrong people, intelligence
will inevitably be incomplete or faulty, and the proxy forces that
the plan so relies on will have their own agendas, ones that will
become more rigid with the commitment of American support.
Perhaps the worst thing about Obama's speech and the policies he
previously put into place is the open-ended commitment he's made to
the very same Iraqi political leaders whose misbehavior made ISIS
appear to many Iraqis (Sunnis, anyway) to be the lesser evil. Now
they know that when they fuck up again the Americans will have to
stick with them, because the US can never afford to lose face. (On
the other hand, maybe they should review the story of Ngo Dinh Diem.)
But nearly every aspect of the speech/plan is flawed. ISIS came into
existence in the crucible of Syria's civil war, and some group like
it will inevitably reappear as long as the civil war goes on, so it
will prove impossible to stop ISIS without also ending Syria's civil
war. Chances of that are thin as Obama has sided with the rebels
against Assad, not realizing that the most prominent rebel group
is ISIS, and that the US-favored "moderates" are firmly aligned with
ISIS. The situation in Iraq is no simpler, with the US fighting in
favor of the central government against ISIS but also siding with
Kurdish separatists against the central government. The desire to
work through proxies adds complexity, but perhaps not quite the mess
of a full-blown invasion and its inevitably messy occupation. Plus
you have the problem of managing domestic expectations. Obama came
out with a clever limited intervention plan in the much simpler
context of Libya and, well, look at how that blew up. Obama put a
lot of emphasis on the counterinsurgency doctrine Gen. McChrystall
tried to implement in Afghanistan, and failed totally at. American
soldiers are peculiarly inept at fighting Muslims, yet the are held
on such high pedestals by politicians like Obama that their repeated
failures are overlooked. Similarly, the diplomatic alliances the
US will surely need are often unapproachable due to other conflicts --
Iran and Russia are the major cases, but the traditional wink-and-nod
green light for Saudia Arabia to finance groups like ISIS also comes
And one should probe deeper, although there is little chance that
Obama will. Nothing is so opaque to those who believe that "America
is a light unto the nations" as the actual past behavior of the US.
Since the 1970s the US has financed Jihadis, and has encouraged the
Saudis and others to actively proselytize their fundamentalist brand
of Islam, even as it has turned back against us. Similarly, America's
Cold War ideology, still very much institutionalized, keeps us from
working in any meaningful way to with liberal, socialist, or any kind
of progressive movements in the Middle East.
The US government is similarly ignorant about ISIS, as are the
American people -- even more so as they only enter the equation as
targets for propaganda, where ISIS is made to look at evil as possible
while the good intentions and great deeds of the US are never subject
to scrutiny. We are, after all, the leader of the free world, as such
obliged to act to defend civilization, something no one else has the
resources or moral character to do. And so on, blah, blah, blah. To
be sure, part of the problem here is that ISIS hasn't been running
the sort of media relations program that, say, the Israelis mount
when they go on a five-week killing binge like they did this summer
in Gaza. Rather, ISIS has contemptuously killed journalists who might
have helped them get their story out. They must, after all, have
stories: even the Taliban, who weren't much better at PR, could go
around the room and recount the lost limbs and eyes that scarred
nearly every one of their commanders. Like the Taliban, ISIS sprung
from the killing fields of despotic regimes and foreign occupiers.
I'm not aware of any journalist who has gotten close enough to ISIS
to present their side of the story, although Nir Rosen's In the Belly
of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq (2006) and
Dahr Jamail's Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded
Journalist in Occupied Iraq (2007) got relatively close to earlier
generations of anti-US resistance fighters in Iraq. The journalist who
has written the most about ISIS is Patrick Cockburn, who wrote The
Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (2006), and who has a new
book on ISIS: The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising.
For a sampling of his recent writings on ISIS, see:
Some quotes from Cockburn's Sept. 9 piece:
The US and its allies face a huge dilemma which is largely of their
own making. Since 2011 Washington's policy, closely followed by the
UK, has been to replace President Bashar al-Assad, but among his
opponents Isis is now dominant. Actions by the US and its regional
Sunni allies led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey, which were
aimed at weakening Mr Assad, have in practice helped Isis.
[ . . . ]
So far it looks as if Mr Obama will dodge the main problem facing
his campaign against Isis. He will not want to carry out a U-turn in
US policy by allying himself with President Assad, though the Damascus
government is the main armed opposition to Isis in Syria. He will
instead step up a pretense that there is a potent "moderate" armed
opposition in Syria, capable of fighting both Isis and the Syrian
government at once. Unfortunately, this force scarcely exists in any
strength and the most important rebel movements opposed to Isis are
themselves jihadis such as Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and the
Islamic Front. Their violent sectarianism is not very different to
that of Isis.
Lacking a moderate military opposition to support as an alternative
to Isis and the Assad government, the US has moved to raise such a
force under its own control. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), once lauded
in Western capitals as the likely military victors over Mr Assad,
largely collapsed at the end of 2013. The FSA military leader, General
Abdul-Ilah al Bashir, who defected from the Syrian government side in
2012, said in an interview with the McClatchy news agency last week
that the CIA had taken over direction of this new moderate force. He
said that "the leadership of the FSA is American," adding that since
last December US supplies of equipment have bypassed the FSA
leadership in Turkey and been sent directly to up to 14 commanders in
northern Syria and 60 smaller groups in the south of the country. Gen
Bashir said that all these FSA groups reported directly to the
CIA. Other FSA commanders confirmed that the US is equipping them with
training and weapons including TOW anti-tank missiles.
It appears that, if the US does launch air strikes in Syria, they
will be nominally in support of the FSA which is firmly under US
control. The US is probably nervous of allowing weapons to be supplied
to supposed moderates by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies which
end up in the hands of Isis. The London-based small arms research
organisation Conflict Armament Research said in a report this week
that anti-tank rockets used by Isis in Syria were "identical to M79
rockets transferred by Saudi Arabia to forces operating under the Free
Syrian Army umbrella in 2013."
In Syria and in Iraq Mr Obama is finding that his policy of
operating through local partners, whose real aims may differ markedly
from his own, is full of perils.
Some more links on Iraq, Syria, and ISIS:
Tony Karon: Obama promises a long and limited war on Islamic State:
The IS thrives as a result of the alienation of Sunni citizenry by Syrian
and Iraqi regimes and the breakdown of the central state in both countries.
The Islamic State has taken advantage of the enduring hostility to U.S.
intervention in the region -- and also of Washington's subsequent retreat
and passivity. It trades off Iran's sectarian support for allied Shia
militias, Gulf Arab support for equally sectarian Sunni militias and
Turkish hostility to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which translates
into an open border for thousands of international volunteers to cross
and join the IS. The gradual collapse of the nation-state itself in Syria
and Iraq has allowed the IS to break away from the transnational conspiracy
strategy of its Al-Qaeda precursor to raise its black flag in a growing
power vacuum that covers huge swathes of territory.
Phyllis Bennis: The Speech on Diplomacy That Obama Should Have Given Last
What's missing is a real focus, a real explanation to people in this
country and to people and governments in the Middle East and around
the world, on just what a political solution to the ISIS crisis would
really require and what kind of diplomacy will be needed to get there.
President Obama should have spent his fifteen minutes of prime time
tonight talking about diplomacy. Instead of a four-part mostly military
plan, he should have outlined four key diplomatic moves.
First, recognize what it will take to change the political dynamics
of sectarianism in Iraq. [ . . . ]
Second, instead of a Coalition of the Killing, President Obama should
have announced a new broad coalition with a political and diplomatic,
not military, mandate. It should aim to use diplomatic power and financial
pressures, not military strikes, to undermine ISIS power.
[ . . . ]
Third, the Obama administration should, perhaps this month while
Washington holds the presidency of the UN Security Council, push to
restart serious international negotiations on ending the complex set
of multi-faceted wars in Syria. [ . . . ]
Finally, an arms embargo on all sides should be on the long-term
Without political agreement, there is no solution. All you can do
with military power is try to shift the power relationships between
the sides -- in the hope of getting a more favorable agreement. But
if all you have are military goals, they are pointless. And the value
of shifting those power relationships goes down if you're willing to
consider an equitable agreement. No side can legitimately ask for
Paul Woodward: Is ISIS a terminal disease?:
President Obama might have been slow to come up with a strategy for
defeating ISIS but he seems to have been much more resolute in his
choice of metaphor for describing the enemy.
After James Foley was murdered, Obama said, "there has to be a
common effort to extract this cancer so it does not spread." A few
days later he said: "Rooting out a cancer like [ISIS] won't be easy
and it won't be quick." Again, last night he said: "it will take
time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL."
Woodward offers three reasons why he thinks Obama like the cancer
Obama's political goal appears to be to secure support for an open-ended
relatively low-key military operation that will be of such little concern
to most Americans that it can continue for years without any real
I'm less impressed by his "reasons" -- what struck me more from the
quotes is (1) the assumption that it is his (or "our") body that has
been struck by the cancer, and that therefore the US is entitled to
treat it; and (2) how reducing the acts of people to the level of a
disease sanitizes our process of killing those people.
John Cassidy: Obama's Strange Bedfellows: The Right Liked His Speech:
Quotes from Rush Limbaugh, John Podhoretz, Charles Krauthammer, and Larry
Kudlow applauding Obama's speech. (Podhoretz called it "the most Republican
speech Barack Obama has ever given.") However, afterwards, the right started
looking for high ground further to the right:
If a vote takes place in Congress -- and, at this stage, it's unclear
whether that will happen -- most G.O.P. members will likely express
support for unleashing the U.S. military on the jihadis. (Opposing the
President "would be a huge mistake," Kudlow warned.) The pressure from
the right will be aimed at expanding Obama's war, not stopping it. More
bombing; more U.S. service members involved; more everything. That will
be the line.
It's already being laid down, in fact. "Air strikes alone will not
accomplish what we're trying to accomplish," House Speaker John Boehner
said on Thursday. "Somebody's boots have to be on the ground." Some of
Boehner's foot soldiers went further -- quite a bit further. "This is a
stalemate strategy," said John Fleming, a Louisiana congressman who
serves on the House Armed Services Committee. "I think that we would
want to see an all-out war, shock and awe. We put troops on the ground,
we put all of our assets there after properly prepping the battlefield,
and in a matter of a few weeks we take these guys out."
Of course, when you're the greatest power the world has ever known,
all it should take is a few weeks.
Andrew J Bacevich: Obama is picking his targets in Iraq and Syria while
missing the point: Starts off by trying to out-think David Brooks,
offering that "the core problem" of the era is "a global conflict pitting
tradition against modernity." That conflict exists, of course, but Jihadists
aren't militant defenders of tradition. They belong to a more specific
reaction, one in response to imperialist exploitation working through
the corrupt elites of many Muslim countries, not against modernity's
individualistic ethos. Still, the following point is well taken:
Destroying what Obama calls the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
won't create an effective and legitimate Iraqi state. It won't restore
the possibility of a democratic Egypt. It won't dissuade Saudi Arabia
from funding jihadists. It won't pull Libya back from the brink of
anarchy. It won't end the Syrian civil war. It won't bring peace and
harmony to Somalia and Yemen. It won't persuade the Taliban to lay down
their arms in Afghanistan. It won't end the perpetual crisis of Pakistan.
It certainly won't resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
All the military power in the world won't solve those problems. Obama
knows that. Yet he is allowing himself to be drawn back into the very war
that he once correctly denounced as stupid and unnecessary -- mostly
because he and his advisers don't know what else to do. Bombing has
become his administration's default option.
Rudderless and without a compass, the American ship of state continues
to drift, guns blazing.
Fred Hof: We Can't Destroy ISIS Without Destroying Bashar al Assad First:
Hof worked for the Obama administration 2009-12 and has not rotated to a
Middle East policy think tank, so I count him as untrustworthy, but his
main point strikes me as true:
The Islamic State -- just like its parent, Al Qaeda in Iraq -- cannot be
killed unless the causes of state failure in Syria and Iraq are addressed
and rectified. Although such a task cannot be the exclusive or even
principal responsibility of the American taxpayer, the president's
strategy, its implementation, and its outcome will be incomplete if it
remains solely one of counter-terrorism.
The essential problem that has permitted the Islamic State to roam
freely in parts of Iraq and Syria amounting in size to New England is
state failure in both places. Redressing this failure is far beyond
the unilateral capacity of the United States, as occupation in Iraq
and ongoing operations in Afghanistan demonstrate. Still the fact
remains that until Syria and Iraq move from state failure to political
legitimacy -- to systems reflecting public consensus about the rules
of the political game -- the Islamic State will remain undead no matter
how many of its kings, queens, bishops, rooks, and pawns are swept
from the table. And yet a strategy that does not address how America
and its partners can influence the endgame -- keeping the Islamic
State in its grave -- is simply incomplete.
Hof refuses to consider the possibility that in order to kill ISIS
the US could change sides and support Assad, possibly under some
face-saving deal that would cut the "moderate" rebels some slack,
maybe promising some democratic reforms to isolate ISIS. He basically
wants to run the entire US Army through Damascus ("Airstrikes will not
suffice . . . A ground element is essential, as it has
been in Iraq.") What he doesn't explain is how, once Assad has been
swept away, the US establishes a government in Syria that is broadly
accepted by the bitterly-divided Syrian people as legitimate -- one
cannot, for instance, point to US efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya,
or Somalia as providing any comfort or confidence.
US Pins Hope on Syrian Rebels With Loyalties All Over the Map:
After more than three years of civil war, there are hundreds of militias
fighting President Bashar al-Assad -- and one another. Among them, even
the more secular forces have turned to Islamists for support and weapons
over the years, and the remaining moderate rebels often fight alongside
extremists like the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria.
"You are not going to find this neat, clean, secular rebel group that
respects human rights and that is waiting and ready because they don't
exist," said Aron Lund, a Syria analyst who edits the Syria in Crisis
blog for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It is a very
dirty war and you have to deal with what is on offer."
[ . . . ]
The Obama administration's plans to arm Syrian rebels have been
troubled by false starts since April 2013, when Mr. Obama first
authorized the C.I.A. to begin a secret training mission in Jordan.
Months after the authorization, the White House still had not
delivered details to Congress about the C.I.A.'s plans, and it was
not until September 2013 that the first American-trained rebels
returned to Syria from Jordan.
To date, the C.I.A. mission in Jordan has trained 2,000 to 3,000
Syrian rebels, according to American and Arab officials.
To expand the training, Mr. Obama announced a plan in June to spend
up to $500 million for scores of American Special Forces troops to
train up to 3,000 rebels over the next year. But the proposal languished
on Capitol Hill as lawmakers complained that the plans lacked specific
details. A revised plan now calls for as many as twice that number of
fighters, analysts said.
Even if Congress approves the Pentagon plan, as now appears likely
after Mr. Obama's speech on Wednesday, military planners said it would
be months before the fighters, to be trained at a base in Saudi Arabia,
would be battle-ready.
Fatigue from three years of war has left most of those forces exhausted
and short of resources. Since pushing ISIS from parts of northern Syria
early this year, Syria's rebels have few military advances to point to
and in many areas have lost ground, to Mr. Assad's forces and to ISIS.
But in many places they remain busy fighting Mr. Assad and are not eager
to redirect their energies to ISIS -- even while many say they hate the
Rami G Khouri: Why Obama Has Picked the Worst Allies for His War on
ISIS: Khouri thinks that the Arab states that Obama is trying to
line up for the war against ISIS may be effective in the short-term
but will only make Jihadism more prevalent in the future.
The combination of foreign-led military power and local Arab government
partners that must anchor a successful attack to vanquish the Islamic
State is the precise combination of forces that originally midwifed the
birth of Al-Qaeda in the 1980s and later spawned its derivative -- the
Islamic State -- today. [ . . . ]
The jails of Sunni-majority Arab regimes represent an important aspect
of the mistreatment and humiliation that many prisoners experienced,
especially those jailed for their political views rather than crimes.
Their jail experiences ultimately convinced them to fight to topple
their regimes as part of Al-Qaeda's aim to purify Islamic lands from
apostate and corrupt leaderships.
The fact that tens of thousands of Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis,
Sudanese and other Arabs are in jail today on often questionable
charges -- including many in Gulf Cooperation Council states who are
jailed simply for tweeting critical remarks about their governments --
suggests that Arab autocracy continues to define and plague the region
as a driver of homegrown Arab radicalism and terrorism.
Moon of Alabama: The Caliphate's Anti-Imperial/Imperial Dualism:
Asserts: "The Caliphate is based on original Wahhabi ideas which were
in their essence also anti-colonial and at first directed against the
Ottoman rulers." Those anti-imperial ideas also work against the US,
but the juicier target is the Saudi royal family, which made the
original pact with Abd al-Wahhab and, in their general subverience
to the UK and US may be seen as not holding up their end of the deal.
Much of this has to do with the way the Saudis distribute dividends
on their oil. A small fraction of the money goes through the state
to build a social welfare network which keeps the peace by making
Saudi citizens wards of the state and elevating them above migrant
workers who do the real work and are kept on very short leashes.
But most of the money goes to the numerous princes of the royal
family, who are much like the pampered scions of rich estates all
over the world: spoiled, sheltered, conceited, given to flights of
grandeur and folly. American bankers love these Saudi princes --
some are serious, but most are easy marks. The princes themselves
are schizo: blessed with wealth they never earned, some turn into
notorious playboys, some turn pious and shameful. The latter, plus
some wealthy scions of non-royal families like Osama Bin Laden
and their cohort in the Persian Gulf monarchies, are the ones who
finance jihadists, who hire poor, disaffected Muslims to die for
God, to expiate the sins of the Saudis. Of course, when the Americans
come calling, the top Saudis are quick to condemn the traitors in
their ranks, but they are less eager to cut them out because deep
down they are trapped in their piety. The caliphate is a deep idea
dating back to Muhammad himself -- indeed, the Turks wouldn't have
made a mockery of it had it not worked -- so it's no surprise that
its first appearance of reality should be so dramatic.
The new Caliphate followers are copies of the original Wahhabis who
do not recognize nation states as those were dictated by the colonial
"western" overlords after the end of the Ottoman empire. They do not
recognize rulers that deviate, like the Saudi kings do, from the
original ideas and subordinate themselves to "western" empires. It
is their aim to replace them. As there are many people in Saudi Arabia
educated in Wahhabi theology and not particular pleased with their
current rulers the possibility of a Caliphate rush to conquer Saudi
Arabia and to overthrow the Ibn Saud family is real.
In that aspect the Caliphate is anti-colonial and anti-imperial.
That is part of what attracts its followers. At the same time the
Caliphate project is also imperial in that it wants to conquer more
land and wants to convert more people to its flavor of faith.
Both of these aspects make it a competitor and a danger to imperial
U.S. rule-by-proxy in the Middle East. That is, I believe, why the
U.S. finally decided to fight it. To lose Saudi Arabia to the Caliphate,
which seems to be a real possibility, would be a devastating defeat.
The author cites two pieces by Alastair Crooke that are worth
You Can't Understand ISIS If You Don't Know the History of Wahhabism
in Saudi Arabia, and
Middle East Time Bomb: The Real Aim of ISIS Is to Replace the Saud Family
as the New Emirs of Arabia. A lot of interesting material in those
two pieces. (One thing I didn't realize was that King Abdullah has made
a number of reforms liberalizing Islamic law in Saudi Arabia: recognizing
legal doctrines other than the Salafist, and Shiites to consult their own
legal scholars. All this, of course, exacerbates the split with hardcore
He also cites a "twitter story":
Billmon on Doublethink in U.S. Foreign Policy. Punch line:
Whether U.S. diplos still believe their liberal international bullshit
isn't a particularly important question but it is interesting. I tend
to think that they do: Both as classic Orwellian doublethink, a product
of social conditioning, and on time-honored principle that a salesman
has to believe in his/her product, no matter how fantastical. "Goes
with the territory."
Richard Phillips/Stephan Richter: The dumbest US foreign policy question
asked this century: Who "lost" Syria?
And this begs the question: What are U.S. politicians saying when they
say they want to save Syria?
The answer to this can only be found in American hubris. Syria is not
America's to save. The reality is that only Syrians can save Syria --
just as it is only Iraqis who can save Iraq and only Afghans who can
Seeking an answer to the question "Who lost Syria?" is a foolhardy
quest on the part of U.S. politicians. Rather than a serious question,
it is just another manifestation of Washington's favorite political
sport -- blamesmanship.
Davis Merritt: Americans not ready for the truth about ISIS:
Former Wichita Eagle editor, usually a level-headed thinker, gets
all wrapped up in the futility of wars in the Middle East:
The religious extremism that defines the Middle East has been going on
for more than a thousand years. The West has been involved for more than
900 of those years. From Pope Urban's first crusade in 1095 to President
George W. Bush's ignorantly declared "crusade" amid the rubble of the
World Trade Center, extremists on both sides have periodically fanned
No American president can erase that history nor diminish its allure
to radical Islamists who want to write the next chapter in our blood.
Anyone who believes a few months of bombing can eradicate this latest
iteration of religious intolerance is living a fantasy.
Our 21st-century mindset doesn't tolerate lengthy wars; the half-life
of our resolve is about 18 months. So the president best avoid the word
"war," which implies beginning and ending points.
Unfortunately, neither can he say the truth: This is going to be
life in our world; learn to live with it.
A year ago Americans so overwhelmingly rejected Obama's proposal to
bomb Syria for using chemical weapons, recognizing that it wouldn't
solve anything and wouldn't even make a dent given all the other acts
of war. Indeed, it seemed probable that Congress (for once listening
to the American people) would have voted authorization for bombing
down. Now, supposedly an air war against ISIS enjoys popular support,
with Congress gung ho not only to authorize strikes but to appropriate
billions of dollars to train American proxies to fight the ground war.
