30 December 2006

It's Not History Until It's History (CS)

I appreciate my comrade's editorial on the Hussein execution. But there was one comment that really struck me as unwarranted, where he described Hussein as (italics my own):
the man who experienced one of the most humiliating and public falls in world history
Hyperbole is par for the course in the blogosphere, but I couldn't help being a bit irked by this. I don't entirely mind the linking of Hussein's death to the ongoing war in Iraq. I don't even mind speculation that Saddam might have been quickly silenced to keep certain information from coming out that would villanize America. But I'm always a bit wary of when editorials try to historicize and many of the editorials on the execution leaned toward exactly that.

Executions are inextricably linked to justice. The historical record is also considered a matter of justice. If history held no importance in this regard, it's unlikely historical or archival ethics would ever be a concern. Through this sense of justice, history becomes terribly relevant to how we choose to set up our world. For example, Israel's existence is predicated on the history of the Jewish people and particularly the history of the Holocaust. A recent attempt in Iran to discredit Israel's right to exist was enacted through an (alleged) historical conference.

It's no wonder, then, that with its relevance to current politics and foreign events and policy that writers would try to situate this event into a much grander scheme. I would argue that placing something into "history" is far more complicated and will take a measure of distance to understand.

Some might ask why I wouldn't let The President off the historical hook, but it's a bit different in George W's situation. We're well aware of the decisions he's made and well aware of the effect they've had on the world. For him to indicate that historians will decide his place within history is ironically ridiculous. The way history pans out may see great things come out of Bush's screwups. Or it may see further terror and strife out of them. But we do know that his actions, in themselves, have been failures. As far as his quality as a President goes in his own time, history has little to do with judging George W. Bush.

With something as specific as Saddam Hussein's execution, however, the fallout of history is less specific. The event is too singular. Even the life of the man and its place in history will not fully be understood until the region settles down and we can hear, marshal, and analyze the voices that were coming out of it.

That's part of why it's difficult for me or any American to evaluate Hussein's death itself, right now. Honestly, I would leave that to Iraqis and maybe even Iranians. With this sort of temporal immediacy to the event, it's their geographic and tangible immediacy to the actions of the man that make their voices valuable.

What I can say, however, is that Hussein's death has revealed the classic faux pas historians must find frustrating in journalistic and editorial writing, that being historical favoritism for one's own era and a lack of historical perspective, generally.

Brendan's ending note, that "Saddam Hussein is only the latest casualty in Iraq. Not the last," is more reasoned than his opening. As much as we want to make our claims on history and privilege our present, the history of the world continues to move on. New presents change our old pasts and will continue to do so. And yet how conveniently we forget our privileged presents past.

Labels: , , , ,

On the Execution of Saddam Hussein (BR)

I feel a sort of melancholy. Not out of any sympathy or even pity for the man who experienced one of the most humiliating and public falls in world history.

I am personally opposed to capital punishment in all circumstances, including treason and genocide. Were the decision left to me, I would have spared him, figuring that bestowing upon this beast of a man a measure of mercy he denied his people would send a stronger and more powerful message. I see no benefit to adding one more body to the pile. But I do not mourn Saddam Hussein, and I would forgive any Iraqi or Iranian for rejoicing at news of his demise.

What I'm most struck with is the meaninglessness of the gesture, and the war itself. It is quite frankly just one in a succession of dozens of empty gestures orchestrated by the Bush Administration over the course of the occupation as though they were tangible proof of progress toward a stable and democratic Iraq.

We as a nation are deep in the now-still forms of anywhere from 50,000 to 600,000 innocent Iraqis, and nearly 3,000 of our own servicemen, and the best the United States government can do to get the American and Iraqi people behind the notion that the war is worth fighting is to wave yet another dead body in front of us.

The enemy we're fighting in Iraq today has never had anything to do with Saddam Hussein, and his oppressive style of governance likely inhibited the development of terror cells there before we invaded. We hear now that the United States will dispatch 20,000 more soldiers to Iraq in the new Year. We hear less about how this move has anything to do with a positive strategy to finally establish stability and win the war.

