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Cognitive Dissonance on the Road to Damascus

Let’s start with a couple of stipulations: Assad’s government dumped neurotoxins on civilian neighborhoods in Damascus, and Obama is not interested in joining the Syrian civil war on the ground.

It seems very unlikely that anyone else would gas what are effectively their own rebel populations, although the complexity of internecine strife in Syria doesn’t rule out some kind of rebel vs. rebel scenario. But the apparent means of delivery by rocket makes this far less likely.

I also believe Obama has zero appetite, regardless of political pressure, to get tangled up in Syria. He has no next term to protect, and he must know from years of intelligence briefings (to which I’m sure he listens closely, unlike some of his predecessors) that there is absolutely no upside.

What I would expect from him at this point, consistent with his actions in Libya for example, would be a deterrent response to the use of chemical weapons, clearly defined as different from some kind of intervention in the civil war. I would expect his policy to be one which raises the cost of any future use of chemical weapons by direct retaliation against Assad’s military infrastructure, carried out as far away as possible from the urban, civilian-occupied battlegrounds of the civil war. This is what our so-called “smart” weapons, like drones, are good for. For such a one-time strike, I would have expected him to brief key congressional chairmen and members, rather than looking to some kind of Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. All he has to tell us is that he is whacking the Syrian military in order to make it clear that they cannot gas civilians with impunity. We are one of the few powers that can effectively create this sort of deterrent.

This clearly defined, limited, single-strike policy of deterring chemical warfare, against a regime that is essentially genocidal, would have my support.

Instead, what I’m seeing is all the trappings of selling a broader intervention. The effort to establish simple deterrence is getting swallowed up in the circus of gaining allies (which produced a humiliating defeat in Parliament), selling Congress, and a bunch of pure bullshit from Secretary Kerry, who really, really should know better. Kerry’s most spectacular performance, just today, has been to claim that this is a “Munich” moment, which means that anyone voting against intervention is helping Hitler. Obama’s vocal Senate allies are John (“That One”) McCain and Lindsay (“Huckleberry”) Graham.

At this point, I think a lot of the resistance to Obama, at least from non-Obama-haters Democratic and Republican, is based on the undeniable resonance of all this ballyhoo with our memories of getting sucked into Iraq and Afghanistan. And that is a very rational and well-informed reaction of a broad base of our fellow citizens.

I don’t support Obama’s proposed intervention, because it is not clearly defined as a deterrent, I don’t know what good any other military action would do, and I don’t trust the rhetoric.

UPDATE:

On day later, we see what ThatOne McCain’s support amounts to (NYT)—

Sen. John McCain says he will support President Barack Obama’s request to intervene in Syria if the move would “reverse the situation on the battlefield.”

Is this what Obama is signing up for?

ADDITIONAL REFERENCE:

This is an excellent summary of what we think we know and what it might mean by William Polk, printed in The Atlantic.  Polk had a security policy role at State during the Kennedy administration.

 

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From the Land of 1000 Judy Millers

David Carr, who survived cocaine addiction to end up writing for the Times, has a snarky little piece about an old acquaintance in today’s paper.  Nikki Finke, manifesting as the blog Deadline Hollywood Daily, apparently strikes fear into any number of executive Hollywood hearts.

Among movie executives, the stories of Ms. Finke’s aggressiveness are legion, but they remain mostly unspoken because people fear being the target of one of her withering takedowns.

“I’d prefer not to ever deal with her,” said a senior communications executive at a studio who declined to be identified. Many others declined comment saying, variously, “she gave me a nervous breakdown,” “she terrifies me,” and “there’s no percentage in me saying anything to you about Nikki no matter what it is.”

Of course, if any of these unnamed sources wanted to say something about Ms. Finke that was both accurate and not likely to boomerang, all they need to mention is that she’s a hard-working reporter whose exhaustive management of what must be a truly formidable list of informants yields her valuable and highly readable material every day on the entertainment industry and its bizarrely ego-ridden palace politics.  She’s actually a business reporter, and has little time for the celebrity PR-driven side of the biz.  Her writing style may be torrid, but it seems strangely apt—attitude whose main point is to deliver an enormous amount of information, especially for a solo reporter.

Unintended self-revelation is becoming a bit of an artform over at the Times.  Mr. Carr packs up the apparent conveyance of bland information with a healthy amount of attitude himself. “As a traditional print reporter, she had a problem with deadlines, trying the patience of many editors”…which, of course, has never been true of most other reporters.