This turnaround depends on being able to identify ISIS as uniquely
evil and dangerous, and while flashy stories of beheadings and mass
killings help, I suspect the main cause is deep-seated islamophobia
triggered by the prospect of resurrecting the caliphate. Last year
Syria was viewed as just another internecine sectarian conflict
between people we don't know or care about thousands of miles away.
The caliphate, on the other hand, would be a symbol of growing
Islamic power, an alarming shift in the world order, and that's
what starts dredging up reassuring memories of Pope Urban -- even
though most people who know the history of the Crusades regard them
as an embarrassing blight on European civilization. Merritt accepts
such wars because, regarding "religious extremism" as timeless, as
if the fight today is about an ancient character trait, and not
about anything more tangible -- like oil, or the ability of US
bankers to fleece Saudi princes, or the international market for
arms, or the constant jockeying of regional powers and their
never-very-dependable proxy groups. Those are all things that,
pace Merritt, we really shouldn't have to live with.
Paul Woodward: Most Americans support war against ISIS but lack
confidence it will achieve its goal: A NBC News poll says that
"62 percent of voters say they support Obama's decision to take
action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, while 22 percent oppose it."
But also that "a combined 68 percent of Americans say they have
'very little' or 'just some' confidence that Obama's goals of
degrading and eliminating the threat posed by ISIS will be achieved."
Woodward dissects these numbers. Among other points:
"Do you think President Obama presented a credible
strategy for destroying ISIS?" If the answer's "no" and this is why
you lack confidence in this war, then I'd take that as a fairly good
indication that you are following this story reasonably closely.
Of course the most obvious reason why Americans would be skeptical
about the chances of success for a war against ISIS is the fact that
after sinking trillions of dollars into wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and
the war on terrorism, al Qaeda still exists.
As has happened so many times before, Obama formulates his policies
in reaction to banal, superficial, political imperatives whose primary
purpose is to fend off critics.
On Thursday he presented his strategy for destroying ISIS because
only days before he got slammed for admitting he didn't have a strategy.
After he made various comments suggesting that he only aimed to
contain ISIS and was thus criticized for underestimating the threat
it poses and for being too timid in his response, he answered critics
by saying that his aim was to destroy ISIS.
After it was pointed out that fighting ISIS in Iraq would accomplish
little if it could continue to consolidate its strength in Syria, Obama
said the fight would be taken to Syria.
Each of his steps is reactive and political -- as though the primary
task at hand was to deflect criticism.
Probably more stuff to write about, but that's enough for now. I'd
be happy to return to writing about inequality, which is really the
big chronic issue of our era. Or maybe that old standby, the stupidity
of conservative Republicans (here's a
Ted Cruz example; and here's
Steve Fraser: The Return of the Titans, on the Kochs and their ilk).
Or global warming even, but the last couple
months have been overwhelmed by war news, and the one person who
could do something sensible and constructive to defuse conflicts
and resolve problems has repeatedly, almost obsessively managed to
make them worse. That person is US President Barack W. Obama. Yes,
he's finally sunk that low.
Sunday, September 7. 2014
The Wichita Eagle op-ed page featured Trudy Rubin'
Decision Time on ISIS today, three days after the column originally
appeared. Having clamored for more war for years, she must be happy now
that Obama has vowed to "destroy and degrade ISIS" and hopscotched around
the world lining up a new "coalition of the willing" to share the dirt
and blame for another foreign intervention in Iraq and Syria (the last
one having been such fun). Rubin, meanwhile, has gone on seeking further
dragons to slay:
If Putin's actions in Ukraine aren't an invasion, then what is?
Obama's been busy working on locking the US into a war there too. (See
David Frum: Obama Just Made the Ultimate Commitment to Eastern Europe,
something Frum is ecstatic about.) This series of events has reduced my
opinion of Obama to its lowest point ever. Some of this I explain in my
comment on the Peter Beinart piece below, yet even now I doubt that I've
pushed that argument far enough. Perhaps one reason I'm so appalled is
that there doesn't seem to be much uproar over what has to be judged the
most significant American pivot towards war since Bush invaded Iraq. As
Beinart puts it, "[Obama's] fierce minimalism fits the national mood.
President Obama's Mideast strategy is not grand. It's not inspiring.
It's not idealistic. But it's what the American people want and what
their government knows how to do." Really?
That so few rank-and-file Democrats feel up to holding Obama
responsible for his repeated belligerence probably has more to do
with the perception that the Republicans have become a full-fledged
threat to civilization. This is in stark contrast to the 1960s,
when we had no trouble turning on Lyndon Johnson -- and when the
Democratic Party essentially short-circuited the accomplishments
of the New Deal and Great Society out of a blind commitment to an
insane war in Vietnam. Like Johnson, Obama seems bent on sacrificing
whatever good he's accomplished on the altar of war. Little comfort
that he hasn't accomplished much to squander.
Some scattered links this week:
Peter Beinart: Actually, Obama Does Have a Strategy in the Middle East:
Argues that Obama is neither dove nor hawk, but "a fierce minimalist" --
which is to say he's a hawk who prefers small game taken with little risk
or long-term commitment. Of course, that doesn't explain his "Afghanistan
surge" -- in retrospect, that looks like a time-limited concession to the
military, a way of saying "put up or shut up." Beinart goes further than
the facts suggest:
On the other hand, he's proven ferocious about using military force to
kill suspected terrorists. [ . . . ] By contrast,
Obama's strategy -- whether you like it or not -- is more clearly
defined. Hundreds of thousands can die in Syria; the Taliban can
menace and destabilize Afghanistan; Iran can move closer to getting
a bomb. No matter. With rare exceptions, Obama only unsheathes his
sword against people he thinks might kill American civilians.
It's not that simple: Libya never was a threat to American civilians
(at least not until he intervened there). And he's actually broken new
ground in using drones to kill American citizens. So I think the focus
on "terrorist" targets has more to do with scale and risk. He's come to
realize that the US military isn't very effective (and often is down
right counterproductive) when deployed en masse, so he's avoided that.
He also seems to recognize that the US military isn't very effective
as an occupying force: they inevitably embarrass themselves, breeding
resentment and rebellion. On the other hand, give him the opportunity
to kill some "terrorist" and he's happy to pull the trigger. Republicans
taunt him as weak, so he's anxious to prove he's a natural born killer.
One could do worse than minimizing risk and damage, but "minimalism" is
a trap Obama walked into, either because he has no principles or because
he has no willpower to defend them against his security bureaucracy.
Kathy Gilsinan: To Kill a Terrorist, about one of Obama's minimalist
"success stories": the killing of Somali "terrorist" leader Ahmed Abdi
Godane. The most likely result there is that Al-Shabab replaces Godane
with another even-more-embittered leader and nothing more changes. And
I might as well point out Beinart's more recent post,
Pursuing ISIS to the Gates of Hell. Obama's vow "to destroy and
degrade ISIS" remains a bit muddled (why put the weaker verb second?),
and framing it with a "Jacksonian" revenge drama doesn't help.
Andrew O'Hehir: From 9/11 to the ISIS videos: The darkness we conjured
I think it's worthwhile to revisit the examples of Stockhausen and
Baudrillard, and their ideas too, in considering a new outrage that is
both literal and symbolic: the ISIS beheading videos. The criminal acts
depicted in those videos are on an entirely different scale from 9/11,
and it's important not to lose sight of that fact amid the understandable
shock and revulsion they have engendered. But the intended effect is
strikingly similar, and the ISIS videos are conceptually and historically
related to 9/11 as tools of provocation and propaganda. They are designed
to make a ragtag band of apocalyptic rebels look like a symmetrical
adversary to the world's greatest military power; to incite an exaggerated
response from that power, driven by panic and hysteria; and to attract
rootless millennials, both from the West and the Muslim world, to their
incoherent cause. So far it seems to be working.
I'm far less certain that the intent behind the beheading videos is
to provoke the insane response that Obama and nearly everyone on his
hawkish right have committed to, but that's the effect. Rather, they
show a profound inability to step outside of their own skin and see
themselves as others will see them -- a trait that Obama et al. sadly
share with them. If they were smart, they'd court journalists and get
them to at least cast reasonable doubts about their fanaticism. Of
course, if they were smart, they'd recall Islam's past tolerance for
other religions, a principle ("no compulsion in matters of faith")
which had allowed Christians and Yazidis (and Jews) to persevere
through more than a millenia of past caliphates. And they'd play up
the fact that they're seeking freedom from despotic police states
in Damascus and Baghdad. But no side is playing this smart: they
each tailor their propaganda to suit their own prejudices, confirming
their greatest fears and enabling their most vicious and violent
cadres to commit acts that will only exacerbate the initial problem.
Nick Turse: American Monuments to Failure in Africa? Until the US
military created the US Africa Command in 2007, you heard very little
about American military operations in Africa, because there really
weren't many. Now the US military is all over the continent, shooting
people and blowing shit up but also spreading their budget around on
"feel good" projects, much like they did in Iraq and Afghanistan:
As with Petraeus's career, which imploded amidst scandal, the efforts
he fostered similarly went down in flames. In Iraq, the chicken processing
plant proved a Potemkin operation and the much ballyhooed Baghdad water
park quickly fell into ruin. The country soon followed. Less than three
years after the U.S. withdrawal, Iraq teeters on the brink of catastrophe
as most of Petraeus's Sunni mercenaries stood aside while the brutal
Islamic State carved a portion of its caliphate from the country, and
others, aggrieved with the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad, sided with
them. In Afghanistan, the results have been similarly dismal as America's
hearts-and-minds monies yielded roads to nowhere (where they haven't
already deteriorated into death traps), crumbling buildings, over-crowded,
underfunded, and teacher-less schools, and billions poured down the drain
in one boondoggle after another.
More Israel links:
Jeffrey Goldberg: Hillary, Elizabeth Warren, and Israel: "I'm now glad
to report [ . . . ] that Elizabeth Warren has confirmed
for us that, on questions related to Israel, Clinton has nothing to fear
from her, at least."
Ofer Neiman: Israeli officer tosses Palestinian shepherds from their land
so settlers don't have to hear Arabic: Not only is the occupation brutal,
it can also be petty. Note that Arabic is an officially recognized language
in Israel. That anyone could think otherwise is testimony to the prevalence
of segregation in Israel and the occupied territories.
Avi Shlaim: For Israel, the beginning of wisdom is to admit its mistakes:
Not that he offers any indication that anyone in Israel is ready to do so --
least of all Netanyahu, whose "popularity plummeted from 85% at the beginning
of the operation to 38%."
Richard Silverstein: Mossad-Affiliated Israeli NGO: Khaled Meshal to the
Hague: Of course, "Israel hasn't signed the ICC protocol, in an attempt
to keep its own generals and spymasters out of the Hague defendant's chair."
Yet one of Israel's front groups wants the Hamas leader charged. Curiously
enough it's not for those "rocket attacks" Israel provokes then whines
about. It's because Hamas executed a number of Palestinians believed to
have collaborated with Israel during their latest round of war against
Gaza. I'm not fond of the death penalty, and it's hard to be sure of due
process in such a short timespan, but it probably isn't hard to link up
collaborator reports with specific bombings and deaths. Hillel Cohen has
written two books on Israel's use of Palestinian collaborators, one from
1917-48, the other from 1948-67, and obviously the practice hasn't changed
much over 47 years of occupation. For another twist on recent war crimes,
Hannibal Directive Focus of War Crimes Inquiry. Max Blumenthal also
The Hannibal Directive.
Philip Weiss: British pol is beaten by man in Israeli army t-shirt, and
the chattering classes are silent: Isn't this the great fear, that
the violence in the Middle East will be furthered by terrorists in the
Kate: As world watched Gaza, Israel announced 1472 new settlements in West
Bank: And many other stories, like house demolitions in Jerusalem,
an orchard chopped down by settlers near Hebron, the Gaza death toll
continuing to grow even after ceasefire (including a 7th Israeli
civilian). For a view of some of the destruction in Gaza, follow this
Assaf Sharon: Failure in Gaza.
Also, a few links for further study:
Kathleen Geier: Can we talk? The unruly life and legacy of Joan Rivers:
Seems about right, though I'm less of a fan.
Some critics claim to discern a humanistic project behind Rivers' comedy
of cruelty. For example, Mitchell Fain argued that River "says things out
loud what we're all thinking, in our worst moments," and that by doing so,
"the monster gets smaller." What seems far likelier is that the monster
gets socially sanctioned. For decades, a staple of Rivers' act have been
nasty jokes about female celebrities who are fat, stupid, or slutty, and
male celebrities who are allegedly gay. If she ever talked smack about
straight male celebrities, I'm hard-pressed to think of any examples.
That brings us to Joan Rivers' politics, which mostly were horrible.
On the plus side, she was pro-choice, an early supporter of gay rights,
and an Obama supporter. On the negative side, there is pretty much
everything else. Rivers was a lifelong Republican, and made many comments
over the years that left little doubt about her right-wing views. She
hated the movie Precious, not for aesthetic reasons, but for
frankly political ones ("I thought, Oh, get a job! Stand up and get a
job!"). Just last month, she voiced strong support for Israel's military
actions actions in Gaza and said that the Palestinians "deserve to be
dead." She adored Ronald Reagan and shamelessly fawned over the British
royal family. When writers on her show Fashion Police, who were
working full-time and only making $500 a week, went on strike, she
refused to support them. At times, her humor was outright racist.
John Mearsheimer: Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West's Fault:
A useful corrective to a lot of prevailing assumptions. Clearly,
the US (neocon) effort to extend NATO to the borders of Russia
has been deliberately and unnecessarily provocative, although one
could also argue that deep-seated fears that Russia might revert
its past patterns, both before and after the 1917 Revolution, of
trying to control what it thought of as its satellites had more
to do with NATO's expansion. Moreover, while US-backed "democracy
projects" were effectively an attempt at foreign subversion, it
would seem that Russia has been organizing support in Ukraine as
well. In America we reflexively assume we're acting with the best
intentions, but with Cold War blinkers we make little distinction
between democracy and neoliberal economic policies that lead to
inequality and corruption -- something the post-Soviet bloc has
had bitter experience with. There is much to be said in favor of
UN-based programs promoting democracy and human rights throughout
the world, provided such programs focus on need -- Saudi Arabia
is always a good place to start -- rather than the neocon checklist
of governments they dislike.
More dissenting pieces on Ukraine:
Jim Newell: GOP's Kansas nightmare: How a red state is on verge of
unthinkable upsets: I'd caution against counting these chickens
before they hatch, but so far the evidence does suggest that the
Democrats greatly improve their prospects at the polls when they
bother to run candidates. The Senate contest this year represents
a different twist on that, with Democrat Chad Taylor dropping out
to let independent Greg Orman run unfettered. I'm not sure that was
such a good idea, but Orman has a lot more money to work with, and
he might woo more Republicans -- they're pretty regimented on the
far right at the moment, but in doing so they've pissed a lot of
their own off. Also see
Nate Silver. As for the governor, Brownback is widely regarded
as a complete fuck up -- I look forward to campaign commercials
showing him and Rick Perry praying for rain. But oddly enough he's
not only doubled down on the lie that his tax cuts are "working" --
I think that's a euphemism for rich-getting-richer; the new joke is
that the only thing flatter than Kansas is the Kansas economy --
but instead of moving center to pick up votes he's been moving right
for more money. To be specific, the Kochs have been trying to kill
wind power subsidies, which many Republicans (including Brownback
until his flip) favor because it means manufacturing and service jobs
plus big royalties to farmers. The Kochs regard wind power as heresy
against free markets, but if you want to dig a bit deeper, see
Lee Fang: Charles Koch founded anti-environment group to protect
big oil industry handouts.
Monday, September 1. 2014
Music: Current count 23744  rated (+43), 523  unrated (-7).
Main thing that happened this week was that I stumbled across the
Catalytic-Sound website on Bandcamp. Ken Vandermark set this up,
and it currently showcases 137 albums by Vandermark and several of
his closely aligned friends: Peter Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Joe
McPhee, and Paal Nilssen-Love. (Bassist Ingebrigt Háker Flaten has
website with a
good deal of overlap.) Shortly after I wrote my first
Village Voice piece on Vandermark, he sent me a big box of his
recordings -- I was thinking of doing something similar to my
Parker-Shipp CG but never
seemed to have the time -- so many of these are familiar. In fact,
next RS column has a list of 80 Catalytic-Sound records I've
previously reviewed/rated. Still, the site fills in some gaps,
so I spent a good deal of last week picking off the Vandermark
releases (I'll get back to Brötzmann et al. in due course). One
problem is that not every album can be streamed completely, but
the exceptions are (at present, anyway) few. Still, several
omissions particularly disappointed me: the early Vandermark
Quartet album Big Head Eddie (1993), and the brand new
Audio One: The Midwest School (2014) -- its companion,
An International Report, was the week's top find (I
also gave an A- to the early Caffeine). One I have
yet to get to is the 7-CD DKV Trio: Past Present box.
I suppose you could make arguments both ways as to whether
omitting tracks maximizes cash returns -- the idea behind making
all this music available is to sell it -- but for someone who
tries to cover as wide a swath as possible and who has little
time to double back, these sites are a terrific convenience and
help. I wish there were more of them, and hope they stay as open
I haven't been able to update the blog this past week, although
I occasionally do still receive mail about nonsense comments, so
it must be sort of working some of the time. I haven't made any
real progress toward moving on, and hardly know where to begin.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
- Audio One: An International Report (2014, Audiographic): yet another Vandermark large band, live at Green Mill, expect action, don't be too picky [bc]: A-
- Cory Branan: The No-Hit Wonder (2014, Bloodshot): singer-songwriter from Mississippi, went to rock in Memphis but country songs are fresher [r]: B+(*)
- The Bug: Angels & Devils (2014, Ninja Tune): best when he goes upbeat with that dub thing, but also has a penchant for horror soundtrack poses [r]: B+(*)
- Common: Nobody's Smiling (2014, Def Jam): Chicago rapper explores and deplores his home town, not that it isn't tough everywhere else [r]: B+(***)
- Eliana Cuevas: Espejo (2014, ALMA): originally from Venezuela, now "Canada's Latin Music Queen" -- a small fish in a barren pond [cd]: B
- Dirty Loops: Loopified (2014, Verve): three Swedish gents: synth fireworks and histrionic vocals driven by a frantic post-disco beat [r]: C+
- Four Year Strong: Go Down in History (2014, Pure Noise, EP): 5-song EP by punkish group so irrepressibly loud and catchy they're extra annoying [r]: B-
- Larry Fuller: Larry Fuller (2013-14 , Capri): mainstream pianist, came up working with singers and plays juicy standards in this trio, "C Jam Blues" a fave [cd]: B+(***)
- Richard Galliano: Sentimentale (2014, Resonance): French accordion player works the jazz tradition for sentimental moods, played up to the hilt [cd]: A-
- Ariana Grande: My Everything (2014, Island/Republic): no doubt she has what it takes to be a pop star; the question is whether she can make us care [r]: B+(**)
- Eric Harland's Voyager: Vipassana (2014, GSI Studios): mainstream drummer's second album, assembles a fancy band then wastes it with vocal dressing [cdr]: B-
- Horse Meat Disco: Volume IV (2014, Strut): old disco obscurities remixed to sound like old disco obscurities, plus "Gettin' to Know You" [r]: B+(**)
- Ricky Kej/Wouter Kellerman: Winds of Samsara (2014, Listen 2 Africa): Indian keyboard player meets South African flautist for synth-not-so-exotica [cd]: C
- Wiz Khalifa: Blacc Hollywood (2014, Atlantic): after two plays, all I can confirm is that this stoned rapper makes agreeable background music [r]: B+(**)
- J Mascis: Tied to a Star (2014, Sub Pop): Dinosaur Jr. frontman returns to form, his voice cracking and hiding behind some pretty decent guitar [r]: B+(*)
- Brad Paisley: Moonshine in the Trunk (2014, Arista): first half party anthems and livid fantasies; on the backstretch turns into a crunchy con [r]: B-
- Jamie Saft/Steve Swallow/Bobby Previte: The New Standard (2014, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(*)
- Carl Saunders: America (2013 , Summit): spent most of his life in big bands but sounds great as the sole horn here, even when the covers turn corny [cd]: B+(*)
- Side A: In the Abstract (2013 , Not Two): Ken Vandermark reeds trio with Havard Wiik and Chad Taylor, more varied than Free Fall but lands there [bc]: B+(**)
- Spider Bags: Frozen Letter (2014, Merge): garage-punk with a talkie-voiced singer who seems worth listening to, plus they can stretch a riff [r]: B+(*)
- Ed Stone: King of Hearts (2014, Sapphire Music): guitarist-singer, touted as "the new George Benson," he isn't even that, much less the old one [cd]: C+
- Street Priest: More Nasty (2012 , Humbler): guitar-bass-drums trio, can't (or won't) fake the funk so they bust it into shards and stray noise [cdr]: B+(**)
- Randy Travis: Influence Vol. 2: The Man I Am (2012 , Warner Brothers): covers from the classics to Kristofferson, leftovers from Vol. 1 but ring truer [r]: B+(**)
- Ken Vandermark's Topology Nonet: Impressions of Po Music (2013, Okka Disk): Joe McPhee plays McPhee a generation removed, scaled up, not so po [bc]: B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Cables to the Ace (2014, Communicating Vessels): [cd]: B
Old records rated this week:
- AALY Trio with Ken Vandermark: Hidden in the Stomach (1996 , Silkheart): Ken Vandermark joins Mats Gustafsson's rowdy trio, highlight Haden and Ayler covers [r]: B+(**)
- AALY Trio with Ken Vandermark: I Wonder If I Was Screaming (2000, Crazy Wisdom): tighter songwriting limits meltdown by combustible sax men [bc]: B+(**)
- Billy Bang Quintet: Invitation (1982, Soul Note): scrounging, found one I hadn't heard and didn't find it especially remarkable, relatively [r]: B+(**)
- Caffeine: Caffeine (1993 , Okka Disk): Ken Vandermark, Jim Baker (piano), Steve Hunt (drums): I've never heard Baker play so explosively -- sure lights V up [r]: A-
- The John Carter Octet: Dauwhe (1982, Black Saint): adds decorative flute, oboe, tuba, African references to more visceral quartet with Bobby Bradford [r]: B+(**)
- Cinghiale [Mars Williams/Ken Vandermark]: Hoofbeats of the Snorting Swine (1995 , Eighth Day): Ken Vandermark and Mars Williams play sax/clarinet duets, w/surprising interactions [bc]: B+(***)
- DK3: Neutrons (1997 , Quarterstick): Ken Vandermark trio with guitar-drums from Jesus Lizard, one of those post-rock experiments he no longer does [bc]: B+(***)
- The Frame Quartet: 35mm (2009, Okka Disk): Vandermark 4, scratches second sax for an admixture of electronics, interesting but not quite the same [bc]: B+(***)
- The Kevin Norton Ensemble: Knots (1997, Music & Arts): drummer-vibraphonist, toys with Monk and swaps in various clarinets, a mix converging on same [r]: B+(***)
- NRG Ensemble: Bejazzo Gets a Facelift (1997, Atavistic): post-Hal Russell group with Mars Williams and Ken Vandermark racing, crashing, flips [bc]: B+(***)
- Territory Band-4: Company Switch (2004 , Okka Disk, 2CD): Vandermark 11-piece big band, for once does more than just thrash and raise hell [bc]: B+(**)
- The Thing: Action Jazz (2006, Smalltown Superjazz): Mats Gustafsson's power sax trio diversifies, not the worst thing that can happen to them [bc]: B+(**)
- Vandermark Quartet: Solid Action (1994, Platypus): a blast from the past, when V was straddling avant rock and jazz, making trouble for both [bc]: B+(***)
- Ken Vandermark: Standards (1994 , Quinnah): four "improvising trios," nothing standard, just a first taste of DKV, more Mars, some guitar thrash [bc]: B+(**)
- Ken Vandermark: Strade d'Acqua/Roads of Water (2008 , Multi Kulti): soundtrack, hushed tones, moderate tempos, a little color, everyone makes nice [bc]: B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms: From the Region (Delmark)
- Charles Lloyd: Manhattan Stories (1965, Resonance, 2CD): September 16
- Pete Magadini: Bones Blues (1977, Sackville/Delmark)
- Dean Magraw & Eric Kamau Gravatt: Fire on the Nile (Red House): October 14
- Parker Abbott Trio: The Wayfinders (self-released): October 23
- Don Pullen: Richard's Tune (1975, Sackville/Delmark)
Sunday, August 31. 2014
Having a lot of trouble focusing these days. Partly the number of
things broken and need of (often expensive, sometimes just time consuming)
repairs has been mind-boggling. And with the blog on the blink, I've fallen
into a two-day week rut, compiling "Music Week" on Mondays then trying to
catch up with the world on "Weekend Roundup" on Sundays. Several of the
bits below could have been broken out into separate posts -- indeed, I
wonder if they shouldn't all be.