We pray, of course, that this tactic will achieve just those effects, but given the track record of those in command, we can safely doubt it. We will likely just send the insurgents 20,000 more targets to shoot at, and re-assert ourselves as combatants in this senseless civil war.

However you feel about the war, remember this: Saddam Hussein is only the latest casualty in Iraq. Not the last.

28 December 2006

Bill Bennett dances on the ceiling (BR)
Our favorite gambling ultra-con talks (smack) to the dead

When he's not running up astronomical casino debts or making the greater-good argument for racial eugenics, former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett likes to pundit it up in the pages of National Review, and those who enjoy the spectacle of out-and-out far-right lunacy, yours truly included, certainly appreciate it. Luckily for us, in addition to his scheduled bloviations in print and television media, Bennett also contributes to The Corner, National Review Online's blog.

The event of Gerald Ford's death on Tuesday, apparently not subjected to due ignominy by having the word "accidental" situated before "President" in nearly every headline and lead paragraph on the story, is portrayed by Bennett in his Thursday column as a clever ploy on the part of Ford to insulate himself from criticism in light of a just-released 2004 interview with Bob Woodward in which the late President declared his opposition to the United States' invasion of Iraq.

[M]ay I ... be permitted to ask this: just how decent, how courageous, is what Jerry Ford did with Bob Woodward? He slams Bush & Cheney to Woodward in 2004, but asks Woodward not to print the interview until he's dead. If he felt so strongly about his words having a derogatory affect, how about telling Woodward not to run the interview until after Bush & Cheney are out of office?
Sure, Bill, you're permitted to ask. This is, after all, despite your best efforts, still a free country. But I'm compelled to wonder what his reaction was to those who dissented or otherwise took exception to the week-long hagiography of Bennett's old boss President Ronald Reagan that took place in the wake of Ronnie's passing in 2004.

That, however, is besides the point. Bennett blasts Ford -- creepily, in the present tense, more on that later -- for asking Woodward to hold off on releasing the interview until after Ford was dead, rather than when Bush and Cheney are out of office, but doesn't consider the compliment possibly implicit in the request: That despite Ford's unfavorable view of the war, he still had enough faith in the ability and competence of Bush and his old hands Cheney and Rumsfeld to assume that the war would be over before he passed on.

In continuation, Bennett quits tiptoeing on the precipice of reality and breaks into a full-on swan dive off its cliff.
The effect of what Ford did is to protect himself, ensuring he can't be asked by others about his critiques, ensuring that there can be no dialogue. The way Ford does it with Woodward, he doesn't have to defend himself...he simply drops it into Bob Woodward's tape recorder and let's the bomb go off when fully out of range, himself.
Read another way:
Ooooooh, he thinks he's such a big shot now that he's dead and can't get hit back! I'll show 'im!
You can tell Bennett is a former Education Secretary by his mastery of playground politics and grade-school taunts. And you can tell he was an American Education Secretary because he has no clue where to put an apostrophe ("... let's the bomb go off ..."). Or maybe he took a page from the Book of DeLay and has a few fawning interns churning out conservative boilerplate.

Mr. Bennett goes on to enumerate three ways in which Ford could have aired his misgivings in a more "manly" fashion -- one being "Say it to their [Bush and Cheney's] face" -- and then, disturbingly, addresses the late Commander-in-Chief as though he were alive and in the room:
You're a former President Mr. Ford, show a little more decency to the incumbent who is in a very, very tough place and trying to do the right thing....you may recall those days and positions yourself.
I believe Ford acted in accord with the administration's stated outlook toward war dissenters -- You're either with us or STFU, punk -- and indeed, in his restraint demonstrated a statesmanship and character Bennett would do well to emulate once in awhile. It certainly shouldn't have earned him a posthumous lecture from a windbag who doesn't know which tense to use when addressing a dead President.

19 December 2006

Support the Jubilee Act! (BR)

With the new year will come a new Congress. With the new Congress will hopefully come a willingness, if not an enthusiasm, to embrace a new attitude of humaneness and charity for the less fortunate.