To admirers and detractors, she is the perfect expression of the Web’s original premise, which suggested that a lone obsessive could own the conversation, which she punctuates with the phrase TOLDJA in capital letters.

Ms. Finke emerges from this article as a lone obsessive hermit, hunched over a computer in Westwood, needing to get out far more than she does, shredding player after player across the wealthier neighborhoods of LA.

But luckily for her,

Her liabilities in the world of print — a penchant for innuendo and unnamed sources — became assets online.

Not the sort of thing that happens at the Times.
From an editorial perspective, it appears the Times’ media business columnist needs to establish as much non-specific doubt as possible about Ms. Finke’s work, while being constrained by the facts to also report that she is almost always correct and frequently far ahead in breaking her news.  To his credit, her quotes are uniformly sensible and anything but strident.  But the surrounding story is going in quite a different direction.

Her aggression is not limited to journalism. Ms. Finke is a frequent and enthusiastic litigant. She sued The New York Post, the News Corporation and the Walt Disney Company for wrongful dismissal after she wrote an unflattering article about Disney. According to numerous media accounts, she received a settlement.

Too bad Carr has to mention that the massive corporations that she single-handedly sued had to settle—would that be an example of aggression, or justice?

WomanWarriorAs Ms. Finke is aggressively going around, nailing “Hollywood suits” like “pelt[s] on her wall”, I’d like to suggest just this kind of approach to the Times.  They can let Ms. Finke, the solo blogging reporter, aggressively cover the precious entertainment industry—which is only drugging us into a somnolent state of material envy and acceptable bloody violence, after all.

Imagine the same kind of aggression applied by a Judy Miller to the Bush Administration’s fomenting of the Iraq war (Where are the Weapons of Mass 1st Amendment Destruction?)!  Judy could learn something about reporting from Deadline Hollywood Daily.  Carr quotes Ms. Finke:

“I just don’t go out to industry events, in part because it puts my sources in an awkward situation,” she said, adding that “the other thing about going out with these people is that when it comes time to cover something involving them, they say, ‘But, Nikki, we’re friends.’ I don’t want those kind of friends.”

Judy, on the other hand, had a Secret clearance which enabled her, and no other reporter, to participate in the hunt for WMDs.

…in an independent critique, Norman Solomon points out some disturbing details in Miller’s account, such as her admission that she was given “clearance” by the Pentagon “to see secret information” which she “was not permitted to discuss” with her own editors. [8]
“There’s nothing wrong with this picture if Judith Miller is an intelligence operative for the U.S. government,” Solomon states. “But if she’s supposed to be a journalist, this is a preposterous situation — and the fact that The New York Times has tolerated it tells us a lot about that newspaper.” [9]

Of course, Judy is no longer on the gray lady’s roster.  In the day, however, some aggressive reporting and a few “withering takedowns” might have ended up not just puncturing egos and deflating some Hollywood financial bubbles, but saving lives and preventing the rampant destruction of the benighted country of Iraq by the late lamented criminal conspiracy known as the Bush Administration.  But I suppose the mainstream media knows best how to report all the news that’s fit to print.

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Cursing both houses…

There is an interesting clip from a Real News interview of Howard Zinn up on Al Giordano’s top-quality blog, The Field.  Responding to questions about Nader, a third party, and how to break out of the two-party system in order to drive more radical change, Zinn points out that Nader’s transplantation into the electoral arena has been self-marginalizing.  He asserts more generally that entering the electoral process without dominating impact tends to marginalize the progressive movement as a whole.

Rather than displacing the Democratic party, the idea is to surround it with a progressive movement so coherent and ineluctable that Obama’s administration must manifest his ideas in their most progressive form.  Zinn’s historical analogy, as often with Obama, is to that Hudson Valley grandee Franklin Roosevelt, who in nothing but his expression of his ideas could in 1932 be understood as a progressive.  

This encourages me to point out something I’ve been watching since Howard Dean took over the DNC, and especially since Obama started to get any traction in the primary race against Clinton.  

But first, something now far more obvious but not then necessarily predictable seems more and more likely: a huge rout of the GOP in less than two weeks.  When a black, racially-mixed ex-community organizer with Hussein as his middle name is 4 points up in Indiana, something is seriously going wrong with the Republican Stuka Squadrons.  

One can attribute this turn of the tide to a lot of factors, but on the day, the reality of an Obama victory of the proportions I expect will be purely down to one thing: the ground game.  There is simply nothing in recent US electoral history to compare to the unswerving strategic vision, superb management and organization, and massively effective field organization that David Plouffe and his team have put together for Obama.  This is the organization that will turn today’s polling numbers into countable votes on Election Day, and in pluralities far too large to be bothered by any criminal tampering by the remaining Rovians in the losing party.  

