Monthly Archives: April 2005

“Support our troops”

Should I be bothered by the fact that more than two years on, Marines still can’t get armor on their vehicles, when so much additional, non-US blood has been spilled? 

For a view from Company E, see Michael Moss’s article in the NY Times. 

The photo is by Capt. Kelly Royer, who "took photos of humvees in which his men died".   The opening of Moss’s article explains:

On May 29, 2004, a station wagon that Iraqi insurgents had packed
with C-4 explosives blew up on a highway in Ramadi, killing four
American marines who died for lack of a few inches of steel.

The
four were returning to camp in an unarmored Humvee that their unit had
rigged with scrap metal, but the makeshift shields rose only as high as
their shoulders, photographs of the Humvee show, and the shrapnel from
the bomb shot over the top.

"The
steel was not high enough," said Staff Sgt. Jose S. Valerio, their
motor transport chief, who along with the unit’s commanding officers
said the men would have lived had their vehicle been properly armored.
"Most of the shrapnel wounds were to their heads."

Humveelores6501_1

Marines, who have answered the clarion call of our Commander in Chief, are scrounging for scrap metal with which to armor their vehicles while in the war zone.

Certainly there have been a lot more people killed in Iraq who are not US Marines.  But the Leader of the Free World is not prosecuting his foreign policy directly on their backs, and praying piously with their families when their dead or shattered bodies are returned home.  Can’t $80B produce a little armor for these people?  Either that, or lets stop the PR charade and put them in tanks.  Better yet, lets get them out of there altogether.  This fraud has gone on long enough.

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Dr. Bolton & Mr. Bolton

In a couple of recent posts (Tweedledee & Tweedledumb 1 & 2) I said that there were some  questions that the Bolton nomination (a brand-new one at the time) impose on the left:

One is to ask what it tells us
about BushRover-World that this unilateralist extremism is necessary
to them.  Another is to ask what we need to recognize as
resonant and realistic in their analysis.  Finally there are an
important set of questions for the left. How do we avoid the
fruitless converse of W’s Manichean exposition?  How do we
recognize genuine insights and the valuably focused purpose of the
current administration (necessary in a dangerous world—nothing new
about that state of affairs) while building a public understanding
that the implementation (sic)  are wrongly or even fraudulently conceived?
How do we speak like a Truman (plainly) about something other than
fear itself?

Bolton_10spades
Obviously I anticipated a much different nomination hearing than the one that has unfolded.  I was thinking that the ugliness Senators would be fighting would be about Policy. 

I expected to be able to use the event to pick apart the strands of necessary unilateral self-interest from those of pigheaded self-righteous hardon-ism.  Bolton seemed like a pure form, a kind of Platonic Idea of unilateralism, thus a perfect foil for this discussion.  This is especially true since I believed that he would not be shy in his manifestation of that Ideal, especially in the face of a 10-8 Republican majority, a majority in the Senate, and full support from the Bushrovers (even Condi).

But what has emerged has been highly instructive without any additional help from me.  I think it is a turning point in both constructive and unconstructive ways, viewed from the left.

While Americans believe in an abstract UN, they also are sceptical and individualistic enough (perhaps toxically so) to suspect that the place is rife with corruption and diplomatic pretense.  Democratic Senators must have known that complaining about unilateralism would be about as successful for them as it was for Kerry last fall. 

So they tried something a lot more subtle (perhaps not knowing how well it might work).  The issue they focused on was the apparently overwhelming need Bolton has demonstrated to punish analysts who don’t come to his conclusions.  The broader, operative linkage of this topic is to the question of why the hell we didn’t consider the evidence that no WMDs existed in Iraq before blowing up a lot of stuff and killing a lot of people there.  This was brought home by concentrating on the one institution in the government that, small as it is, seems to have raised the appropriate cautionary flags pre-invasion, the State Department’s inhouse intelligence bureau, where one of Bolton’s victims, Christian Westermann, reported to Carl Ford.  (Is there some kind of metaphysical joke to that name, Christian Westermann, in this context?)

This conjunction represents the constructive part of the Democratic counteroffensive.  Bushrovers listen to God, so they don’t need a second opinion before they get your child maimed or killed in Iraq.  Democrats can be pro-intelligence rather than anti-war and break a few Republican-made stereotypes along the way to an effective opposition.  This is why the canny Barack Obama conceded  much of the validity of Bolton’s
criticism of the UN, but expressed concern about the manipulation of
intelligence.

