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Finally, Somebody Has a Strategy

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Good Old Atrios directed my attention to this. Leading Dems in Congress have written a very well written note to the President. They have some suggestions:

Therefore, we urge you once again to consider changes to your Iraq policy. We propose a new direction, which would include: (1) transitioning the U.S. mission in Iraq to counter-terrorism, training, logistics and force protection; (2) beginning the phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq before the end of this year; (3) working with Iraqi leaders to disarm the militias and to develop a broad-based and sustainable political settlement, including amending the Constitution to achieve a fair sharing of power and resources; and (4) convening an international conference and contact group to support a political settlement in Iraq, to preserve Iraq’s sovereignty, and to revitalize the stalled economic reconstruction and rebuilding effort. These proposals were outlined in our July 30th letter and are consistent with the “U.S. Policy in Iraq Act” you signed into law last year.

They also humbly suggest W go to the bullpen and send Rummy to the showers.

This looks like a plan to me. It is certainly closer to a strategy than whatever is currently going on in Iraq and in our name.

Also check out the comment from Gerald Pechenuk on the DCCC page. Public info already out there, if hard to find. Who were those traitorous Nazi appeasers and sympathizers anyway?

Written by slothropia

September 4th, 2006 at 10:20 pm

Peace in the Middle East for a Few Weeks

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How ironic it is that Ariel Sharon drifts closer to death as a ceasefire suspends (not ends) the war between Hezbollah and Israel. It was Sharon after all who was largely responsible for the birth of Hezbollah.

It was Sharon who as Israeli Defense Minister oversaw the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The war in Lebanon was supposed to wipe out the PLO who had been shelling northern Israel from there.

During that war, Christian militias entered the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps and slaughtered hundreds of civilians. Sharon was cleared of direct responsibility but temporarily left government over the scandal. The occupation of Lebanon followed and in 1985 Hezbollah was created to oppose the occupation.

Now, following the latest round of fighting between Hezbollah and the IDF, Hezbollah stands as the victor. Israel’s objective in the war was to eliminate the threat from Hezbollah, but they only succeeded in making that group stronger, largely by increasing Hezbollah’s support within Lebanon and throughout the Muslim world. By the way, Neocons also believe that Israel has lost this round, although they see things from a different angle than I do.

It is regrettable that Ariel Sharon is not awake to see his very own chickens coming home to roost.

I remember when the Sabra and Shatila massacres went down thinking that surely the world would now demand that the Palestinians be given their own state and that the Arab/Israeli conflict would be resolved. Boy was I naive. Instead, those atrocities have simply been thrown on the wood pile of grievances maintained by all sides in this conflict, used to fuel never ending bloodshed. The stalemate continues and will do so into the foreseeable future.

There will be no military solution. The only hope for real peace is to resolve the underlying political and territorial grievances that drive the conflict. I do not know if that is possible. If it is not and if Israel is to survive, it will need more backers than just the United States. We are growing broke and won’t be able to afford Israel for more than another generation.

And if the Bush Neocons have their way, we could very well be kicked out of the Middle East long before that. Seymour Hersh tells us, amng many other things, that Iran and the U.S. used this latest war to test weapons and tactics to be used in a possible upcoming Middle East championship bout, kind of like the way the Germans and Russians used the Spanish Civil War as spring training for WWII.

Written by slothropia

August 15th, 2006 at 10:44 am

DVD Review: Tristram Shandy

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I know, I know. I promised a review of the newly released DVDE of Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story days ago. Thank you, breathless readers, for not putting more pressure on me to produce same, for I am sure I could bear no more than I already do.

So here it is the review I promised. Well, most of it anyway. See, I was viewing the movie at home the other day (Thursday, July 26 to be precise) and taking notes for this review. Trouble was, every five minutes the phone would ring and I would have to answer it.

Here’s the thing; I am between contracts right now and the calls were from recruiters and prospective employers. I hope they did not detect the irritation I felt. They don’t know I was this close to screaming into the phone about priorities – “I’m watching a MOVIE goddammit!”

So anyway, about Tristram Shandy, I read the novel when I was in university, not as part of a course but because it was highly recommended and compared favorably to Gravity’s Rainbow, described as a post modern classic written 250 years before the term was invented.

So along comes Steve Coogan, British comic icon, I am told. Makes a movie about making a movie about the novel. Feels kind of like the original The Office, the Ricky Gervais vehicle, and even more like Extras, another Gervais effort which, like Tristram Shandy, has a bunch of recognizable actors playing themselves. Except, they are not themselves; they are characters with the same name as the actor playing them.

I need to sit down. I am growing dizzy.

Bottom line: I enjoyed Tristram Shandy, the movie. At least what I saw of it. Like I said, the phone kept ringing.

Written by slothropia

July 31st, 2006 at 9:48 am

Posted in Movies,World War II

Peace and Democracy

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My blog hero Billmon wrote something the other day that got me thinking about the place of warfare in the contemporary world. He described an Israeli “almost obsessive reluctance to take casualties, which translates into extreme cautiousness, at both the strategic and tactical levels.

“The Israelis prefer to stay away from (some enemy) bunkers, the soldiers said, instead calling in coordinates so forces massed behind the border can hit them with guided missiles.”

He went on to say, “This is the kind of behavior that Max Hastings criticized in his books about the British and American armies in World War II — particularly when compared with the tactical speed, aggressiveness and resilience of the Wehrmacht and, in the later stages of the war, the Red Army. As Hastings points out, Nazi and the Soviet generals not only had more experience at maneuver warfare than their British and American counterparts, they could be infinitely more ruthless about spending the lives of their soldiers. They were, after all, totalitarian dictatorships, not middle-class democracies.”