The catastrophe this represents for the Far Right wing that has utterly dominated the GOP since the 1994 election is difficult to understate.  The Senate minority leader himself has his head on the block—a loss you would have to go back to 1932 to match.  The Rockefeller Rump of the party has somehow come out from behind its protective wingnut screen and started to denounce it’s own party’s candidate, and to endorse a Democrat.  And the less mentally balanced of the wingnuts are frantically launching themselves into rhetorical space and electorial oblivion.  

But besides the barely visible protrusion of the witch legs from under the House that’s about to drop on the party of Rove, a few other institutions have been smashed to pieces.  These are the less obvious casualties of the popular juggernaut that Obama has let loose and helped organize.

First, the previous and anaemic public campaign finance system is gone forever.  Obama is the first national candidate to fully deploy the vast and decentralized set of interconnections known as the Internet for his campaign.  Among other things, he has effectively built a new public campaign finance system, bypassing the federally administered one to which McCain’s mavericky ways obliged him, and reaching directly into millions of supporters’ pockets for their change.  Eighty three bucks is not chicken feed for most people, but it is the average donation with which the Obama campaign built September’s 130 million dollar inflow of cash, and far less than the 2300 dollars that maxes out an individual contributor.

Second, and more important for our future, the Democratic party machine, most recently in the possession of the Clinton camorra, has been defenestrated.  The immediate move of DNC headquarters to Chicago the day after the Democratic convention was just a particularly dramatic example of this.  There is now a national organization, wired together via the Internet and cellphone technology (and texting), which will be rolling off the energy of a victorious Presidential campaign, and ready to go to work the day after Inauguration as the New Democratic Party.  This party, in urban areas, is organized down to the block level.  It understands how to raise funds in a way that is unstoppable from any centralized position.  It is decentralized, heterogeneous, and has strong but not exclusively progressive tendencies.  It will not be the party of Barak, but rather troops loyal to his administration to the extent they believe he is carrying out his promises.  And, as we will see, it will be flexing its muscles before too long in the 2010 congressional races, blasting away any lingering wingnuts in reach.  

As for the wingnuts, they have nothing to fear but our fear of nothing.

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McCain’s voting record

As a West Wing junkie (at least for the first three or four seasons, via DVD!) I’m really tickled by the fiction-meets-reality of the current kerfuffle about whether McLame voted for Bush in 2000, as reported by the NYT.  Arianna made the charge on Monday:

On her Huffington Post Web site on Monday, Ms. Huffington, the liberal blogger, said she had heard Mr. McCain say at a Los Angeles dinner party shortly after the 2000 election that he had not voted for the president he has now publicly embraced in his own quest for the White House.

The McLame campaign begged to differ:

“She’s a flake and a poser and an attention-seeking diva,” Mark Salter, one of Mr. McCain’s closest aides, told The Washington Post.

So far, so usual.  We’re starting to see the little cracks in the McCain facade, most of which are distinctly fishier than not voting for Bush.  The land deals, the secret family tax returns, the manifest contradictions between the talk and the walk on everything from mortage-crisis aid to education for GIs.  The McCain krew are starting to adjust to the fact that they have lost an ideal democratic opponent, despite the O’Reillyites best efforts to reverse the democratic verdict in Indiana (which appears to have succeeded—the final margin was a bit over 11,000 votes, well within the extrapolation from the number of self-professed republican Clinton voters who claimed in exit polling that will not vote democrat in November).  What they don’t understand quite yet is the unflashy but extraordinarily durable power of a candidate who sticks to his truth.

In the case of the immediate issue, a few experts have been stepping forward to back up her story.  Brad Whitford and Richard Schiff, better known as Josh Lyman and Toby Zeigler, deputy White House Chief of Staff and Communications Director, respectively, for President Martin Sheen (the best president we’ve had in a long time), both remember McCain saying he didn’t vote for Bush in 2000.  Brad was sitting at the same table:

Mr. Whitford, who played Josh Lyman, the deputy White House chief of staff on the NBC series, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that he was sitting across from Mr. McCain and next to Ms. Huffington at the small dinner and that he was startled to hear the senator sharply criticize Mr. Bush. The senator has long blamed the Bush campaign for smear tactics against his family in the 2000 South Carolina primary, but by the end of the campaign Mr. McCain was publicly supporting his rival.