But then, things went in a truly Nixonesque direction.  The amazing similarity in demeanor between Bolton and Attack Dog Bob Haldeman at the Watergate hearings should have made some Republicans (God knows some of them have been around long enough to remember personally) a little more wary of the "personal as political".  But if the Bushrovers have proved nothing else, we now know that consistency is the hobgoblin only of the small minds on the Left. 

4_haldemanA whole new narrative started to unroll, not just of pressure to submerge non-hard-Right intelligence assessments, but of flaggrant harassment, even, as Barbara Boxer pointed out, in the legal sense.  The phrase "serial abuser" started to take on some real weight.  His occasional sparring partner Carl Ford,  who described himself as "a loyal Republican, a staunch supporter of Bush and a ‘huge fan’ of Vice President Cheney", described Bolton as "a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down kind of guy. He’s got a bigger
kick, and it gets bigger and stronger the further down the bureaucracy
he’s kicking".

Since then, tales of professional abuse of women in his proximity as well as more cases of analyst intimidation have emerged, not to mention an allegation that he had the NSA put names back into some scrubbed transcripts so he could eavesdrop on internal opponents in the bureauocracy.  The drip-drip does not bode well in the long term, and culminated yesterday when Sen. Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, let the Chairman know that he was not feeling so good about what he was hearing.  You could tell that Chairman Lugar was surprised (and perhaps out of his element in these kind of knife fights) because it took a few cycles to sink in that he ought not to proceed with a committee vote—a tie kills the nominee.

Bolton_hearing_2When a high profile appointment gets held up for three weeks for more of this kind of investigation, you can kiss it goodbye.  That  blazing star in the firmament of press secretaries, Scott McClellan, has let us know that the Administration will Stand By Their Man, but you have to wonder how they will feel when they stop posturing and playing to their Right long enough to consider the very real possibility that Bolton has perjured himself before the committee.

So there is a good chance that this nomination, amazingly enough, will sink with all hands, that Mr. Bolton will stop Dr. Bolton from getting the job he seems dearly to desire.   

But on what grounds?

It would have been best if the Democrats had succeeded in  demonstrating support of a necessary unilateral self-interest while hoisting Bolton on the petard of his all-too-blatant pigheaded self-righteous hardon-ism.  In fact, it appears that Bolton (and his handlers) anticipated just this approach, so that he bent over backwards to play the role of someone who genuinely believes that the UN is relevant and that some good can be done there.

The reason I say this would have been best is that from a Policy perspective there is something very important that Bolton has done in the past from which Democrats must learn.  The warm fuzzy Love Our Allies that prevades the liberal left has outlived its usefulness by a couple of decades—since the fall of the Berlin Wall, actually.  I’ve been reading about Stanley Baldwin, and I laughed at a much earlier critique from TR—in 1921, Baldwin’s cousin Rudyard Kipling showed him a letter from Teddy Roosevelt in which TR referred to the (then newly formed) League of Nations as "the product of men who want everyone to float to heaven on a sloppy sea of universal mush".  Regardless of the good a UN could do, we are right to be sceptical of its ability to represent what is needful for us in our current pass.  Isolationism is as simple-minded as reflexive multilateralism, and—most importantly—just as  useless in protecting us from folks who want to blow us up on the home field.  Some kind of hardnosed, engaged pragmatism seems to me the right approach to our allies.

But none of this realism is recoverable by the Dodds, Boxers, Kerrys and Bidens.  Now it is the simple fact that Bolton is just a total prick that will sink the nomination.  He will not be seen to have the proper "temprament" to function effectively at the UN.  His very real pathological behaviors and prevarications will, in a normally appropriate way, prevent his appointment.

But: wouldn’t it be the most effective politics to rip him up, then send him to the UN?  No one is going to imagine that Democratic (or even popular) pressure will cause a change of course for the Bushrovers (Cheney in particular) from their evangelical brand of unilateral hardon-ism.  In some ways this is like the argument against being too hastily successful in removing DeLay—he is such a fantastic posterboy for what is badly wrong with the Republican party.  I would argue, however, that a DeLay in the House is far more dangerous than a Bolton in the UN.   At the UN, Bolton would be just so useful in helping the Democrats recover the pragmatic unilateralism we need without the lunatic antilateralism of the Bushrovers. 

But (alas) now that we have seen what happens to Dr. Bolton when the moon is full, in our Democratic good-heartedness we cannot bear to impose Mr. Bolton on a new crop of otherwise soon-to-be-terrorized lesser bureauocrats in our mission to the UN.