We can get off on the right foot by kicking our elected representatives in their asses -- metaphorically speaking -- and telling them to support the Jubilee Act when it is re-introduced by Reps. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Spencer Bacchus (R-AL) early next year.

If passed, the Jubilee Act will cancel the $200 billion collectively owed to the United States by the poorest nations of Africa, the existence of which serves as a convenient excuse for the borderline and outright tyrants of the continent not to invest in their country's infrastructure, economy and health.

The American Friends Service Committee runs a clearinghouse of information on debt-forgiveness news, activism and outreach. There you can learn about the movement, and download a sample resolution, which can then be tailored and introduced to your local representatives and passed in your town, city, council district or state.

07 December 2006

Still infamous (BR)

Exactly 65 years ago today, the Japanese Imperial Air Fleet conducted a two-hour bombing raid upon the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor and several other military installations on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, killing over 2,400 Americans, including 2,335 U.S. servicemen and setting the stage for American entry into our last just war.

Let's all of us take a moment today to reflect on the horror, the ignominy, and the occasional necessity of war, and the deep gratitude we owe those who put themselves in harm's way to defend our lives and our freedoms.

04 December 2006

Bush Will Send Us to Endgame Without The Advantage (CS)

When we watch spy films, caper movies, or international espionage thrillers or read novels with complicated intrigue, the most admirable characters and connivers with impressively executed plans are those who plan ahead, see all the elements in play, and manage to have contingency plans and a deep web of deceit to ensnare their opposition. An easy comparison (made sometimes implicitly or explicitly in movies or novels like that) is to a chess player. The analogy is made because chess is a game of advanced strategy wherein focus, territory and guile are key traits necessary for success. The relationship of chess to international policy and warfare, even without considering its tradition as a means of teaching war strategy, should be readily apparent. Leave it, then, to one of the greatest chess players of all time to point out how United States policy has failed in Iraq.

Important to note within Kasparov's analysis is how he is critical of America's pinhole focus not only temporally and geographically, but in terms of affecting international opinion towards America and thus toward a viable international strategy against terrorism and fanaticism:
Any intervention causes resentment, and even many traditional allies oppose U.S. plans almost out of hand. America's overly proactive foreign policy has also allowed other nations to avoid responsibility for their own safety, and to avoid making the tough decisions that come with that responsibility.

From the outset of the war with Iraq, liberals were criticized for being too concerned with international opinion and attitudes. An example was often made of the typically flaccid and ineffectual United Nations. And yet, at the same time that conservatives damned the logic of working with the international community, they praised Bush's creation of a "Coalition of the Willing" which was, essentially, an appeal to that very international community which they disdained out the other side of their mouth.

If it was not bad enough that American bullheadedness pushed away potential allies, keeping up untenable policies in Iraq has alienated many of those who were willing to be part of the "coalition" in the first place. Even those who should be our closest allies, like England, are feeling the doubt. Meanwhile, our allies in the region of the Middle East become increasingly nervous. Because of President Bush's unwillingness to consider these relationships or to garner new ones, we may be on the precipice of disaster in the region without a single friend to turn to.

And what of NATO? Here is an international organization that conservatives have been so proud of for keeping Communism in check during the Cold War. Now, their mission in Afghanistan is one of the most important ones on the international stage, despite how American media may try to ignore it. The recent NATO meeting in Latvia would have been a great moment to use international capital to leverage those countries who have been trepidatious into a more aggressive and cooperative stance in the region. Instead, the summit was "divided" and any attempts to pressure less involved countries "had only a modest impact." America may still easily be "by far the strongest external power in the Middle East," but it cannot succeed entirely alone, as conditions in Iraq and the South-east of Afghanistan are proving.

The problem that these politicians ironically can't seem to realize is that they are dealing with democratic leaders in many of these cases who must keep their voters satisfied in order to retain the power they hold. Our image to the people of democratic nations from whom we would desire help in international struggles actually does matter. I would rather not play politics with the voting bases of every democracy out there (I'm trepidatious about the nature of the political game solely in the U.S.), but the reality of leveraging international forces in an age of public image, hyper-media, and hyper-aware populi requires it.