“McCain was just sort of going off on how much he disliked Bush and the horrible things that the Bush campaign had done to his family in South Carolina, and his exasperation with Bush about his ridiculous tax cuts and he really wanted to talk to him about it, but he said the guy doesn’t have the concentration, and you talk for 10 minutes and then the guy wants to talk about baseball,” Mr. Whitford said.

Another guest then asked Mr. McCain, Mr. Whitford recalled, whether he had voted for Mr. Bush. “And he put his finger in front of his mouth and mouthed, ‘No way,’ ” Mr. Whitford said.

Toby, I mean Richard, was sitting at the next table, so we can discount his supporting evidence, plus everyone knows he’s always very preoccupied with evolving speeches and with his complicated personal life. 

Unfortuntately, Whitford’s testimony sounds too much like the sane opinion of a normal non-candidate, not to mention a guy who’s adoptive family, which is not lily-white, had been made into primary campaign fodder by George W in that very receptive state of South Carolina.

All we need now is for CJ (Allison Janney) to plant a question at the daily gaggle about whether President Bartlet has anything to say about McCain’s apparent inconsistency. 

What’s actually not quite so funny is his instinct to lie about it.  We’ve had quite enough of that over the last couple of terms…

 

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Depart, I say!

You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing.  Depart, I say, and let us have done with you.  In the name of God, go!

—MP Leo Amery, using the works of Oliver Cromwell to berate Neville Chamberlain, 9 May 1940

No one can accuse Hillary Clinton of sitting around, but large numbers of us heartily wish she would depart.

As with her partner, she has no one to blame but herself.  She never trusted her own instincts, perhaps because she couldn’t hear them over the static of image management and positioning that has gone on since she arrived in the Senate.  Lots of people come to New York state to run for higher office, but few have been as effective as Senators, at least to judge by the breadth of her support there.  You might say her original campaign for the Senate was a 62-county strategy, no mean feat especially for someone not naturally at home in the rural burgs and depressed ex-factory towns of upstate and the west.

She never needed to get stuck with her husband’s political inheritance, and she could have managed some distance from it without at all appearing to be disloyal.  After all, she endured the worst kind of public private humiliation and stuck with him.  She didn’t need to belittle her primary opponent’s rhetoric about coming together to get problems solved—her record of bipartisan management in the Senate, even as a rank freshman, has been impressive.  She didn’t need to put on the tank-helmet of sniper fire in Kosovo—she has built a credible enough history on the Armed Services committee to withstand the sniping of misogynist Republican warmongers.  And she particularly didn’t need all the pretzel logic around her Iraq vote, when like many of the rest of us, she believed that the Bushrovers could never be so ultimately and criminally mendacious as to completely stack the intelligence deck about WMDs and hang Colin Powell out to dry, live, in front of a world-wide audience.

All she had to do was say she was wrong.

She might have had a good run from Barak Obama, who as we have since seen in abundance, would have conducted a campaign in no way detrimental to the greater interests of the popular Democratic Party.  She had the brand, the organization, the early money (and a lot of it), the personal fortune (as we have since come to understand), the cadres of field ops, managers, advisors, and in-place pols at every level of government.  Regardless of Obama’s obvious qualities, it’s been Hillary’s to lose all along.

And the fallout from the initial shock of not just walking away with the prize has been ugly and depressing to watch.  How long have some of us waited for a truly viable female Presidential candidate?  How ridiculous is it that this has not happened yet in the US?  And yet, the kind of mandate of democratic heaven that Hillary Clinton started with seemed to bemuse her with a sense of personal inevitability that is almost always a fatal condition in US politics.  The historical rectitude of a woman president somehow converted to a far-too-obvious sense of personal entitlement, which in the context of dynastic family presidential politics of late should have been the last sensation to exhibit to the voters, sick to death, some literally, of the Bushes and all their works.

Now, in the latter days of her grimly smiling impersonation of indomitability, she has produced a truly terrifying display of posturing and pandering to deeply suspect tendencies.  Interviewer: “Is Obama a Muslim?”  Hillary: “No, of course not, not to my knowledge”.  That sneaky little phrase, with its outrageous but deniable innuendo, has been followed by any number of essentially right-wing republican maneuvers, of which the gas-tax holiday is only the latest.  The charges of elitism are so manifestly more accurate when reversed.  The idea that she is valuable because she has a lock on the white man redneck vote, which is just a veiled piece of racism—these guys are never gonna vote democrat anyway.  The escalating tendency to lump the black vote into a pro-Obama block, as if her own race-baiting didn’t make it so.  (Certainly her’s is a subtler species of racial polarization than, say, George Wallace’s, but no less toxic.)  