I'm thinking especially of the Michelle
Goldberg "Two-State" comment as something I could have written much more
on. I don't know if I made the point clearly enough below, so let me try
to sum it up once more: there are several distinct but tightly interlocked
problems with Two-State: (1) the natural constituency for Two-State (at
least among pro-Israelis) is the "liberal Zionists" -- an ideology based
on an unsustainable contradiction, and therefore a diminishing force --
and without supporters Two-State is doomed to languish; (2) when liberals
break from Zionism (which is inevitable if they have both principles and
perception) they must do so by committing to universal rights, which means
they must at least accept One-State as a desirable solution (Goldberg, by
the way, fails this test); (3) as long as [illiberal] Zionists refuse to
implement Two-State (and they have a lot of practice at staving it off),
liberals (anyone with a desire for peace and justice) should regroup and
insist on universal rights (e.g., One-State); (4) under pressure, I think
that Zionists will wind up accepting some version of Two-State rather than
risking the ethnic dilution of One-State. People like Goldberg would be
better off getting ahead of this curve rather than trying to nitpick it.
Someone like Netanyahu has thousands of excuses for postponing agreement
on a viable Two-State solution. On the other hand, he has no legitimate
defense against charges that Israel is treading on the basic human rights
of millions of Palestinians under occupation. That's where you want to
focus the political debate. And that shouldn't be hard given Israel's
recent demonstration of its abuse of power.
The march to war against ISIS is another subject worthy of its own
post. There are many examples, but the one I was most struck by this
week was a
letter to the Wichita Eagle, which reads:
The threat of ISIS appears similar to the threat of the Nazis before
World War II. The Europeans ignored Adolf Hitler's rising power because
they were tired of war.
As ISIS spreads through the Middle East at will, our nation's leaders
are assessing how to counter this threat. ISIS is well-equipped, having
seized abandoned equipment the United States gave the Iraqi army, and it
is growing in strength, numbers and brutality.
What is the U.S. to do? That decision is in the hands of our nation's
leaders. However, with the future leader of ISIS having said in 2009 to
U.S. soldiers who had held him prisoner, "I'll see you in New York,"
trying to avoid conflict because we're tired of war should not be the
Much of Europe succumbed to Hitler because Europeans were "tired of
Similar? Germany had the second largest economy in the world in the
1930s, one that was reinvigorated by massive state spending on munitions
at a time when the rest of the world was languishing in depression. Even
so, Hitler's appetite far exceeded his grasp. Germany was able to score
some quick "blitzkrieg" victories over France, Norway, and Poland, and
occupy those countries through fronts offered by local fascists -- the
Vichy government in France, Quisling in Norway, etc. But even given how
large and strong Germany was, it was unable to sustain an assault on the
British Isles, and its invasion of Russia stalled well short of the Urals.
And, of course, provoking the US into entering the war hastened Germany's
loss, but that loss was very likely anyway. It turns out that the world
is not such an easy place to conquer, and authoritarian regimes breed
resistance everywhere they tread.
In contrast, ISIS is a very limited backwater rebellion. Its extremist
Sunni salafism limits it to about one-quarter of Iraq and maybe one-half
of Syria, and it was only able to flourish in those areas because they
have been severely war-torn for many years. They lack any sort of advanced
manufacturing base. Their land is mostly desert, so very marginal for
agriculture. Their "war machine" is built on confiscated weapons caches,
which will quickly wear out or be exhausted. They do have some oil, but
lack refineries and chemical plants. Moreover, their identity is so narrow
they will be unable to extend their rule beyond war-torn Sunni regions,
where they're often viewed as more benign (or at leas less malign) than
the Assad and Maliki regimes.
So it's hard to imagine any scenario where ISIS might expand beyond its
current remote base: comparing it to Germany under Hitler is laughable.
The one thing they do have in common is an enthusiasm for war, developed
out of a desire to avenge past wars. You might say that that the West
after WWI was "tired of war" but that seems more like a sober assessment
of how much was lost and how little gained even in winning that war --
after Afghanistan and Iraq, most Americans are similarly dismayed at how
much they've lost and how little they've gained after more than a decade
of war. Many Germans, on the other hand, were willing to entertain the
delusion that they only lost due to treachery, and that a rematch would
solve all their problems. It's easy in retrospect to see this asymmetry
in war lust as a "cause" of the war, but jumping from that insight to a
conclusion that the West could have prevented WWII by standing up to
Hitler sooner is pure fantasy. To prevent WWII you'd have to go back to
Versailles and settle the first phase of what Arno Mayer later dubbed
"the thirty-years war of the 20th century" on more equitable terms --
as effectively (albeit not all that consciously) happened after WWII.
As with post-WWI Germans, ISIS' enthusiasm for war is rooted in many
years of scars -- scrapes with the French and British colonialists, with
Israel, with brutal Baathist dictators, with the US invasion of Iraq and
American support for Kurdish and Shiite militias. Most ISIS soldiers grew
up with war and know little else -- in this the people they most closely
resemble are not the Nazis but the Taliban, a group which resisted long
Russian and American occupations, separated by a bloody civil war and a
short-lived, brutal but ineffective period in power. On the other hand
the idea that the US should shrug off their "war weariness" and plunge
into another decade-plus struggle with another Taliban knock-off isn't
very inspiring. Isn't repeating the same steps hoping for different
results the very definition of insanity?
Still, the war drums keep beating. The Wichita Eagle has had three
such op-eds in the last week on ISIS: from Charles Krauthammer, Cal
Thomas, and Trudy Rubin -- each with the sort of screeching hysteria
and ignorance of ecology I associate with finding roaches under the
bathroom lavoratory. Clearly, what gets their goat more than anything
is the very idea of an Islamic State: it looms for these people as
some sort of existential threat that must be exterminated at any cost --
a reaction that is itself every bit as arbitrary, absolutist, and
vicious as what they think they oppose. But in fact it's merely the
logical response to the past wars that this same trio have urged us
into. It's worth recalling that there was a day when small minds like
these were equally convinced that the Germans and Japanese were all
but genetically disposed to hatred and war. (Robert Morgenthau, for
instance, wanted to spoil German farms with salt so they wouldn't
be able to feed enough people to field an army -- that was 1945?)
Europe broke a cycle of war that had lasted for centuries, not by
learning to be more vigilant at crushing little Hitlers but by
joining together to build a prosperous and equitable economy. The
Middle East -- long ravaged by colonialism, corruption, and war --
hasn't been so lucky, but if it is to turn around it will be more
due to "war weariness" than to advances in drone technology. The
first step forward will be for the war merchants to back away --
or get thrown out, for those who insist on learning their lessons
the hard way.
Some more scattered links this week:
Michelle Goldberg: Liberal Zionism Is Dying. The Two-State Solution Shouldn't
Go With It. This starts off with a point (a major concession, really)
that bears repeating:
In 1948, Hannah Arendt published an essay in the magazine Commentary --
at the time still a liberal magazine -- titled "To Save the Jewish Homeland."
She lamented the increasingly militaristic, chauvinistic direction of Zionism,
the virtual unanimity among Jews in both the United States and Palestine that
"Arab and Jewish claims are irreconcilable and only a military decision can
settle the issue; the Arabs, all Arabs, are our enemies and we accept this
fact; only outmoded liberals believe in compromises, only philistines believe
in justice, and only shlemiels prefer truth and negotiation to propaganda and
machine guns . . . and we will consider anybody who stands in
our way a traitor and anything done to hinder us a stab in the back."
This nationalist strain of Zionism, she predicted, might succeed in
establishing a state, but it would be a modern-day Sparta, "absorbed with
physical self-defense to a degree that would submerge all other interests
and activities." It would negate the very humanistic Jewish values that
originally fed the Zionist dream. "Palestine Jewry would eventually separate
itself from the larger body of world Jewry and in its isolation develop into
an entirely new people," she writes. "Thus it becomes plain that at this
moment and under present circumstances a Jewish state can only be erected
at the price of the Jewish homeland."
It's difficult to avoid the conclusion, sixty-six years later, that she
Goldberg then cites Antony Lerman's recent
The End of Liberal Zionism:
The romantic Zionist ideal, to which Jewish liberals -- and I was one,
once -- subscribed for so many decades, has been tarnished by the reality
of modern Israel. The attacks on freedom of speech and human rights
organizations in Israel, the land-grabbing settler movement, a growing
strain of anti-Arab and anti-immigrant racism, extremist politics, and
a powerful, intolerant religious right -- this mixture has pushed liberal
Zionism to the brink. [ . . . ]
The only Zionism of any consequence today is xenophobic and exclusionary,
a Jewish ethno-nationalism inspired by religious messianism. It is carrying
out an open-ended project of national self-realization to be achieved
through colonization and purification of the tribe.
"Liberal Zionist" is a contradiction that cannot survive. Indeed,
in Israel it is all but dead. The key tenet of liberalism is belief
in equal rights for all. In Israel it is virtually impossible to find
any political party -- even "far left" Meretz -- willing to advance
equal rights for the "Palestinian citizens of Israel" much less for
those Palestinians under occupation. On the other hand, the debate
as to whether Zionism is inherently racist has been proven not just
in theory but empirically. As Max Blumenthal shows in Goliath: Life
and Loathing in Greater Israel, everywhere you look in Israel you
see growing evidence of racism.
In America, it's long been possible for many people (not just Jews)
to combine domestic liberalism with an unthinking, uncritical allegiance
to Israel. Of course it's getting harder to sustain the ignorance that
allows one to think of Israel as a just nation. (The so-called Christian
Zionists -- or as Chris Hedges puts it, "American fascists" -- require
fewer illusions, since they are likely to be racist and militarist at
home as well as abroad.) It sounds like Goldberg -- an early J-Street
supporter -- has started to make the break, but she's still not willing
to go full-liberal and endorse full and equal rights for all Israelis
and Palestinians -- the so-called One-State Solution. She wants to
salvage the so-called Two-State Solution, with Israel returning (for
the most part) to its 1967 borders and an independent Palestinian state
in Gaza and the West Bank (with or without Jerusalem as its capitol).
The Two-State Solution was originally proposed by the UN in 1947, but
the Zionist leadership weren't satisfied with the proposed borders, and
the Palestinian leadership objected to the whole thing, preferring a
unified democracy (with a 2-to-1 Arab majority) where nobody would have
to move. After the 1949-50 armistice lines were drawn, Israel greatly
expanded its borders and had expelled over 700,000 Arabs from its
territory, ensuring Jewish demographic dominance. Those borders, which
held until 1967, have long been accepted as permanent by most Palestinian
groups and by all neighboring Arab countries: a deal that could have been
made by Israel any time since the mid-1990s, but which wasn't, because
no ruling party in Israel would accept such a deal, nor would the US or
the so-called Quartet (which had endorsed the deal) apply significant
pressure on Israel to settle. There are lots of reasons why Israel has
taken such an intransigent stand. One is that the demise of liberalism
leaves Israel with no effective "peace block" -- the price of occupation
has become so low, and the political liabilities of peace so high, that
Israel currently has no desire to change the status quo.
This is, of course, a huge problem for anyone who believes in equal
rights and/or who puts a positive value on peace in the Middle East.
Such people -- by which I mean pretty much all of us (except for a few
warmongers and apocalypse-hungry Christians) -- can only make progress
toward a settlement by putting pressure on Israel, which is to say by
increasing the costs to Israel of its present occupation policies. One
way is to counter Israeli propaganda, to expose the facts of occupation
and to delegitimize Israel's position. Another step is BDS, with the
prospect of growing ever more extensive and restrictive. Another is to
adjust the list of acceptable outcomes: that may mean giving precedence
to the inclusive, equal rights One-State Solution over the unsuccessful
The fact is that Two-State was a bad idea in 1947 and remains a bad
idea today: it is only slightly less bad now because the "ethnic cleansing"
that could have been avoided in 1947 is ancient history now; it is also
slightly worse because it leaves us with a lot of refugees who will still
be unable to return to Israel, and who still have to be compensated and
patriated elsewhere. The dirty secret of the Two-State Solution is that
it leaves Israel unaltered (except for the relatively trivial loss of some
settlements) -- free to remain the racist, militarist Sparta it has become
ever since 1948. That's why Israel will choose Two-State over One-State:
Two-State guarantees that their Jewish state will remain demographically
supreme, whereas One-State risks dilution of their ethnic solidarity. But
even if the West's game plan is Two-State all along, you're not going to
get there without playing the One-State card. If a US administration
finally decides we need to settle this conflict, it won't start (as Obama
did) by demanding a settlement freeze; it will start by demanding equal
rights for all within whatever jurisdictions exist, and complete freedom
from Israel for any jurisdictions that do not offer full and equal Israeli
citizenship. Only then will progress be made. The problem with Goldberg's
plea is that she's still willing to sacrifice her principles for Israel's
Ezra Klein: The DNC'a braidead attack on Rand Paul: Paul's been
reading Hillary Clinton's neocon ravings, and responded: "We are lucky
Mrs. Clinton didn't get her way and the Obama administration did not
bring about regime change in Syria. That new regime might well be ISIS."
The DNC's response: "It's disappointing that Rand Paul, as a Senator
and a potential presidential candidate, blames America for all the
problems in the world, while offering reckless ideas that would only
alienate us from the global community. [ . . ]
That type of 'blame America' rhetoric may win Paul accolades at a
conference of isolationists but it does nothing to improve our standing
in the world. In fact, Paul's proposals would make America less safe
and less secure." Klein adds:
This is the brain-dead patriotism-baiting that Democrats used to loathe.
Now they're turning it on Paul.
There are a few things worth noting here. The first is the ferocity
with which the DNC responded to an attack that was, in truth, aimed more
at Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama. The second is the degree to which
a Rand Paul-Hillary Clinton race would scramble the politics of national
security, with Democrats running against Paul in much the way Bush ran
against Kerry. And the third is that it's still the case in foreign
policy, the real divide isn't left vs. right, but interventionists vs.
Actually, the "real" political divide is between status quo cons like
Obama and Clinton on the "left" side and various flavors of crackpots
(including Rand) on the "right." But in foreign policy, the latter have
come to include a growing number of non-interventionists, not so much
because they believe in peace and justice as because they've come to
realize that imperial wars bind us closer to the dark-skinned aliens
we claim to be helping, and because some of them begin to grasp that
the security apparatus of the state they so loathe (mostly because it's
democratic, or pretends to be) could just as easily turn on them.
Meanwhile, Obama and Clinton have managed to hire virtually every
known "liberal interventionist" as part of their efforts to toady up
to the military-security complex, even though virtually none of their
real-world supporters buy into that crap. Someone smarter than Rand Paul
could turn this into a wedge issue, but he'll tie it to something stupid
like preventing the Fed from counteracting recessions.
Paul Rosenberg: Don't do it, Hillary! Joining forces with neocons could
doom Democrats: One thing on his mind is LBJ and Vietnam (who like
Hillary was willing to do "dumb stuff" to not appear cowardly), but
there's also this:
Here's the dirtiest of dirty little secrets -- and it's not really a secret,
it's just something no one ever talks about: The entire jihadi mess we're
facing now all descends from the brilliant idea of "giving the Soviets their
own Vietnam" in Afghanistan. How's that for learning a lesson from Vietnam?
Well, that's the lesson that Jimmy Carter's crew learned -- and Ronald Reagan's
gang was only too happy to double down on.
Richard Silverstein: The Jingoism of Anti-Jihadism: Starts with a
Netanyahu quote from September 11, 2001, that's worth being reminded of
(from New York Times):
Asked tonight what the attack meant for relations between the United States
and Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, replied, "It's
very good." Then he edited himself: "Well, not very good, but it
will generate immediate sympathy." He predicted that the attack would
"strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we've experienced
terror over so many decades, but the United States has now experienced a
massive hemorrhaging of terror."
I remember watching him on TV at the time, as well as a similarly gloating
Shimon Peres, and a slightly more somber John Major offering to share with
the US Britain's vast experience in cultivating terrorists. You couldn't
ask for better examples of how to react badly and make a problem worse.
Silverstein then quotes from Hillary Clinton's
Atlantic interview ("They are driven to expand. Their raison d'etre is
to be against the West, against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank --
and we are all fit into one of these categories. How do we try to contain
that? I'm thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat."):
Here you have a perfect example of the sickness I outlined above. In the
1950s communism was the bugaboo. Today, it's jihadism. Clinton's conception
of the latter uses almost exactly the same terms as those of the Red Scare:
words like expansionist, angry, violent, intolerant, brutal, anti-democratic.
There's even a touch of Reaganism in Clinton's portrayal of the fall of
communism. There's the notion that through all of our machinations against
the Soviet Union -- the assassinations, the coups, the propping up of
dictators -- all of it helped in some unspecified way to topple Communism.
She further bizarrely characterizes our anti-Communist strategy as an
"overarching framework," when it was little more than knee-jerk
oppositionalism to the Red Menace.
What is most pathetic about this political stance is that it offers no
sense of our own identity, of what we stand for. Instead, it offers a
vague, incohate enemy against whom we can unite. We are nothing without
Next up is David Brooks, if you care. Richard Ben Cramer, in How
Israel Lost: The Four Questions (by the way, probably the best single
book about Israel in the last twenty years) hypothesizes that the reason
Israel is so determined not to negotiate an end to the conflict is that
its leaders fear losing the shared identity of having a common enemy in
the Palestinians. Take the conflict away and the various Jewish subgroups --
the Ashkenazi, Sephardim, Mizrachi, Russians, Americans -- will splinter
and turn on each other, fighting over diminishing spoils in a suddenly
For more on Netanyahu, see
Remi Brulin: Israel's decades-long effort to turn the word 'terrorism'
into an ideological weapon.
More Israel links:
Also, a few links for further study:
Dean Baker: Subverting the Inversions: More Thoughts on Ending the Corporate
Income Tax: Baker is arguing that the inefficiencies caused by the
Corporate Tax Avoidance Industry are so great that we might be better off
eliminating the tax altogether: if there were no tax, there'd be no need
for corporations to pay lobbyists and accountants to hide their income,
and we'd also eliminate scourges like private equity companies. First
obvious problem here is that leaves a $350 billion revenue shortfall,
which Baker proposes recovering with higher dividend and capital gains
tax rates. (Of course, we should do that anyway.) One long-term problem
is that federal taxes have radically shifted from being collected from
businesses to individuals, which makes the tax burden more acutely felt
by the public. A VAT would help shift this back, but so would anything
that tightened up loopholes and reduced corporate tax evasion. Another
advantage of having a corporate income tax is that it could be made
progressive, which would take an extra bite out of especially large
and/or profitable companies -- the former mostly benefitting from
weak antitrust enforcement, the latter from monopoly rents -- which
would both raise more revenue and take it from companies that are
relatively safe from competition. I'm not strictly opposed to what
Baker is proposing, but I'd like to see it worked out in a broader
context that includes many other tax reforms that tackle inequality,
lack of competition, globalization, and patents more systematically.