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Not a conundrum, just a mess

Democracy
Arsenal
is a relatively new blog which describes itself as
"devoted to opinion, commentary and sparring on U.S. foreign
policy and global affairs".  The commentary I have read so far, from at least two
of its five contributors, has the flavor of policy wonkdom (as
opposed to academic wonkdom or practical party politics).
Suzanne Nossel has a post
today that I think illustrates a current but imaginary left-wing dilemma, and
how not to address it.

She starts by citing Marty Peretz’s identification of, in her words, “a big conundrum facing us foreign
policy progressives: namely, how to come to grips with Bush’s
successes in promoting democracy in the Middle East”.  She
disagrees with Peretz that progressives are just churlish, however,
because the BushRovers’ methods—“the arrogance, the deception,
the lack of accountability, the cronyism, the dismissiveness of
critics and questioners, the failure to uphold democratic values
while purporting to promote democracy, the refusal to admit mistakes
— are flat out wrong”.

In her view, the difficulty for
progressives lies in finding a “boldness, …[a] willingness to
commit U.S. power and energy in furtherance of important causes, and
…[a] sense of possibility about even theEvilshrub2 most intractable region of
the world” that matches Bush’s.  We progressives need to figure
out how to recognize “the positive and important results of Bush’s
daring in the Middle East” while we “continue hammering at what’s
wrong with Bush’s approach” (that is, the arrogance, deception,
lack of accountability, cronyism, etc., etc.)

So, for a minute, let’s check in on the
successful promotion of democracy in a couple of these places, on “the furtherance of
that important cause”, on “the positive and important results" there (all in Nossel’s formulations).

For example, how about a summary
of the recent PBS Frontline piece on reporting in Iraq (aired in January).  Aside from the fact that the
source is a well-known running dog of the fervid liberal left, like
all things PBS, it seems to me that the ability of reporters to work
in Iraq is some measure of how well the civil process itself might be
working (not to mention a test of how difficult it might be for
reporters to cover and get the story, thus how well we actually know what’s going on). 

That night, Burns files a story in
which he draws comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam. "Vietnam,"
he wrote, "is rarely mentioned among the troops. It is
considered a bad talisman among those men and women, who privately
admit to fears that this war could be lost."

Another New York Times reporter, Dexter Filkins, has just
returned from two weeks of covering the battle for Fallujah. […]

Exhausted, Filkins is departing Baghdad for a break — but he
still has to make it to the airport, along a road where there have
been 15 suicide bombings in the past month. Filkins is distracted and
nervous as his security guard notices a suspicious car on the road,
but they make it through safely.

"Just the other day, my colleague went to the airport, and I
think he had to drive through one car bombing and then through a gun
battle," Filkins says. "It’s just such a measure of how
troubled this enterprise is. Nineteen months into this thing and we
can’t really drive to the airport with any kind of assurance. And
it’s only a couple miles down the road."

Afghanistan_ethnoling_97_small_2

Over the way in Afghanistan, things are
also a bit dicey for civil life, let alone democracy.  An AP story
from late February this year, by Stephen Graham, leads

Three years after the fall of the
Taliban, Afghanistan remains the world’s sixth-least developed
country, the United Nations said Monday, warning that a nation that
became a haven for international terrorists could fail again unless
more is done to improve the lives of its long-suffering citizens. In
a wide-ranging report that measures Afghans’ personal security,
welfare and ability to control their own lives, the world body ranked
the country 173rd out of 178 assessed in 2004. The five states that
fared worse are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Even though

Afghanistan’s economy is booming,
growing at least 25 percent annually since then and expected to
expand by at least 10 percent a year in the next decade. Some 4
million children have enrolled in school — more than ever before —
and more than 3 million people forced from their homes have returned,
most from Pakistan and Iran.

it should be understood that one of the
most important bases for this boom is not likely to enhance
democratic civility:

Last week the United Nations announced that the
number of farmers growing poppies in Afghanistan has now reached near
record levels.

According to the recent Afghanistan Opium Survey
produced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC),
land being used for poppy cultivation reached 131,000 hectares in
2004, up 64 per cent from last year, and a dramatic increase from the
8,000 hectares cultivated in 2001. Due to drought and disease,
harvesting increased by only an estimated 17 per cent from the 2003
crop that totalled 4,200 tonnes. The report states that poppies are
now being planted in all of the country’s 32 provinces, and Afghan
poppies now provide some 87 per cent of the world’s total opium
supply. (Peter Willems’ story from December, 2004, in Al Ahram Weekly).