And now, soldiering on in the face of any kind of populist mathematics, the bottom line of all her current rationales cannot be other than inciting the super-delegates to overturn a pledged delegate and popular vote plurality.  If it were to come to pass, the Democratic party in one blow would sever its future life in a country that is increasingly of color and, as politicians are always the last to understand, inherited by our children.  She would be crushed by the republican machine in a race of unequaled vitriol, fueled by over a decade of monomaniacal opposition research, unable to effectively counter McLame on the war, or on most other aspects of a disastrous Republican foreign policy which has destroyed our credibility abroad and our credit at home.    

It is very difficult to see how Hillary can understand the value of continuing to fight the battle at this point.  It is not as if she will be seen as a weakling by bowing out.  I think she has burned up a huge amount of good will all over her party, and with independents, but she cannot even at this moment be seen as other than a formidable politician.  

But she doesn’t seem to know how to stop.  That’s really the veridical resonance of Samantha Power’s offhand remark to The Scotsman: “She’s a monster.”  Of course, she isn’t—she’s a first class politician who could have been the first female president of the United States.  That’s a painful prize to surrender.  But it’s even more painful to watch her frantically twisting to outrace her self-induced defeat.

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Out with the “new”

An interesting synchronicity is presenting itself on either side of the anglophone Atlantic—New is looking pretty Old.  In the UK, Gordon Brown’s New Labour (well, Blair’s New Labour and Gordon’s inheritance) has taken a blasting in local council elections.  The highlight of this disaster has been the replacement of Red Ken as London’s mayor by Boris Johnson, an Etonian friend of the Tory leader and poster boy David Cameron.  London is obviously highly visible politically, but also is hosting the 2012 Olympics, so Boris will be getting his hands on some lush greenery with which to ease the financial way of backers and constituents alike as London dolls up for the show.  

The BBC’s analysis projects the local council results to a national vote share model, showing a result of 44% Conservative, 25% Liberal Democrat, and a paltry 24% Labour.  While the relative balance of Conservative and Labour are reversed compared to the 1995 results, which presaged the 1997 rout that brought Blair and New Labour to power, the Conservative percentage lead over Labour where they do indeed lead is about a third of that of Labour over Tory in 1995.  Still, it’s a huge blow for Brown.

It’s also a huge blow for New Labour.  The party seems to have been deserted by its left and left/center base, not least over the Iraq War disaster and its concomitant lies.  This despite the fact that Blair has been unquestionably the most telegenic and rhetorically adept PM in recent history.  Desertion by the base is never an inevitable result of running to the center in the short term, but (I submit) it always is in the long.

And what’s up over here, in the US, with the New Democrats?  The Democratic Leadership Council, or DLC, was founded in 1985 as a way of repositioning the Democratic party to somehow metabolize the apparent lessons of Ronald Reagan’s success.  Bill Clinton left its chairmanship while the governor of Arkansas to run for president in the 1992 elections.  At first he was just one of the so-called Seven Dwarves, a phrase which captured the esteem that year’s candidates were held in by the then-traditional-leadership of the party.  But of course Bill broke away from the pack, and two terms and one impeachment later, his vice president lost in an election stolen by the Bushrovers with help from the Supremes.

This year, in synch with Gordon’s travails in the Motherland, the DLC is again running a candidate named Clinton.  On the surface, she seems to be doing a bit better than Gordon, given the near impossibility of a Democrat losing after eight years of the worst president in modern history, and considering the current spin that she’s fighting back from a delegate deficit versus Obama.  But really, this is just a fantasy narrative concocted by news reporters in order to stay with the campaign as a story, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.  Hillary is toast, and she hasn’t gone about getting toasted in a very constructive way, either.  In fact, the comparison to Brown breaks down a bit because we really can’t say he’s pandered to traditional Tory postures the way Hillary has to Republican (even down to an Iran policy by that bomber extraordinaire, Curtis LeMay).  

Looking underneath her supposed support, we can see that a new set of constituencies is forming within the Democratic party, out of disgust with the performance not only of the dominant Republican governments of the last decade or so, but also of the more recently bare majorities of Democrats as well.  The kind of centrist trimming that has gone on for years now amongst Democrats in opposition, trying to keep the New Democrat/DLC formula alive, has fatally sapped the Democratic congressional party (just as it is the Parliamentary Labour Party).  Only Obama can revive the Democrats for the future, and by building a new coalition that is unafraid to move left but is also determined to build a majority.  We will see how Gordon attempts to do the same—there does not seem to be an Obama in the Labour Party.