I suspect Baker would prefer this too.
Also see Baker's
Patent Monopolies: The Reason Drug Companies Pushed Synthetic
Andrew Hartman: Hegel Meets Reagan: A review of Rick Perlstein's
The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.
Medium's CSS is actually pretty f***ing good. [Warning: very nerdy.]
CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheet. The visual design properties of web
pages can generally be controlled by attaching CSS code to the "generic
markup code" in a web page (something called HTML). Having worked with
pre-Web GMLs (Generic Markup Languages, especially the standardized one,
SGML), I've always been very "old school" about coding web pages, which
means I've never embraced CSS as a programming paradigm. So my reaction
here was first one of shock that so much work went into this. (Looks like
four programmers for a couple years, although it's unlikely that they only
wrote CSS.) I was also at a loss for much of the terminology (LESS? SASS?
mixin?), not that I can't guess what "z-index" implies. It's not that I
haven't learned anything in the 15 years since I started building web
sites, and it's certainly not necessarily the case that what's changed
has changed for the better, but if I'm going to get over the hump of
embracing this change I need good examples of making it worthwhile. And
this, I suspect, is one.
Anya Schiffrin: The Rise and Fall of Investigative Journalism: An
international compendium, spun off from her new book, Global Muckraking:
100 Years of Investigative Journalism from Around the World. This, by
the way, is one of the few things I've read this week that make me feel
Rebecca Solnit: Men Explain Things to Me: Reprints the title essay,
or at least an early draft of it, to Solnit's new book. Of course, I've
had clueless men explain things to me, too. (A few clueless women as
well, but singling out men is within reasonable statistical norms.) And
in groups I have a relatively sensitive CSMA/CD switch, so I'm easily
interrupted and loathe to reclaim the floor, so the larger the group
the more likely I am to be regaled with unrefuted (not irrefutable)
nonsense. Much of my consciousness of such dynamics comes from reading
early feminist texts long ago, revelatory even in cases where women are
reacting not so much to gender as to implicit power relationships --
something gender was (and not uncommonly still is) inextricably bound
up in, but something that didn't end with gender. So Solnit's stories
speak to me, even when the precise terminology is slightly off. [One
of my favorite tech acronyms, CSMA/CD stands for "carrier sense multiple
access with collision detection" -- an algorithm for efficiently deciding
when a computer can send data over a common bus network. The same would
work for deciding who speaks when in an open room, but actual results
are often distorted by volume and ego.]
A few more links on Michael B. Katz:
One more little thing. I put aside the August 19, 2014 issue of the
Wichita Eagle because I was struck by the following small items on page
Man sentenced to more than 7 years in prison . . . Scott Reinke,
43, was given 86 months in prison for a series of crimes including burglary,
theft, possession of stolen property, making false information and fleeing
or attempting to elude law enforcement. . . . In tacking on the additional
time last Friday, [Judge Warren] Wilhelm noted Reineke had a criminal
history of more than 50 felony convictions.
Kechi man gets nearly 10 years for child porn . . . Jaime Menchaca,
34, of Kechi pleaded guilty to one count of distributing child pornography
and was sentenced to 110 months in prison. . . . In his plea, Menchaca
admitted that on Sept. 13 he sent an e-mail containing child pornography
to a Missouri man.
There's also another piece on page 5A:
Sex offender pleads guilty to child porn . . . Dewey had a 1999
conviction in Pueblo, Colorado, for attempted sexual assault of a child.
He admitted in court Monday that he was found last September with images
and videos of child pornography that he obtained via the Internet.
Prosecutors and the defense have agreed to recommend a 20-year prison
term when Dewey is sentenced on Nov. 4.
This struck me as an example of something profoundly skewed in our
criminal justice system. I won't argue that child pornography is a
victimless crime (although what constitutes pornography can be very
subjective), but possession of a single image strikes me as a much
more marginal offense than repeated instances of property theft. (I
don't think I even noticed the last case until I went back to look
for the first two; it's harder to judge.) Glad the burglar/thief is
going to jail, but wonder if it wouldn't make more sense for the
child porn defendant to spend some time with a shrink, and maybe pay
a nominal fine.
Also on the front page of the Eagle is an article called "Kan. GOP
lawmakers vow to look out for oil interests": Senator Roberts, Reps.
Huelskamp, Pompeo, and Jenkins prostate themselves at a Kansas
Independent Oil & Gas Association confab. They all agreed they
wanted lower taxes and less regulation. Nobody said much about the
recent tenfold increase in earthquakes.
Sunday, August 24. 2014
The first thing to note here is that the Four Wars of 2014 -- Ukraine,
Syria, Iraq, and Gaza -- are still going strong, and the conflicting
interests super- and not-so-super-powers have in them offer excuses
enough to frustrate any efforts at mediation. There have also been
reports of shelling along the India-Pakistan border in Jammu, and the
US is upset about China challenging a US "reconnaissance plane" near
the Chinese border.
The least-reported of these conflicts is in the Ukraine, where
various "pro-West" or "pro-Europe" forces staged a coup against
Russia-leaning President Viktor Yanukovich in February. As Ukraine
shifted to the West, various revolts broke out in heavily Russian
southwest Ukraine. Crimea declared independence and asked to be
annexed by Russia, which Putin readily agreed to. Other separatist
militias seized power elsewhere in southeastern Ukraine, and the
"pro-West" Kiev government has been trying to suppress the revolt
the old-fashioned way, with bombing and strafing. It's unclear to
what extent Russia has been actively promoting and supporting the
separatists: NATO and Kiev have asserted various instances, and
Putin has steadfastly denied them.
The result so far is that the civil war in
(around Dontesk) has resulted in about 4,000 deaths -- I don't
think that includes the Malaysian airliner that was shot down,
surely an accident but part of the war's "collateral damage."
The US has clearly sided with the "pro-Western" government in
Kiev and taken a leading roll in attempting to punish Russia
with sanctions. No one thinks Russia is totally innocent here,
but the US position is the result of a long neocon campaign to
advance NATO to Russia's borders, to corner and cower Russia
to prevent the emergence of any non-US military or economic
power center. And the failure to cover this war is largely due
to blithe assumptions of US benevolence and Russian malevolence
going back to Cold War dogma, as well as an abiding belief that
force is an effective solution to the world's problems.
If the US was not so entangled in its faith in military force,
you would see a concerted effort to mediate the four wars. Rather,
Obama has embraced force as America's fundamental strategy in all
four arenas. (Syria is only slightly murky here: the US dislikes
both sides but can't see any option other than searching for a
third side to arm.) The US is most directly involved in Iraq,
where we've taken a sudden interest in protecting small minorities
like Yazidis and Turkmen who have the most propaganda value. Then
there is Gaza, where the ceasefire has been repeatedly broken by
Israel, still refusing to open Gaza's borders to allow a semblance
of normal everyday life. As I've written before, the "truce" terms
Hamas offered at the beginning of the recent military hostilities
were completely fair and reasonable. Netanyahu's continued rejection
of the terms should make you reconsider just who "the terrorists"
are in this conflict. The Gaza death count has continued to climb
over 2100. Another Israeli civilian was killed in recent days,
bringing the total to 4, in one of the most one-sided massacres
of recent times.
While it is possible that ISIS is indeed a terrorist group one
cannot negotiate with -- at least that's what the hawks want us to
believe -- Hamas has practically been begging for a deal since
they entered Palestinian electoral politics in 2006. Israel has
not only rejected their every overture, Israel repeatedly drags
them back into armed conflict. The US is schizophrenic about this:
on the one hand we spend a lot of money trying to support the "good
Palestinians" over in the West Bank in the vain belief that if we
can improve their economic well-being that will help us move toward
peace. On the other hand, any time Israel decides to trash whatever
good we've done, we applaud and make sure to replenish their arms.
I want to quote a section from Josh Ruebner's Shattered Hopes:
Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace (p. 190):
Promoting "economic growth" for Palestinians living under Israeli
military occupation, while simultaneously flooding Israel with the
weapons and providing it with the diplomatic protection it needs to
entrench this military occupation, is a nonsensical proposition. At
best, these policies reveal that the United States is working at
cross-purposes; at worst, they signal that it is trying to reconcile
Palestinians to their open-air prison existence by making it slightly
more palatable. What USAID fails to understand publicly is that
Israel's military occupation is specifically designed to de-develop
the Palestinian economy, not to encourage Palestinian economic
Israel's eviscertation of teh Palestinian economy is integrally
woven into the very fabric of its military occupation in innumerable
ways. The hundreds of roadblocks, checkpoints and other barriers to
movement that Israel maintains in the West Bank and East Jerusalem
inhibit the transportation of people and goods, which forces the
ever-increasing localization of the economy. Israel's blockade of the
Gaza Strip has reduced its population to penury and almost total
reliance on international charity for survival. Even before, Israel's
formal imposition of the blockade on Gaza in 2007, Israel's earlier
destruction of the Gaza Strip's only airport and its prevention of the
building of a seaport there had greatly constricted Palestinians in
the Gaza Strip from engaging in international trade. Similarly,
Israel's wall in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and its control of
the West Bank's border corssings with Jordan, greatly reduce trade
opportunities as well. Finally, Israel's widespread razing of
Palestinian agricultural land and fruit-bearing trees, along with the
expropriation of Palestinian land and water resources for its illegal
settlements, have devastated the Palestinian agricultural sector.
The US at least nominally wants peace in Palestine, just not enough
to stand up to Israel, which at most wants quiet but is willing to
settle for hatred as long as Palestinians remain powerless -- which
is one effect of mired in a hopeless economy. In one telling note,
it's worth noting that the power plant in Gaza that Israel blows up
every few years is insured by the US: Israel breaks it, we pay to
fix it, then we pay Israel to break it again. It's a perfect example
of government waste, but Americans don't seem able to see that, in
large part because we think our interests extend everywhere, we think
we have to choose sides everywhere, and we choose those sides on the
basis of ignorance and identity.
Some scattered links this week:
Ed Kilgore: Jeffords and the GOP's March to the Right: Vermont's
last Republican Senator, James Jeffords, has died. He's best remembered
for switching parties in 2001, denying Cheney's stranglehold on the
Senate. Kilgore drew up a list of "moderate" Republican senators from
1976, just 25 years back, on the even of the Reagan juggernaut, and
found 17 (of 38) qualified (not including the likes of Bob Dole and
Howard Baker Jr.), adding VP Nelson Rockefeller and (more of a stretch)
President Gerald Ford. Since then the Republican Party has been purged
as rigorously as Stalin's CP -- the only division today seems to be
between those who are categorically insane and those who are merely
Philip Weiss: Hillary Clinton just lost the White House in Gaza -- same
way she lost it in Iraq the last time: Some wishful thinking here,
but it's worth noting that Clinton has strayed outside the bounds of
partisan propriety, notably in attacking Obama's stated intent -- I'm
hesitant to call it a policy without more evidence that he's actually
trying to follow it -- of "not doing stupid shit."
Hillary's done it again. Her pro-war comments in that famous interview
two weeks ago have painted her into a right wing neoconservative corner.
In 2016, a Democratic candidate will again emerge to run to her left
and win the party base, again because of pro-war positioning on the
Middle East that Hillary has undertaken in order to please
The last time it was Iraq, this time it was Gaza. Hillary Clinton had
nothing but praise for Netanyahu's actions in Gaza, and echoed him in
saying that Hamas just wanted to pile up dead civilians for the cameras.
She was "hepped up" to take on the jihadists, she said that Obama's
policy of "not doing stupid shit" was not a good policy. She undermined
Obama for talking to Iran and for criticizing Israel over the number of
civilian casualties in Gaza. She laid all the fault for the massacre at
And once again, Hillary Clinton will pay for this belligerency; she
won't tenant the White House.
Weiss knows he's "going out on a limb" so he cites some polling that's
Consider: Gallup says that Israel's actions in Gaza were unjustified
in the eyes of the young, people of color, women, and Democrats, and
overwhelmingly in some of those categories 51-25% disapproval among
the young. 47-35 percent among Democrats, 44-33 among women, 49-25
The problem, of course, is that while the majority of Democrats
may have broken from AIPAC over Gaza, how many Democrats in Congress
have? Not Elizabeth Warren. Not even Bernie Sanders. Certainly some
hypothetical Democrat could score points against Clinton in primaries
by painting her as a warmonger and pointing out how her obeissance
to AIPAC only serves to prolong conflict in the Middle East, but it's
impossible to identify a real Democrat who could effectively make
those points. (Dennis Kucinich, for instance, tried twice, failed
abysmally, and doesn't even have his House seat to stand on now.
Howard Dean pretty much permanently discredited himself when he
became a lobbyist for the Iranian terrorist group MEK.)
The main thing that bothers me about Clinton isn't policy --
not that there aren't many points to disagree on -- so much as the
stench of dynasty. More and more the Democratic Party resembles
the so-called progressive parties of Pakistan and India, cynically
ruled by corrupt families and cliques that needn't offer their
supporters anything more than a small measure of protection from
the viciousness of their opponents. You'd think that 238 years
after the declaration of democracy in America we would have become
more sophisticated than that -- indeed, we probably were, but have
recently devolved into the present kleptocracy. Obama at least
offered a symbolic break from the Bush-Clinton dynasties, but in
the end that was only symbolic: his administration was rife with
Clinton partisans, and he sealed the party's fate by breaking up
the grassroots organization that had elected two Democratic
Congresses -- foolishly or cynically preferring to "deal" with
lobbyists and Republicans rather than risk democracy within his
More Israel Links:
Kate: Soldiers fire on Palestinian protesters in Nablus, including 14-year
old boy: compendium of many news reports. One reports a poll where:
"over half of the Jewish population in Israel believes the marriage of a
Jewish woman to an Arab man is equal to national treason"; "over 75 percent
of participants did not approve of apartment buildings being shared between
Arabs and Jews"; "sixty percent of participants said they would not allow
an Arab to visit their home"; 40 percent said "Arabs should have their
right to vote for Knesset revoked"; 55 percent said "Arabs and Jews should
be separated at entertainment sites." Hard to see how anyone could look at
these figures and not recognize that Israel has become profoundly racist
Gershom Gorenberg: It's Time to Stop 'Managing' the Israeli-Palestinian
Conflict and Just End It: "The demands raised in the failed Cairo
negotiations are exactly what Israel and the Palestinian unity government
should have sat down to discuss in early June."
Annie Robbins: 'Common Dreams' website traps Hasbara troll spewing
anti-Semitism: An example of false flag propaganda, meant to poison
serious discussion of Israel.
Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian: The constant presence of death in the lives of
Philip Weiss: 'NYT' op-ed calls on Jews to abandon liberal Zionism and
push for equal rights: In a nutshell, "equal rights" is the common
denominator argument for all occasions, but especially for beleaguered
minorities wherever they may be. It's intuitively right, and it's the one
settlement that can appeal to all sides. It is, therefore, a position
frequently advanced by Diaspora Jews. On the other hand, Israel is an
ethnocracy, a place where one "chosen people" controls the state and
uses it to oppress others -- a distinction that is becoming increasingly
impossible to ignore. Cites the piece,
Antony Lerman: The End of Liberal Zionism, which says: "I still
understand its dream of Israel as a moral and just cause, but I judged
it anachronistic. The only Zionism of any consequence today is xenophobic
and exclusionary, a Jewish ethno-nationalism inspired by religious
messianism. It is carrying out an open-ended project of national
self-realization to be achieved through colonization and purification
of the tribe."
Also, a few links for further study:
Patrick Cockburn: How to Ensure a Thriving Caliphate: Excerpt from
Cockburn's forthcoming [January 6?] book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS
and the New Sunni Uprising. There is a shortage of reliable info
about ISIS, as well as a lot of propaganda. (The most laughable was
Trudy Rubin claiming to know "The Truth About ISIS.") Not sure this
helps a lot either, although the key point that the jihadists derive
from the US disruption of Iraq is well taken. More detailed and less
The leader of ISIS is 'a classic maneuver warrior', although the
tactical comparisons to Genghis Khan strike me as bullshit.
Thomas Frank: "Wanted Coltrane, Got Kenny G": Interview with Cornell
West, reference is to Obama. "It's not pessimistic, brother, because
this is the blues. We are blues people. The blues aren't pessimistic.
We're prisoners of hope but we tell the truth and the truth is dark.
Rahawa Haile: Should Musicians Play Tel Aviv? This kicks around the
various reasons foreign musicians shouldn't play in Israel, with some
asides on other related cases -- apartheid-era South Africa, obviously,
but Haile also mentions concerts in "unsavory" dictatorships like Libya
(under Gaddafi) and Turkmenistan, plus Stevie Wonder's decision to not
bother with Florida after the Zimmerman verdict. Oddly, Haile spends
much more time on Israel's often rabid reaction to African refugees --
mostly from Sudan, where Israel tried to score anti-Arab propaganda
points -- than with Israel's second- or third-class treatment of
Palestinians (actually, those in Gaza are probably more like fourth).
(Max Blumenthal's book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel
has quite a bit on Israeli racism against African refugees, but that
is just one instance of the more general loathing right-wing Israelis
hold for nearly all goyim.) Neil Tennant is quoted: "in Israel anyone
who buys a ticket can attend a concert." That, of course, depends on
what you mean by "in Israel": if you live in Ramallah, 15 miles away,
you can't buy tickets to see the Pet Shop Boys in Tel Aviv, nor can
you if you live in Gaza, more like 40 miles away. Tennant is not only
wrong, he is wrong in a particularly misleading way: his experience
of Israel is of a normal, relatively peaceful and prosperous society,
which is true enough for the "Tel Aviv bubble" but completely false
for much of the territory subject to Israeli state terror. One thing
that perpetuates Israeli state terror is the sense that its preferred
citizens enjoy of never having to pay a price for their consent to
living in such a state. When an international artists boycotts Israel,
that at least sends a message that there is some cost to running such
a state, even if it's not likely to have any real effect. The fact is
that Israel cannot be forced into changing its ways: the only way
change will come about is if Israelis become conscious of how far
their nation has strayed from international norms of peace and human
rights. For that reason I welcome all such boycotts. On the other
hand, I don't keep track of who played Israel when or why. (One of the
few I recall is Madonna, who made a documentary about a non-concert
trip to Israel and the Occupied Territories, which if I recall correctly
was very effective in exposing at least part of the brutality of the
regime.) Nor do I discriminate against Israeli jazz musicians -- I must
have written about close to 100 and I'd be surprised if the grade curve
strays from any other national group. They are individuals, and while
many may support their political leaders, many do not -- in fact a very
large percentage of them are expatriates, living in New York, London,
Paris, and elsewhere -- and in any case, as an American I know as well
as anyone that there is very little individuals can do about their
D.R. Tucker: The Powell Doctrine: Some notes on Lewis Powell,
including his notorious US Chamber of Commerce memo that largely
laid out the platform for right-wing business' takeover of American
politics, and other things, including a defense of Roe. vs. Wade.
Sunday, August 17. 2014
It's been a very distracting week, what with the blog sometimes working
and more often not. I've been working on a "pseudo-blog" system that should
prove more robust -- throughout the troubles of the last few weeks we've
always been able to serve static pages -- and I should unveil that soon.
Meanwhile, a few scattered links this week:
Matthew Harwood: One Nation Under SWAT:
When the concept of SWAT arose out of the Philadelphia and Los Angeles
Police Departments, it was quickly picked up by big city police officials
nationwide. Initially, however, it was an elite force reserved for uniquely
dangerous incidents, such as active shooters, hostage situations, or
Nearly a half-century later, that's no longer true.
In 1984, according to Radley Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop,
about 26% of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had SWAT
teams. By 2005, that number had soared to 80% and it's still rising,
though SWAT statistics are notoriously hard to come by.
As the number of SWAT teams has grown nationwide, so have the raids.
Every year now, there are approximately 50,000 SWAT raids in the United
States, according to Professor Pete Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University's
School of Justice Studies. In other words, roughly 137 times a day a SWAT
team assaults a home and plunges its inhabitants and the surrounding
community into terror.
In a recently released report, "War Comes Home," the American Civil
Liberties Union (my employer) discovered that nearly 80% of all SWAT
raids it reviewed between 2011 and 2012 were deployed to execute a
You can draw a couple short lines from the US counterinsurgency wars
in Afghanistan and Iraq to militarized policing: one is that surplus
military equipment is often dumped no charge onto police departments
(Tom Engelhardt starts with a story about the Bergen County Police
Dept. obtaining MRAPs -- armored personnel carriers designed to
survive IED attacks.) Another is the relatively high percentage of
ex-soldiers in police departments. Another is lack of accountability:
with the cult of the troops, it's virtually impossible for the US
military to hold any of its personnel accountable for unnecessary or
excessive force, and as the police become militarized that ethic (or
lack thereof) carries over. (Israel, which used to pride itself on
discipline, has lately become as bad or worse.) Then there's the
increasing proliferation of guns (and "stand your ground" laws) in
the general population. Harwood starts with a story of a Florida man
who heard through social media that he was going to be "burned."
When the man called the police with the threat, he was told to get
a gun and defend himself. The threat arrived in the form of a SWAT
team sent to serve a search warrant: seeing the gun, they killed
the man. Harwood titles one section, "Being the police means never
having to say you're sorry."
