Sunday, August 08, 2010

Iraq: Requiem for a Profound Misadventure

Joe Klein in Time magazine.

[It is a matter of some relief that Barack Obama did not announce the end of major combat operations in Iraq under a banner that said "Mission Accomplished." He did it in a speech to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the most grave and sober audience imaginable. And appropriately so, after a war that should never have been fought, a war that by some estimates will cost $3 trillion before it's done (including the health care services rendered to those represented by the DAV), a war whose casualties number in the hundreds of thousands. Iraq hasn't been much in the news over the past year, but this is an important milestone — even if our mission there will continue on a much smaller scale for 16 more months — a moment for reflection and humility in the face of a national embarrassment.

There is no "victory" in Iraq, nor will there be. There is something resembling stability, for now. There is a semblance of democracy, but that may dissolve over time into a Shi'ite dictatorship — which, if not well run, could yield to the near inevitable military coup. Yes, Saddam is gone — and that is a good thing. The Kurds have a greater measure of independence and don't have to live in fear of mass murder, which are good things too. But Iran's position in the region has been strengthened. Its Iraqi allies, especially Muqtada al-Sadr's populist movement, will play a major role — perhaps one more central than ours — in shaping the future of the country. Our attempt to construct an Iraq more amenable to our interests will end no better than the previous attempts by Western colonial powers. Even if something resembling democracy prevails, the U.S. invasion and occupation will not be remembered fondly by Iraqis. We will own the destruction in perpetuity; if the Iraqis manage to cobble themselves a decent society, they will see it, correctly, as an achievement of their own. (See a timeline of the first seven years of the Iraq war.)

There are other consequences of this profound misadventure. The return of the Taliban in Afghanistan is certainly one. If U.S. attention hadn't been diverted from that primary conflict, the story in the Pashtun borderlands might be very different now. The sense of the U.S. as a repository of tempered, honorable actions may never recover from the images of the past decade, especially the photographs from Abu Ghraib prison. (See pictures of the aftershocks from the Abu Ghraib scandal.)

The idea that it was our right and responsibility to rid Iraq of a terrible dictator — after the original casus belli of weapons of mass destruction evaporated — turned out to be a neocolonialist delusion. The fact that Bush apologists still trot out his "forward strategy of freedom" as an example of American idealism is a farce. That feckless exercise in naiveté brought us a Hamas government in Gaza, after a Palestinian election that no one but the Bush Administration wanted. It raised the hopes of reformers across the region, soon dashed when the Bush Administration retreated, realizing that the outcome of democracy in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be the installation of Islamist parties that might prove more repressive than the dictatorships they would replace. Freedom may well be "God's gift to humanity," as Bush insisted, radiating a simpleminded piety that never reflected another of God's greatest gifts — the ability to doubt, to think difficult thoughts and weigh conflicting options with clarity and subtlety. But I'm pretty sure God never designated the U.S. to impose that freedom violently upon others. (Comment on this story.)

It is appropriate that Obama's speech to the DAV will not be remembered as vividly as George W. Bush's puerile march across the deck of an aircraft carrier, costumed as a combat aviator against a golden sunset, to announce — seven years and tens of thousands of lives prematurely — the "end of combat operations." Obama's announcement was no celebration. It was a somber acknowledgment that amends will be made to those whose lives were shattered and that their courageous service in an unnecessary cause will be honored. A national discussion about America's place in the world, and the military's excessive place in our foreign policy, would also be appropriate in the wake of this disaster, but I'm not holding my breath. (See photos of 100 years of the U.S. Army Reserve.)

As for myself, I deeply regret that once, on television in the days before the war, I foolishly — spontaneously — said that going ahead with the invasion might be the right thing to do. I was far more skeptical in print. I never wrote in favor of the war and repeatedly raised the problems that would accompany it, but mere skepticism was an insufficient reaction too. The issue then was as clear as it is now. It demanded a clarity that I failed to summon. The essential principle is immutable: we should never go to war unless we have been attacked or are under direct, immediate threat of attack. Never. And never again.]

Friday, July 16, 2010

The great Dick Cheney empathy test

Mark Morford

[Former Vice President Dick Cheney disclosed Wednesday that he has undergone surgery to install a small pump to help his heart work, as the 69-year-old enters a new phase of what he called "increasing congestive heart failure." -- Associated Press

Here's how it works. You read the story above. You note how Dick Cheney, former vice president, Bush babydaddy, sneermaster supreme, befouler of nations, lover of war, hater of, well, almost everything else -- has undergone yet another major heart operation, this time to place a little valve-assisting pump (called an LVAD) in his withered and long dysfunctional ticker.

You then read how Dick is recuperating in intensive care following said installation -- which, by the way, is usually only a stopgap measure, just a delay tactic until the device in question gives out and the patient requires a full heart transplant. Is Dick a candidate for that? Doubtful. Also, they say LVADs are usually reserved for patients with end-stage heart disease, a last resort, the final straw. It is, they say, only a matter of time.