Go ahead and read Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's letter. It is, after all, addressed to us, the American people (an intelligent stroke in itself). He talks of peace, democracy, and freedom... He voices disappointment at violations of human rights, promises broken by the U.S. administration, and the unfortunate situation for our servicemen and women in Iraq. He rhetorically slams Bush while praising us and he damn nearly pulls it off, particularly where he points out how the prolonged war in Iraq is destroying the prospect of any fruitful domestic agenda. This is the image he is (at least more succesfully than President Bush) showing, not only to us, but to the rest of the world, particularly the Middle East.

And yet there are strong indications that Iran continues to seek nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad continually hints at destroying Israel (even in the "peaceful" letter to the American people, if you read between the lines). Most recently, there are reports of censorship as Iran joins the ranks of the "enemies of the internet." Without a sullied image, the U.S. could easily show Ahmadinejad incapable of putting his money where his mouth is without losing power in his own country. We could prove through democracy that he cannot, ultimately, stand for it.

As it is, though, Ahmadinejad is proving himself capable of playing the game. We've left an opening and he is taking it. In chess at its highest levels of skill, every mistake is vital. On the international stage, the United States has made many blunders. Still, though Iran would like to initiate a sort of endgame (and as Republicans seem largely willing to play right into their hands), there is still time to reconsider and mount a viable defense. It will take, however, plans that consider all pieces in play and where they currently lie.

Sensible and strategic minds can see that the Bush administration has been more than a national security disaster... It is, at this point, an international security disaster. Those who have opposed Bush in this country don't want to lose. Republicans shouldn't be so ridiculous. We're just considering the whole board. How else are we to achieve checkmate?

Alaskans vs. Their Own Paradise (CS)

There's an interesting case developing involving 12 U.S. states suing the Environmental Protection Agency to force it to curb emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas.

The Economist article relating it (linked above) is worth a read to understand the particulars of the case, but what caught my notice especially was the included map of the plaintiffs, their supporters, and states that opposed the action.

The state that really caught me by surprise was Alaska. I've been there and loved it. The sort of untainted natural beauty you can find in Alaska is nearly unparalleled... Which is actually the problem we all face, when you think about it. Places like Alaska are becoming fewer and further between and cliched phrases like "untainted natural beauty" are in danger of falling out of use entirely.

It's memories of Alaska, more than most anything else, that inspire my largely pro-environmental stance. I hope to return someday and find the same shocking wilderness with all its flora, fauna, sights, sounds, and smells intact.

Apparently Alaskans don't feel the same (at least, in general). Apparently they wouldn't mind losing the creatures and plant life that find refuge there. Apparently they might not know what they've got 'till it's gone.

Then again, perhaps they're simply enjoying a slight upturn in the weather within a typically cold climate.* Perhaps, given a couple changes here and there, if Alaska's beauty begins to (unfortunately) fade, Alaskans will come to their senses. Then again, this is the state that managed to elect Ted Stevens to office and keep him there for the past 38 years or so.

*here in New York, I am finding the unusually warm weather for early-December/late-November to be disappointing and disconcerting.

01 December 2006

Arianna Huffington is My Homegirl (BR)

The title of Arianna's blog today on HuffPo:
Tenacious D(emocracy): Let's Have Iraqis Vote on US Troops in Iraq.

Where have I heard that before?

Oh, right.

In my own head, as I wrote it more than a month ago. No sour grapes as I'm sure Arianna has never heard of us; on the contrary, I'm glad this idea is gaining traction:
The answer to all of our troubles is a national referendum in Iraq. One question. To our Iraqi readers -- ha! -- I would ask that you read and consider carefully. The future of your country rests (or fidgets nervously) upon your answer.

1. Should the US military:

* a) maintain its current troop presence in Iraq;
* b) increase its troop presence;
* c) draw down its presence to a small force positioned near the Iraqi border to assist in emergency;
* d) gradually but completely withdraw based on a predetermined timetable, or
* e) withdraw immediately?
This'll probably be the last y'all hear from me until Monday, in the meantime do please go check out HCGal's phenomenal treatise -- titled simply "Leaving" -- and let her know how beautiful it is.

Also enjoy this:

We love you,
The 'Snapp