Sarah Stillman: The Economics of Police Militarism.
Elias Isquith: Reagan is still killing us: How his dangerous "American
exceptionalism" haunts us today: Always good to read a bad word
about "the Gipper," but this piece is more about Hillary Clinton and
neocon unveiling in the Atlantic. She's always been eager to
show how bellicose she can be, and it certainly doesn't hurt to
put some distance between herself and Obama, especially as long
as she takes positions that don't get tested in practice. But
before going into her, and back to Reagan, I'm reminded of how
Gordon Goldstein, in Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the
Path to War in Vietnam, quoted Bundy on the contrast between
JFK and LBJ: "Kennedy didn't want to be dumb, Johnson didn't want
to be a coward." In this, it's tempting to map Obama onto Kennedy,
and Clinton onto Johnson. Except that Obama doesn't want to be
seen as a coward either, so time and again he backs down and goes
with dumb. Clinton is only promising to get to dumb faster.
Weirdly, Clinton's decision to speak about the U.S.'s role in global
politics as if she, in contrast to Obama, was an unapologetic,
"old-fashioned" believer in American exceptionalism made her sound
like no one so much as Ronald Reagan, the last president who told
a humbled America to buck up and forget its recent mistakes.
[ . . . ]
So here's a prediction about Hillary Clinton and the 2016 presidential
race. At one point or another, there will be a television ad in which
Hillary Clinton will speak of bringing back the former glory of the
United States. She'll say it's time to mark an end to nearly 20 years
of terrorism, depression, war and defeat. It's time to feel good again
about being the leader of the free world. It's morning in America; and
everything is great.
Actually, that sounds like a good idea, especially if she could
combine it with a policy shift that gets away from the losing struggles
of the last twenty years. One of the interesting things about Reagan
is that with a few minor exceptions -- wasting a lot of money on the
military and helping turn Afghanistan and Central America into the
hellholes they are today -- Reagan was satisfied with "talking the
talk" and rarely pushed it too far. For instance, he spent all of
1980 campaigning against Carter's Panama Canal Zone treaty, but once
he was elected he didn't lift a finger to change it. On the other
hand, Clinton won't be given a pass on her toughness. She'll have
to earn it. How successful she may be will depend on how accurately
she identifies the malevolent forces that have been dragging America
down: namely, the Republicans, and their pandering to the rich and
Saree Makdisi: The catastrophe inflicted on Gaza -- and the costs to
Israel's repeated claim that it targets only rocket launchers or tunnels
is belied by the scale and nature of the weapons it unloaded on Gaza.
Its 2000-pound aerial bombs take down entire buildings along with everyone
in them (almost a thousand buildings have been severely damaged or destroyed
in such air strikes). Its 155mm howitzer shells have a margin of error of
300 yards and a lethal radius of up to 150 yards from the point of impact.
Each of the 120mm flechette shells its tank crews fire burst into a 100
by 300 yard shower of 5,000 metal darts carefully designed to shred human
Having sealed Gaza off from the outside world and blanketed almost half
of the territory with warnings telling people to flee for their lives (to
where?!), Israel has been indiscriminately firing all of these munitions
into one of the most densely-inhabited parts of our planet. Entire
neighborhoods have been leveled; entire families have been entombed
in the ruins of their homes. The catastrophic result of Israel's
bombardment is no surprise.
No surprise -- but also not exactly thought through either; more a
matter of casual disregard. For it's not as though Israel has carried
out this violence in pursuit of a strategic master plan (its endless
prevarications over its objectives in Gaza are the clearest indicator
of this). Such gratuitous outbursts of violence (this episode is the
third in six years) are, rather, what Israel falls back on in place of
the strategic vision of which it is bereft. It can indulge in these
outbursts partly because, in the short run at least -- endlessly
coddled by the United States, where venal politicians are quick to
parrot its self-justifications -- it does not pay a significant price
for doing so.
Sandy Tolan: Going Wild in the Gaza War: "Going wild" was Tzipi Livni's
description of how Israel reacts to any Palestinian provocation they bother
to react to. The idea is to overreact so viciously and indiscriminately
that the Palestinians will learn to fear offending Israel in any way,
settling meekly into their role as "an utterly defeated people." The 2014
edition of "going wild" -- by no means finished yet -- has left over 1,900
Palestinians dead, over 12,000 injured, some 100,000 homeless, many more
displaced, pretty much all of 1.8 million people without power or many of
the other amenities of civilization, like the ability to shop in the
globalized marketplace, or to take a holiday more than 20 miles from
home. Those 1.8 million people have certainly been reminded of Israel's
carelessness and cruelty. It's hard to see that as a lesson that bodes
well for the future. Tolan's first point is that this war could easily
have been avoided had Israel and/or the US recognized and worked with
Hamas, and he steps through a series of initiatives and "truce" offers
that were summarily rejected by Israel and the US -- to this day they
insist that "once a terrorist, always a terrorist" (to which Tolan
can't help but point out that the leaders responsible "for a horrific
massacre in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin and the Irgun
bombing of the King David Hotel, killing 91 people" subsequently
became Prime Ministers of Israel). Tolan regards Israel as "a deeply
traumatized society whose profound anxieties are based in part on
genuine acts of horror perpetrated by countless terrorist attacks
over decades, and partly on an unspeakable past history of Europe."
Tragically, Israeli fears have created a national justification for
a kind of "never again" mentality gone mad, in which leaders find it
remarkably easy to justify ever more brutal acts against ever more
dehumanized enemies. At the funeral for the three slain teens,
Benjamin Netanyahu declared, "May God avenge their blood." An Israeli
Facebook page, "The People of Israel Demand Revenge," quickly garnered
35,000 likes. A member of the Knesset from a party in the nation's
ruling coalition posted an article by Netanyahu's late former chief
of staff that called for the killing of "the mothers of [Palestinian]
martyrs" and the demolition of their homes: "Otherwise, more little
snakes will be raised there."
On NPR, Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., decried the
"culture of terrorism" in Palestinian society, adding: "You're
talking about savage actions . . . In the case of
Israel, we take legitimate actions of self-defense, and sometimes,
unintentionally, Palestinian civilians are harmed." That day, the
Palestinian teenager Mohammed Khdeir was abducted and burned alive,
and soon afterward, Israel began bombing Gaza.
Within Israel, the act of dehumanization has become institutionalized.
These days, Israeli newspapers generally don't even bother to print the
names, when known, or the stories of the children being killed in Gaza.
When B'tselem, the respected Israeli human rights organization, attempted
to take out an advertisement on Israeli radio naming names, the request
was denied. The content of the ad, censors declared, was "politically
Actually, Israel is more schizophrenic than Tolan admits. One thing
you notice over history is the extreme contrast between the confidence
(to the point of arrogance) of Israel's top security officials (both
in the military and in organizations like Shin Bet) and the dread held
by large segments of public. No doubt that scaring the people lets the
elites do what they want, but that's as much due to the one thing that
both agree on, which is that Israeli Jews are different and infinitely
more valuable than anyone else. Their specialness, after all, is the
whole point of "the Jewish State." Once you believe that, there is no
limit to the dehumanization of others.
More Israel links:
Dan Glazebrook: Israel's Real Target is Not Hamas: It's any possibility
of Palestinian statehood.
Sarah Lazare: Only Mideast Democracy? In Midst of War, Israel Clamps Down
Dylan Scott: For All the Hype, Does Israel's Iron Dome Even Work?:
"The essence of his analysis is this: Iron Dome's missiles almost never
approached Hamas's rockets at the right trajectory to destroy the
incoming rocket's warhead. . . . And if the warhead
is not destroyed, but merely knocked off course, the warhead will
likely still explode when it lands, putting lives and property in
danger." The underlying fact is that Hamas' rockets almost never do
any substantial damage whether they are intercepted or not, and since
they are unguided, deflecting them has no appreciable effect on their
accuracy (or lack thereof). One question I still haven't seen any
reports on is what happens when the shrapnel from Iron Dome rockets
lands. As I recall, in 1991 Israel's US-provided Patriot anti-missile
system did about as much damage as the Iraqi Scuds they were trying
to defend against. That was a heavier system, but another difference
was that Israel's censors had less interest in suppressing reports
of Patriot failures and blowback. Part of the significance of Iron
Dome is that it exemplifies Israel's unilateralist strategy -- Ben
Gurion's dictum that "it only matters what the Jews do" -- so any
failure is not just a technical problem but a flaw in the strategy.
Even if Iron Dome were 85% effective, that would still be a lower
success rate than could be achieved by a truce. Also see:
Or Amit: Checking under Israel's Iron Dome.
Tascha Shahriari-Parsa: Is Israel's Operation Protective Edge Really
About Natural Gas? Turns out there's a natural gas field off the
Gaza coast, estimated in 2000 to be worth $4 billion, so that may be
another angle on Israel's "security demands" to keep the Gaza coast
closed, to keep Gaza under occupation and deny any sort of independent
Also, a few links for further study:
Jenn Rolnick Borchetta: One nation under siege: Law enforcement's
shameful campaign against black America: not on Ferguson -- you
don't think that's the only such case, do you?
Stephen Franklin: Lawyer: 'We Should Stay on the Parapets and Keep
Fighting': The lawyer interviewed here is Thomas Geoghegan,
argues both that the labor movement is essential ("People who talk
about maintaining the welfare state without a labor movement behind
it are kidding themselves. You will not be able to have a full-employment
economy without a labor movement") as is working through the courts
("We don't have majority-rule here. We have a lot of gridlock, and
lots of checks and balances. Over the years, to break gridlock, you
do rely upon the courts to come in from the outside").
Paul Krugman: Secular Stagnation: The Book: Funny name for the
condition where economies don't bounce back from recessions but drag
on with higher unemployment rates and negligible growth for many
years -- Japan in the 1990s now looks like merely an early example
of a more general trend. There's a new
VoxEU ebook with essays on this, something the US is very much
affected by at the moment. Krugman explains more
And let me simply point out that liquidity-trap analysis has been
overwhelmingly successful in its predictions: massive deficits didn't
drive up interest rates, enormous increases in the monetary base didn't
cause inflation, and fiscal austerity was associated with large declines
in output and employment.
What secular stagnation adds to the mix is the strong possibility
that this Alice-through-the-looking-glass world is the new normal, or
at least is going to be the way the world looks a lot of the time. As
I say in my own contribution to the VoxEU book, this raises problems
even for advocates of unconventional policies, who all too often
predicate their ideas on the notion that normality will return in
the not-too-distant future. It raises even bigger problems with
people and institutions that are eager to "normalize" fiscal and
monetary policy, slashing deficits and raising rates; normalizing
policy in a world where normal isn't what it used to be is a recipe
Martin Longman: On Rick Perry's Indictments: I just wanted to take
note of the occasion. It's rare that sitting governors get indicted for
anything, and I don't expect much is going to come out of this. Perry's
supporters are not only likely to see them as politically motivated,
they're likely to take that a proof that Perry's their kind of
politician -- one not above getting his hands dirty.
Sunday, August 10. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Phyllis Bennis: Obama's Iraq airstrikes could actually help the Islamic
State, not weaken it: Could be -- at any rate they will more clearly
align the US as the enemy of Islam, a meme that's already in fairly broad
circulation both there and here (although thus far only Osama bin Laden
bothered to construct the "far enemy" theory to strike at the US -- most
Jihadists prefer to fight their local devils). For example, TPM reports:
Graham Urges Obama Act in Iraq, Syria to Prevent Terrorist Attack in US --
he actually means "to produce terrorist attack in US" since no one in Iraq
or Syria would be sufficiently motivated to attack the US unless the US
was acting in their own countries. Of course, the idea that the only way
to prevent something is to motivate it is a peculiar affliction of the
fascist mindset, rooted not in logic but in the taste for blood. (Speaking
of warmongers, TPM also reports,
Clinton Knocks Obama's 'Don't Do Stupid Stuff' Foreign Policy Approach
on Syria -- lest anyone think that if given the chance she would flinch
from doing "stupid stuff." In another TPM report,
Shock and Awe, Josh Marshall quotes an anonymous long-time Iraq
war consultant on ISIS tactics -- similar to Taliban tactics right down
to the shiny new Toyota pickups -- and suggests that Obama will see
some initial successes against ISIS frontal attacks, at least until
they adjust. I've noted before his the first flush of US airpower and
advanced weapons creates a false sense of invincibility, "the feel-good
days of the war," which soon ends as "the enemy" adjusts tactics and
as the US blunders from atrocity to atrocity. So, pace Bennis, the
short-run game is likely to look good to the hawks, and being hawks
they're unlikely to ever look at something that produces perpetual war
as having a downside. No, the problem with Bennis' piece is that she
want to argue US policy in Iraq on the basis of what it means to Iraqis,
instead of the affect intervening in Iraq will have in the US. Foreign
wars are catnip for the right because they propagate hate and violence
and they show the government doing nothing to make American lives better
(even the ruse that they create jobs has worn thin).
And, of course, there's always the oil angle: see,
Steve Coll: Oil and Erbil. So far, Obama has been more active
in defending Kurdish autonomy than backing Iraq's central government.
Coincidentally, ExxonMobil and Chevron have made major deals with
the Kurds, bypassing the central government. Favorite line here:
"ExxonMobil declined to comment."
Erbil's rulers never quite saw the point of a final compromise with
Baghdad's Shiite politicians -- as each year passed, the Kurds got
richer on their own terms, they attracted more credible and deep-pocketed
oil companies as partners, and they looked more and more like they led
a de-facto state. The Obama Administration has done nothing to reverse
And so, in Erbil, in the weeks to come, American pilots will defend
from the air a capital whose growing independence and wealth has loosened
Iraq's seams, even while, in Baghdad, American diplomats will persist
quixotically in an effort to stitch that same country together to confront
Obama's defense of Erbil is effectively the defense of an undeclared
Kurdish oil state whose sources of geopolitical appeal -- as a long-term,
non-Russian supplier of oil and gas to Europe, for example -- are best
not spoken of in polite or naďve company, as Al Swearengen [a reference
back to HBO's series, Deadwood] would well understand. Life,
Swearengen once pointed out, is often made up of "one vile task after
another." So is American policy in Iraq.
Elias Isquith: Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on his growing unpopularity:
It's Obama's fault! Brownback won the Republican Party nomination
last week, with a 63-37 margin over Jennifer Winn. Winn had no political
experience, and no money. Her campaign was managed by a libertarian who
came out not of the Tea Party but the Occupy movement. Winn's primary
motivation for running was the experience and sense of injustice she
felt when her son was arrested for drugs. A big part of her platform
was calling for legalization of marijuana. She was not, in other words,
a natural fit with any identifiable fragment of the Republican Party in
Kansas, and still Brownback -- a sitting governor, two-term Senator,
former Congressman, rich, pious, with a postcard family, someone who's
never faced a closely contested election in his life -- still couldn't
run up a two-to-one margin among his own people. So, yeah, he should
take the result as a wake-up call. Instead, he explained:
"I think a big part of it is Barack Obama," Brownback said, referring
to his only securing two-thirds of the primary vote. "[A] lot of people
are so irritated at what the president is doing, they want somebody to
throw a brick."
Brownback continued: "I think it's a lot of deep irritation with the
way the president has taken the country, so much so that people are so
angry about it they're just trying to express it somehow."
Why Kansas voters would be so irrational as to punish Brownback, who
in many ways represents everything Obama does not, for the president's
sins, the governor did not say.
Having just suffered through a big-money Republican primary, it's
obvious that Republicans in Kansas are totally convinced that everyone
in the country (well, except, you know, for them) utterly can't
stand Obama or anything associated with him (especially "Obamacare"),
so they've concluded that the sure path to election is to go as far
over the top in denouncing Obama as possible. But just working yourself
up into ever greater levels of hysteria doesn't make that claim any
more credible. On the other hand, Brownback has nearly wrecked the
state government he was entrusted with nearly four years ago, and
he can hardly blame what he did on anyone else.
John Cassidy: Memo to Obama's Critics: He's Not Callow Anymore
has an explanation why Republicans have turned up the vitriol against
Obama, what with the Republican House suing the president while many
among them talk of impeachment: "But it isn't his inexperience and
glibness that's infuriating them. It's the fact that he's learned to
play the Washington power game, and, perhaps, found a way to go around
them." What Obama's done with all that executive power hasn't been
very impressive -- except in Israel-Iraq-Syria-Ukraine foreign policy,
where every step he's taken has been wrong, something Cassidy doesn't
appreciate -- but Republicans were so used to pushing Obama around
that any attempt to call their bluff is seen as a calamity. (I am, by
the way, not very happy with Cassidy's recent posts on the four ISIU
wars, nor his defense of Obama in them. Nor are the Republicans much
concerned there, except inasmuch as they can paint Obama as weak.
Too bad: when they impeached Clinton way back when, I wrote that I
would have cast a guilty vote, not on the basis of the charges but
due to his mishandling of Iraq. Obama is little if any better now.)
Ed Kilgore: The Tea Party Is Losing Battles but Winning the War: Kansas
Senator Pat Roberts, so well ensconced in Washington he no longer bothers
to own or rent any residency in the state he represents, defeated a rather
weird Tea Party challenger named Milton Wolf by a 48-41 margin: Wolf's sound
bite description of Roberts was "liberal in Washington, rarely in Kansas."
Roberts had never been accused of being a RINO, but fearing Wolf's challenge
he became noticeably more dilligent about his conservative bona fides over
the last year (before that he was mostly known for routing federal money
to agribusiness interests). So Kilgore chalks this up as yet another case
of the Tea Party moving the Republican Party to the right even when they
fail to get their crackpots nominated. (Wolf, an orthopedist, reportedly
had a nasty habit of posting his patients' X-rays on Facebook along with
denigrating "humorous" comments.)
Ed Kilgore: The "New" Rick Perry: "New" as in he's distancing himself
from the "old" Perry who self-destructed in the 2012 presidential race,
presumably to run again in 2016.
As for Perry's famous message of presenting Texas as an economic template
for the country, I think it's a mistake to view this as easy, non-controversial
mainline GOP rap that the rest of us can live with. What Perry exemplifies
is the ancient southern approach to economic development based on systematic
abasement of public policy in order to make life as profitable and easy as
possible for "job-creators," at any cost. If it sort of "works" (if you don't
care about poverty and low wage rates and inadequate health care and
deliberately starved public resources) in Texas thanks in no small part to
the state's fossil fuel wealth and low housing costs (though as Philip
in the April/May issue of WaMo, even that level of success is debatable),
it sure hasn't ever "worked" in similarly inclined but less blessed places
like Mississippi and Alabama, where the local aristocracy has been preaching
the same gospel for many decades.
Mike Konczal/Bryce Covert: The Real Solution to Wealth Inequality:
In The Nation, this appeared as "Tiny Capitalists":
Democrats and Republicans advocate different solutions to inequality,
but both seek to shift financial risk from the state to the individual.
Republicans promote the "ownership society," in which privatizing social
insurance, removing investor protections and expanding home ownership
align the interests of workers with the anti-regulatory interests of the
wealthy. Democrats focus on education and on helping the poor build wealth
through savings programs. These approaches demand greater personal
responsibility for market risks and failures, further discrediting the
state's role in regulating markets and providing public social insurance.
Instead of just giving people more purchasing power, we should be taking
basic needs off the market altogether.
Consider Social Security, a wildly popular program that doesn't count
toward individual wealth. If Social Security were replaced with a private
savings account, individuals would have more "wealth" (because they would
have their own financial account) but less actual security. The elderly
would have to spin the financial-markets roulette wheel and suffer
destitution if they were unlucky. This is why social-wealth programs
like Social Security combat inequality more powerfully than any
privatized, individualized wealth-building "solution."
Public programs like universal healthcare and free education function
the same way, providing social wealth directly instead of hoping to boost
people's savings enough to allow them to afford either. Rather than
requiring people to struggle with a byzantine system of private health
insurance, universal healthcare would be available to cover the costs
of genuine health needs. Similarly, broadly accessible higher education
would allow people to thrive without taking on massive student loans and
hoping that their "human capital" investment helps them hit the jackpot.
Emphasis added to the key point. Aside from moving basic needs off
market, we would also be moving them into the realm of society-guaranteed
rights. Also, from optional (something enjoyed by an elite) to mandatory
(something securely available to all). Conversely, the political agenda
of trying to impose greater market discipline over any area of life is
meant to increase inequality, and to make its consequences more acute.
Paul Krugman: Libertarian Fantasies: I've always had sympathies for
libertarian thinking: the lessons of the "don't tread on me" American
Revolution were imprinted early, and the notion that the state was out
to keep me from enjoying "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"
was backed by clear evidence from my teens, most perniciously through
the draft and the drug war. However, I eventually realized that while
self-interested public menaces like J. Edgar Hoover occasionally worked
in the public sector they tended to be the exception, in corporations
they were the rule, so ubiquitous that their corruption lapped over
and gnawed at the very idea of public service. But things like the
continuing drug war show that their is a need for libertarian types.
Unfortunately, they rarely stop at defending freedom from real threats.
Many become obsessed with false threats, and have no clue how to go
from critique to policy, mostly because their anti-government bias
blinds them from the possibility of using government for increasing
freedom. (For instance, I'd say that the FDA increases my freedom as
a consumer by saving me time worrying about contaminated food. You
might say that the FDA limits the freedom of food producers to cut
costs and poison people, but there are a lot more of us than them,
and regulation is a fairly efficient scheme to even out minimal
quality costs and avoid a disastrous "race to the bottom.") Krugman
has his own examples, concluding:
In other words, libertarianism is a crusade against problems we don't
have, or at least not to the extent the libertarians want to imagine.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the case of monetary policy,
where many libertarians are determined to stop the Fed from irresponsible
money-printing -- which is not, in fact, something it's doing.