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Why was *he* in Vietnam?

Something even Barak Obama has been doing this primary season has been irritating the heck out of me, and I wonder if I’m the only one. For context, I should say that I’m of an age to have the dubious pleasure of already loathing a US president so intensely that I don’t have enough room in my loathing heart to loath W as I know he should be loathed. I could only be talking about Richard Milhous Nixon. You know, the ex-Quaker president from 1968-1974?

Georgie is a frat boy whom They let have a little war to distract him while They were busy ripping us all off blind. By comparison, Nixon was They. Sure, not the Real They (after all, he was originally a poor sniveler from Whittier, California). But whereas one catastrophe at a time is enough to keep W occupied, Dick Nixon could manage both the contemptuous attitude as well as the serious felonious activity all at the same time. And actually give enough people the impression that he was a statesman.

Sure Dick didn’t start the Vietnam war, but he lied through his teeth to get elected on a peace platform and then let it go on and on and on. All this in the face of years of well organized and vociferous opposition from a wider and wider spectrum of even the US World of Whitepeople. Nixon certainly didn’t flip the voters off in public like W (and his henchman and handler, the other Dick) routinely does, but I was not in the least surprised when I heard the tapes he made of his Oval Office ramblings, full of psychotic threats and compensating profanity. (Pretty funny in a macabre way to hear Henry the K egging him on in his hyper-intellectual Mittleuropa diction.)

Besides over a million Vietnamese, who mainly did nothing to deserve annihilation beyond living in Vietnam, a lot of guys got wasted out there in the jungle. Everyone knew that the Navy was one thing, firing the big guns from some miles offshore (though swiftboats like Kerry’s were extremely dangerous) but boots on the ground totally another. If you were a Marine or in the Army, you not infrequently got to go through some unimaginable hell. And there were flyers who chose to get as crazy as the river boat patrols, and fly choppers into battle zones to deliver troops or extract them and the wounded, guys so nuts that even the soldiers thought they were beyond it, despite their gratitude.

High above it all, there were the the B-52s. These guys had a truly remote-control war. Somewhat closer to the fire, Navy carrier-based pilots flew (after the early part of the war when A-1s were used) the A-4 Skyhawk attack aircraft. These had a couple of 20mm cannons, and could mount 4 Sidewinders, an air-to-air heat-seeking missile, although an official Navy history lists only one air-to-air victory by an A-4 in the entire war.

What they mainly carried were ASMs (air-to-surface missiles) and bombs. Missiles included Shrikes (anti-radiation missiles that homed on antiaircraft radars); Mavericks (air-to-ground missiles for use in close support of ground troops) as well as the Bullpup and Walleye glide bombs that the Mavericks replaced; a variety of anti-personnel cluster bombs; and a massive number of Mk. 81 and 82 “dumb” bombs. The Skyhawk could carry up to almost 5 tons of bombs on five external hardpoints. They flew close enough support to be vulnerable to North Vietnamese anti-aircraft fire, which around places like Hanoi and Haiphong created reputedly the most heavily defended airspace in the world.

This is where John McCain got shot down in late October 1967. Thus began for him a truly harrowing captivity including two years of solitary and frequent torture, on top of extensive and untreated injuries from his downing and subsequent beatings. Refusing to be released in a propaganda ploy ahead of those in longer captivity, merely because his father was named commander of all US forces in Vietnam, shows his enormous self-control in the situation.

So when Barak honors McCain for this military service, to which service is he referring? The self-sacrificing captivity? Or the 23 bombing missions?

McCain’s calvary was a part of an infinitely larger catalog of horrors and inhumanity. Nothing about this diminishes his suffering or his manifestation of a perhaps unusual level of self-abnegation. Neither does retelling the story of this famous white man warrior’s captivity recall to us the hundreds of thousands of equally horrific maimings, burnings, killings, rapings, tortures, mass conflagrations, poisonings of land, air and water, starvations and unimaginably painful deaths from pestilence and random fire amongst Vietnamese and fellow US servicemen alike. A feast, an overload of death that McCain fully and enthusiastically participated in delivering.

This is the contradiction we’re all carefully avoiding this primary season. Barak (and Hillary, who in any case has carefully constructed her White Warrior persona since becoming a Senator and at the same time Presidential candidate-in-training) feels compelled to “honor” McCain’s “service”. Why? Why was he in Vietnam?

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