So it begins.

The first knee-jerk response to the Great Dick Cheney Empathy Test (GDCET) is, of course, the easiest, and the most obvious, the most available to your giddy puppydog consciousness, and my guess is it shot through you like a fast and wonderful lightning bolt of OH MY SWEET JESUS YES the instant you read the story above.

That response was, shall we say, not very subtle. It was, I'm guessing, a not-so-secret howl to the universe that the sooner Dick exits this earthly plane, the healthier, lighter and happier we will all be, planetwide. Dark shadows will lift, flowers will bloom more brightly, 10 million female uteri can finally unclench, and so on.

But then, perhaps you sigh, ponder, probe a bit more deeply. Is that how you really wish to be? What of those noble traits we all strive for: compassion, benevolence, forgiveness, a wan but merciful smile in the face of thine enemy's condemnatory sneer? Is wishing a scaldingly painful death on one of the worst and most shameful characters in American history really the right way to treat your fellow man? Any fellow man? Of course not. Well, maybe. No, no, definitely not.

After all, if you wish such a thing, what does that say? About you? About us? About this paragraph? Would we not all be wallowing on the same filthy level? Is it not similar to the death penalty argument so beloved by liberals, that no matter how vile the criminal, to wish death upon any human makes us just as base and ugly as those we deem to be evil? This is no way for an enlightened consciousness to evolve.

I know what you're thinking. And yes, passing the GDCET would require all your courage, all your gumption, willpower, whisky and every ounce of benevolent energy you can muster. You would have to invoke all your Jesus-flecked Buddha nature to turn the other cheek, love thy enemies, forgive the sinners -- basically dredge up every maxim, axiom, aphorism, proverb and Hallmark card you can think of, toss them into a karmic blender and shoot them straight into your wary soul like a desperate and godly emetic.

It ain't easy. You must first resist the very reasonable, insistent screaming of your calmly vengeful side, the one that would be very pleased indeed if Dick suffered a million scalding rashes and burned in hell with Jerry Falwell, Saddam and Strom Thurmond for all eternity. That would be wrong. Stop thinking that.

Perhaps a reversal is in order. Perhaps it's better to wish someone like Dick a longer life, so that he may bear witness to the well-deserved implosion of all his nefarious plans, his cronyist empire. The man is, by most accounts, responsible for countless thousands of innocent deaths, the acerbic tainting of our national identity, a flagrant mutilation of everything we once held dear. You sort of want the guy to feel it. Repeatedly.

Are you a seriously impassioned ultraliberal with a thing for vengeful whimsy? You might even take this notion a step further and hold out a flicker of hope that Dick will live long enough to one day be put on trial for his war crimes, hung in a public square, slowly eaten by swarms of feral pigeons. Or crows. Pugs. Whatever.

This is, of course, a total fantasy, akin to imagining Rush Limbaugh getting busted for snorting meth from a gay teenage hooker's thighs just after fellating Mel Gibson in Newt Gingrich's fetish dungeon. Doesn't matter. As long as Dick is alive, it's a fantasy that keeps many a liberal heart aflutter.

Maybe you sense there is no rush. Maybe you know there's need to wish Dick an immediate demise, given how everyone knows that before long he'll be taking the Great Escalator down to the basement. Surely a great reckoning is coming. In the grand arc of spacetime, what's a few more years?

Besides, will it not be lovely for Dick to witness Obama sail into his second term, replace a third of the Supreme Court with people who actually have souls, and overturn/reverse nearly every law, stance and spiteful stratagem with which Dick ever fouled the earth? You bet it will.

Or perhaps, finally, you can appreciate the value of a living Dick. Every culture needs its demons, yes? The villain is just as important as the hero. Dick has been, and continues to be, an ideal foil, the complete monster, the perfect perversion of humanity by which we can all measure subsequent people and deeds. You may look upon any modern atrocity, any upstart political ogre, any personal abuse and say, well, at least it's not Dick Cheney. That's something.

So, how did you do? Did you pass the GDCET? Fail instantly, way back up top, when you read the headline to this column? Not quite sure?

You might be like me. See, I try to wish no violence or death, illness or pain on my fellow man. I do not always succeed, but still I strive, every single day, with every breath, even if I can't always forgive or be as uniformly compassionate as I'd like, then at least to proffer kindness, to see the larger picture and above all, to refuse to let the poison enter my heart.

However, I'm quite sure I would not be the slightest bit displeased to learn that the laws of brutal karmic repayment have come into full, painstaking, searing effect on our boy Dick. No, I wouldn't mind that in the least. After all, it's the empathetic thing to do.]

Monday, June 14, 2010

You might be a Republican IF.....

By Loren Adams, 13 June 2010

You might be a Republican IF…

You think toilet paper should come in Q'uran and NYT print.

You find nothing contradictory about your sign that reads "Hands Off My Medicare" next to a "Government Run Healthcare Makes Me Sick" sticker on the bumper of your gas guzzling Humvee,

You think that affirmative action is only acceptable for Michael Steele and Marco Rubio.