And what all this means in turn is that libertarianism does not
offer a workable policy agenda. I don't mean that I dislike the agenda,
which is a separate issue; I mean that if we should somehow end up with
libertarian government, it would quickly find itself unable to fulfill
any of its promises.
I read a lot of Murray Rothbard way back when, and he actually spent
a lot of time coming up with private sector solutions to functions like
justice that are invariably performed by government. I easily understand
why a public justice system may become corrupt and repressive -- traits
ours exhibits way too often -- but I couldn't see how Rothbard's scheme
could every work, even badly. Rothbard's cases for private firefighters
and other services were more workable, but everything he came up was
vastly more inefficient than what we already have.
Gideon Levy: Go to Gaza, see for yourself: An Israeli journalist,
recently named by a right-wing Israeli commentator as someone Israel
should lock up in a concentration camp:
Let's talk about Gaza. The Gaza strip is not a nest of murderers; it's
not even a nest of wasps. It is not home to incessant rampage and murder.
Most of its children were not born to kill, nor do most of its mothers
raise martyrs -- what they want for their children is exactly what most
Israeli mothers want for their own children. Its leaders are not so
different from Israel's, not in the extent of their corruption, their
penchant for "luxury hotels" nor even in their allocating most of the
budget to defense.
Gaza is a stricken enclave, a permanent disaster zone, from 1948 to
2014, and most of its inhabitants are third- and fourth-time refugees.
Most of the people who revile and who destroy the Gaza Strip have never
been there, certainly not as civilians. For eight years I have been
prevented from going there; during the preceding 20 years I visited
often. I liked the Gaza Strip, as much as one can like an afflicted
region. I liked its people, if I may be permitted to make a generalization.
There was a spirit of almost unimaginable determination, along with an
admirable resignation to its woes.
In recent years Gaza has become a cage, a roofless prison surrounded
by fences. Before that it was also bisected. Whether or not they are
responsible for their situation, these are ill-fated people, a great
many people and a great deal of misery. [ . . . ]
But in Hebrew, "Gaza," pronounced 'Aza, is short for Azazel, which
is associated with hell. Of the multitude of curses hurled at me these
days from every street corner, "Go to hell/Gaza" is among the gentler
ones. Sometimes I want to say in response, "I wish I could go to Gaza,
in order to fulfill my journalistic mission." And sometimes I even want
to say: "I wish you could all go to Gaza. If only you knew what Gaza is,
and what is really there."
Andrew O'Hehir: Is Obama haunted by Bush's ghost -- or possessed by him?
Lots of things have bothered me about Obama, but his disinterest to put
any real distance between his administration and the Bush one on issues
of war, peace, and security is foremost -- all the more so because by the
time Bush left office those policies had been shown to be utterly bankrupt,
and because Obama was elected with a clear mandate for change.
As we were reminded earlier this week, Obama's efforts to separate his
own management of intelligence and spycraft from the notorious torture
policies of Bush's "war on terror" now look exceedingly murky, if not
downright mendacious. Throughout his campaigns and presidential years,
Obama has relied on shadow-men like former CIA director George Tenet,
former counterterrorism chief and current CIA director John Brennan
and director of national intelligence (and spinner of lies to Congress)
James Clapper, all of whom are implicated to the eyeballs in "extraordinary
rendition" and "enhanced interrogation techniques" and the other excesses
of the Bush regime. [ . . . ] Despite all the things
he said to get elected, and beneath all the stylistic and symbolic elements
of his presidency, Obama has chosen to continue the most fundamental
policies of the Bush administration. In some areas, including drone
warfare, government secrecy and the persecution of whistle-blowers, and
the outsourcing of detainee interrogation to third-party nations, Obama
has expanded Bush's policies.
Stephen M Walt: Do No (More) Harm: Subtitle: "Every time the U.S.
touches the Middle East, it makes things worse. It's time to walk away
and not look back." Good argument, but could use a better article.
Walt's list of all the things that have gone wrong is detailed and
long enough, but when he tries to apply his "realist" paradigm he
doesn't come with any clear sense of the American interests in the
region that he assumes must exist. (Closest he comes is the desire
to keep any [other] nation from controlling the Persian Gulf oil
belt, which at the moment is so fragmented it hardly calls for any
US action at all. He misses what strike me as the two obvious ones:
peace and a sense of equality and justice throughout the region,
which would in turn undercut past/current trends toward militant
and repressive Islam.) He rejects isolationism, but that may well
be the best solution one can hope for given how pathological US
intervention has been. (After all, alcoholics are advised to quit,
rather than just scale back to the occasional drink non-alcoholics
can handle without harm.) He does suggest that the US give up on
trying to guide any sort of "peace process" between Israel and the
Palestinians. Indeed, he goes to far as to say that we shouldn't
bother with Israel's imperious fantasies if that's what they want
to do -- evidently being a "realist" means you never have to think
in terms of principles. On the other hand, isn't such a total lack
of scruples a big part of how the US became the Middle East plague
it so clearly is?
Kate: Three Palestinian men killed in separate West Bank protests, one
outside a Jewish settlement: a long, depth-ful compendium of links
and stories all around the conflict. Regarding the title incidents,
I recall that the second ("Al-Aqsa") intifada started in response to
Israel killing a dozen or so Palestinian demonstrators. I always
thought that should have been called the "Shaul Moffaz Intifada,"
in honor of the murderer-in-chief (then-IDF chief-of-staff). One
article notes: "More than 1,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel were
arrested by Israeli police during Operation Protective Edge, according
to a lawyer representing a number of the detainees. While some were
arrested for protesting the Israeli military incursion into Gaza,
dozens were held without charge." Another article called for "the
establishment of camps modeled after the internment camps the United
States established in World War II" for anti-war "agitators" (names
included Gideon Levy, Haneen Zoabi, and Amira Haas). Also, an earlier
compendium by Kate:
After destroying 10,000 homes, Israel says Gaza can rebuild if it
Michael Lerner: Israel has broken my heart: I'm a rabbi in mourning for
a Judaism being murdered by Israel: A powerful testament on the
disconnect between Israel and Jews elsewhere who as part of their
identity take injustice seriously.
Falguni Sheth: The West' selective amnesia: Gaza, the war on terror and
the paradox of human rights: Starts by citing the 1948 Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a document from a period when the
world was exhausted by war and prescient enough to understand that the
key to peace is treating people right. Those aspirations have fallen
by the wayside, both as various nations came to view their interests
as depending on trodding on human rights -- a reassertion of the
imperialist mindset that led to two world wars -- and the self-defense
doctrine, which holds that one's own self-defense is so critical that
it allows one to act against other nations and peoples with impunity.
(Sheth's term for this is FLOP, an acronym for Fuck the Lives of Other
People.) Israel is the paradigm for that doctrine, although it has
been invoked by other countries when they thought they could get away
with it -- the US reaction to 9/11 is a prime example.
Richard Silverstein: Col. Ofer Winter: Poster Boy for IDF's New Dirty 200, Ceasefire Dies (Again); and
IDF Col. Ofer Winter's Holy War Against Latter-Day Philistines:
These two pieces single out one Israeli commander who has repeatedly
distinguished himself for war crimes.
Also, a few links for further study:
Monday, August 4. 2014
Running a day behind and coming up short as I try to sum up what's
been happening around the world and how Israel/Gaza fits into it. The
blog, by the way, has experienced intermittent failures, something the
ISP (addr.com) has thus far been completely unhelpful at fixing. Sorry
for the inconvenience. Music Week will also run a day late (assuming no
This week's links will once again focus mostly on Israel's continuing
assault on Gaza. It is not the only significant war in the world at the
moment -- the governments in Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine are simultaneously
engaged in brutal campaigns to bring their own people back under central
state control -- but it is the one that most immediately concerns us in
the US, partly because American partisanship in largely responsible for
the conflict (i.e., the failure to resolve the conflict peacefully);
partly because Israel's thinking and practice in power projection and
counterterrorism is seen as an ideal model by many influential American
foreign policy mandarins (the so-called "neocons," of course, but many
of their precepts have infiltrated the brains of supposedly more liberal
actors, notably the Clintons, Kerry, and Obama); and partly because
Israel has managed to recapitulate the violence and racism of our own
dimly remembered past, something they play on to elicit sympathy even
though a more apt reaction would be horror.
I don't want to belittle the three other "civil wars": indeed, the
US (almost entirely due to Obama) has actively sided with the governments
of Iraq (the US has sent a small number of ground troops and large amounts
of arms there) and Ukraine (the US has led the effort to sanction and
vilify Russia). On the other hand, the US condemned and threatened to
bomb Syria, and has sent (or at least promised) arms to "rebels" there,
although they've also (at least threatened) to bomb the "rebels" too.
But we also know relatively little about those conflicts, and probably
understand less, not least because most of what has been reported has
been selected for propaganda effect. For instance, when "separatists"
in Ukraine tragically shot down a Malaysian airliner, that story led
the nightly news for more than a week, but hardly anyone pointed out
that Ukraine had been shelling and bombing separatist enclaves, and
that anti-aircraft rockets had successfully shot down at least one
Ukrainian military plane before the airliner. (The effective blackout
of news of the conflict, including the use of anti-aircraft missiles
in the region, should bear at least some measure of blame for the
airliner tragedy.) Similarly, we hear much about extreme doctrines
of the breakaway "Islamic State" in Iraq, but virtually nothing of
the Maliki government practices that have managed to alienate nearly
all of northwestern Iraq (as well as the Kurdish regions, which have
all but declared their own breakaway state, one that the US is far
more tolerant of -- perhaps since it doesn't serve to flame
Islamophobic public opinion in the US).
Syria is a much messier problem, for the US anyhow. The state was
taken over by the Ba'ath Party in 1963, and led by the Assad family
since 1971. Syria fought against Israel in the 1948-49 war, and again
in 1967, when Israel seized the Golan Heights, and again in 1973. At
various times Syria made efforts to ally itself with the US (notably
in the 1990 coalition against Iraq), but several factors prejudiced
US opinion against the Assads: the border dispute with Israel and
intermittent Syrian support for the PLO, Syria's resort to Russia
(and later Iran) as its armaments supplier, the repressive police
state and the brutality with which the Assads put down rebellions
(e.g., they killed at least 10,000 people in the Hama massacre of
1982 -- a tactic much admired by Israeli military theoreticians like
Martin Van Creveld). One might think that Syria's lack of democracy
would be an issue, but the US has never objected to other tyrants
that could be counted as more reliable allies, such as the kings
of Jordan and Saudi Arabia. But when Assad fired on Arab Spring
demonstrations, prejudice turned Obama against Assad, as the revolt
became militarized he chipped in guns, as it became Islamicized he
waffled. Obama set a "red line" at the use of chemical weapons, and
when that appeared to have been violated, he felt it was his place
to punish Syria with a round of gratuitous bombings, but Congress
demurred, and Putin interceded with an offer by Syria to give up
their chemical weapon stocks. Since then, Obama has promised more
arms to Syrian "rebels" and also threatened to bomb those rebels
connected with the revolt in Iraq, and he ruined his relationship
with Putin -- the only real chance to mediate the conflict -- for
recriminations over Ukraine. Meanwhile, Israel (always seen as a
US ally even though usually acting independently) bombed Syria.
At this point there will be no easy resolution to Syria. One
obvious problem is how many foreign countries have contributed to
one side or the other (or in the case of the US to both, if not
quite all). So the first step would be an international agreement
to use whatever pressure they have to get to a ceasefire and some
sort of power-sharing agreement, but obvious as that direction is,
the other ongoing conflicts make it impossible. Just to take the
most obvious example, the US (Obama) is by far more committed to
marginalizing Russia in Ukraine than it is to peace anywhere in
the Middle East, least of all Israel. Russia is likewise more
focused on Ukraine than anywhere else, although it doesn't help
that its main interest in Syria and Iraq appears to be selling
arms (it supports both governments, making it a US ally in Iraq
as well as an enemy in Syria, blowing the Manichaean minds in
Washington). Saudi Arabia and Iran are far more invested against
or for Syria and Iraq. One could go on and on, but absent any
sort of enlightened world leader willing to step outside of the
narrow confines of self-interest and link the solution to all
of these conflicts, their asymmetries will continue to grind on,
and leave bitter legacies in their paths. In Syria alone, over
more than three years the estimated death toll is over 250,000.
In Iraq estimated deaths since the US exit in 2011 are over
21,000, but much more if you go back to 2003 when the US invaded
and stirred up much sectarian strife. (I couldn't say "started"
there because US culpability goes back to 1991, when Bush urged
Iraqi shiites to rise up against Saddam Hussein, then allowed
the Iraqi army to crush them mercilessly, then instigated "no
fly" zones with periodic bombings, along with sanctions lasting
until the 2003 invasion.)
As for Israel's latest assault on Gaza, in three weeks Israel has
killed over 1,800 Palestinians -- I won't bother trying to separate
out "civilians" and "militants" since Gaza has no organized military
(like the IDF). That may seem like a small number compared to Syria
above, but if you adjust for the relative populations (22.5 million
in Syria, 1.8 million in Gaza) and length of war (171 weeks for Syria,
3 for Gaza) the kill rate is about five times greater in Gaza (333
per million per week vs. 65 per million per week in Syria). Moreover,
the distribution of deaths is extremely skewed in Gaza, whereas in
Syria and Iraq (I have no idea about Ukraine) they are close to even
(to the extent that "sides" make sense there). The distinction between
IDF and "civilians" makes more sense in Israel, especially as nearly
all IDF casualties occurred on Gazan soil after Israel invaded. The
ratio there is greater than 600-to-one (1800+ to 3), a number we'll
have to come back to later. (The first Israeli killed was a settler
who was voluntarily delivering goodies to the troops -- i.e., someone
who would certainly qualify as a "militant"; another was a Thai
migrant-worker, and some tallies of Israeli losses don't even count
him.) The number of Israeli soldiers killed currently stands at 64,
some of which were killed by Israeli ("friendly") fire. (The first
IDF soldier killed was so attributed, but I haven't seen any later
breakdowns. There have been at least two instances where an Israeli
soldier was possibly captured and subsequently killed by Israeli fire --
IDF forces operate under what's called the Hannibal Directive, meant
to prevent situations where Israeli soldiers are captured and used as
bargaining chips for prisoner exchanges, as was Gilad Shalit.) Even
if you counted those IDF deaths, the overkill ratio would be huge.
But without them, it should be abundantly clear how little Israel was
threatened by Hamas and other groups in Gaza. In 2013, no one in Israel
was hurt by a rocket attack from Gaza. This year, in response to Israel
and Egypt tightening Gaza borders, to Israel arresting 500+ people
more or less associated with Hamas (many released in the Shalit deal)
in the West Bank, and to Israel's intense bombardment now lasting three
weeks, more than a thousand rockets were launched from Gaza at Israel,
and the result of all this escalation was . . . 3 dead,
a couple dozen (currently 23) wounded. Just think about it: Israel
gave Gazans all this reason to be as vindictive as possible, and all
it cost them was 3 civilian casualties (one of which they don't even
count). In turn, they inflicted incalculable damage upon 1.8 million
people. The trade off boggles the mind. Above all else, it makes you
wonder what kind of people would do such a thing.
A little history here: Zionist Jews began emigrating from Russia
to the future Israel, then part of the Ottoman Empire, in the 1880s,
following a breakout of pogroms (state-organized or -condoned attacks
on Jews) following the assassination of Czar Alexander. Britain went
to war against the Ottoman Empire in 1914, and made various promises
to both Arabs and Jews of land they would seize from the Ottomans,
including Palestine. In 1920 the British kept Palestine as a mandate.
They took a census which showed the Jewish population at 10%. The
British allowed Jewish immigration in fits and spurts, with the
Jewish population ultimately rising to 30% in 1947. Britain's reign
over Palestine was marked by sporadic violence, notably the Arab
Revolt of 1937-39 which Britain brutally suppressed, using many
techniques which Israel would ultimately adopt, notably collective
punishment. Meanwhile, the British allowed the Zionist community
to form a state-within-the-state, including its own militia, which
aided the British in putting down the Arab Revolt. In 1947, Britain
decided to wash its hands of Palestine and returned the mandate to
the then-new United Nations. The leaders of the Jewish proto-state
in Palestine lobbied the United Nations to partition Palestine into
two parts -- one Jewish, the other Arab (Christian and Moslem) --
and the UN complied with a scheme that offered Jewish control of a
slight majority of the land, Arab control of several remaining
isolated pockets (West Bank, West Galilee, Gaza Strip, Jaffa),
with Jerusalem a separate international zone. There were virtually
no Jews living in the designated Arab areas, but Arabs were more
than 40% of the population of the Jewish areas. The Arabs rejected
the partition proposal, favoring a single unified state with a
two-to-one Arab majority. The Zionist leadership accepted the
partition they had lobbied for, but didn't content themselves
with the UN-specified borders or with the international zone for
Jerusalem. When the British abdicated, Israel declared independence
and launched a war to expand its territory, swallowing West Galilee
and Jaffa, capturing the west half of Jerusalem, and reducing the
size of the Gaza Strip by half. Several neighboring Arab countries
joined this war, notably Transjordan, which was able to secure east
Jerusalem (including the Old City) and the West Bank (including the
highly contested Latrun Salient), and Egypt, which wound up in
control of the reduced Gaza Strip. During this war more than 700,000
Palestinian Arabs were uprooted and fled beyond Israeli control, to
refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria, leaving
the land occupied by Israel as 85% Jewish.
Israel signed armistice agreements in 1949-50 with its neighbors.
Jordan annexed its occupied Palestinian territories and gave their
inhabitants Jordanian citizenship, not that that meant much in an
monarchy with no democratic institutions. Egypt didn't annex Gaza;
it styled itself as a caretaker for a fragment of a future independent
Palestinian state, which left its inhabitants in limbo. Israel passed
a series of laws which gave every Jew in the world the right to
immigrate to Israel and enjoy citizenship there, and denied the
right of every Palestinian who had fled the 1948-50 war to ever
return, confiscating the lands of the refugees. Palestinians who
stayed within Israel were granted nominal citizenship, but placed
under military law. Gazan refugees who tried to return to Israel
were shot, and Israel repeatedly punished border incidents by
demolishing homes in Gaza and the West Bank. (Ariel Sharon first
made his reputation by making sure that the homes he blew up in
Qibya in 1953 were still occupied.) Israel was never happy with
its 1950 armistice borders. After numerous border incidents, Israel
launched a sneak attack on Egypt in 1967, seizing Gaza and the
Sinai Peninsula up to the Suez Canal, then quickly expanded the
war into Jordan (grabbing East Jerusalem and the West Bank) and
Syria (the Golan Heights).
The UN resolution following the 1967 war called for Israel to
return all the lands seized during the war in exchange for peace
with all of Israel's neighbors. The Arabs nations were slow to
respond to this "land-for-peace" proposal, although this was the
basis of the 1979 agreement that returned the Sinai Peninsula to
Egypt, and would be the basis of subsequent peace proposals backed
by every nation in the Arab League -- the sole difference is that
Jordan has since renounced its claim to the West Bank and East
Jerusalem, so those as well as Gaza might form the basis of an
independent Palestinian state, as originally envisioned by the
UN. The PLO has agreed to this solution, and Hamas has announced
tacit approval (they have what you may call a funny way of putting
things, one that unfortunately allowed for a large measure of
distortion by Israeli "explainers" [hasbara-ists]). So if Israel
ever wanted peace, both with its neighbors and with its current
and former Palestinian subjects, that simple deal is on the table
(as well as several subsequent ones which allow Israel additional
concessions, although those are less universally accepted).
The rub is that Israel has never wanted peace, and nowadays the
political consensus in Israel is further than ever from willing to
even consider the notion. This is a hard point for most people to
grasp -- who doesn't want peace? -- but nothing Israel does makes
any sense until you realize this. We can trace this back over history,
or you can just look at the current fracas. Israel, after all, could
have decided to handle the June 12 kidnapping-murder as a normal
police matter. Despite everything they've done since, they haven't
caught their two prime suspects, so they couldn't have done less
as to solving the crime, and they would have gotten a lot more
credit and sympathy. But rather than react as any normal country
would, they went out and arrested 500 people who had nothing to
do with the crime, and in the process of doing that they killed
another nine Palestinians. The rockets, which in any case did no
real damage, were primarily a response to the arrests, and more
basically to Israel's blockade of Gaza, which is itself a deeper
manifestation of Israel's belligerency. Even then, Israel could
have ignored the rockets. The decision to start shelling/bombing
Gaza was completely their own, as was the decision to send troops
into Gaza to destroy tunnels that hadn't caused any actual harm
to Israel. In short, all that destruction is the direct result of
Israel reacting the way Israel always reacts to provocations: by
escalating the level of violence. And that's simply not the way a
nation that wants to live in peace behaves.
I can think of several reasons why Israel has chosen to be a state
of perpetual war:
- The essential precept of Zionism is that anti-semitism is endemic
in the world, leaving Jews with no recourse except to separate themselves
from everyone else, to retreat to a common defensible redoubt, and to
build iron walls around themselves that their enemies cannot breach.
Because anti-semitism is eternal, peace is illusory, a temptation to
lapse the martial spirit necessary to maintain those walls. The
Holocaust only served to reinforce this early view, and has been
driven deep into the psyches of subsequent generations. The "iron
wall" doctrine was developed by Vladimir Jabotinsky. Proof of how
little Zionism has evolved is that Benjamin Netanyahu is the son of
Jabotinsky's secretary and main disciple.
- The core fact of Zionism is that it created a colonial enclave in
a region that was already occupied with the intent of dominating and
expanding that region. In order to survive, the colonists had to
alienate themselves from their surroundings, to cohere and act as a
community, to defend themselves and vanquish the aboriginals. Every
successful example (as well as near misses like French Algeria and
Afrikaner South Africa) developed the same pathologies of racism and
violence, and these are especially sharp in Israel now because the
success of the project seems so tenuous.