So what’s the conundrum?  The fact is,
progressives can stop worrying about it—really, I wish I had to
worry.  Because this is One—Big—Balagan.  Reporters can’t get to
the airport in Baghdad without severe risk of life and limb.
Afghanistan, sans Taliban (at least in Kabul) now produces the basis
for almost all the world’s heroin supply, with the attendant
elevation of the fortunes of warlords there and abroad.  Where in this fantastic mess could that democratic progress be
lurking?

So, here on the progressive left, let’s
not worry about the need to give Bush “props for ungluing Arab
totalitarianism”.  Nossel is correct of progressives that “most
of us did not think this could be done, and we certainly had no plan
for how to do it in the short-term”.  Problem is, neither did the
Bush. 

And we should not be buying into the BushRovers’
pervasive spin that they did, and that somehow there is a general
upsurge of “democracy” and “freedom” in the Middle East.
What we should be doing is asking why this “upsurge of democracy”
crap is being peddled so assiduously by our national media, despite
the obvious facts on the ground, including the patent inability of
their reporters to work in these places.

I can add that this confusion on
Nossel’s part seems like a temporary aberration,
perhaps evidence (more evidence) of blogging’s potential for sloppy
thinking.  She refers to an article she published a year ago in
Foreign Affairs, at the beginning of which she points out that

[a]fter September 11, conservatives adopted the trappings of
liberal internationalism, entangling the rhetoric of human rights and
democracy in a strategy of aggressive unilateralism. But the militant
imperiousness of the Bush administration is fundamentally
inconsistent with the ideals they claim to invoke. To reinvent
liberal internationalism for the twenty-first century, progressives
must wrest it back from Republican policymakers who have misapplied
it.

Progressives must therefore advance a foreign policy that renders
more effective the fight against terrorism but that also goes well
beyond it — focusing on the smart use of power to promote U.S.
interests through a stable grid of allies, institutions, and norms.
They must define an agenda that marshals all available sources of
power and then apply it in bold yet practical ways to counter threats
and capture opportunities. Such an approach would reassure an uneasy
American public, unite a fractious government bureaucracy, and rally
the world behind U.S. goals.

Suzanne, blog not when thou art weary, neither neglecteth thy earlier, more coherent texts on the topic.  The two paragraphs above capture exactly what we need.

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Pope smokes dope

I will admit that I was raised in an anti-Catholic household, for all that I lived in a heavily Catholic town and never saw my parents behave in any kind of bigotted way to any individual face-to-face.  In my father, the attitude was partly a remnant of anti-Irish UK views inherited perhaps from his Scottish father, even though my father was raised in Australia where tender concern for English sensibility has been dead as doornails since Gallipoli, or further back when the "First Australians" were carried over in HM’s prison ships.

But growing up with the British view of world history, even as seen through an Australian prism, predisposes one to a sense of Catholicism as epitomized by the reign of Bloody Mary, or by the Bloodymary03a_1Inquisition itself.  In my childhood historical fantasies, if I was not in the century of my birth, then most likely I could be found fighting the Spaniards.

To a US adolescent in the late 60’s, the Catholic church was another and one of the major institutional forms of hypocracy and oppression.  Luckily I was moved out of this sort of black-and-white view of things as a college student, when I studied Jung with a theology doctoral candiate at the Harvard Divinity School who was later able to overcome that very significant obstacle and be ordained a Catholic priest.  He taught me a lot about the complexity of personal belief in Christ, for a Christian—in some ways I think I came to appreciate the full embodiment of that complexity as it can be seen in Catholic theology, as opposed to the more rationalized versions of Christ and his teachings that have grown out of the various Reformation and Protestant movements of the last four hundred years.

Even so—I’m dismayed by the tsunami of sychophantic drivel that has washed over us as the Schiavo deathwatch has switched seamlessly to the Papal deathwatch, and now the actual death itself.  Mark Kleiman, over in his "reality-based community", dares us, despite his generally liberal point of view, to say anything critical about JPII until the grass is green on his grave.  I guess I can’t work up that level of pious suspension of belief, despite the genuine grief of some Polish friends at his passing.

As a man, there was so much to admire about Karol Wojtyla, but this is also what has always made his extraordinarily rigid interpretation of doctrine so dismaying.  Tremendously physical,Pjp2b courageously opposing two of the great fascisms of our time—Nazis and Soviet imperialists—a multilingual world traveler with special attention for neglected realms of Catholicism in Africa and Asia—he nevertheless continued to enlarge upon the most conservative of the doctrinal streams to have emerged in the Church in the wake of the Reformation.