You don’t like being called “The Party of NO” but instead like being referred to as “The Party of HELL NO!” only because Sarah Palin suggested it.

You think "Semper Fi" should be changed to "Git R Done"

You think your Tea Party posters are not misspelled that read: “I am Joe the Plummer,” or “Make English Americas Offical Langage.” Or “Say No to Socilism.”

You think Stem Cell research is what killed Terri Schiavo

As part of your boycott of all names French, you change the name of your favorite sex toy to "freedom tickler."

You think the 2000 election was fair & square when Bush stole the White House but the 2008 election was stolen by ACORN for Obama.

You've ever announced your gratitude to our troops for fighting for your freedom to drill baby drill and spill baby spill.

You feel your duty in the war on terror is to hunt down Mexicans crossing the border. (Then you hire undocumented workers to do your lawn and housework.)

You've ever complained about abuse of welfare while depositing earnings in an off-shore tax-sheltered account or you cash your disability check before heading to the gym.

You think WMD are still in Iraq but hidden by liberals to make Bush look bad.

You think Mark Felts should have been executed for treason before dying of natural causes, and Gordon Liddy should get the medal of freedom.

You've ever blamed anything on "Activist Judges" while supporting the Supreme Court decision to reject corporate spending limits on political campaigns.

You think Glenn Beck is a prophet.

You think Sarah Palin is a goddess.

You think Rush Limbaugh is the greatest broadcast journalist ever.

You watch only one news channel, FOX, because it’s the only one fair and balanced.

You firmly believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Or Indonesia. Or anyplace outside the USA.

You think Barack Obama is the Antichrist.

You think Barack Obama is Muslim.

You think Barack Obama is Socialist.

In honor of Terri Schiavo, you kept the deer you shot alive for twelve days.

You think there should be a "constitutional exemption" at home to shut your wife up.

You feel the only acceptable time turning left is at a NASCAR race.

You think Capitol Hill should be re-named "Six Flags over Jesus."

You think gay marriages would somehow taint the sanctity of your six failed marriages.

You make your wife wear a "no spin" t-shirt during sex.

You think that listening to three different conservative talk shows and FOX gives you all the variety you need.

You name your testicles "shock" and "awe."

You wear a strapped-on assault rifle to a President Obama event but would never consider doing the same to a Bush or Palin or Limbaugh or Beck or Hannity rally.

You think that Healthcare Reform includes government death panels designed to kill your grandma.

You've ever considered your finest point in an argument to be, "Oh yeah, well, you hate America!"

You feel the "culture of life" should be the standard – that every life is worth the same (except Muslims, Mexicans, gays, Africans, liberals, activist judges, and anyone for gun control).

You think Civil Rights acts were unnecessary and should be repealed, or at least sections of them – the parts dealing with private businesses refusing to serve “coloreds” and the Fair Housing Act.

You think “American exceptionalism” means God singled the US out as the most favored, thus all others are inferior and not divinely blessed.

You've ever yelled "Hell yeah, man, I agree!" while Sean Hannity was speaking.

You’ve ever experienced an erection watching Sarah Palin on TV.

You stand and salute when George Bush or Dick Cheney is on the air, even though you've never served in the military, but you flip the bird at the TV screen every time Barack Obama appears.

You’ve ever twittered Sarah Palin or Michele Bauchmann love notes.

You registered to vote at a Tractor Pull.

You boycotted your local convenience store because the clerk let it slip he voted for Obama (even though you had bought all of your NASCAR apparel there.)

In honor of Bush, you donate to his new “LIBARY” in Texas: two cartons of crayons.

You think the U.S. Treasury should replace Ulysses S. Grant’s picture on the $50 bill with Ronald Reagan’s and exchange George Washington’s on the dollar for George W. Bush’s.

You've ever answered a gun-control issue with "when they pry them out of my cold, dead hands."

You think that fetuses have a right to life but newborn babies don’t have a right to healthcare even if their parents pay for it.

You consider BP, Halliburton and Transocean Ltd. eco-friendly companies.

Your solution to the BP spill in the Gulf is to nuke ‘em.

You don’t believe in global warming but believe it’s a leftist plot to turn America socialist.

You think scientists that endorse global warming should be arrested and tried for treason.

Your strongest defense for the reason Bin Laden wasn’t caught during the Bush years is "Because they all look alike."

You think the only solution for the Middle East peace is to bomb them all to hell. (Then let God sort them out.)

You think all Democratic presidents should be impeached.

You think the only three campaign issues that matter are “God, gays and guns.”

You think the imposition of government regulations caused economic meltdown and, oh yes, Barney Frank.

You think the Bush years were glorious, but Clinton and Obama ruined America.

You think that budget deficits began only after January 20, 2009.

You approve Arizona’s “papers please” bill but demand the government uphold constitutional freedoms and stay out of your personal life.

You think GOP stands for “God’s Only Party.”