- Israel's early history, especially the wars of 1948 and 1967, are
exceptionally susceptible to self-mythologizing, both due to the level
of leadership and the semi-miraculous outcomes of those wars: in 1948
Israel declared independence, expanded its UN-specified borders by
nearly 50%, and radically consolidated a large Jewish majority despite
the combined efforts of the Arab armies; in just six days 1967 Israel
won an even more stunning victory over rising Arab nationalists, again
greatly expanding their territory. Such wars are seductive, casting a
mythic glow over the nation's self-conception that none of the later
wars, muffled and muddled as they've been, have managed to erode. Of
course, it helps that one can make a case that the 1948 and 1967 wars
were necessary -- at least to convince neighboring countries that
Israel was a fact they wouldn't be able to forcibly undo.
- War is one of the few human endeavors that gives a nation a joint
sense of purpose and belonging, at least as long as it is successful
(or not too dreadfully disastrous). Israelis tasted that in 1948 and
1967 and ever since they fear losing that sense of unity, of common
purpose, identity, fear, and hope. Indeed, every war -- even one that
looks so pointless and horrifying as this one does to the rest of the
world -- creates a huge spike of support for whoever leads it. You
see this elsewhere -- Margaret Thatcher's Falklands War and George H.W.
Bush's original Gulf War are textbook examples, although for the US
World War II was the one that really hit the spot, putting us so far
on top of the world that in many ways, despite many disasters, we
still haven't crashed to earth yet -- but perhaps the sense is even
stronger in a nation with such broad and deep military service, where
the preferred career path in politics or business is promotion in the
IDF (or Israel's numerous other security agencies).
Those four points are all true, self-reinforcing in various combinations
at various times. They help explain why David Ben-Gurion, for instance,
sabotaged his successor for fear that Moshe Sharrett might normalize
relations with Israel's Arab neighbors, turning Israel into an ordinary
country. They help explain why Abba Eban was so disingenuous following
1967, giving lip service to "land-for-peace" while never allowing any
negotiations to take place. They help explain why a long series of
Israeli politicians -- Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon are the two that
stand out in my mind -- tied up so much land by encouraging illegal
settlements, and why today's West Bank settlers retrace the steps
both of the Yishuv's original settlers and of even earlier Americans
encroaching on Indian lands. They help explain why Israelis habitually
label anyone who crosses them a terrorist (something John Kerry was
accused of last week), and why Israel habitually refuses to negotiate
with those it sees as enemies. They help explain why Israel places so
little value on the life of others. (One irony is that a nation which
has no capital punishment for its own citizens, even when one kills a
Prime Minister, yet has casually engaged in hundreds of extrajudicial
I've gone on at some length here about Israel's innate tendencies
because there seems to be little else directing Netanyahu's process.
It used to be the case that the Zionist movement depended on forming
at least temporary alliances with foreign powers to advance their
goals. For instance, they got the UK to issue the Balfour Declaration
and commit to creating a "Jewish homeland" in Palestine. Later, when
the UK quit, the nascent Israel depended first on the Soviet Union
then on France for arms. Eventually, they found their preferred ally
in the US, but for a long time US presidents could limit Israel's
worst instincts, as when Eisenhower in 1956-57 pressured Israel into
withdrawing from Egypt's Sinai, or when Carter in 1978 reversed an
Israeli effort to enter Lebanon's Civil War. (Neither of those limits
proved long-lasting: Israel retook Sinai when a more accommodating
LBJ was president, and moved recklessly into Lebanon in 1982 under
Reagan's indifference.) As late as 1992, voters were sensitive
enough to Israel's US relationship to replace obdurate Yitzhak
Shamir with the much friendlier Yitzhak Rabin (a former Israeli
ambassador to the US and initiator of the Oslo Peace Process --
ultimately a sham, but one that broke the ice with the US, and
got him killed by a right-wing fanatic). But since then Bush II
turned out to be putty in Ariel Sharon's grubby hands, and Obama
has proven to be even more spineless viz. Netanyahu. So whatever
limits America might have posed to Israeli excesses have gone by
the wayside: Israeli cabinet ministers can accuse Kerry of terrorism
just for proposing a ceasefire, confident that such rudeness won't
even tempt Congress to hold back on an extra $225M in military aid.
Still, you have to ask, "why Gaza?" Two times -- in 1993 when
Israel ceded virtually all of Gaza to the newly formed Palestinian
Authority, and in 2005 when Israel dismantled its last settlements
in Gaza -- Israel signaled to the world that it had no substantive
desire to administer or keep Gaza itself. (It is still possible
that Israel could annex all of the West Bank and Jerusalem and
extend citizenship to Palestinian inhabitants there -- there are
Israelis who advocate such a "one-state solution" there as an
alternative to trying to separate out a Palestinian state given
the scattering of Israeli settlements in the territory, but there
is no way that Israel would entertain the possibility of giving
citizenship to Palestinians in Gaza.) However, Israel has continued
to insist on controlling Gaza's borders and airspace, and limited
its offshore reach to a measly three kilometers. Then in 2006
Palestinians voted for the wrong party -- a slate affiliated with
Hamas, which was still listed by the US and Israel as a "terrorist
entity" (as was the PLO before it was rehabilitated by signing the
Oslo Accords). The US then attempted to organize a coup against
Hamas, which backfired in Gaza, leaving the Strip under Hamas
control. From that point, Israel, with US and Egyptian backing,
shut down the border traffic between Gaza and the outside world --
a blockade which has severely hampered Gaza ever since.
Hamas has since weaved back and forth, appealing for international
help in breaking the blockade, and failing that getting the world's
attention by launching small rockets into Israel. The rockets themselves
cause Israel little damage, but whenever Israel feels challenged it
responds with overwhelming violence -- in 2006, 2008, 2012, and now
in 2014 that violence has reached the level of war. In between there
have been long periods with virtually no rocket fire, with resumption
usually triggered by one of Israel's "targeted assassinations."
Between 2008-12 the blockade was partially relieved by brisk use of
smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. In 2013 Gaza benefited
from relatively free above-ground trade with Egypt, but that came
to an end with the US-backed military coup that ended Egypt's
brief experiment with democracy (another case of the "wrong"
people, as viewed by the US and Israel, getting elected). With
Egypt as well as Israel tightening the blockade of Gaza, followed
by the mass arrest of Hamas people in the West Bank, rocket fire
resumed, only to be met by the recent widespread slaughter.
Hamas has thus far insisted that any ceasefire include an end to
the blockade. As I've written before, that seems like a completely
reasonable demand. Israel has mistreated Gaza ever since occupying
it in 1967, and that treatment became even worse after 2005, becoming
little short of sadistic. Hamas has even offered to turn its control
of the Gaza administration back over to a "unified" PA, which would
be backed but not controlled by Hamas. (In my view an even better
solution would be to spin Gaza off as an independent West Palestine
state, totally free of Israeli interference.) Israel's assertions
regarding Gaza are inevitably confused: they claim they need to
blockade Gaza for security against missiles that in fact are fired
mostly to protest the blockade (the other cases are a weak response
to Israel's far more powerful arsenal). On the other hand, Israeli
control keeps Gaza from ever developing a normal economy, and
Israel's tactics (like targeted assassinations) keep Gaza in a
state of constant terror.
Throughout history, there have been two basic approaches to
counterterrorism: one is to kill off all the terrorists one-by-one;
the other is to negotiate with the terrorists and let them enter
into responsible democratic political procedures. The former has
worked on rare occasions, usually when the group was extremely
small and short-lived (Che Guevara in Bolivia, Shining Path in
Peru). The outer limit was probably the Algerian anti-Islamist
war of 1991-94 where Algeria killed its way through more than
ten generations of leaders before the movement self-destructed,
but even there the conflict ended with negotiations and amnesty.
Israel's practice of collective punishment pretty much guarantees
an endless supply of future enemies. As long as you understand
that Israel's intent and desire is to fight forever, such tactics
make sense. And as long as Israel can maintain that 600-to-1 kill
ratio, someone like Netanyahu's not going to lose any sleep.
Inside Israel military censorship keeps the gory details out of
sight and out of mind, reinforcing the unity that makes this such
a happy little war, but elsewhere it's all becoming increasingly
clear: how flimsy Israel's excuses are, how much they destroy and
how indifferent they are to the pain they inflict, indeed how callous
and tone-deaf they have become. Moreover, this war shows what chumps
the US (and Europe) have become in allying themselves with Israel.
No matter how this war ends, more people than ever before are going
to be shocked that we ever allowed it to happen. Even more so if
they come to realize that there was never any good reason behind it.
Back in June, when all this crisis amounted to was three kidnapped
Israeli settler teens and Israel's misdirected and hamfisted "Operation
Brother's Keeper," I argued that someone with a good journalistic nose
could write a whole book on the affair, one that would reveal everything
distorted and rotten in Israel's occupation mindset, possibly delving
even into the warped logic behind those kidnappings. Since then, I've
been surprised by three things: the scale of human tragedy has become
innumerable (at least in a mere book -- only dry statistics come close
to measuring the destruction, and they still miss the terror, even for
the few people who intuit what they measure); how virulent and unchecked
the genocidal impulses of so many Israelis have become (the trend, of
course, has been in that direction, and every recent war has seen some
outbursts, but nothing like now); and how utterly incompetent and impotent
the US and the international community has been (aside from Condoleezza
Rice's "birthpangs of a new Middle East" speech during the 2006 Lebanon
War, the US and UN have always urged a ceasefire, but this time they've
been so in thrall to Netanyahu's talking points they've scarcely bothered
to think much less developed any backbone to act). It's a tall order,
but this may be Israel's most senseless and shameful war ever.
This week's scattered links:
Arno J Mayer: The Future of Israel and the Decline of the American
Empire: This originally ran in 2009 following Israel's 2008 war
with Gaza, but nothing since has invalidated it.
Israel is in the grip of a kind of collective schizophrenia.
Not only its governors but the majority of its Jewish population have
delusions of both grandeur and persecution, making for a distortion of
reality as a chosen people and part of a superior Western civilization.
They consider themselves more cerebral, reasonable, moral, and dynamic
than Arabs and Muslims generally, and Palestinians in particular. At
the same time they feel themselves to be the ultimate incarnation of
the Jewish people's unique suffering through the ages, still subject
to constant insecurity and defenselessness in the face of ever-threatening
extreme and unmerited punishment.
Such a psyche leads to hubris and vengefulness, the latter a response
to the perpetual Jewish torment said to have culminated, as if by a
directive purpose, in the Holocaust. Remembering the Shoah is Israel's
Eleventh Commandment and central to the nation's civil religion and
Weltanschauung. Family, school, synagogue, and official culture propagate
its prescriptive narrative, decontextualized and surfeited with
ethnocentrism. The re-memorizing of victimization is ritualized on
Yom Ha Shoah and institutionalized by Yad Vashem.
Israel uses the Holocaust to conjure the specter of a timeless
existential peril, in turn used to justify its warfare state and
unbending diplomacy. [ . . . ]
Although its leaders avoid saying so in public, Israel does not
want peace, or a permanent comprehensive settlement, except on its
own terms. They do not dare spell these out publicly, as they presume
the enemy's unconditional surrender, even enduring submission. Instead
the Palestinians continue to be blamed for a chronic state of war that
entails Israel's continuing self-endangerment and militarization.
[ . . . ]
Since Israel's foundation, the failure to pursue Arab-Jewish
understanding and cooperation has been Zionism's "great sin of
omission" (Judah Magnes). At every major turn since 1947-48 Israel
has had the upper hand in the conflict with the Palestinians, its
ascendancy at once military, diplomatic, and economic. This prepotency
became especially pronounced after the Six Day War of 1967. Consider
the annexations and settlements; occupation and martial law; settler
pogroms and expropriations; border crossings and checkpoints; walls
and segregated roads. No less mortifying for the Palestinians has
been the disproportionately large number of civilians killed and
injured, and the roughly 10,000 languishing in Israeli prisons.
Mayer, by the way, is one of the most distinguished historians of
our times, known especially for his landmark book on Versailles and
the post-WWI settlement. More recent books include Why Did the
Heavens Not Darken? The Final Solution in History and Plowshares
into Swords: From Zionism to Israel.
Nathan Thrall: Hamas's Chances: In this conflict, Hamas has been made
to look bad by rejecting the one-sided ceasefire proposals of Israel,
Egypt, and the US (although Israel was the first to gun down the latter,
branding John Kerry as a terrorist). Perhaps Hamas simply remembers
Israel's duplicity the last time they negotiated a ceasefire (details
of that ceasefire have rarely been discussed):
The 21 November 2012 ceasefire that ended an eight-day-long exchange of
Gazan rocket fire and Israeli aerial bombardment was never implemented.
It stipulated that all Palestinian factions in Gaza would stop hostilities
against Israel, that Israel would end attacks against Gaza by land, sea
and air -- including the 'targeting of individuals' (assassinations,
typically by drone-fired missile) -- and that the closure of Gaza would
essentially end as a result of Israel's 'opening the crossings and
facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods, and refraining
from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in
border areas.' An additional clause noted that 'other matters as may be
requested shall be addressed,' a reference to private commitments by
Egypt and the US to help thwart weapons smuggling into Gaza, though
Hamas has denied this interpretation of the clause.
During the three months that followed the ceasefire, Shin Bet recorded
only a single attack: two mortar shells fired from Gaza in December 2012.
Israeli officials were impressed. But they convinced themselves that the
quiet on Gaza's border was primarily the result of Israeli deterrence and
Palestinian self-interest. Israel therefore saw little incentive in
upholding its end of the deal. In the three months following the ceasefire,
its forces made regular incursions into Gaza, strafed Palestinian farmers
and those collecting scrap and rubble across the border, and fired at
boats, preventing fishermen from accessing the majority of Gaza's waters.
The end of the closure never came. Crossings were repeatedly shut.
So-called buffer zones -- agricultural lands that Gazan farmers couldn't
enter without being fired on -- were reinstated. Imports declined, exports
were blocked, and fewer Gazans were given exit permits to Israel and the
Israel had committed to holding indirect negotiations with Hamas over
the implementation of the ceasefire but repeatedly delayed them, at first
because it wanted to see whether Hamas would stick to its side of the
deal, then because Netanyahu couldn't afford to make further concessions
to Hamas in the weeks leading up to the January 2013 elections, and then
because a new Israeli coalition was being formed and needed time to settle
in. The talks never took place. The lesson for Hamas was clear. Even if an
agreement was brokered by the US and Egypt, Israel could still fail to
Yet Hamas largely continued to maintain the ceasefire to Israel's
satisfaction. It set up a new police force tasked with arresting
Palestinians who tried to launch rockets. In 2013, fewer were fired
from Gaza than in any year since 2003, soon after the first primitive
projectiles were shot across the border. Hamas needed time to rebuild
its arsenal, fortify its defences and prepare for the next battle,
when it would again seek an end to Gaza's closure by force of arms.
But it also hoped that Egypt would open itself to Gaza, thereby
ending the years during which Egypt and Israel had tried to dump
responsibility for the territory and its impoverished inhabitants
on each other and making less important an easing of the closure
In July 2013 the coup in Cairo led by General Sisi dashed Hamas's
hopes. His military regime blamed the ousted President Morsi of the
Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, its Palestinian offshoot, for all of
Egypt's woes. Both organisations were banned. Morsi was formally
charged with conspiring with Hamas to destabilise the country. The
leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and hundreds of Morsi's supporters
were sentenced to death. The Egyptian military used increasingly
threatening rhetoric against Hamas, which feared that Egypt, Israel
and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority would take advantage of its
weakness to launch a co-ordinated military campaign. Travel bans were
imposed on Hamas officials. The number of Gazans allowed to cross to
Egypt was reduced to a small fraction of what it had been before the
coup. Nearly all of the hundreds of tunnels that had brought goods
from Egypt to Gaza were closed. Hamas had used taxes levied on those
goods to pay the salaries of more than 40,000 civil servants in Gaza.
Thrall also has more details on the "unification" agreement with
Fatah, which is widely seen as the main reason Netanyahu singled out
Hamas -- not that he really cares which Palestinian faction he refuses
to do business with:
The final option, which Hamas eventually chose, was to hand over
responsibility for governing Gaza to appointees of the Fatah-dominated
Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, despite having defeated it in the
Hamas paid a high price, acceding to nearly all of Fatah's demands.
The new PA government didn't contain a single Hamas member or ally,
and its senior figures remained unchanged. Hamas agreed to allow the
PA to move several thousand members of its security forces back to
Gaza, and to place its guards at borders and crossings, with no
reciprocal positions for Hamas in the West Bank security apparatus.
Most important, the government said it would comply with the three
conditions for Western aid long demanded by the US and its European
allies: non-violence, adherence to past agreements and recognition
of Israel. Though the agreement stipulated that the PA government
refrain from politics, Abbas said it would pursue his political
programme. Hamas barely protested.
The agreement was signed on 23 April, after Kerry's peace talks
had broken down; had the talks been making progress, the US would
have done its best to block the move. But the Obama administration
was disappointed in the positions Israel took during the talks,
and publicly blamed it for its part in their failure. Frustration
helped push the US to recognise the new Palestinian government
despite Israel's objections. But that was as far as the US was
prepared to go. Behind the scenes, it was pressuring Abbas to
avoid a true reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
[ . . . ]
The fears of Hamas activists were confirmed after the government
was formed. The terms of the agreement were not only unfavourable but
unimplemented. The most basic conditions of the deal -- payment of the
government employees who run Gaza and an opening of the crossing with
Egypt -- were not fulfilled. For years Gazans had been told that the
cause of their immiseration was Hamas rule. Now it was over, their
conditions only got worse.
The June 12 kidnappings took place ten days after the new PA
government was formed. That soon led to the current war, which in
some ways has given Hamas another lease on life (peculiar as that
For Hamas, the choice wasn't so much between peace and war as between
slow strangulation and a war that had a chance, however slim, of loosening
the squeeze. It sees itself in a battle for its survival. Its future in
Gaza hangs on the outcome. Like Israel, it's been careful to set rather
limited aims, goals to which much of the international community is
sympathetic. The primary objective is that Israel honour three past
agreements: the Shalit prisoner exchange, including the release of the
re-arrested prisoners; the November 2012 ceasefire, which calls for an
end to Gaza's closure; and the April 2014 reconciliation agreement,
which would allow the Palestinian government to pay salaries in Gaza,
staff its borders, receive much needed construction materials and open
the pedestrian crossing with Egypt.
These are not unrealistic goals, and there are growing signs that
Hamas stands a good chance of achieving some of them. Obama and Kerry
have said they believe a ceasefire should be based on the November
2012 agreement. The US also changed its position on the payment of
salaries, proposing in a draft framework for a ceasefire submitted
to Israel on 25 July that funds be transferred to Gazan employees.
[ . . . ]
The greatest costs, of course, have been borne by Gaza's civilians,
who make up the vast majority of the more than 1600 lives lost by the
time of the ceasefire announced and quickly broken on 1 August. The
war has wiped out entire families, devastated neighbourhoods,
destroyed homes, cut off all electricity and greatly limited access
to water. It will take years for Gaza to recover, if indeed it ever does.
[ . . . ]
The obvious solution is to let the new Palestinian government return
to Gaza and reconstruct it. Israel can claim it is weakening Hamas by
strengthening its enemies. Hamas can claim it won the recognition of
the new government and a significant lifting of the blockade. This
solution would of course have been available to Israel, the US, Egypt
and the PA in the weeks and months before the war began, before so
many lives were shattered.
More Israel links:
Joel Beinin: Racism is the Foundation of Israel's Operation Protective
Edge: Quotes Israeli Knesset member Ayelet Shaked, urging the wholesale
slaughter of women in Gaza: "Now, this also includes the mothers of the
martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They must follow
their sons. Nothing would be more just. They should go, as well as the
physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little
snakes will be raised there." Another Israeli urged that the mothers
and sisters be raped. "Racism has become a legitimate, indeed an
integral, component of Israeli public culture, making assertions
like these seem 'normal.' The public devaluation of Arab life enables
a society that sees itself as 'enlightened' and 'democratic' to
repeatedly send its army to slaughter the largely defenseless
population of the Gaza Strip -- 1.8 million people
[ . . . ] imprisoned since 1994."
Juan Cole: Top 5 Ways the US Is Israel's Accomplice in War Crimes in Gaza:
the US shares raw signals intelligence directly with Israel; the US
continually replenishes Israel's ammunition; the US pressures Egypt to
uphold the blockade of Gaza; "Since 2012, the USA has exported $276
million worth of basic weapons and munitions to Israel"; the US actively
opposed nonmember observer state status to Palestine at the UN (which
would give Palestine recourse to the International Criminal Court, which
would offer a legal pathway for challenging Israeli war crimes).
Evan Jones: A Short History of Israeli Impunity: starts with a
semi-famous 1891 quote from Ahad Ha'am reporting on the first Zionists
in Palestine: "[Our brethren in Eretz Israel] were slaves in their
land of exile and they suddenly find themselves with unlimited
freedom . . . This sudden change has engendered in
them an impulse to despotism as always happens when 'a slave becomes
a king,' and behold they walk with the Arabs in hostility and cruelty,
unjustly encroaching on them'." Of course, it only goes downhill from
there. The rest of the long piece is pure screed, in case that's what
you're in the mood for.