Spanning several sessions and Popes, the Council of Trent (1545-1563) sought to establish Catholic doctrine in contrast to the emerging tenets of a "reformed" Christian Protestant church, or family tree of Protestant churches.  By virtue of its reactionary nature, the Council at most times was among other things a struggle between the Bishop of Rome and the other Bishops, and their representatives, to establish the Catholic Church on a more centralized (Roman) versus a more distributed (Episcopal) basis.  This debate is one of the reasons, for example, that Henry VIII could break with the Church at Rome and still consider himself a Catholic.

The ultramontain version of things ("a term used to denote integral and active Catholicism, because it recognizes as its spiritual head the pope") was fixed in cement by the very next Council, the First Vatican Council of 1870.  This is the point where the doctrine of Papal Infallibility becomes dogma.  Per the Wikipedia:

papal infallibility is the dogma that the Pope, when he solemnly defines a matter of
faith and morals ex cathedra
(that is, officially and as pastor of the universal Church), is always correct, and thus does not have the possibility of error.

While many catholics apparently haven’t heard about or understood the Pope’s infallibility

A recent (19891992) survey of Catholics aged fifteen to twenty-five from multiple
countries (the USA, Austria,
Canada, Ecuador, France, Ireland, Italy,
Japan, Korea, Peru, Spain and Switzerland), showed that 36.9% accepted the dogma of papal infallibility, 36.9% denied it, and 26.2% said they
didn’t know. (Source: Report on surveys of the International Marian Research Institute, by Johann G. Roten, S.M.)

it is also true that Papal infallibilty has less scope than non-canon lawyers might suppose:

The only statements of the Pope that are infallible are statements that either reiterate what has always been taught by the
Church or are ex cathedra solemn definitions (which can never contradict what has formerly been taught)

Since ex cathedra solemn definitions are very rare, it turns out that infallibility basically inheres in reiterating what has always been taught by the Church.

And here we reach the real glory and damage of the reign of Karol Wojtyla.  As Lord Buckley sayeth, in his sermon The Naz, "when He laid it, He laid it!".  It is hard to imagine a more activist Pope.  The damage is that his doctrinal instincts were so entirely reactionary.

John Paul II was also considered to have halted the progressive efforts of Vatican II, becoming a flagship for the conservative side of the Catholic Church. He continued his
staunch opposition of contraceptive methods, abortion and homosexuality.

A controversial point of the John Paul II papacy was his October 1, 1986 letter to all bishops that described homosexuality as a "tendency ordered toward an intrinsic
moral evil" and "an objective disorder". His book Memory and Identity claimed that the push for homosexual marriage may be part of a "new ideology of evil … which
attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man."

…Regarding abortion,
the Pope wrote that: "There is still, however a legal
extermination of human beings who have been conceived but not yet born.
And this time we are talking about an extermination which
has been allowed by nothing less than democratically elected
parliaments where one normally hears appeals for the civil progress
of society and all humanity."

…The Pope also criticized transsexual and transgender people, as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which he supervised, banned them
from serving in church positions and denied church workers the ability to change records and otherwise accommodate them, as well
as considering them to have "mental pathologies".

And while JPII’s advocacy for the poor of the world was constant and consistent, he organizationally and doctrinally destroyed the actual adaptation of Catholic teaching to political struggles on their behalf (aka, Liberation Theology—see also Roy Edroso on this topic at alicublog, via Majikthise).

Like much else in the 60’s, Vatican II seemed to herald the dawn of a saner and more inclusive exercise of hierarchical power.  But we must have been deceiving ourselves on everything from Vatican doctrine to Kennedy’s foriegn policy, to see what has grown from these hopeful shoots.  Who would not mourn a man like this, who has the grace even to die so publically, over such a long period, with such forebearance?  But his papacy has been far too long for the good of many now excluded and anathemized Catholics and perhaps for the Church itself.

Pjp2c

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look out where yr going.

Robert Creeley has died.  He lived a long life, including three marriages, eight children, over 60 books, and countless lively connections with a wide population of the leading american practitioners of the art.  He stretched, stylistically, from Pound and especially Williams, to the Beats and beyond.  His sense of poetry as a function of living breath is elemental and beautifully enacted in his work.  He Creeley1had a lot to do with the Beats (Ginsberg, Corso, etc.) but although of an age, he always seemed to me even more modern—or in a way, more timeless.  His work reminds me more of fragments we know from Sappho, as opposed to, say, the more self-consciously purposeful Howl.  It’s not that his poems don’t reflect an intimate consciouness, but that as work they are also of an almost porcelain completeness.

You can find audio of him reading (which is very interesting in terms of his breathing practice) on the web, for example at this site.  One that I hear often in my head is I Know a Man:

As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking, -- John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ's sake, look
out where yr going.

			

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