The implication is that relatively democratic societies are less supportive of the ruthless tactics that have historically won wars. Not necessarily because the tactics are ruthless and kill too many enemy soldiers and civilians, but because they create too many casualties for the ‘home team’.

Even Rush has heard the news, and he’s not happy about it:

“But we’re fighting under different rules … Well, the media’s on scene every day showing the civilian casualties and showing the results of the military action, and that’s going to temper people because the world is going to say, “Stop it! Stop it! Stop this killing! Enough violence, enough is enough!” It was easier in the old days when nobody saw this stuff. Nobody saw 92,000 battle fatalities in the Pacific theater in World War II, and nobody saw the million and a half Japanese deaths so it was easier to do…You get caught up and worried about what other people think of you and world opinion and so forth and you’re going to get hamstrung, and we’re hamstrung, precisely where we are.”

Of course, what Limbaugh doesn’t like is the brake public opinion applies to the ability of military forces to kill enemy soldiers and do collateral damage (translation: kill civilians).

It’s agreed then; open societies where informed public opinion matters have a harder time waging war than authoritarian or totalitarian societies do. It turns out that most people do not want to see their sons and daughters killed or maimed and that those sons and daughters would similarly like to avoid that misfortune. It seems as well that most people do not like to see even enemy civilians blown up or burned. That is why the American right blames the loss in Vietnam on the media.

The public in this country and around the world saw several kinds of images in the television reports from Vietnam. On the one hand there were almost conventional battle pictures including explosions, bombs being dropped from aircraft, helicopters, soldiers firing weapons, wounded being evacuated from combat and so on.

Then there were the images of non-combatants caught and usually suffering in the conflict. Recall the naked Vietnamese girl, burned by napalm, running down a road toward the camera; American soldiers burning a village, and more, so much more.

Then too there were the images peculiar to the unique character of the war in Vietnam, like the Viet Cong guerilla, shot in the head by an Army of South Vietnam officer.

The Vietnamese people of course were for the most part shielded from the media presentation of the war in their country. Then again, they only had to go outside to see the reality of the war.

Eventually, the incremental effect of these images along with the cost in lives and treasure turned American opinion against U.S. involvement in the war; though not before the U.S. dropped more tons of explosives on Vietnam than it did in all of World War II.

Still, the military resented the ‘interference’ of the news media in the conduct of the war. The lesson the military chose to learn was that the public will not support a war if it knows what is going on. Hence the new secrecy rules in the two Iraq wars and all other U.S. military engagements since 1975.

Again, the question is whether an open and informed society is less likely to support war making on its behalf. The American right and the military say yes, and that is one of the reasons for the current drive to conceal military and other governmental information. I would argue that history also agrees.

In the twentieth century, two world wars consumed nearly all of Europe (save for the Swedes and the Swiss). With first hand knowledge of the reality of war, and at least in the West blessed with free flows of information and democratic government, Europe avoided war and its atrocities until the breakup of Yugoslavia (except for the odd rebellion in the Soviet bloc).

There is pushback of the kind described by Billmon above. Armies now look for ways to fight that do not involve taking heavy casualties. Furthermore, consider this observation by Tom Engelhardt from a post well worth reading in its entirety:

On our we/they planet, most groups don’t consider themselves barbarians. Nonetheless, we have largely achieved non-barbaric status in an interesting way — by removing the most essential aspect of the American (and, right now, Israeli) way of war from the category of the barbaric. I’m talking, of course, about air power, about raining destruction down on the earth from the skies, and about the belief — so common, so long-lasting, so deep-seated — that bombing others, including civilian populations, is a “strategic” thing to do; that air power can, in relatively swift measure, break the “will” not just of the enemy, but of that enemy’s society; and that such a way of war is the royal path to victory.

And later:

It may be that the human capacity for brutality, for barbarism, hasn’t changed much since the eighth century, but the industrial revolution — and in particular the rise of the airplane — opened up new landscapes to brutality; while the view from behind the gun-sight, then the bomb-sight, and finally the missile-sight slowly widened until all of humanity was taken in. From the lofty, godlike vantage point of the strategic as well as the literal heavens, the military and the civilian began to blur on the ground. Soldiers and citizens, conscripts and refugees alike, became nothing but tiny, indistinguishable hordes of ants, or nothing at all but the structures that housed them, or even just concepts, indistinguishable one from the other.

For many reasons, it should be a goal of all thinking humans to put an end to the institution of war. War is, after all, a relatively new human behavior, having only been invented along with civilization following the agricultural revolution (tribal level rock throwing disputes do not count as war). The question is how. It is a good thing that media exposure of war makes it more difficult to prosecute. Clearly, however, it is not enough.

Gore Vidal has some good news though, as is found in this excerpt from a recent interview

Q: Today the United States is fighting two wars, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, and is now threatening to launch a third one on Iran. What is it going to take to stop the Bush onslaught?

Vidal: Economic collapse. We are too deeply in debt. We can’t service the debt, or so my financial friends tell me, that’s paying the interest on the Treasury bonds, particularly to the foreign countries that have been financing us. I think the Chinese will say the hell with you and pull their money out of the United States. That’s the end of our wars.”

Sounds great! Can’t wait!

Written by slothropia

July 30th, 2006 at 9:03 am

Posted in Vietnam,World War II