David Kirkpatrick: Arab Leaders, Viewing Hamas as Worse Than Israel,
Stay Silent: "After the military ouster of the Islamist government
in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states --
including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- that
has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the
Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip." Israel supporters
(David Brooks and Charles Krauthammer are two I recall) are quick
to enlist this "coalition" as proof of how out of step Hamas is --
I've even heard Syria added to the list. Each of those has its own
peculiar reasons, but net effect is likely to backfire, as it aligns
the Arab despots with Israel while relegating the entire Palestinian
resistance against Israel to extreme Islamists -- as if they are the
only ones with sufficient integrity to defend human rights.
Philip Kleinfeld: Racists Are Rampaging Through Israel: Many, many
examples. "Israel has never been the kind of free and open society it
has tried so hard to project. Racism did not begin with the murder of
Mohammed Abu Khdeir or the beating and attempted lynching of Jamal
Julani. 'Zionist doctrine has always pushed society in a very particular
direction,' the academic Marcelo Svirsky told me. But it is getting
worse. [ . . . ] One of the most striking aspects
of this 'phenomenon' is how young the people taking part appear to be.
Those posting on social media, running amok in lynch mobs, and crashing
leftist rallies with sticks, chains, and brass knuckles are, for the
most part, young people -- many in their mid-20s, some in their teens."
Stephen Robert: There'll be more Gazas without a two-state solution:
The author still hopes for a "two-state solution," but realizes that
regardless of what Netanyahu may say when it is convenient, he will
never allow that. "The Netanyahu coalition favors a bi-national state,
a state where a large percentage of its inhabitants will not be citizens
and will be governed without their consent. They will continue, as has
been the case for forty-seven years, to be denied the most basic rights
of a civil society."
Richard Silverstein: Israeli TV Poll, What to Give Barack Obama for His
Birthday? 48% Say: Ebola: "Doesn't this tell us quite a bit about the
Israeli political environment? The leader of Israel's only real ally in
the world is despised so much that Israelis would like to see him dead."
As I recall, during Bush's two terms the right-wing hype machine was
ever-so-sensitive about any perceived slight against America's president,
out of respect for the office and the country if nothing else. But that
all went away when Obama was elected -- given the things Republicans
routinely say about Obama, it's no wonder that Israelis think it's all
right to pile on.
Is Iron Dome better at destroying missiles or spreading fear: Quotes
a letter: "One commentator rightly said that Iron Dome functions as the
Deus-ex-Machina of this war. Everyone but us is convinced it saves lives.
We see it more as a psychological warfare device. Curiously, much of the
explosion sound that gets people so worked up here is largely produced
by the Iron Dome system itself. What is striking if not outright suspicious
is that there is hardly any information in the aftermath of interceptions;
we know nothing about it and nobody cares."
Killings of 2 protesters on 'Day of Anger' brings West Bank deaths to 13,
Palestinian teens assaulted and detained by Israeli soldiers after being
attacked by settlers in Hebron: Two more of Kate's extraordinary
compendiums of links covering stories rarely reported elsewhere.
Sunday, July 27. 2014
Scattered links this week, mostly Israel (but what else can one do?).
Information is less forthcoming in the world's other hotspots -- Libya
has emerged as one, alongside Syria and Iraq, and Ukraine. One thing I
wonder about the latter is how intense the fighting has been as the
central government attempts to beat down the seccessionists. It seems
likely that Russia provided the latter with the BUK missile believed
to have shot down the Malaysian Airlines plane, and that the rocket
was fired by someone expecting Ukrainian military planes rather than
a neutral airliner. The downed airliner should be a cautionary lesson
for both sides, but instead has been up as a political tool, to villify
Russia, making matters worse rather than better. I don't doubt that
there is some amount of villainy on the Russian side, but the other
side (Ukraine? Europe? America?) is hardly innocent either, and
restarting the Cold War will only be worse for all. At times like
this, one needs statesmen. Instead, all we got is Obama, hounded
by spooks like Lindsey Graham.
Let's start with a couple twitter images, reportedly Gaza City's
Sheijayia neighborhood before and after Israeli bombing. Not the
same views, but you get the idea:
Meanwhile, back to the links:
Mustafa Akyol: Turkey Can Teach Israel How to End Terror: Turkey
had battled Kurdish separatists since 1984, their approach described
by one of their generals as "killing all terrorists one by one." A
couple years ago Turkey changed its approach, started negotiating with
PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, and has largely resolved the problem. (Was
it a coincidence that Turkey's change coincided with the ending of
their alliance with Israel?)
The Kurds were not angry at Turkey because they were innately prone to
violence. They were angry because Turkey had done something grievously
wrong to them. And a peace agreement became possible only when the
Turkish public and the state acknowledged this fact.
If Israel is ever going to achieve peace, Israelis will have to
overcome their own self-righteous hawkishness as well -- and abandon
the intellectually lazy reflex that explains Palestinian militancy as
the natural product of Arab and Islamic culture's supposedly violent
Uri Avnery: Once and for All!: Of course, it isn't really this
symmetric, but the headline talking points could be solved easily:
In this war, both sides have the same aim: to put an end to the situation
that existed before it started.
Once And For All!
To put an end to the launching of rockets into Israel from the Gaza
Strip, Once And For All!
To put an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt,
Once And For All!
So why don't the two sides come together without foreign interference
and agree on tit for tat?
They can't because they don't speak to each other. They can kill each
other, but they cannot speak with each other. God forbid.
This is not a war on terror. The war itself is an act of terror.
Neither side has a strategy other than terrorizing the civilian
population of the other side. [ . . . ]
Both hopes are, of course, stupid. History has shown time and
again that terrorizing a population causes it to unite behind its
leaders and hate the enemy even more. That is happening now on both
Avnery didn't point out the greatest symmetry, which is that
compliance with the other side's goals would cost nothing and
actually benefit both sides. Despite the claims of Israel's most
blinded supporters, there is no reason to think that Gazans take
any absolute satisfaction in killing Israelis with rockets. Nor,
if the rockets stopped, should Israel gain any succor watching
Gazans starve. I'm not sure that any Israelis can articulate the
real reason they've persisted in keeping Gaza locked up and down.
Twice now, Israel has adopted policies which show that they have
no long-term desire to keep Gaza: at the start of Oslo when they
handed the whole Strip over to the PA, and in 2004 when they
dismantled their last settlements in the Strip. One has to wonder
why they didn't
Cut Gaza Loose -- hand the Gaza Strip off to the UN to form an
independent state, more or less as I proposed a couple weeks ago.
I tried circulating my post around a bit, but got no interest or
feedback whatsoever in it. Pro-Palestinians don't like it because
they think that splitting off Gaza will make it that much harder to
get any sort of independence for a Palestinian state in the West
Bank and East Jerusalem, and they may be right. (Assuming no right
of return -- I think that's a totally dead prospect given Israel's
strength and racism -- it tilts the demographics to the point where
Israel might consider granting citizenship to all extant West Bank
and Jerusalem Palestinians, although that's likely a long struggle
away.) And pro-Israelis don't like it because most Gazans are
Israeli refugees with a still legitimate right of return, so at
the very least they fear that a Palestinian state might legitimize
the refugees' moral case. (If this sounds kind of fishy, it's
because it is, but Israelis are raised to see existential threats
everywhere; that is, after all, the bedrock Zionism is founded
Avnery only sees one way out of the mutual destruction of
war-after-war, and that's to do something very similar to what
I proposed. So I count him (and the Israeli peace camp) among the
people who might advance such a plan. It should also appeal to
liberal Zionists, especially outside Israel. It is, for instance,
something that should make sense to Kerry and Blair but they
can't currently grasp because of their phobia about Hamas and
how they see Gaza and Hamas as one. And if they did embrace it,
what rejoinder would Netanyahu have? He can't claim that Israeli
control in any way benefits Gaza. Nor can he claim that Israel's
past and current security efforts are the only way Israel can
ensure its own security. The problem with nearly every scheme to
resolve the conflict is that it would impose some unacceptable
cost to Israel, but cutting Gaza loose doesn't have any costs:
it's a scheme that even an implacable stonewaller like Netanyahu
can't resist forever. And it would be a positive step, breaking
the blockade/rockets cycle that resulted in Israeli escalation
and war in 2006, 2008, 2012, and now 2014.
Richard Silverstein: Israel's Slaughter, Based on a Lie:
Evidently, at least one Israeli "official source" confirms that they
realize that Hamas was not responsible for the kidnapping-murder of
three Israeli teenagers back on June 12, the event that kicked off
a series of events leading to Israel's latest intensive demolition
of Gaza. The crime was, instead, the work of a "lone cell" in Hebron.
However, Netanyahu sought to use the murders as an excuse to break
up the unification deal between Hamas and Fatah. He sent 10,000 IDF
troops into the West Bank where they ransacked thousdands of homes,
arresting 500 Palestinians (mostly associated with Hamas, many of
whom had been in Israeli prisons before being released in last
year's prisoner exchange deal), and killing seven. When Hamas
protested by shooting off some rockets from Gaza, Israel then
began its bombardment and invasion of Gaza, killing well over a
This entire slaughter is based on a lie. And not just a small lie, but
a huge, cancerous, evil lie. I do not like to make absolute moral
statements if I can avoid it. But there is no doubt in my mind that
Bibi Netanyahu is evil. While that doesn't necessarily mean all of
Israel is evil, as long as they elect this megalomaniac to office,
then all of Israel is culpable in his malevolence.
[ . . . ]
To return to Sheera's tweet, lest anyone question her source,
the BBC's Jon Donnison is reporting that Israeli police spokesflack,
Mickey Rosenfeld is saying the same thing explicitly.
On a related matter, several thousand Israelis marched yesterday
night in Tel Aviv against the Gaza massacre. It is not easy to do so
when 90% of your fellow citizens believe you're being traitorous.
I don't know if such protests are enough to exonerate the nation of
war crimes. But they are some small solace.
The lie at the root of the war gives this some resonance with the
Bush invasion of Iraq, although lies leading to war are old hat --
the sinking of the Maine in 1898 and the Tonkin Gulf incident in 1964
are two of the more notorious ones in US history. Nor is this anything
new for Israel: the false rumors of Syria massing troops on the border
in 1967, the assassination of Israel's UK ambassador in 1982 that was
used as a pretext for invading Lebanon, and whatever that cockamamie
story was in 1956, are just the first examples that jump into mind.
Lies and wars go hand-in-hand, first as rationales then to cover up
the dirty truth. The only thing remarkable about this war is how fast
Israel's lies are being uncovered -- that's partly explained by the
prevalence of media but also by how baldfaced the lies are. Sure,
Netanyahu is vile, but that's not news either: he was the principal
person responsible for destroying the Oslo framework and inciting
the second intifada. Since returning to power he's sloughed off the
Mitchell and Kerry iniatives and seems well on his way to kicking
off a third intifada. But there's no originality in Netanyahu's
evil, and little of the personal monstrosity you can find in Ariel
Sharon (or Yitzhak Shamir or Menachem Begin or even Yitzhak Rabin,
to limit ourselves to Israeli PMs): you can explain everything he's
done as the dutiful son of his father, who was Vladimir "Iron Wall"
Jabotinsky's secretary in exile in New York. Netanyahu has never
enjoyed an original thought in his life. He is, rather, the slave
of an old and profoundly wrong idea, which is that the only way
Zionism can survive in Israel is by repeatedly beating Palestinians
into submission. That idea is what's evil; Netanyahu's is merely
More on Israel's latest war:
Kate: Six Palestinians are killed in West Bank in protests of Gaza
slaughter: The title piece plus dozens of other reports
Helena Cobham: Absence of "peace process" might help Gaza ceasefire
negotiations: Main point here is that Abbas has agreed with the
Hamas ceasefire proposal, which insists that Israel release the
prisoners covered in the Shalit deal who were arrested by Israel in
their anti-Hamas sweep of the West Bank, and that the blockade of
Gaza be ended. Israel supposedly can't negotiate these points with
Hamas because Israel cannot talk to Hamas.
Annie Robbins: In Photos: Worldwide protest against Israeli attack
on Gaza: Photos and videos of demonstrations from around the world.
Martin Gajsek: Report from historic march on Qalandia checkpoint in
solidarity with Gaza.
Richard Silverstein: Israel Murders IDF Soldier to Prevent His Capture:
Explains the "Hannibal Directive," which basically says that if there is
a chance that an IDF soldier might be captured and turned into a bargaining
chip (like Gilad Shalit was), the IDF should kill that soldier first. As
Silverstein reports, there has been at least one example of that during
the present hostilities.
Rebecca L Stein: How Israel militarized social media: How the
IDF put their best face on for Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Al-Haq: Why Israel's legal justifications for 'Operation Proective Edge'
are wrong: Israel has made a big deal out of their practice of phoning
or other warnings, arguing that if they contact you (or at least try) and
their attack subsequently injures you, they are not responsible. To say
the least, this assumes they have the right to bomb, and hardly shows any
concern for the consequences. Moreover, such calls can themselves be a
form of terror. Or they could be misdirecting. This piece focuses mostly
on international law, which Israel is in gross violation of.
Udi Aloni: The swan song of the Israeli left: Includes a link to
the film Forgiveness.
Jonathan Freedland: Liberal Zionism After Gaza: A postscript
review of Ari Shavit's My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy
of Israel and John B Judis' Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and
the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict. In the latter piece I
particularly appreciate Norman Finkelstein's quote on Shavit's "insights":
"[they] comprise a hardcore of hypocrisy and stupidity overlaid by a
tinsel patina of arrogance and pomposity. He's a know-nothing know-it-all
who, if ever there were a context for world's biggest schmuck, would come
in second." Shavit's the kind of guy who writes movingly about how Israel
force-marched entire towns over the border and into permanent exile, then
proclaims the atrocity worthwhile because it now lets him live in a fully
Jewish state. (As opposed, I suppose, to a guy like Benny Morris, who
uncovered numerous IDF atrocities, only to lament that there weren't
more.) In this war as in so many others, liberal Zionists "shoot and
cry": as Freedland translates, "the Israeli dove gets to win the
admiration of the outside world, Jew and non-Jew alike, but the beauty
and sensitivity of his conscience even as the behavior of his country,
and the army whose uniform he continues to wear, does not change."
And the order is essential: shooting first, by lining up for every
war, he assures his comrades of his loyalty, even if he returns to
Lisa Goldman: The Gaza war has done terrible things to Israeli society:
For example: "Peaceful, unarmed [anti-war] demonstrators in Israel's two
most liberal cities were physically attacked by ultra-nationalists wielding
stones and bottles. In Haifa, nationalist thugs assaulted the Arab deputy
mayor, slamming the middle-aged man down on the pavement. In Tel Aviv, they
chased anti-war protestors into a cafe and smashed a chair over the head
of one of them, even as municipal sirens wailed to announce an incoming
rocket from Gaza. The police were ineffective in stopping the violence."
Melvin A Goodman: Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto: A reminder that
Gaza resembles nothing so much as a classic ghetto, an open air
prison locked down and patrolled from the outside. The most famous
one was the Warsaw Ghetto managed by the Nazis in WWII -- one well
known in Israel thanks to the valliant but doomed Jewish revolt
there, long touted in Israel as one of the few cases where Jews
fought back, like good Israelis do today. It is remembered elsewhere
for the utter carnage of the Nazi "final solution": they killed
over 300,000 Jews in putting the revolt down, laying waste to the
entire ghetto. Israel hasn't approached that level of genocide, at
least not yet, but they've killed thousands, destroyed uncounted
homes and businesses and public buildings and key infrastructure.
What keeps Israel from applying its own "final solution"? A mix
of conscience, practicality, and concern for world opinion. All
of those are wearing thin, especially conscience -- most obviously,
Rabbi Dov Lior's ruling in favor of the "destruction of Gaza
so that the south should no longer suffer."
Also, a few links for further study:
Avi Shlaim: Cursed Victory: Review of Ahron Bregman's new book,
Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories
(2014, Allen Lane [UK]). The review is itself a good short history
lesson, especially on Ehud Barak's ill-fated negotiations with Syria
and Arafat. ("Bregman confirms the view I have long held -- that the
two principal reasons for the collapse of the summit were Barak's
intransigence and Clinton's mismanagement.") I doubt that there's
much here we don't already know, although Bregman has a reputation
for digging through the documents, which as Avi Raz's recent The
Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the
Aftermath of the June 1967 War made clear, show that Israel's
opposition to any sort of peace initiative has been a consistent
policy all along.
Bregman describes Israel as "a heavy-handed and brutal occupier."
He regards the four decades of occupation chronicled in this book
as a black mark on Israeli, and indeed, Jewish history. He finds
it depressing that a people that has suffered such unspeakable
tragedies of its own can behave so cruelly towards another. The
only sign of hope in this otherwise bleak picture is that the
occupation may carry within it the seeds of its own demise. By
forcing the Palestinians to live in squalor, Bregman concludes,
Israel has "hardened those under its power, making them more
determined to put an end to the occupation, by violent means if
necessary, and live a life of dignity and freedom."
On the slaughter of innocents: Unsigned (the author seems to have been
involved in Human Rights Watch), but a long and impressive meditation that
recounts the history of mass slaughter -- examples include the Mongol
practice of sacking cities and similar desires by both sides in WWII --
but is written with Gaza in mind. A couple examples:
The Israeli architect and philosopher Eyal Weizman has analyzed how
groups like Human Rights Watch participate, inadvertently and from
admirable aspirations, in the science of war: their
"collusion . . . with military and political powers."
Their methods involve a shift "from a focus on the victims of war to
an analysis of the mechanism of the violations of law." Law itself,
once broken, is treated as the chief victim; the individuals whose
lives were at stake fade away in the descriptions of the offense
almost as they did in the choosing of targets. This elision, however
unwanted, is built into the methods. "Today's forensic investigators
of violence move alongside its perpetrators, morphing into them,"
according to Weizman. "Humanitarianism, human rights and international
humanitarian law," he writes, "have become the crucial means by which
the economy of violence is calculated and managed."
The Weizman book quoted is The Least of All Possible Evils:
Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza (2012, Verso Books).
I'm not familiar with that book, but have scanned through his
Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation (2007,
Verso Books), one of the most deeply revealing looks at exactly
how Israel manages its occupation system. The point about how
human rights violations can be trivialized as violations of law
is evident in all the reports which claim that Gazan rockets
constitute a war crime, which in routine course balances off
Israel's war crime -- its use of far more deadlier munitions.
The real world difference, of course, is proportionality, which
in the Israel-Gaza case is crudely visible in death and injury
reports and would very likely be even more striking if you could
convert the entire war efforts into some common measure of force.
The focus on civilian casualties generates a strict, technical approach
to the question of responsibility. The individual story is subordinated
not just to the lawbooks, but to the slide rule. No side can ensure
absolutely that it will prevent civilian casualties, as long as it's at
war and killing people. So no side is completely devoid of guilt. But
since the Geneva Conventions give a certain latitude for trying but
failing, even killers can make a claim to innocence as well. The authority
to evaluate such shades of inculpation gives enormous power to the human
rights investigator and his organization, power over fine mathematical
gradations of right and wrong: much greater power than simpler, starker,
less technologically advanced modes of assessing morality could endow.
But this focus buries other questions, broader ones, about responsibility
for the conflict as a whole. [ . . . ]
The aim of Israel's various "operations" in Gaza is not just to take out
specific people, but to cow a population. (Even the famous text messages
that supposedly warn residents a bomb is about to blast their home have,
as Gazans can tell you, at least as much to do with showing off the
invisible, terrifying omniscience of a military surveillance system.
We know where you are.) Unleashed with that intent behind them,
weapons -- however "smart" -- will terrorize, not just target; the very
targeting is an aspect of terror, a reminder of superior knowledge as
well as superior means, but spillover is equally intrinsic to the effect.
The message inevitably exceeds the "purely" military purpose, and the
collateral damage itself becomes the point: a sign of exultant excess,
the means drowning the end. You can't go on talking about equivalence
without acknowledging Israel's military domination, its unmeasurable
ability to destroy. And to cap its technological triumph, it is (and
has been for forty years) the only state in a thousand-mile radius with
Much more in this piece, such as the line: "The confrontation
between popular rebellion and a rapacious settler society isn't
just an old, cowboys-and-Indians story that we can look on with
disinterest or restrained amusement." (One might note that the
US-Indian wars are still taught in the US military academies,
and US troops frequently refer to counterinsurgency operations
as operating in "Injun territory." Judging from scattered quotes,
it would seem that part of Israel's hasbara toolkit is
to remind Americans of their struggle to conquer the Indians --
ancient history in the US but a vivid analogy in Israel.)
In local news, sorry to hear that
Randy Brown died: a longtime newspaperman, journalism professor,
and political dabbler, certainly a positive presence in Wichita. And
sampler of his columns. In other Wichita news today, the Eagle
published Sen. Jerry Moran's
op-ed on why it would be better to let the lesser prairie chicken
go extinct than to inconvenience any Kansas oil or gas producers. And
in the big money 4th Congressional District primary, the Eagle endorsed
vile Mike Pompeo (R-Koch) over evil Todd Tiahrt (R-Boeing). I can't
find the candidate questions box, but Tiahrt's professed desire to be
a public servant was almost touching, until he added that bit about
standing up to special interests. In his sixteen years in the House,
no one was a bigger corporate whore. The best you can say for him is
that he sold himself cheap, and not a lot of the money stuck to his
fingers, so you could buy into his sincerity thing, if only you were
part of the public he so dedicated himself to serving. Curiously,
Tiahrt's gained in the polls recently by attacking Pompeo's defense
of the NSA -- a position he almost certainly wouldn't have thought of
had Pompeo not been so rabid on it. If I could ask a debate question
it would be about where they stand on the Export-Import Bank: the tea
party (and most likely the Kochs) are all agitated against it, but
the main beneficiary is Boeing -- and even though Boeing abandoned
Wichita, I can't imagine "Tanker Todd" parting with them.